Manual Cars Guide: Everything You Need to Know

By Austin Morris 02/13/2023 8:00am

Manual transmission Ford Bronco 2021

Quick Facts About Manual Cars

  • The number of manual cars being produced is up slightly from 2022.
  • Cars with manual transmissions use third pedals called clutches.
  • Acura reintroduced its Integra with a manual transmission after being discontinued for more than a decade.

Transmission — whether automatic or manual — isn’t typically top of mind when buying a new or used car. If you’re seeking an automatic car, that’s easy to find when searching for your next ride. But finding a car with a stick shift — now that’s a challenge.

According to the latest data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, about 1% of cars, trucks, and SUVs get made with manual transmissions, down from a peak of 35% in 1980.

Still, a community of driving purists and racers love and need these manual transmission cars, even if they’re quickly fading from the streets. Their popularity started waning partly due to a lack of demand, including because many commuters prefer automatic cars over manually changing gears when stuck in traffic.

But there is still a small market for stick shift cars. Manufacturers offered at least 33 cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks in 2022 with manual transmissions either as standard equipment or optional. In 2023, manual vehicle offerings reached at least 35 as manufacturers like Mini resumed manual car production after pausing for a year due to a parts supply shortage. The models range from the brawny Ford Bronco SUV to the American classic Chevrolet Camaro.

We’ll tell you about manual cars, why people like them, how to drive a stick shift, and more in this guide.

What Is a Manual Car? 

Driving a stick shift

A manual transmission car is a vehicle that uses a stick shift and a clutch pedal to change gears. You will shift gears when you want to speed up or slow down. Manual cars sometimes get referred to as “standard.”

Learning how to drive a stick shift car properly is fun, but it takes patience and time. It can be a thing of joy once mastered. You have to learn how to press the clutch pedal with your left foot while shifting the gear lever with your right hand. And don’t forget — you must do all this while trying to drive. If you mess up while doing this, you could stall your car.

Manual vs. Automatic Car

When it comes to the types of transmissions in cars, there are manual or automatic versions. With a manual transmission, the driver shifts the gears. With an automatic transmission, the car shifts the gears automatically, doing the work for you. You may not even be entirely aware when the car changes gears, but when you accelerate and feel your car jump a bit, that’s the car changing gears.

However, if you drive an automatic and still want control over the gears, many new cars come with paddle shifters that allow you to shift gears if you desire manually.

How To Start a Manual Car

To start manual transmission cars, you first need to check out the floor, where the pedals are located. Unlike a car with an automatic transmission, you will notice that a manual car uses a third pedal, known as the clutch. The clutch will be the pedal on the far left.

Depress the clutch with your left foot, put the gear shifter in a neutral position, and either turn the ignition key or press the start button to get the car started. While your left foot presses the clutch, you may also need to keep your right foot on the brake to keep the car from rolling if you’re on a hill. Some people use the emergency brake to keep the car in place during this process, while other cars feature a hill-hold feature that momentarily keeps the vehicle from rolling.

How To Drive a Manual Car 

  • Shift into first gear. Press the clutch and move the gear lever into first gear.
  • Ease the left foot off the clutch as the right foot presses the gas pedal. You can now completely remove your right foot from the brake or emergency brake while simultaneously removing your foot from the clutch. At the same time, use your now free right foot to press the gas pedal gently. This needs to be a smooth, seamless motion. You should feel the car start to move.
  • Remove your foot from the clutch. At this point, you should remove your foot from the clutch and only press the accelerator.
  • Shift into second gear. As you gain momentum, press your left foot onto the clutch again, and shift the vehicle from first to second gear. The first gear position is usually in the upper left, and shifting to second gear means moving the lever straight down. Again, release the clutch as your right foot presses the gas pedal. This will take some practice to learn how to transition seamlessly, especially when you transition.
  • Repeat. You will repeat this process through all the gears to accelerate to your desired speed.
  • Slowing down. To slow down a manual car, you will reverse the process, using the same method of pressing in the clutch with your left foot while downshifting. You can also simply put the car in neutral and use the brakes.
  • Stopping the vehicle. When you want to stop the car completely, such as at a traffic signal, press down on the brake as you normally would. As your vehicle reaches a slow rolling stop, step onto the clutch.
  • Go back to neutral. Place the car in the neutral position again. You can now lift off the clutch pedal while keeping your foot on the brake. To get moving again, repeat the steps above.

Learning when to change gears is the most important part of driving a stick, and timing it properly will help to prevent your car from stalling. This will come with practice.

But you will get the feel of it. When the car speeds up, you will feel the car engine and hear it telling you to switch to the higher gear as you drive. Same for changing to a lower gear to slow down. Some vehicles will also display an indicator when it’s time to shift.

Advantages of a Manual 

Once you learn how to drive a stick shift properly, you will understand why driving purists enjoy driving them. There are multiple advantages to driving a manual. They include:

  • You have ultimate control over your car. When you drive a manual, you have more control over the vehicle’s speed and handling.
  • Acceleration feel. As you switch gears, you decide when the car accelerates. The acceleration can feel livelier because you can hold the gear longer than would be typical in an automatic transmission.
  • Cheaper. Since these cars aren’t in high demand anymore, they tend to be cheaper to purchase than their automatic transmission counterparts.
  • Makes going up or downhill a breeze. Manually changing the gear can help you get up a steep hill easier. Also, a manual puts less strain on your brakes when going downhill.

Is a Manual Transmission Right for You? 

A manual transmission car can be an enjoyable vehicle to drive. Driving a stick shift is a more hands-on driving experience than if you were driving an automatic.

Quickly shifting gears can be exciting and give you a rush when you downshift on the highway to increase your speed. While this does sound fun, a manual isn’t for every driver.

If you are a younger driver and just learning how to operate a vehicle, it is probably best to learn how to drive a traditional automatic before trying your hand at a stick shift. Also, if you do not want to spend days, weeks, or even months learning how to drive a stick shift, then this type of vehicle is not right for you.

Learning how to drive a manual properly can be a tedious task that some people don’t have the time to learn.

Lastly, an automatic car is right for you if you prioritize getting from point A to B and don’t really care about how in tune you are with the driving experience.

Here’s What You Can Expect in 2023

As manual transmission cars continue fading out of existence, we still see new manuals coming for the 2023 model year. One of the highly anticipated manual cars this year is the 2023 Toyota GR Supra. Along with the Supra, the Acura Integra and Nissan Z offer all-new manual versions for the 2023 model year.

Sadly, we said goodbye to the Chevrolet Spark, which offered a manual transmission option. The carmaker ended the production of its ultra-inexpensive vehicle in 2022.  Mitsubishi also stopped offering a manual version of the Mitsubishi Mirage.