I’m Going To Teach Myself To Drive Stick With Video Games

I’m Going To Teach Myself To Drive Stick With Video Games
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“A tough young man like you is going to want a manual, right?” asked the Nissan salesman who sold me my first car 20 years ago. I shook my head timidly and purchased an automatic Sentra at $US500 a month for six years. I can’t help thinking I’d have gotten a better deal had I said yes.

I’ve never even attempted to drive a stick shift. I’d seen them driven on television or in movies, and I imagined the exhilaration that comes from having that amount of control over a vehicle.

But I’d also been in cars with friends learning how to handle a stick. I’d heard the grinding, seen the pained looks on their parents’ faces as some sort of damage was done. I decided not to chance it.

I’ve spent the past 23 years or so avoiding stick shifts. The pattern on the knobs could be a mystic symbol for all I am concerned. Still I feel pangs now and then when watching a movie or seeing someone else rocking their virtual racing rig.

Then Logitech sent me one of these.

It came along with the G920, the latest racing wheel for the Xbox One and PC, a lovely wheel that’s every bit the equal of the G29 I reviewed for the PC and PlayStation 4, if a bit less garish.

I finally have a racing wheel with the correct number of pedals. I have a leather-sheathed stick with a coded knob at the end. And how could I call myself a racing game fan if I didn’t know how to really race?

So it’t time.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be making time with Forza Motorsport 6 on the Xbox One and Project Cars on the PC, games I regularly play automatically. Now it’s a rule — no racing without the stick. Once I feel confident enough with the stick virtually, my ultimate goal is to go drive one for real.

I’ll provide a progress update next weekend to let you all know how I am doing. In the meantime should you good people, to many of whom the idea of not being able to handle a stick shift is a strange and alien thing, have any beginner tips, I’m mostly beard but a fair amount of ears as well.


  • I tried to teach a girlfriend how to drive shift. She actually blew out the clutch and cost me almost a grand. Funny though!

  • Manual driving is so much more fun than autos. The wife wants our next car to be an auto because she wants one less thing to think about while driving with the kids in the car

  • I always buy manual for myself and auto for the family as my wife dislikes manual, especially six speed. I’m not a boy racer, I just prefer full control.

  • I’m curious about how you go. I honestly don’t think it’ll be that great a simulation thanks to the pedals themselves not having feedback (unless they do, in which case, great!)

    The clutch pedal IRL is a tricky thing to master, and all the gear-grinding you see and hear going on in learner lessons is simply down to one thing; the driver hasn’t pressed the clutch all the way in for the entire gear change. In a real car, you’d be able to just know how far you need to depress the clutch because there’s a specific feedback point in the pedal throw/action called either a friction point or a bite point. Most cars have a quite defined feel to the pedal at this point, but some poorly-serviced cars have quite a soft feedback (and can have it at the wrong point). This is why I’m a little dubious about how well your game training will translate to IRL.

    Once you understand the theory and know what to look/feel for, driving manual is easy. The next tricky part is ensuring you have the correct gear selected for the situation. Ensuring that you’re not just trying to go from 30 to 110kph in 5th gear is a something all automatic drivers need to overcome. Same with slowing from such a high speed. Utilising engine braking dramatically reduces your stopping distance, and again, is something automatic drivers have difficulty adapting to. Once you realise that the redline is your friend (if your car is well-serviced…), you’ll have a load more fun.

    Rev-matching on downshifts for better acceleration is probably the last thing you want to master IRL. You don’t want to take your 1.8L 4-pot up that steep hill in top gear, so you’ll need to get used to shifting down without slowing down. The only way to do that is loads of practice.

    Lastly, all I can say is just believe in yourself! Don’t be put off by these stories about newbies blowing their clutches teaching their girl/friends how to drive manual. You just need confidence and a solid understanding of the theory. I taught my ex how to drive manual in my MR2 before I even held a license myself. No clutch burnouts, no ground gears, nothing.

    You’ll be fine!

    • agreed, the other mistake that ppl make is letting out the clutch way too fast. Not always an issue when you are going fast but has consequences at slow speeds. I’m not sure how well a pc game will help with that sort of thing making the assumption the clutch pedal may be akin to a button rather than an axis. A real car you can often feel struggling when you are in too high a gear for the speed you are travelling, resulting in low revs, which I’ve not seen translate well into games.

      My Logitech momo is still going strong 😉

    • “Believe in yourself” is definitely the best advice. My second car (both car 1 and 2 were autos) was just about ready for the scrapheap and after saving all I could and taking out a loan I bought a manual car as car 3, as you could get a better car cheaper.

      A good friend of mine owned a manual and he took me out for my first lesson 2 days before I picked up my new car, which lasted about 45 minutes. The most critical part is feeling the “engage point” when using the clutch. There will be a sweet spot when pushing the clutch in that feels different and this is the point where you can change gears and then release the clutch. It takes practice.

      For my story, I had my friend drive it off the lot that day, as I was too scared I would not be able to drive manual, then I got in the car and just kept teaching myself how to drive. Apart from stalling at traffic lights or accidentally trying to start in third gear, it took time but you need to remain composed and never get flustered. It is a learning process that can take maybe a month or two before you become in tune with a car.

  • This is an article I am really looking forward to read. I have often been curious to see if this was possible as I am not allowed to drive for medical reasons but have always wanted to learn! If successful I will be trying this myself 🙂

  • Good luck. It will definitely be worth it.

    Arguably the hardest thing to learn is starts but unfortunately no game will give you that clutch bite point feel.

  • I don’t know why learning manual isn’t a mandatory part of getting your licence.
    In the totally-gonna-happen zombie apocalypse, these auto-only folks are all screwed because they hop into a car and don’t know how to drive it?

    It just seems so pointless. A kid’s learning to drive, make them learn it right. Screw the shortcuts.

      • While this is true, manual cars are still prevalent enough that it’s baffling to me that someone would go to the trouble of learning how to drive, but not learn something so important.

        It’d be like doing ‘junior first aid’ instead of senior; teaching about splints, not removing foreign bodies but padding around them, when to and not to use a tourniquet, treatment of seizures, lacerations, recovery position, clearing airways… but not teaching CPR. You won’t always need to use it, but when you do, you’ll be completely stuck doing nothing – or [edit: potentially] worse, doing it wrong.

        It’s the difference between learning to drive your car… and learning how to drive cars.

        • Eh, there’s an argument for one thing at a time. Learning in an auto is less complicated and stressful and let’s you focus your attention on basic car control and road rules.
          Then, when you have all that down, pick up an manual and focus your attention on learning that.
          If you already know how to handle a car before trying stick you will pick it up quicker with less problems.

          And while I think everyone should learn, you really can go through life without ever needing to drive a manual.

          • Nothing wrong with learning auto first, That’s how most people do it. I had the opposite problem. I had driven for almost 10 years before I ever drove an automatic and without thinking slammed the side of the oversized break pedal while going to clutch. almost caused a pileup on a highway.

          • I… I may have guffawed at that. I left-foot-brake when I try driving an auto for the first time in ages, and consequently just about go flying through the windscreen when I mean to pull up gently.

        • Depends on how much you’re going to use it. If you don’t do it regularly you can lose the knack anyway. My dad drove manuals for his entire life until he was about 50 then he bought an auto. Drove that around for about 10 years and then went back to a manual and spent the first few weeks in it cursing and swearing as he stalled it at every intersection 😀

        • Just watch any “worlds’ worst drivers” shows. Plenty of people “learn” to drive a car without mastering even the basics like parking. Also, it depends on the teacher. If your teacher doesn’t drive a manual, you won’t. Not everyone is in a position to afford lessons (at $80 an hour they aren’t cheap) and lessons are useless if you don’t have a manual car to practise and gain experience in.

    • Although I totally agree, unfortunately a manual car just isn’t available when learning to drive. I mean you could always pay for driving lessons in a manual…but even then, 100 hours of driving lessons would just about cost the same as a second hand manual car. That’s the only reason I didn’t get my manual.

      • 100hrs? The hell? When I did it I think it was something a bit closer to, I dunno… four?

        Well. That makes sense as to why people aren’t doing it. It SHOULD be much more common. And I can’t make an argument to reduce driving instructor hours because there’s no way in hell I could do that job… but to make everyone pay for 100hrs if they don’t have access to a manual is…


        • I can’t remember what the other states are like, but presumably that’s NSW now. When I did mine you only had to do 50 (I didn’t get mine til I was at somewhere in the 80s, did the first 50 on auto then took a manual lesson and started driving that til I felt ready to go for Ps), then they extended it to 100 hours and I think on top of that you have to do 20 hours of night driving too? But then, hours with a professional instructor are worth “bonus hours” or something, maybe triple the hourly rate. Like some kind of game. Crazy.

          • This is true, I didn’t factor in driving lessons are worth double minutes or something like that. so in all technicality you wouldn’t pay for 100 hours of driving lessons. But 50 hours at an average price of $60 per hour…$3000 is more than what I payed for my first car by $1000. It was just unfortunate that there wasn’t a manual car in my area within my price range that didn’t need a heap of work done to it.

  • After many years owning manuals I have now as of a month ago bought our first auto car not that I wanted an auto quite the opposite it was just that soooo many newer cars come as auto i found only looking at manuals severely limited your choices.

    I imagine in the US its been like that for years i would always laugh when i watched the amazing race and they’d jump into a manual car “aw dang i cant drive stick”

    • Hahahaha yes, every time. Going on The Amazing Race without learning to drive manual beforehand is like going on Survivor without learning how to start a fire. Surely it’s obviously a requisite skill by now.

  • This is how I learnt to drive over 20yrs ago with Ridge Racer in the arcade. It had a 6 speed manual shifter and made a crunching sound when the clutch not used correctly. After some time playing my shifts became smoother and when it came time to go for my license I passed very easily.

  • I think a great way to get a feel for a car is to find ‘friction point’; that is the point at which the gears just start to touch and the car just starts moving a little.
    I would fine a nice straight flat area with no walls or obstacles around (in case you drop the clutch and go careening forward or something). Then have the car idle, push the clutch all the way in, put it in first, and then slowly let the clutch out, really slowly, until you start to feel a change in the engine as the gears touch and it gets some resistance from the driveshaft.
    Then just feather the accelerator just a tiny bit, and gently let the clutch off the tiniest bit more and drive the car forwards a meter or so.
    Then put the clutch back in, and do it again.
    You can also do this on a slight hill, move forward a meter, put the clutch in and let yourself roll back a meter, then gently let the clutch out again and move forward a little, etc.
    Once you have a feel for friction point, you’ll know exactly how far to push in the clutch to change gears, and how far out to re-engage them. Combine that with the feathering of the accelerator and that should give you a good feel for gently feeding the engine to keep it from stalling.
    It’s all about getting it all smooth and fluid, you don’t want fast sharp janky movements with the clutch and accelerator.

  • I learned to drive manual (on the insistence of my parents in case I need to drive a manual in an emergency situation) but then bought an automatic car and never went back. A couple of decades later, my wife gets a manual car, which I need to get into and hopefully pick up the skills again.

  • So I don’t need to pull up statistics of how many cars kill people a year, we all know it’s a lot. Now with that in mind think about this. ‘look at me I can operate the harder version of one of man’s biggest killing machines’….

    • *safer version* Had an experience when driving a few years ago where for reasons I’m still not sure of the 4runner I borrowed from a friend to pick up some things decided it would go full throttle, fly up to redline while the accelerator was all the way up. if it was an auto it would have taken me a bit more time to realize what happened and drop it to neutral (assuming it wasn’t an ecu fault and the car would even let me do it) But being in a manual I instinctively just pushed in the clutch and let it valve bounce while I safely pulled it off the road. Since that experience I feel uncomfortable driving anything that won’t let me push a thing that makes a physical gap in the drive train to stop the car if something goes wrong.

      • I agree. My first lesson was in an automatic. My instructor told me “lift off at 55[kph] and you’ll notice how the car auto-throttles up to 60” – lo and behold, it did just that!

        That was when I decided for good that automatics weren’t for me. I enjoy having granular control over my car, thank you! I don’t even have TCS or STM in my choice of vehicle!

  • I’ve always driven manual, I just don’t feel in complete control of the car whenever I drive someone else’s auto. Having said that, when you’re stuck in Sydney peak hour traffic it does get tiring if you are in a manual.

    These days it’s actually getting more difficult to buy brand new manual cars. You can do it, but autos are so much more prominent and many dealers are beginning to not charge the premium for it either. I bought a new manual sedan earlier in the year and I literally had to get the last one in the warehouse delivered. The dealers kept asking me “Are you sure you don’t want a auto hatchback? We have plenty of those”. No, I wanted a manual sedan.

  • I hope the manual shift that comes with this wheel is better than the one that came with my G27. It looked like a manual gear shift and it had the relevant positions on it, but there was no FEEL to it. When you’re driving a real manual car you can feel where it is, there’s a bit of resistance when you move it and that nice, chunky, “notchy” feeling when you change into a gear. The G27 had nothing like that, it felt like you were just sliding it around so there was no easy way to tell where it was just by feel.

  • Only advantage auto drivers have is not having to worry about the constant clutch/accelerator balancing act we manual drivers have to play with in peak hour traffic/traffic jams.

    Other than that, manual all the way!

    • That’s part of the reason why I like taking the bus to work – keeps my car out of the peak hour traffic, saving wear and tear on the clutch and keeps the km’s down, too, which helps when it comes time to think about resale / trade-in value. Plus, I figure if I drive to work I’ll probably be sitting there in traffic staring at the back of the bus I would otherwise have been on, so might as well sit there and use it as reading time or something since there’s not much driving enjoyment to be had out of that kind of journey anyway.

    • You summed up my sentiments exactly. Outside of peak hour I love Manual. 30-45 minutes of 1st gear, second gear, back to first is not fun at all.

  • Without feedback on the clutch, and, effectively, the actual car, what’s the bloody point?

    Gear changes in a racing game have virtually nothing to do with what makes manual driving harder.

    As others have stated, the “hard” part of manual driving is getting to know how to use the clutch to hit the bite point. This is only really an issue at low speed. Not something that you do in Forza. In fact, starting a real car as you would at the start of a race in Forza is absolutely not ideal.

    Learning to do it doesn’t take too long. Just spend a weekend or two in a mate’s car, rather than dithering about with videogames.

  • Best way to learn how to do something is to just do it. I bought my first manual car the other week, literally, and I’m alright at it already. Helps that I’ve been riding motorcycles for five years though so I understand the basic idea of how manual shifting works, but trust me, it’s different enough that it’s like learning from new, just with a bunch of tips and tricks that you wouldn’t have known without experience and study.

    I learned how to ride motorcycles the same way actually. Bought a bike and then just went at it. Crashed a bunch, dropped the bike a few times, but I got it right eventually and now I’m an excellent rider, and I measure that in how much faster I can go through the corners than everyone else, not just my ego 🙂

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