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Summer School: How To Drive A Stick Shift

Jane Lindholm
It can be intimidating to learn how to drive a car with manual transmission. For this week's Summer School, we get belted in for a pep talk and a lesson from Paul Dudley, of Dudley's Driving Academy in Waitsfield.

Most new cars in the United States have an automatic transmission. So driving a stick shift is something fewer and fewer people in this country know how to do. And it can be a little intimidating to think about learning, especially as an adult. 

For this installment of Summer School, we get belted in for a pep talk and a lesson from Paul Dudley, of Dudley's Driving Academy in Waitsfield. 

"People find driving a manual transmission intimidating at first, absolutely," Dudley says. "And the ... hardest part is the first part you learn: just taking off, launching the car from zero miles per hour." To get started, Dudley coaches his students through these steps:

1. Push down on the clutch pedal. "Just feel how it goes [in] and goes out."

2. Feel the gear pattern. "Feel the shift pattern. Go through and find neutral, and find all the gears. It's always written right on the shifter what gear is what."

3. Start the car. "Put the car in first gear with the clutch pedal down. What the clutch pedal does is separate the engine from the transmission and drive wheel, so the engine can spin freely even though the car isn't moving."

4. Launch the car a few times. "Very slowly. Don't even touch the gas pedal — just let the clutch pedal out until it starts to grab, and that's called the friction point. The RPMs will start to drop and the car will start to move forward."

5. Start adding a little bit of gas as you let the clutch pedal out.

6. Don't be afraid of stalling! "It's going to happen. It's going to happen to me this week, and I've been driving standards for 20 years."

Credit Jane Lindholm / VPR
Beginners, overcome your fear of stalling. "It's going to happen," Paul Dudley says.

7. Once you're comfortable launching the car, start going through the gears. "A shift from any given gear, once you're up to speed, should take about one second." 

"Everyone that I have driven with gets an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from really being more involved in the driving experience," Dudley says.

As a self-proclaimed automotive enthusiast, Dudley says he's saddened by the slow disappearance of the manual transmission. "I'd like to see them stick around," he says (pun intended?). "I'm trying to keep that third pedal alive."

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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