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Dear PoPville – Where Can I Learn How To Drive A Stick Shift/Manual Transmission?

by Prince Of Petworth May 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm 58 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

I need to learn how to drive a manual transmission (aka stick shift, standard) car.

Can you ask your readership where to do this in the city? I don’t know anybody with a manual transmission car who can teach me, so I’m looking to rent a manual transmission, learn at a driving school, or maybe buy a clunker (last choice). Any ideas? Are there driving schools in the DC area that teach people how to drive stick shift? A basic internet search hasn’t turned anything up.”

Anyone know if there are driving schools that offer manual transmission cars.

  • andy

    I am sure the guy from this post will offer to teach you: http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2011/05/dear-popville-did-i-get-a-job-offer-from-a-pimp.

  • PG

    A basic internet search (all of thirty seconds) turned up this:


  • Lucky

    -consult the internet
    -watch some youtube videos
    -go to your local chrysler dealership
    -feign interest in manual transmissions
    -ask to do a test drive
    -have a few laughs and maybe learn how.

  • Clutchy McGee

    Go to the bigass hill at the Anne Arundel Community College with your Dad.

    • oink

      Haha, that’s where I learned years ago.

  • oneal

    Seriously??? You don’t have any friends that drive shift??? If you really need to, I will teach you in any number of parking lots for free. In truth it takes a 1/2 day and really is not that difficult. However, I demand italian sports car…. and if I do a good job I get to keep the car!

    • joker

      Do you have any friends who own a manual car that would let you spend half a day destroying their clutch?

      I think not.

      • oneal

        Yes actually. If you are in the car, instructing the person learning shouldn’t do that much damage. Also have a friend with a manual toyota corrola, probably one of the best and sturdiest manuals to learn on.

        • Another guy named Chris

          Well I have a BMW with a light weight flywheel and even experienced valets have trouble driving it smoothly. Nobody is allowed to drive let alone learn on my car.

          • me

            Well, aren’t you special.

    • TaylorStreetMan

      Based on the popularity of zip car and capital bike share, and the huge response this blog gets to ANY stray comment about biking, I’d say a significant chunk of the people in this town don’t even own cars, so it’s not too surprising.

      I learned on a friend’s beater in an empty parking lot. She was very gracious and patient. I wish you luck.

      • Anonymous

        Many people love to ride bikes and also own cars.

      • Anonymous

        a little over 50% of the residents of dc own a car.

  • Anonymous

    in my bedroom….

  • Anonymous

    This makes me so sad. Almost maudlin.

  • 5Speed

    I learned to drive using a stick shift – still love to downshift.

    And, I’m pretty confident that although my (manual transmission) car might get broken into, I’m pretty confident that some punk won’t be able to drive it away.

    • Jen H.

      Oh, they can drive stick shifts. My 1991 stick shift Honda Civic was stolen from Adams Morgan a few years ago.

  • Anonymous

    Get a friend who knows how to drive standard. Then go to a rental car company and rent a truck with a standard trans. Then find a big parking lot. Practice with your friend in the car. Buy them lots of beers later, and don’t get angry when they laugh at you for grinding gears.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, do NOT tell the rental car company you’re going to practice on their truck.

      Just tell them you need it for a moving job. Get an F150, or something big.

      • Lucky

        do car rental places even have manuals?

        • Anonymous

          Not unless you’re renting luxury sports cars.

        • greent

          Zipcar does.

          • WarderSt

            Really? I have never seen a ZipCar ever with a manual so if you can point me in that direction, I would love to rent one of those.

          • K

            I recently emailed zipcar about this. Their response was that they don’t have any manual transmissions in the U.S.

    • pluscachange

      That’s what I did and would recommend. You don’t need to get a fancy sports car – some rental places will have sedans that are manual.

  • Beth

    I few years ago I needed some refresher driving classes after taking a 14 year hiatus from driving. Robert Brown at Comfort Driving School (301-736-6518) was excellent and he has since helped some of my NYC friends learn how to drive. Call him up and see if he can help you with learning how to drive a manual transmission. He shows up with a car, so ask him if he has a stick shift.

    • Girl on Kansas

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’m a city girl, non-driver my whole life and am thinking of taking lessons for the first time. Always nice to know someone who’s had a good experience with a driving school.

  • victoria

    I got a job at 16 as a summer-house nanny in 1975. The first day they asked me if I could drive an “H-column” shift (old Volvo). I thought that was a fancy term for a regular shift (which was on the column) so I said sure. I didn’t know there was anything else! Got in the car – with 3 kids – and wondered why there was an extra pedal. Had, fortunately, watched a boyfriend with a VW bug shift – and figured it out. It isn’t that hard. Good luck!

    • photodork

      The “H-Column” they referred to was the shift pattern (the standard H) and the fact that the shifter was located on the steering column.

      Column shift used to be quite common, and was often referred to as “three-on-the-tree” for a three-speed column-shifted transmission.

      As far as the OP’s inquiry, you will likely not be able to find a manual transmission rental car anywhere. The only exception may be Hert’z “Adrenaline” line of cars that may have a stick as the only option. I even think Hertz’s Corvette’s are auto trans.

      I would try to find a friend with an older stick shift car. If you need a teacher, let me know…I’ve taught many and have driven/ridden most anything with a manual trans (shifter karts, jeeps, trucks, sports cars, old cars, motocross bikes, street bikes, race cars etc.)

      • victoria

        Um – yeah – I did actually figure that out . . .

  • Eli

    I’ve often wondered this too, as I love sports cars and feel like you need to know how to operate a stick in order to drive one properly (though less so with the increased use of paddle shifting). It also comes in handy when renting cars in foreign countries. OP, if you find an instructor for this, report back!

  • Anonymous

    I learned this fall on the streets of north Petworth! We bought an inexpensive (although fantastic!) car and just went with it. Good luck!

  • Eric

    I dont recommmend getting a clunker. You want a transmisison that actually works. Trying to learn on a car with a bad clutch or slipping gears sucks. Also, modern transmisisons are much, much better than manuals or even 10 years ago.

  • jch

    manuals are being phased out more and more now that automatics go good (if not better) mpg than manuals. You’ll find them more in sports cars and older cars.

  • Kate

    Not to hijack this thread, but do people recommend buying a car with manual over automatic transmission? My boyfriend and I are looking to buy, and he wants manual but I’ve never learned and didn’t want to have to add this challenge to driving in the city. I’m curious if there are pros to manual (other than how fun it apparently is).

    • photodork

      What make/model? That’s a big factor.

      And are you commuting in this vehicle?

    • WDC

      If you know what you’re doing, you can get better gas mileage with a manual. The reverse is true as well– worse gas mileage with a manual if you’re not using it properly.

      The driving experience is better– you have more control, and you’re more in tune with the machine. But this might count as “fun”.

      I drove a manual for many, many years, and prefer it as a driving experience. But it’s not good for city driving. Too much stop-and-go. I have an automatic now that I live in the city. If I ever end up in the burbs, I hope that they’ll still be making stick-shifts.

    • Alex

      My partner and I just bought a manual 2011 Fit. He didn’t know how to drive it, but we wanted an inexpensive city car that really only gets used on the weekends and for trips, so a stick is perfect for us. I would not have gone with a stick if we used it for commuting in this city- BLAH. But driving it down Rock Creek Parkway on a sunny weekend, GREAT.

      Besides being more fun, I think it kind of makes you a better driver by forcing you to focus on the actual task of driving. When you are thinking about the constant need to clutch & shift, distractions like radio tuning, cell phone texts, and other things seem to take a back seat, which is how it should be.

      BTW, my partner is not a quick learner. It took a few weekends (err…4 maybe) in the empty office parks of Tysons, but he picked it up.

    • manual driver

      We recently bought a manual because my husband insisted he wouldn’t drive an automatic (we’d been doing the carless thing for years). It was actually difficult to FIND manual transmissions! Some brands/models don’t even have manual as an option. So the car-shopping itself was kind of annoying because of the limited choices. Now that we have the car, my husband is lamenting that he insisted on the manual – with all the stop/go of city driving, it’s not as “fun” as he had hoped.

    • Anonymous

      sticks are less likely to get stolen too. i used to have a stick, but wife never learned. so now we have an auto. not nearly as fun. but now i can text, drink, and make pancakes while driving. so theres that.

    • anon

      For what it’s worth… it seems like the “feeling more involved” thing that a lot of people cite as the reason they prefer stick-shift is also the exact same factor that a lot of people cite as they reason they DON’T like stick-shift.

      So it might depend on whether you view “feeling more involved” as a plus or a minus.

      • WarderSt

        Perhaps those people should do us all a favor and not drive at all. Might reduce some of the ridiculous behavior I see from the drivers in this area.

        • me

          Your comment is more ridiculous. Not helpful at all to the discussion. Move along, now.

  • Kate

    No commuting. And it would likely be a new car (2011/2012) compact (i.e. civic, etc).

    I’m still leaning towards automatic, but I’m open to anyone’s thoughts.

    • Formerly of Capitol Hill

      Commuting in heavy traffic in a manual is not for sissies (I do it every day on the inner loop of the Beltway) but otherwise a manual is nice to have. They are generally cheaper, can get great gas mileage, and if it’s front wheel drive you have the advantage of good handling in snow. With decent tires, my 2003 Mazda 5 wagon is a champ in snow.

      • spookiness

        +1 00 Protege Sedan here. Keyword tires.
        On the used car market, knowing how to drive a stick does put you at a cost advantage (as a buyer). Its also a good anti-theft device since nobody, esp. young hoodlums, knows how to drive them.

    • photodork

      There used to be a large gap between fuel economy in a stick vs. an auto trans. Technology has made this gap very small in most cars these days, and in some the ratings are actually better with an auto trans.

      Honda makes a great stick shift. Makes for fun spirited driving in what is otherwise an economy car. If this is just for weekend trips and cruising up RCP I would consider a stick. Go drive a few and see what you like..some sticks are better than others.

      If you are keeping the car for a long time resale value shouldn’t be a factor (sticks tend to be worth a little less over time in most cars).

      • saf

        They do – I love my Fit; it’s a zippy little car.

        The last car was an Audi – the smoothest clutch ever.

  • Dino

    Front wheel drive cars that have a lot of torque can provide noticably different performance between a manual and an auto transmission, particularly in tubocharged cars like a Saab 9-3 or Subaru Impreza. I’ve driven both brands over the years and auto trans. is best avoided, unless you don’t mind the noticable sluggishness.

    On resale value: Because of the increasing rarity of manuals, demand is often greater for a manual. Ask anyone who has resold a late-model Mustang. This seems to be true for anything that is not an econo-box base model that overwhelmingly available with an automatic.

    • photodork

      I wouldn’t say demand is often greater for a manual. In the vast majority of cases I would say the opposite. And the OP is talking economy car here.

      • Anonymous

        Right, but for the existing demand, supply is much lower.

  • SingLikeSassy

    I learned on a 1978 Datsun 280zx with no power steering! Today’s manual shifts you can practically shift with one finger. It won’t be that hard.

    • WDC

      1976 Volkswagon bus! No power steering, no heat, four on the floor transmission. Beat that! :)

      I learned a ton about engines. I was always replacing a belt or something on the side of a country road.

  • anon

    I learned stick in sleepy old Glover Park. :)

    • anon

      …in a VW convertible I bought for 2200 bucks. What a steal.

      Kids did eventually steal it though. The downside to theft of a manual transmission vehicle is that, when recovered, it won’t be drivable.

  • Anonymous

    I’d suggest you learn the same way I learned to sail. Go ahead and buy a $1000 or less junker, bring a friend, and call Sears driving school to have an instructor meet you somewhere. Or in my case, buy the boat, bring a diesel mechanic friend, and set sail up the ICW.
    You can squeeze a TON of no-car-payment years out of an old car.

  • Kate

    Lots of food for thought. Thanks for the input, everyone!

  • Anonymous

    The parking lot at Carter Barron/Tennis stadium is where generations of Washingtonians have learned to drive stick, including yours truly.


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