Driving – An Active Process

Driving – An Active Process

Real drivers use three pedals. Always.I remember the thrill I felt as I lifted my left foot off the clutch and slowly pressed down on the accelerator of my 2012 Hyundai Elantra (I know. Ladies, please, control yourselves.), quickly followed by the abrupt lurch and stall of the engine and loss of confidence.

As of winter 2011, I am officially a proficient manual transmission vehicle driver. It is one of the crowning achievements of my life so far. In a world being slowly dominated by the new fangled automatic transmissions, I am one of the few purists who pride ourselves in the ability to drive cars the way they were meant to be driven, fully under the control of man. The whole process of learning how to drive a manual is all quite fresh in my memory.

 

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I remember the thrill I felt as I lifted my left foot off the clutch and slowly pressed down on the accelerator of my 2012 Hyundai Elantra (I know. Ladies, please, control yourselves.), quickly followed by the abrupt lurch and stall of the engine and loss of confidence. I also remember the first time I merged onto the highway, my mind filled with thoughts of horror and wreckage as I scrambled to coordinate my hands and feet with the demands of the hamster under my hood. Most importantly though, I remember the surge of victory I felt as I out-paced the car next to me in a self-declared stoplight battle down the quiet streets of my small Kansas town. Sure, the other person may have been an old lady. Sure, she may have been driving an ancient Buick. And I’ll grant you that she had no idea I was going for it — but the point is my shifts were flawless and soon enough, my Hyundai had shot ahead of her maroon LeSabre and I was almost flying. It was in that moment that I knew I was a going to be a manual driver for life. There was something about this transmission that just spoke to me and made the entire driving experience so much more intimate and exciting.

 

First and foremost, driving stick makes literally every driving experience feel like a scene out of a car chase. What’s that Mom? You need a gallon of milk and tomatoes from the grocery store? I’m already peeling out of the driveway, throwing the car in first and tearing out of the neighborhood before she can finish her sentence. Don’t worry about the fact that we went grocery shopping the day before; that’s not important. What is important is that every shift I make could be straight out of a cutaway in The Fast and The Furious.

 

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Secondly, literally no one can borrow your car. It is fantastic. In college, there is always someone who needs to borrow a car for some reason or another, and having a stick basically puts your car off-limits. I love helping people and I am always willing to lend a hand, but lending my car is where I draw the line if they aren’t an extremely close friend. And having a manual just makes this conversation so much easier. “Oh you need to borrow my car to pick up your friend? Ah, I’d love to, but my car is a manual. Can you—No? Sorry man. I heard the bus system here is fantastic though and super safe. As long as you travel in pairs. During the day. And carry mace. Tell me how it goes!” They don’t borrow your car and you don’t look like a jerk for saying no. Win-win.

 

Plus—it’s a great way to get girls. You’ll be talking to some girls, and you’ll let it slip that you drive a stick. One of them is bound to say that they don’t know how to. You offer to teach them, and then maybe go get coffee or drinks after. They you smile and run your hand through your hair. Maybe throw in a wink. And you’re in, sir. Your car is no longer a car. It is your wingman. Can you do that, automatic, beige Corolla? Didn’t think so, pal.

 

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Finally, if you read a lot of car reviews, you know that one of the main things that gets brought up consistently is a car’s transmission. Often, with automatics, the writer has something to say about the responsiveness of the automatic transmission either being sluggish or too quick. That problem disappears with manuals, because you’re the one controlling your shifts. And if you’re too sluggish or too quick, that problem can be solved easily by not sucking at driving. But with automatics, you don’t have that option (let’s not get into the discussion of manumatics and Tiptronics; the one in my dearly departed 2001 Passat 1.8T was a joke). For the duration of your ownership, you have to deal with knowing that your car’s shifts are just a little bit off. And every time that happens, you’ll know. You always know.

 

In all seriousness, when you drive a manual car, the driver does simply have more control of the vehicle than when in an automatic. The nature of the engineering forces the driver to be more engaged throughout the driving process and thereby makes the driver relatively more focused on driving. With automatics, it’s easy to put the car in drive and just go about your business. Your mind has one less thing to worry about and it’s easy to let your mind wander. But with a good old-fashioned manual, you have to keep an eye on your speed, the engine’s response, and keep your hands ready to shift accordingly. It also makes it a bit harder to talk on the phone, but in the long run, makes your driving a bit safer. By making driving an active process, you’re more engaged and more aware of your surroundings and environment, be it the road or the car itself.

 

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A wise man once said to me that real drivers use three pedals. And after having my own car that forces me to do so—I agree wholeheartedly.

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