Surfing the web the other day, I ran across young Sean’s question on a Yahoo transportation site. “My grandma wants to teach me how to drive her BMW (I’m turning 15 in a month) because she says it’ll be important for me to know in case something happens and no one that I’m with knows how to drive stick shift. So what’s your opinion? Is it important for me to learn?” All I could think was, “Sean, where was your grandma when I was 14 and learning to drive my parent’s 1950 Plymouth 4-door?” On the other hand, Sean’s question reminded me of ten very good reasons for anybody to learn to drive a manual transmission car.
10. DETER THEFT: The least earthshaking advantage might be that of security. The most recent source I’ve seen claimed that no more than 10% of drivers can drive a manual transmission comfortably, and approximately 25% of drivers claimed to be capable in an emergency situation. That leaves an overwhelming majority incapable of stealing your car. I love reading those stories about some would-be carjacker who can’t figure out how to use a clutch. And that leads directly to number nine.
9. HELPFUL IN EMERGENCY: There are dozens of reasons why you might someday be called on to drive someone else’s car. A medical emergency, the need to transport a car for convenience sake, necessity when your car is being repaired… all mean that your ability to drive any car can be very important. If your friend had too much to drink, sure you can just take his keys, but how much better to get him safely home. But, if that friend’s car is a stick shift?
8. SAFETY: Driving a manual transmission, by its very nature, forces you to pay attention. You cannot be unaware of when engine revolutions reach the point where you need to shift up or down. And when you do that shifting, both arms and both legs are involved, leaving a lot less opportunity for talking on the phone, texting, lighting a cigarette, or even taking a drink of soda.
7. FUEL SAVINGS: ConsumerReports, in it’s February, 2014, Auto Report, found that “in some cars a manual transmission can improve gas mileage by a significant 2 to 5 mpg compared with an automatic. They did find a couple of exceptions to the rule, but after the Mazda 3i and the Ford Fiesta with it’s smallest engine, there was no comparison. Manual was more economical.
6. LEARN A NEW SKILL: Don’t we encourage each other to try new foods, try new activities, try new exercises, try new hobbies? We encourage students to take electives in college because we see an inherent advantage to becoming a more well rounded person with more life exposure. In this case, the ability to use a manual transmission is a useful life skill that will add to your list of interesting experiences. Call it your automotive bucket list.
5. TEACHES MECHANICAL APPRECIATION: Being responsible for selecting the correct gear in all driving situations has the side benefit of encouraging awareness of how your car gets you down the road. If you shift poorly, the reaction can include everything from a grinding noise in the transmission to jerking that reminds you of the need to match engine revolutions to the correct gear. It’s easy to imagine your cars workings when you are responsible for their smooth operation.
4. MAINTENANCE: Hard on the heels of developing an appreciation of all the mechanical coordination that goes on in your car… well, you suddenly become much more aware of what a properly functioning car sounds and feels like. And when something is amiss, you are much more quickly aware of it. If tire pressure is low on one side, you will sense it. If a belt is getting noisy, you are much more likely to be aware and do something about it.
3. OPPORTUNITY TO DRIVE UNIQUE CARS: I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning to drive in that 1950 Plymouth 4-door with “three on the tree” made it possible for me to not only accept all kinds of part time jobs that involved driving manual transmission trucks, but it also opened up the possibility of driving vintage sports cars. And, yes, sometimes I do dream. No, I haven’t driven James Bond’s Aston Martin, but I intend to be ready when the opportunity arises. No way will I suffer the embarrassment of having to tell somebody, “sorry, I can’t drive a manual,” and I don’t have to worry about missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
2. FEELING OF ACCOMPLISHMENT: Is it easy to learn how to drive a manual transmission? I wish I could say yes, but that’s just the point. It’s not easy, and you will stall the car, over and over, maybe for a long time. And you will lurch around a few times, maybe lots of times. But one day it will all come together. You’ll start off smoothly and briskly, slip the shift lever into second, third and fourth gears as you pick up speed. You’ll head into that sweeping curve, with Bob Dylan blasting “Like A Rolling Stone” over the stereo, and you’ll feel like a driving god (or goddess, if that feels better).
1. BECAUSE YOU WANT TO, BECAUSE IT’S FUN: Every one of the previous reasons is true and worthy. But most important is the way it will make you feel. True or not, you will feel like you are actually in control of all the little nuances of driving well. You are responsible for appropriate acceleration at the right time, smooth deceleration, and being in the best gear for whatever comes next. If you never did like to drive under any circumstances, skip the manual experience; but if you already enjoy driving, there is nothing like shifting for yourself.