Reader Question: Learning to Drive a Real Car?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Michael asks: My son will be 15 on Jan 1, 2022. We have one stick shift in the family, my 2003 Honda s2000 (a purchase inspired by your “doomed” review). Not suitable for training. What do you think about (a) buying a high mileage but durable training vehicle with a stickshift for under $2,000, or (b) converting my 2005 Toyota Camry with 213k miles from an automatic that refuses to die, to a manual shift? If the choice is (a), what vehicles would you recommend. Thank you!

My reply: I would select option “a” – finding him a sound used car with a manual; something along the lines of an old Corolla or Yaris, a Hyundai Accent, an old Subaru Impreza or Mazda3, etc. So long as it’s got the third pedal and it’s a sound “driver.” The conversion costs on the Camry would be astronomical and there are probably issues with – sigh – computer compatibility.

I’d normally suggest an old pick-up but – thanks to the situation – the prices for these have skyrocketed absurdly. Which is too bad because a truck would be both fun, valuable as a teaching too and very useful, as he gets older and will need a vehicle that can haul his stuff around.

I’d also suggest starting his training now – before he gets to 15. If you have any friends/family with stick vehicles, see whether they’d be willing to let him learn in a parking lot, under your supervision. The sooner he acquires experience – and skill – the better a driver he’ll be, by the time he is technically legal to drive!

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  1. I don’t know. My uncle told me to take the Jeep(surplus Willys)and drive half a mile. I could see the shift pattern and so I tore off in it, knowing to used the clutch to take off and change gears. Then I started driving it when I was 10 or 11 on his “place”.

    My grandfather and I had just loaded cows on a trailer and left the farm. It had rained enough to flood the road and create a huge puddle. When we got on the road he told me to “drive”, got out and changed sides with me. We got to the puddle and were immediately bogged down. He said “double clutch it, double clutch it” wanting me to return to 1st gear. I didn’t know what he meant so we were stopped and bogged down with a load of cattle.

    Then he explained what double-clutching meant. I started off in 1st again and learned to double clutch nearly immediately. From that moment on I knew how to drive. I’d guess it took about 5 minutes or less before I knew when to change gears.

    Right after that my aunt taught me to drive a big rig(in town no less). No need for a pillow, I just leaned against the seat and shifted gears. The two speed rear axle was new to me but not after we got back. It all made perfect sense to me.

    • Ha! Eight, I KNEW you’d be on here with a story like that! I had to learn how to drive a stick because I wanted to buy my first pick-up, and back then, almost all of the older trucks I could afford were sticks (Wish that were still the case…now it’s near impossible to find one!).

      So I knew this 84 year-old guy who had a manual Chevette (A former NYC bus driver, no less)- so I asked him if he could “teach me”- I knew what to do…just needed to put it into practice- Good thing, ’cause the old guy wasn’t any help. So we went out in his Chevette, and suddenly I was driving a stick- easy-peasy.

      Shortly thereafter I bought a ’64 F600 stake body, that required extensive double clutching….which I had also figured out. Luckily I’ve never had to contend with one’a them 18-speed road tractors…’cause THAT seems complicated!

      • Nunz, the 2 speed rear axle is more difficult to shift than a new big rig. A 10 speed transmission behind a diesel is just 1 through 5, pull up on the range knob and then when you come out of 5th it automatically goes into high range.
        It becomes a bit dicier with two gearboxes but it’s nothing that would trip you up. Depending on the power and the load, you learn to skip gears since a 13 speed is nothing more than a 1st being a really low gear you don’t have to use when you have no load. So it’s 1 through t pull the button for high range and then it’s 5 to 13 with a switch on the last 3 gears you split for 8 and 9, 10 and 11 and 12 and 13.

        Things get a big more complicated on dual gearboxes, especially if it’s a 5X6. You just have to get used to the rig and load to split the last 3 gears. Then there’s the 18 speed I really like and it’s quite a bit more dicey to skip gears although not needing all the gears you just have to figure it out with the engine and load to know when you can skip gears. 18 speeds are normally really slick and once you get used to the truck it’s just second nature to know if and what gears you can split. You can get better mileage and go faster than a 10 speed with no OD. A nine speed is easy to drive but you really have to get used to clutching out of 1st since it’s a low,low gear and then use the last 8 gears like you have a 4 speed with a high range.

        I like two gearboxes too since you have a gear for every situation if it’s a 5X4 or gearbpxes with more than 4 gears like the 5X5 or 5X6 that real gearheads love. They work well with really heavy loads and really slow speeds along with really high speeds. But I’ll take the 18 speed over all of them since they’re easier on the transmission, axles and engines. Confused enough?

  2. If it were me, I’d teach the kid the basics of driving on the automatic you already have….and once he’s comfortable with that, it’s much easier to learn the stick. I mean, if all you had were manuals…then run with it….but I think it’s actually easier to learn to drive first, and then just picking up an additional skill is even easier.

  3. Learning to drive a manual? Go with a basic small dirt bike.

    Millions of kids learned to shift at age 5 or 6 (I was a late bloomer at 7).

    It’s not driving a car, but it teaches them how to use a clutch and throttle and listen to the revs to know when to shift.

  4. I’d say go with a manual Jetta, a Tdi if you can find it. One of the nicest feeling transmissions out there – easy to shift and, if a diesel, harder to stall.


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