QOTD: Learning How to Drive

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

Watching NASCAR's race at Atlanta last night, I started thinking about how the manual transmissions on the next-gen cars are sequential and that the drivers don't need to use the clutch pedal to shift. This led me down a mental rabbit hole to my youth and the first manual-transmission vehicles I remember driving -- farm tractors.

Bear with me -- I am going somewhere with this, I promise.

When I was a lad, I had the chance to drive some of the tractors my uncle and grandfather used for farming. These were modern tractors with cabs, not the old-school antiques (though I drove one or two of those, too), and I tooled around at slow speeds in empty, harvested corn fields during downtime. The adults did all the real work, of course.

One thing about these tractors is that you used the clutch only when launching from a dead stop. You didn't need it to upshift or downshift. You used a hand throttle to gain speed, and when you ran up against the speed limit imposed by gear ratios, you just bumped it up a speed -- I think these manuals had 18 speeds.

It was an easy way to learn to drive -- I really just had to set a steady throttle and steer, and there was nothing to hit. I didn't even need brakes, the speeds were so slow you could just throttle down, and if you really needed to, you could engine brake via downshifting. All you had to do was not tip the damn thing by turning too sharply.

It was certainly easier to learn how to shift than on a car with a manual trans.

So, I ask of you, how did you learn to drive, and if that learning involved a stick shift, how do you learn how to drive a manual? On that latter question, I learned how to drive a manual-transmission car by letting the clutch out slowly and letting the car creep.

Your turn. Sound off below.

[Image: l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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3 of 45 comments
  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jul 12, 2023

    Never ask a person's age. ;-)

    Let's just say an early 1970's Town Car but my favourite years were the 1975 to 1979 version. Particularly if they had the custom 'continental' style trunk lid. In black with a red velour interior, please.

    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Jul 12, 2023

      I didn't know they put the "Continental" decklid on the Town Cars! Cool! 😎

  • Millerluke Millerluke on Jul 16, 2023

    I learned driving in my parents' late-80's Oldsmobiles (autos) and late-90's Crown Vics (as an auxiliary with a local police service.)

    I learned manuals in an early 90's Freightliner tractor (ie, semi-truck) with a 16L Detroit Diesel I-6 and 18 speed Eaton-Fuller split-shift transmission. It had enough torque you could start from a stop in 5th gear, even if your left foot was heavy or useless... it was a very forgiving truck.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.