Try as you might, sometimes you can't avoid manual transmission car rentals. When automatic isn't an option, remember these 10 quick tips for driving a stick.
1) Understand How Things Work
Most manual transmission car rentals have four or five forward speeds as well as one reverse speed. Here's a quick crash course on the important manual controls in a stick-shift vehicle:
a. The clutch pedal is located to the far left of the footwell. This is used when moving up or down from one gear to another.
b. Neutral is not a gear – it is the absence of a gear.
c. You'll likely spend most of your time in second gear. That's where you'll want to be when navigating congested traffic.
d. The gas pedal works in concert with your gears. Push the gas pedal while out of gear and you'll generate an impressive engine rev, but you won't go anywhere.
2) Learn the Gears
You won't have a lot of time to think about the gears on your manual car rental when driving through traffic, so take some time to practice shifting before you hit the road. You'll want to learn the location and feel of passing through each gear. First, practice shifting gears without the car running (remember to push the clutch in each time!). You don't want to force the gear stick into place, but it's important that you fully engage each gear. Stopping halfway will cause a terrible grinding noise to occur, and that's never a good sign.
3) Understand When to Shift
Next, learn to recognize when you're in the wrong gear. If the car rental is coughing and chugging your gear is too high. If it's making a high-revving sound the gear is too low. When you're on the road, monitor your tachometer. You'll want to shift around 3000 RPM's on each gear. High-powered autos will deviate from this rule, but it's a good starting point for first time manual car rental drivers.
4) Start the Car
Your car rental will need to be in neutral before you can start it. If it's in gear when you try to start, you'll jump the engine and stall. Furthermore, it's worth noting that most manual cars will not start unless the clutch is pressed down.
5) Get a Feel for the Clutch
The clutch on your car rental allows the gears to transition back and forth with ease. Remember, the clutch pedal is the one to the far left. The brake is in the middle and the gas is to the far right. Use your left foot to man the clutch. It's important that you avoid too much acceleration when the clutch is partially engaged. This will cause unnecessary wear on the transmission. If this is your first time driving a stick, you'll invariably pop the clutch and miss a gear. This will either cause your car to lurch ahead or stall. It happens to everyone, so don't worry. Just try not to do it in the middle of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Upshifting is the key to acceleration. In order to become a master shifter you'll need to get your feet and hands working in perfect unison. Remember – clutch in and gas off when shifting. You'll want to move slowly from clutch to gas before eventually moving your foot completely off the clutch. It's the same for all gears, so get practicing!
You can't slow down without downshifting. While downshifting, move from clutch to brake while in gear. This will help you ease into slowing down without revving the engine to high in the space between gears. You should downshift from fourth to third, third to second, but not from second to first!
The reverse gear can be tricky to master, so be sure to practice a bit before hitting the road. Depending on the make and model of your rental, you may find that the reverse gear will "jump" on you. Releasing the clutch slowly is key when backing up. You may find you'll need to use the brake at the same time.
You'll notice that there is no "park" gear on a manual transmission vehicle. Most vehicles rely on the parking brake for this function. For extra safety, leave the car in gear, not neutral, when parking.
The only way to perfect your manual driving skills is to get out and drive. So what are you waiting for? Take your manual car rental out for a spin today.