Car Talk: The Lost Art of Stick Shift


Vehicles with manual transmissions have been on the decline in America for nearly 70 years now. As such, rowing through your own gears is becoming a lost art, according to Car Talk radio hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Even so, the Tappet Brothers think it's an important skill to learn, as manually driven cars traditionally have been the more fuel efficient and inexpensive models to own (not true so much with today's new cars, though). But you never know when you'll need the skill in a pinch.

What do you think? Would you learn, or recommend that someone learn, to use a stick shift if the resource were available?

Stick Figures: The Last Days of the Manual Transmission (Car Talk)
Changing gears: Is knowing how to drive stick in America still essential? (CNN)
Manual Transmissions Fading Out of Midsize Sedan Lineups

By Colin Bird | August 3, 2012 | Comments (22)



I has always wanted to learn, but I can't find nowhere to learn. Every one I know drives Automatics, and when I was in drivers training, all the cars that were available were automatic only.


Exactly what is meant by "learn" to use a stick shift car? I very rarely drove my parent's manual transmission car over 30 years ago and could probably drive one today in an emergency, but I won't guarantee the condition of the clutch after doing so!



Even if the decline continues to near extinction, it is still a valuable skill if only for just learning car control. Having direct interaction with and control over the drivetrain and power delivery teaches one how to communicate with and control the vehicle. I'm a firm believer that manual transmissions, when piloted by a skilled driver, is the safer option. It provides more immediate and predictable power delivery and greater control in adverse weather. I drove my first Auto in college and I still feel like a passenger when driving one.

My kids will learn to drive FIRST on a manual transmission. They'll be a safer driver because of it.

Not to mention, what about traveling abroad? Who wants to pay a premium to rent an Auto in Europe?


Who cares if modern autos are more fuel efficient than manuals? Manuals are more fun. I would always take a stick over an auto simply because I take more pleasure out of driving them. Everyone should know how to drive them.


though I can't convince my wife to learn manual, I'm sure as heck going to get my kids to learn a manual when they get that age...

manaul first. auto later.


Favorite car of mine was my 2000 BMW 328ci with the manual. Such a blast to drive!


Learning to drive a manual transmission is best for new drivers. It teaches them to focus their attention on the job at hand and they get a better connection to how the car works. Plus you can't text if you have to row the shifter.


@Carma-Could not have said it any better. You can feel the vehicle more and you are more connected to it and you cannot text. My older brother taught me how to drive 45 years ago and I had to learn on a manual on hilly and curvey roads. I am glad I learned to drive on a manual and I have one vehicle with a manual.


manuals are not a good choice for first time drivers. Do you really want to replace the clutch and brake pads from your little son or daughter that tore it out?

Automatics are throughly more advanced albeit with a slightly less fun factor. However do take in consideration how much more versatile automatics are. Do you remember shifting gears, trying to adjust the radio, answer the phone, etc. at all once.

Now that automatics get as good if not better gas mileage, are faster or as fast as manuals, provide less expenses, the more logical choice is automatic.

Granted if somebody is buying an expensive and exotic sportscar like a boxster or the shelby 500, naturally the inclination is towards manual. 9 times out of 10 unless your nostalgic and are a professional car driver, automatics do the same or better than manuals.


I dunno Carma when I was in highschool I didn't have trouble texting and shifting...I miss my Maxima SE 5spd. I wish Toyota made the Camry V6 available with a stick shift.


No one hear qualifies as a person that races cars professionally on the track.

Allistar Evans

One last thing.

Among various comparisions manuals cost more and are typically slower than automatics.

Good rule of thumb:
before spending on average a few thousand more for the manual, the manuals needs to be at least a few tenths of a second faster in 0-60, 0-100 and the quarter mile. Top speed and gear ratios are indirect factors much like engine displacement. Now automakers offer dual paddle shifts on the steering wheel giving the prowess of the automatic but with the flexibility of manuals. That is having the cake and eating it too.


Manuals are no fun to drive in the grid-lock rush-hour traffic of the West Coast.

Having to use the clutch and shift from 1 to 2 and then back to 1, and so on, is a pain when stuck in stop-and-go traffic moving at a blistering speed of 0-5mph.

That's where automatics really shine, and when launching boats from a boat ramp.

Been there. Done that.


I think that driving stick is a lot of fun. I agree that it keeps people focused, but it depends on the car. Mine is a 4-cyl scion tc. It has great acceleration, but with an auto it is much less effective at merging and overtaking. Eventually all cars will be autos. I dont think it matters either way. Its kind of like shaving with a straight razor.


I learned to drive on a stick from my extremely short tempered cop father(still having flashbacks- Dad: Stop suddenly! Me: What? Dad: I said stop suddenly. It's too late, you're dead. Me: Why didn't you just say stop?), and I haven't driven anything else for 20 years.
I think it's a valuable skill, and it is fun sometimes, but stop and go traffic is hell, and nobody else can drive your car (nothing like having to continually pull over to barf because you've got the flu and none of your dumb sissy passengers ever learned how to drive a manual). If I was buying a sports car, I'd love a stick, but for everyday driving my next car will be an automatic, even if it does make me feel like I'm betraying my roots.

Stick shift is the real driving experience. It makes the car more controllable which also makes you somehow more connected to it. Specially in a sport car.
I do recommend learning, however, I don't recommend owning a stick shift if you have to drive through traffic everyday going to work.


Becky, your post gave me a big grin! I, too, was an extremely short-tempered dad, although I was no cop.

I was hard on my oldest son when he was 15 and I taught him how to drive a stick shift, but then I made him teach his younger brother when the younger one turned 15.

Guess what? My oldest boy turned out to be a chip off the old block and was just as strict as I was with him.

A real stickler for detail, he was. Hand signals when turning and shifting gears. Proper downshifting matching gear to engine speed. Use of parking brake on inclines from a dead stop.

So when my third boy turned 15, I told my second son to teach him how to drive a stick shift.

You guessed it! My second son was a chip off the old block too.

Only my daughter learned how to drive a stick shift from her mom. I never could be short tempered with my little girl, but her mom was very strict. Taught her well.

All my kids inherited their lead foot from their mom.


@Highdesert cat, @Becky, @Alistar--Yes I prefer an automatic for stop and go traffic but for hauling heavy loads give me a stick. On curvey hilly roads in KY give me a stick. In Cincinnati traffic give me an automatic. I feel that learning to drive a manual made me concentrate on my driving better. It is just like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to shave which is becoming a lost art as well with beards and goatees.

I think eventually we will not have manuals and we will not have to drive. Vehicles will drive themselves which in some ways might be better because if drivers are not going to stop texting and talking on cell phones while driving at least they will not be driving. I do think it is kind of sad to see a middle age man who cannot even drive a manual. I guess I am old fashion but I think some of our manhood is lost when that happens.


I still don't understand the logic of everyone who says that driving a stick will keep teen drivers focused. If getting a ticket and potential dying are not enough to keep them from texting, I don't think the occasional gear shift will keep the phone in their pocket. It only gives them another thing to be distracted by or mess up. I learned to drive on an automatic but I made my grandfather teach me to drive a stick when I was 17. With that being said, I now live in San Francisco so the fun of a manual is not worth dealing with our vertical hills and frequent gridlock.


I can't imagine driving a vehicle such as my Mazda Miata with anything other than a manual gearbox. An automatic transmission would be sacrilege in a true sports car.


I've never had any issue driving a manual in Houston gridlock. I'm guessing the folks who do have an issue are also the ones who feel the need to stay glued to the bumper of the car in front of them. Just letting the car idle in 2nd while the guy in front of me goes from 0-10-0 repeatedly seems to work fine.


Until the latest gen of ATs came out, MTs were quicker and more efficient (and certain MT tricks can shorten the gap). Still, MTs are more fun to drive.
In the right hands, MTs are safer to drive (demands more concentration, etc.) and remain less expensive to repair.

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