Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Driving a stick

I learned how to drive a manual transmission (a 60's VW bug and an early 50's Chevy?) when I was 16. Most of the cars I have owned over the years have had manual transmissions. There is something very enjoyable about manually shifting up and down the gears when driving.

About two years ago I was doing some serious used car shopping for a charity case with a disadvantaged family in our ward. I scoured craigslist for economical cars and test drove quite a few. I got a pretty good feel for value and market conditions, and when I came upon a particular '94 Altima I saw a bargain. But it had a manual transmission and wasn't suitable for this family, so I bought it myself (see photo).

I paid a friend to do some needed front axle work, then fixed a few things myself (trunk water leak, power antenna, tachometer, front brake pads). I found some great barely used winter tires on alloy rims on craigslist. I washed, waxed, and cleaned it all up. I changed the oil and put in synthetic Mobil-1. There is immense satisfaction to be had in fixing and improving something yourself.

Steven was learning to drive so I taught him how to drive a stick with the "new" Altima. We started in the church parking lot, moved on to Oak Hills neighborhood, then an industrial park to practice with the clutch on hills (oh, the burning clutch smells!), and finally loops around Springville/185th/Germantown/Kaiser. So many engine stalls along the way. There is a nasty steep uphill terminating at a stop sign (185th/Germantown). With a car coming up behind I believe once I told Steven to just continue a right turn without stopping. Another time I had him stop and I jumped out quickly to continue the drive uphill with a car behind us.

What a great vanishing skill it is to be able to drive a stick. I was so proud of Steven's acquired competence, and even more so when he took his driving test using the Altima with a manual transmission. What instructor wouldn't be amazed and impressed with such a feat!


  1. Yeah, I was so impressed with his skillz, too. I didn't catch on confidently with a stick until Jeremy went out of town once and I was on my own with the Tercel (aka Go-Kart on wheels).

  2. I remember driving a friend's stick and getting caught at a stop sign going up a steep hill. I sweat bullets but he worked the emergency brake for me as I worked the gas and clutch. Knowing how to drive a stick gives you a lot of flexibility in life.

  3. Good job with NaBloMoPo! I am so swamped, that I didn't jump on the bandwagon. I love driving a stick, and for that, I miss the Mazda! The slap shift on the Saab is not the same. But at least we have no car payments!