Practice with the Car Off
One of the most useful ways to start learning the art of driving a manual transmission or stick shift is to familiarize yourself with the car's controls. You know what the gas and brake pedals do. Get in the car and, with the emergency or parking brake engaged, get a feel for the clutch. This is also a good time to look at the gear shifter, which is typically located on a center console, on the ground, or on the steering wheel to the right of the driver. Most stick shifts have written guides for the gears. If the guide is worn away or otherwise unreadable, you should consult the car's manual, a mechanic, or other Internet resources to find out the gear configuration for your car. If there is no way of finding out the gear arrangement, you may have to resort to pressing the clutch down all the way and holding it, and then moving the shifter around to feel for the gears. Once you understand where first gear is, continue practicing with the car off. Without actually depressing the gas pedal, pretend you are driving and practice speeding up. (Making the sounds is optional.) Put the clutch to the floor and put the car in first gear. Pretend you are speeding up, then depress the clutch pedal again and move the shifter to second gear. Do the same for third gear, fourth gear, and fifth gear, which you may or may not have depending on your vehicle. Practice downshifting, too, by pretending to slow down, depressing the clutch, and shifting down from four to three, and from three to two. You do not need to downshift to first gear in a stick shift. When you are coming to a stop, you can do two things: you can depress the clutch and keep the car in gear, getting ready to go again in first; or you can put the shifter in the neutral position and let the clutch back up. It is sometimes good to put a stick shift in neutral while stopped, to ease the strain on your leg and foot, and also to lessen wear and tear on your clutch. When it is time to go again, simply depress the clutch and put the shifter into first gear, and give the vehicle a little gas. Reverse gear on stick shifts is usually achieved by pressing down on the shifter and moving it to the side and then forward. It might be a matter of pushing down, moving to the side and back, or pulling a ring or other release on the shifter. Consult the shifter indicator, vehicle manual, or the feel test to find reverse gear.
Once you feel comfortable with where the gears are, how the clutch and shifter work together, and how to speed up and slow down for pretend, you are ready for the real thing. This is when the intimidation factor sets in. You start thinking what about if you are on a hill? What if you can't find reverse? What about the ultimate, dark fear: you are stopped at a light, put the car into first gear to get going and it happens, a stall. Don't worry about all of that. It only takes a second to start a car back up. Besides, that is why it is best to practice on a secluded road, in a vacant...