Mar 3, 2014 update to the Volkswagen Beetle TDi project car

A New Driver

Most drivers in America wouldn't know what to do with pedal number three. Nicole is no longer most drivers.

Let’s face it: driving stick is becoming a lost art in this country. The automatic transmission has won, and it isn’t going to leave anytime soon. But our office parking lot is a rare safe-haven for car enthusiasts, one where very few PRNDLs are found.

This has its own set of problems, especially when normal people are around. We told Nicole to drive the Beetle on an errand, and she said she couldn’t. Turns out she couldn’t drive stick, nor did she have any interest in learning.

Reluctant students are our favorite kind, so we forced her into the driver’s seat and started the lesson. Teaching new drivers how to use a transmission is an art that has more nuances than the actual driving, but here’s our method:

  1. Have the driver work through the gears with the car turned off, and your hand on top of theirs. This helps establish a feel for the transmission, and a basic understanding of when to push the clutch.

  2. Start the car, and have the driver shift into first gear. Then, have them use only the clutch (no throttle) to get the car moving. Repeat this process until the driver is comfortable starting off.

  3. Have the driver speed up their starts until the car begins to stall. Introduce a solution: the throttle.

  4. Let the driver get comfortable using the clutch and the gas. Once they can start off reliably, it’s time to move on.

  5. Take the driver to a quiet road, and tell them to drive around a bit. They’ll quickly realize that the car can only go so fast, so guide them through each shift with clear, concise instructions (let off, clutch in, shift, clutch out, more throttle) and your hand on top of theirs on the shifter.

  6. Spend some time just riding with them. As soon as the driver can tell when and why the car is about to stall (not enough throttle, for example), then they’re capable of adjusting their method until they have it mastered. Don’t say anything unless they clearly need help, or they start damaging the car–most people can teach themselves from here.

Just like that, you’ve slightly improved the average driver in America. And kudos to VW for still offering manual transmissions, especially behind torquey little engines like the diesel in our Beetle.

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Comments
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rcutclif
rcutclif Reader
3/3/14 10:45 a.m.

I own a driving school and offer a clutch course. Only teach about 4-5 per year. I use a very similar method, but I do have them use the throttle independently too (car in neutral, rev to about 2k, hold, let off, repeat) to teach the muscle memory of the right foot.

Also I think critically thinking about the actual clutch movement helps newbies. Many people say 'release the clutch slowly' but there's really more to it than that. It's more like, release the clutch until the car starts moving, hold the clutch where it is, wait until the car 'catches up' with the engine, release the clutch the rest of the way.

CoClimber
CoClimber New Reader
3/3/14 11:42 a.m.

I always make two points: The clutch is analog so you don't "take your foot off" until it actually leaves the pedal. None of this start to engage then dump the clutch. Slowly release all the way out.

The second point is that there is a delay between the clutch and throttle when you are shifting between gears. Push the clutch in slightly ahead of when you release the throttle. Likewise, add throttle before releasing the clutch. If you want to get really good at this, drive an older 911. This point is subtle but I bring up the idea so that they are aware of it and can practice.

trentor
trentor None
3/3/14 12:06 p.m.

Best way to start out teaching someone...find a large, loose gravel parking lot or remote gravel/dirt road. The clutch, transmission, and your neck will thank you for the reduction in traction, and the person learning will be less frustrated.

linust
linust
3/3/14 12:35 p.m.

A car with good low-end torque (esp. off idle) is a big help.

admc58
admc58 Reader
3/3/14 1:30 p.m.

I have been teaching my 13yr old shifting w/o clutch to develop the feel for matching revs and throttle control. It is going well. We are also working on double-clutch downshifts. Next will be No clutch downshifts under braking at speed.

Fine motor skills for throttle control and being able to feel initial clutch engagement have been the key things to getting smooth shifts.

confuZion3
confuZion3 UltraDork
3/3/14 6:32 p.m.

When I found out that my best friend's little sister didn't know how to drive a "proper" transmission, and that her boyfriend wouldn't teach her because he didn't want to screw up his "baby", I immediately took her out and taught her to drive the Viper. She didn't stall it once. :)

jstein77
jstein77 SuperDork
3/6/14 3:02 p.m.

That does it - as soon as I get home today its time to teach my daughter to drive my car.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Associate Editor
3/19/14 3:41 p.m.

Jerry, how'd the lesson go?

ChrisHachet
ChrisHachet New Reader
8/1/16 4:11 p.m.

Taught a ton of people to drive manual in my Miata, most of them are manual enthusiasts to this day.

AClockworkGarage
AClockworkGarage Reader
8/1/16 6:54 p.m.

When I was 19 I blew the motor in my car. My buddy loaned me a car to drive while I got it fixed. He dropped the car off tossed me the keys and said keep it as long as you need to. I thanked him and hopped in the car and it was a stick... feck.

I rode my bicycle to work that day and figured I'd take the car out late at night to get some practice before trying it in busy rush hour stop-n-go orlando traffic.

at three in the morning I stalled the car a dozen times and took three light cycles to get through an intersection. A couple of cops sat in a parking lot across the way watching me the whole time. when I finally made it through the intersection they pulled me over.

They approached with the usual "had anything to drink tonight?" and I quickly explained I was trying to teach myself to drive a stick, and I was out so late so I wouldn't get in anyone's way.

The cop's attitude did a 180 and they spent an hour or so showing me how to start off without stalling. It was really cool.

The one piece of advice I actually remember, he told me to imagine a rope with a pulley, one end of the rope is attached to the throttle pedal, the other to the clutch. as I let off the clutch it would pull on the throttle at the same rate.

I turned out to be good advice, my starts got a lot smoother after that.

Tyler H
Tyler H SuperDork
8/1/16 7:02 p.m.

In 1997 when I was 19, I taught my 16 year old girlfriend how to drive a stick. First, I made her shift the gears as I drove. Then I took her to the mall parking lot and told her how the clutch works and let her make a few laps. Stopped on a hill and showed her how she could use the handbrake (just for confidence,) so she wouldn't roll back. Then I said...'let's go home' and threw her to the wolves in traffic. She killed it once, pulling across a busy road. After that, she knew the fear. Sink or swim, I say. She's been proficient at driving a stick since then. The first car I bought for her was a manual transmission Accord and she drove it every day for years.

A master of the manual: rev-matching, double clutching, etc....a Jedi needs not these things to commute.

After all that, I married her.

RevRico
RevRico HalfDork
8/1/16 7:48 p.m.
admc58 wrote: I have been teaching my 13yr old shifting w/o clutch to develop the feel for matching revs and throttle control. It is going well. We are also working on double-clutch downshifts. Next will be No clutch downshifts under braking at speed. Fine motor skills for throttle control and being able to feel initial clutch engagement have been the key things to getting smooth shifts.

Wow, I'm 29 and could use some of those lessons. Particularly no clutch downshifts under braking at speed.

The0retical
The0retical Dork
8/2/16 1:09 p.m.
rcutclif said: Also I think critically thinking about the actual clutch movement helps newbies. Many people say 'release the clutch slowly' but there's really more to it than that. It's more like, release the clutch until the car starts moving, hold the clutch where it is, wait until the car 'catches up' with the engine, release the clutch the rest of the way.

I taught several ex-girlfriends how to drive stick in my Nissan Sentra utilizing the same technique. Ironically I've never got around to teaching my wife to drive stick because shes horrified by the thought of driving something as modified as my current car and the poor Sentra was rear ended.

OldGray320i
OldGray320i HalfDork
8/2/16 2:31 p.m.
RevRico wrote:
admc58 wrote: I have been teaching my 13yr old shifting w/o clutch to develop the feel for matching revs and throttle control. It is going well. We are also working on double-clutch downshifts. Next will be No clutch downshifts under braking at speed. Fine motor skills for throttle control and being able to feel initial clutch engagement have been the key things to getting smooth shifts.

Wow, I'm 29 and could use some of those lessons. Particularly no clutch downshifts under braking at speed.

There's more fear factor than anything, as once you can properly match revs it's exactly like doing it with the clutch. And it'll go in lightning quick, too, unlike upshifting w/o the clutch.

Miss it though, and it'll be ugly.

trigun7469
trigun7469 Dork
8/2/16 2:43 p.m.

I taught a friend of mine how to drive stick shift going to a dealership and test driving cars. It was nice at that time because they were able to take out a new vehicle that wasn't mine or theirs in top mechanical condition. Present day, I wouldn't be able to do this, because you basically have to order a stick shift.

LuxInterior
LuxInterior HalfDork
8/2/16 4:14 p.m.

When I taught my two 13 year old daughters to drive, I described the miata's clutch as "two spinning pizzas" that the clutch pedal moved in an out of contact with each other. We didn't even call it a clutch.

That simple visual helped them both succeed at driving stick.

chandlerGTi
chandlerGTi UberDork
8/2/16 9:44 p.m.

I'd already been driving tractors, mopeds, motorcycles and such but my dad took me to just under the top of a gravel hill and had me keep trying until I could consistently pull away without spinning the tires. 80 D150 225 /6 with a 3spd, no real power but in gravel it forms take Much to spin!

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