In my last “Life Skills” post, I stressed the importance of cooking skills. In this post, I will talk about the ability to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission and why I think this is a valuable life skill.
But first, a bit of history…
When I was about to turn 15 (yes, the legal driving age in Louisiana was 15 when I was growing up), my parents started looking for a dependable, used car to buy for me. I was the youngest of three and since my mother was a single parent, she was very eager for me to be able to drive. I could help with errands and basically be self sufficient. It was a beautiful thing for a working single mother. Anyway, the hunt for a car began and I had just one request – I begged my parents not to get me a car with a manual transmission (stick shift). That was my only request – no manual transmission – any other car would do.
What did I end up with? A 1988 Honda Civic with a 5-speed manual transmission! It was just like the one pictured above, but maroon in color.
During the time when I was first learning to drive the car, my mom took me to the busiest intersection in town – Ambassador Caffery and Johnston Street in Lafayette – and I got stuck at a red light. To make matters worse, I was first in line in my lane and on a slight incline. That situation is pure agony as someone learning to drive a stick shift – to be first in line at a red light in the busiest intersection in town AND on an incline where you can easily roll back into the car behind you.
The light turns green and I do my best to get going, but I didn’t have the timing of the clutch and the accelerator just right and the car was violently jerking about – this was a frequent occurrence in my trials of learning to drive my new car. I look over at my mom in a moment of panic as I’m trying to get through the intersection and she’s laughing so hard she’s crying. She’s literally wiping tears from her eyes. I got so angry with her for laughing and I recall whining that I would never learn to successfully drive that car. She so smugly replied “Oh, you’ll look back on this and laugh in a few years – trust me. You’re going to love driving a stick shift! Once you get it down, you’ll be all over the place.” Almost 20 years later and I must admit, my mom was right. I’ve owned 4 cars since that 1988 Civic and all but one are/were manual transmissions. The only one that isn’t didn’t come with the option of a manual transmission – strangely enough, it’s our truck.
In the end, I am glad I know how to drive a car with a manual transmission – I think it’s a valuable life skill. Everyone should take the time to learn to drive a car with a manual transmission. Yes, they are becoming less popular here in the US. However, if you travel internationally and you need to rent a car, chances are you’ll get a car with a manual transmission. Or you might find yourself in an emergency and the only car you have access to is one with a manual transmission. What happens if you find yourself out with friends and you have to drive someone home in their car and they have a car with a manual transmission? It’s happened to me more than once, trust me. It was always nice to know that I could drive whatever car I needed to and the skill in being able to drive a stick shift was appreciated many a night when driving inebriated friends home from parties. If you ever find yourself in one of the situations outlined above, you’ll be sorry you never took the time to learn to drive a car with a manual transmission.
Another excellent benefit of driving a car with a manual transmission is the control you have over the car’s acceleration. I live in the Atlanta metro area and drive a small 4-cylinder car to work every day (Stop laughing – it’s a fuel efficient car!). The ability to down shift to a lower gear in order to get acceleration & power to get the hell out of the way of another car has come in handy more times than I can count.
Once you get the feel for driving a car with a stick shift, you’ll be able to drive just about any car or truck. I’ve driven everything from little sports cars to full sized pick up trucks with ease.
Just a bit of advice
One small tip that I’ll share with you – from my experience in learning to drive a car with a manual transmission – is to wear thinly soled shoes. For some reason, I went through a phase where all I wanted to wear were my sister’s hiking boots (I thought they looked cool) and I was trying to learn to drive my car wearing those huge boots. Only when I wore different shoes one day did I realize that I couldn’t sense the clutch movement properly with those thick soled boots. Once I started to wear lighter shoes, I was able to get the rhythm and sequencing down between letting up on the clutch and accelerating – and when you get that down, the car doesn’t shake violently anymore, which is great!
Another thing that I believe helped me when I was younger was living in a family that had a number of cars with a manual transmission. Even when I was a small child, my mom would let me shift for her and I learned the proper shifting sequence. That was one less thing to learn when the time came to learn to drive. Yes it’s simple, but when you’re learning to drive a stick shift any stress that can be eliminated is welcome. Knowing the shift sequence helps the driver because they can concentrate on the clutch and acceleration because the shifting will come more naturally since they’ve had practice.
It’s never too late to learn, so go out there and find someone with a car with a manual transmission who is willing to teach you and to let you practice on their car (good luck with that!). Then, head out to an empty parking lots and practice! You’ll thank me one day, I promise.