Changing Gears

By Allen Reams

When I was still 15 years old and still had a learner’s permit, my dad told me that I could take a drive in his car. My dad drives a silver 2007 honda civic si. It’s a pretty average car, slightly sporty from the factory (stiff coilover shocks and a torquey, high-revving engine) , but sadly, completely stock. What made me so excited however, was that it had a six speed manual transmission. Up until then, I had only driven cars with automatic transmissions, which were nice, but not terribly exciting or engaging to drive.

To drive a car with a manual transmission, you must use a clutch to disconnect the engine from the transmission while you manually change gears. When the clutch “grabs” the engine, the engine has to be turningat roughly the same speed as the wheels through the transmission. This calls for precise rev matching and quick and careful use of the clutch.

My dad and I drove to an open parking lot and switched places. I got situated in the car, and got ready to drive.

“When you let the clutch out, you have to pause at the friction point so the car won’t stall” instructed my dad.

“What’s the friction point?” I asked.

“It’s the point where the clutch is beginning to engage the transmission to the engine.”

After that quick pep talk from my dad, I started the car and began to let the clutch out. I stalled the car three times before getting the car moving. When I did finally get the car moving, it was not very smooth. I learned how to match revs while shifting, how to correctly let out the clutch, and of course, how to get moving from a stop consistently. My dad’s civic is nice for starting off the line because it has a fuel injected engine. The computer controlling the injection helps me get more initial torque for smoother and easier starts while letting out the clutch. However, the lightened sporty flywheel does not encourage smooth launches.

After nearly an hour of practice in the parking lot, my dad said I could drive around a nearby neighborhood. The car could reach higher speeds, and called for more focus on shifting. Driving in the real world was more difficult, thanks to stop signs and other drivers. Soon however, the steps to shifting began to become second nature to me though, and I prided in hardly having to think “3rd gear” before my hands and feet obliged with precision. What surprised me was just how fun the car was to drive. I wasn’t speeding or accelerating abnormally, (or illegally) fast; just driving. And yet, for some reason, It felt so much more fun and satisfying to change gears myself rather than mashing my foot to the floor and letting the car do the fun stuff. It began to feel like an art; a form of self expression, the way I could blip the throttle during engine braking or pop the clutch on a start. Changing gear smoothly and efficiently just gave me the best feeling I had ever had while driving.

A few days later, recently learning how to drive a manual and how to engine break (A must-know skill for my family) , I rolled to a stop at a stop sign on a hill. It was a steep hill, but I didn’t think anything of it. After the road was clear, I let the clutch out, feeding in a little throttle, but to my surprise and horror, the car bucked, stalled, and began to roll back down the hill. I pounced on the brakes, and tried again. The car had stalled and I felt pressured by the shame of stalling a car on a hill. What would my dad think? I come from a family that is heavily involved in modifying and racing cars; driving a manual transmission car with skill is a necessity.

“It’s alright Allen, just try it again,” said my dad. I was still frustrated with myself however, and exclaimed angrily, “I don’t know why it stalled!”

“Let the clutch out slower and get off the brake when you feel the clutch catch.”

Spurred on by my dad’s advice, I tried again, only to suffer the same result.Thankfully, the roads were nearly empty and nobody wasbehind me.

“It takes practice,” consoled my dad.

I could tell that I would need a little more practice before becoming proficient.

After several frustrating, failed attempts to getgoing, my dad and I switched places, and he resumed the drive. I learnedtwo things from that experience; If someone drives a car with a manual transmission, they must be able to start on steep hills, and, that if one respects the car, It will do what one wants.

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