How to Drive a Manual Car

At first, the thought of learning to drive in a manual car can be quite daunting. The idea of using the clutch to change gears is enough to put some students off. It generally takes a few hours to get comfortable with the gearstick and the pedals in a manual car, but once you have mastered the driving basics, the process does get a lot easier.

For any students right at the beginning of this process, we have written this piece as a step-by-step, how to drive a manual car for beginners guide. Using images, videos and detailed reference points, we have created a comprehensive guide that has all the information you need, if you have decided to learn to drive in a manual vehicle.

Quick Navigation: How to Drive a Manual Car

How to Open the Door on a Manual Car
Controls in a Manual Car
The dashboard in a Manual Car
How does the Clutch Work in a Manual Car
How to Drive a Manual Car For Beginners – Step-by-step
How to Start a Manual Car
How to Move Off in a Manual Vehicle
How to Change Gears in a Manual Car
How to Stop in a Manual Vehicle
How to Exit a Manual Car

Why should you read our guide?

Here at Pass The Driving Test, we have clocked thousands of hours behind the wheel of several different manual cars. In this time, we have taught hundreds of manual driving lessons and filmed days worth of tutorial videos. We’re a team of experienced driving instructors and the step by step instructions in this guide will help you learn to drive a manual car in no time at all

How to Open the Door on a Manual Car

The two most common ways of opening the door on a manual car, are with a key, or a remote controlled keyless entry device. To use the first, insert the key into a lock, normally located beneath the door handle and turn anti-clockwise. To use the second, once less than 20 feet away, push the ‘unlock’ button on the panel attached to the key itself.

Callout: To locate the unlock button, look for an image of a car with either one or both doors open,

Once the button is pushed, the vehicle’s headlights should flash and its doors should unlock. If the vehicle has an alarm enabled, you may also hear a ‘beep’ at this point. The ‘beep’ is the sound of the alarm being disabled.

Image: Annotated image of a manual car key

Controls in a Manual Car

There are two types of controls in a manual car, namely;

Major Controls
Minor Controls

Major controls consist of the steering wheel, gearstick, clutch, brake, accelerator and handbrake. These are used to control the speed and direction of the vehicle.

Steering Wheel: The steering wheel is used to control the direction the vehicle travels in. by manipulating the vehicles front wheels. In most manual cars, the steering wheel can be turned in either direction, one and a half complete rotations, before ‘locking’.

Clutch: In a vehicle with a manual transmission, the clutch connects the engine to the vehicle’s gearbox and wheels. The clutch mechanism is controlled via the clutch pedal and this pedal should only be operated with the left foot. In a manual car, the pedal is used when changing gears, coming to a stop and when controlling the vehicle at low speeds.

Footbrake: The footbrake sits in between the clutch and accelerator. When pushed, it slows the vehicle down or brings it to a stop. The pedal should be operated with the right foot only and when in use, the rear brake lights at the back of the vehicle illuminate

Accelerator: The accelerator pedal in a manual car, controls the amount of fuel and air, allowed into the vehicle’s engine. When the accelerator pedal is pushed down, the throttle valve is opened and air is let into the engine. At this point, the vehicle’s ECU, or engine control unit, increases the rate at which fuel is added to the engine. The air and fuel combine to generate the energy needed to power the vehicle.

Callout: Tip: To smoothly drive a car, apply small but consistent amounts of pressure on the accelerator pedal. Avoid jumping on and off the pedal, as this will lead to a jerky forward movement.

Callout: The clutch, brake and accelerator make up the pedals in a manual car

Handbrake / Parking Brake

The handbrake which is also called the parking brake is located in between the driver and the front passenger seat. It secures the vehicle by locking the rear wheels and it is normally in the shape of a lever or button. It should always be operated with the left hand.

In vehicles which have a lever for a handbrake, the vehicle is secure when the handbrake is up and not, when the handbrake is down. To operate the control, push the button on the lever and raise or lower it depending on your desired outcome.

Gearstick

The gearstick is a verticle lever located in between the driver and front passenger seat. It’s used to switch between gears and all manual transmission vehicles have one. In most cases, a manual car will either have 5 or 6 gears. To move between the individual gears, the clutch pedal must be depressed first.

Callout: Operating the clutch, brake, accelerator and gearstick in tandem, is the essence of driving a manual car.

Minor controls consist of the indicators, wipers, lighting, climate control and other dials and gauges. These are used to control the environment in and around your vehicle,

Indicator: The indicator is a lever located on the left-hand side of the steering wheel. It controls the indicator lights located on the front and rear of the car. These lights are amber in colour and flash when the indicator is moved either up or down.

Windscreen Wipers: The windscreen wipers are controlled by a lever usually located on the right-hand side of the steering wheel. This lever is used to control the frequency and speed at which the windscreen wipers move.

In most manual cars, this lever controls the front and rear wipers and the fluid used to clean each. The method of operating the lever differs between vehicles, but it is normally any combination of pushing the lever either away or pulling towards you, pushing it up or down, or rotating a small dial on the end of it.

Lighting Controls: There are a number of different lights located at the front and rear of the vehicle. The position of the controls for these lights differs between vehicles. In some cars, the indicator lever may also control the dipped and full beam headlights. In other vehicles, these lights may be controlled by a series of dials on the dashboard.

Air-conditioning and Climate Control: Most manual cars come equipped with an air conditioning or climate control system. This system is used to maintain the optimum temperature inside of your vehicle, regardless of the conditions outside it. The controls for this system are located in the centre of the dashboard, within arms reach of the steering wheel.

Callout: You may be asked questions about the car’s climate control system on your driving test. If you would like to brush up on these questions knowledege, read our driving test questions guide today

Dashboard in a Manual Car

The dashboard in a manual car has various displays, gauges and warning lights. These instruments provide the driver with up to date information about the vehicle. On this display, you will find information about the current speed of travel, (if moving), the amount of fuel, oil pressure and current status of your external lights, among many other things.

Callout: Read our guide to dasboard warning lights

When learning to drive in a manual car, the two displays that you should be most concerned with are the rev-counter and the speedometer.

Rev-counter: The rev-counter also know as the tachometer, is a gauge which measures the speed of the engine. The engine always rotates when switched on and this gauge measures how many revolutions it makes per minute, this is known as the engine’s RPM. The RPM of the engine and the speed at which the gearbox rotates, must match for any given gear.

Speedometer: When a vehicle is in motion, the speedometer measures how fast it’s travelling. In the UK, the speed is measured in miles per hour, while vehicles designed for the European market, measure speed in kilometres per hour. When driving a manual vehicle, the speed the vehicle is travelling at must match the current or intended gear.

Callout: Tip With the vehicle stationary, look ahead at the road as you normally would and practice taking take quick glances at the speedometer, without moving your head. This excercise will help judge your speed, without taking your eyes off the road

How to Drive a Manual Car For Beginners: Step by step

Once you have understood the different controls in the car, what they do and how they should be operated, It’s time to get behind the wheel. Before you start the car, it is important to go through the safety check listed below. Doing so will ensure that you both you and the vehicle are prepared to start

Step 1: Check all doors are locked

Once you have opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat, you must then make sure that all doors on the vehicle are locked. This is important as starting a car and driving off with an unlocked door, could be very dangerous. If a door is unlocked, a dashboard warning light will indicate which door it is and your interior light may also come on too,

Callout: Show image of the dashboard warning sign when a door is unlocked

Step 2: Adjust your seating position

The next step is to make sure you are seated in the correct driving position. When driving, you should always be seated in a way that is comfortable and safe. The incorrect driving position could lead to issues operating the car’s pedals, muscle strains and severe injury in the event of an accident or collision.

Adjust your seating position so you are able to push the clutch pedal down completely, without having to stretch to do so. There should always be a slight bend in your knee when operating any of the vehicle’s pedals.

Your head should also be in the middle of your head restraint, as this can help prevent serious injury in the event of an accident or collision.

Step 3: Steering Wheel

When driving, hold the steering wheel at either the 10 to 2 position or the quarter to 3 position. Both of these positions, provide stability and balance which should help keep the vehicle centred. When seated correctly, you should be able to run your hands freely around the steering wheel, without having to lock your arms to do so. If you find it difficult to do this, adjust your seat by either pulling it forward or raising the base if necessary.

Callout: Course Advert Steering

Step 4: Seatbelt

After adjusting the steering wheel the next step is to put on your seatbelt. In the UK, It is illegal to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt. it is also the responsibility of the driver, to ensure that all occupants in the vehicle are wearing their seatbelts.

Step 5: Mirrors

Whether you are learning to drive in a manual car, or learning to drive in an automatic one, it is important to set up your mirrors correctly. In order to stay safe while driving, you need to be aware of what is happening to rear and sides of your vehicle. The correct mirror set up will enable you to do this.

When setting up your interior mirror, you must ensure you can see all four corners of the rear window within it. When setting up your door mirrors, ensure both mirrors are level with one another and positioned horizontally, Your wing mirrors should capture a fraction of your door and lots of the road

Callout: Alert: You must complete steps 1 to 5 before you start the car

How Can You Familiarise Yourself With The Pedals in a Manual Car

It is important for beginners to familiarise themselves with the pedals in a manual vehicle, before starting the engine. The clutch pedal is on the left and it should only be operated with the left foot, The brake pedal is in the centre and it should only be operated with the right foot. While the accelerator is on the right and it too, should only be operated with the right foot. It is important to note the position of each pedal and the correct foot to use when operating each control.

Push each of the pedals down with the correct foot and make a note of the pedal’s responsiveness and distance of travel. Understanding how the clutch, brake and accelerator respond when depressed and elevated, is an important part of mastering the driving basics.

Do not look down at the pedals when driving, as taking your eyes off the road, could lead to an accident or collision. If you are confused by the position of each pedal, or which foot to use, the following exercise can help you gather your bearings;

Step 1: Have someone sit in the car with you

While sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine off, ask a friend or family member to sit in the car with you. Once you are both situated, ask them to call out each of the three pedals, one by one, starting with the clutch, moving from left to right.

Step 2: Practice selecting the correct pedal

Start with both feet on the floor, then push the pedal they call out with the correct foot, while keeping your eyes on the road ahead. It is important to look ahead while completing this exercise, as it is unsafe to take your eyes off the road when driving.

Step 3: Mix up the order and change the speed

As you familiarise yourself with the pedals, ask the person next to you to randomise the order in which they are called and increase the speed at which they do so too. As the order changes and the tempo increases, try to push the correct pedal down with the correct foot, as often as possible

After 5 minutes of practising, your coordination and understanding of the position of each pedal improve.

How to Start a Manual Car

There is a set routine you need to follow before starting a vehicle’s engine. Before starting the car, you must make sure it is safe to do so first. Starting a car without following the steps outlined below could endanger the occupants of your vehicle and other road users around you.

Step 1: Check that the handbrake is applied

Before starting the car, you must ensure the vehicle’s handbrake or parking brake is applied. If it’s a vehicle with a lever style handbrake, ensure that it is in the upright position. If the vehicle’s handbrake is operated using a button, ensure the parking brake signal is on. The parking brake button has the letter ‘P’ surrounded by a circle on it.

The parking brake is active when the letter P and the circle around it are both green in colour. The parking brake is inactive when the letter ‘P’ and the circle around it are red or neutral in colour.

It is important to make sure the handbrake is applied before starting the car, as this will stop the vehicle from lurching forward if the vehicle is in gear.

Step 2: Check the gearstick is in neutral (On older vehicles)

On older vehicles, it is important to check that the gearstick is in neutral before starting the vehicle’s engine. Starting the car while it’s in gear, could cause it to lurch forward, which could endanger other road users around you.

Callout: Video showing the vehicle lurch forward when the vehicle is in gear and the engine switched on

Step 3: Ensure your left hand is on the steering wheel

Always ensure your left hand is on the steering wheel when turning the key in the ignition, or pushing the vehicle’s start button. Doing so will help you maintain control of the vehicle should it move forward without warning.

Step 4: Press the clutch pedal down completely

On newer manual vehicles, you might have to clutch down when starting the engine. Clutching down acts as a safety mechanism when starting the car, as the clutch plates, which prevents power flowing from the vehicles engines to its gearbox and wheels.

Step 5: Turn the key in the ignition / push the start button

The final step in the process is to turn the key in the ignition or push the start button if your vehicle uses a push to start mechanism. If the steps above are completed correctly, the car should start, without the vehicle lurching forward or the engine cutting out unexpectedly.

How to Move Off in a Manual Car

When learning how to drive in a manual car as a beginner, moving off and stopping can be quite challenging, During the first few attempts, inexperienced drivers may often end up stalling a number of times and although this can be frustrating, it’s nothing to be too concerned about.

Callout: Read this guide and learn how to to stop stalling when moving off in a manual car

Once you have understood how to coordinate the clutch, brake and accelerator, moving off in a manual car becomes relatively easy.

How to Change Gears in a Manual Car

How to Stop in a Manual Car

How to Exit a Manual Car

Check centre and right door mirror, look over shoulder, use dutch reach method – Dutch Reach

The right attitude and approach when learning to drive, is important if you want to achieve your desired results. If you approach your tuition with bravado and an overly competitive driving attitude, you could end up endangering yourself and other road users around you. If you approach your tuition from a standpoint of fear, you might never fulfil your potential behind the wheel. Try to find the balance between a healthy respect for your vehicle and the road and confidence in your own ability.