Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, March 10, 2005





Learning How: Stick it

Learning how to drive a car with a stick shift can be traumatic, but it's a useful skill

 by Katie Kelberlau  published on Thursday, March 10, 2005

<em>Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>
SPM teaches theatre senior Miranda Lilley to drive a stick shift. Learning to drive a car with a manual transmission can be frustrating, but itís an incredibly valuable skill./issues/arts/692390
Danielle Peterson
Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
SPM teaches theatre senior Miranda Lilley to drive a stick shift. Learning to drive a car with a manual transmission can be frustrating, but itís an incredibly valuable skill.


The car lurches through the intersection, bouncing and hopping like a bunny on steroids. The engine revs and squeals as the tires leave black streaks on the pavement.

The car bounds by houses with manicured gardens and hedges, every sound lost in the roar of the engine.

On this balmy Wednesday afternoon, theatre senior Miranda Lilley is attempting to learn the art of driving a car with a manual transmission, also known as a "stick." I, a relatively new manual driver myself, am teaching her.

She's doing well and actually gets the car moving on her first try.

Some people's first attempts at driving a stick are usually among the most traumatic of their lives -- stalling, erratic bursts of speed and the incessant honking of backed-up cars are enough to drive even the calmest of nerves to a frenzy.

But knowing how to drive a stick is an important skill. For instance, if a driver of a manual car gets drunk or is otherwise incapacitated, knowing how to shift would be a plus.

Basically, it's about being prepared.

Journalism senior Courtney Delzompo is one ASU student who had difficulties learning to drive a stick.

"I felt like a mechanical bull," she says.

She says she would stall about 30 times just driving to campus. On trips just around the corner, she says she stalled at least three times.

Her dad tried to teach her, her mom tried, all her relatives tried -- but nothing clicked for Delzompo until finally someone explained to her how to balance the gas and the clutch. Now, she loves driving stick.

"Even if you are driving a four-banger, driving a stick makes you feel like you have so much power. I feel like a race car driver even though I am in a Honda," she says.

Several Web sites, including, post detailed and helpful instructions for driving a standard manual transmission. Another more convenient and popular option is to grab a friend with a stick shift and hit the road.

That's what Lilley is doing today.

Although she had a smooth start, the engine-kill count is at four.

Lilley is at a stop sign on the corner of Farmer Avenue and 12th Street in Tempe. She puts her foot on the gas, takes her foot off the clutch and looks disappointed when the car shudders and remains silent at the stop sign.

"Ohhh," she moans. "It's this corner. I am not going this way anymore."

Lilley is right. This is the second time the engine has died at this corner.

She guides the car out onto Farmer Avenue.

"OK, OK, OK, OK," she says, breathing heavily, accelerating and jerking the stick into fifth gear. It was a very smooth transition. Unfortunately, she was going for third.

After successfully circling the neighborhood a few times, Lilley decides to leave the safety of the neighborhood roads and steers the vehicle onto Hardy Drive.

Hardy Drive is not a neighborhood road with minimal traffic like the places where Lilley has been practicing. It is a real street -- cars, lights, pedestrians and all.

Lilley approaches the light at the corner of Hardy and 13th Street. She needs to turn left but appears a bit overwhelmed by the situation.

"I'm really freaking out right now," she screams, over Shania Twain's jaunty voice blaring from the speakers.

Zooming into the intersection, Lilley forgets to downshift and almost forgets to slow down at all before yanking the car through a careening left-hand turn.

Tony Cadorin, president of the Drag Race Devils at ASU, says he learned how to drive a stick in his father's old truck.

"Yeah, it was a big screaming match," Cadorin says. "I stalled it in the middle of the intersection with all this traffic."

Cadorin, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and "sexiness," is now a seasoned pro at driving stick. He says a manual transmission may be able to get a little more initial acceleration than an automatic because the automatic transmission is heavier and loses more horsepower.

He adds, however, that the fastest race cars will usually have automatic transmissions because the computer can shift faster and more consistently than any person ever could.

"For balls-to-walls performance, it's gonna be an automatic," he says.

Back on the street, Lilley has hit engine kill No. 5, and this one was a real doozie. After backing up to turn around in the middle of Roosevelt Street, Lilley starts to go forward. The Honda bucks and careens underneath her, yanking, grinding and bouncing jerkily in the middle of the street before finally shuddering to a halt.

A white truck pulls up, waiting in the middle of the street while Lilley, nearly hyperventilating, sits horizontally in the street trying to figure out what happened (the car was in third instead of first when she started).

But overall, Lilley is remarkably proficient at driving the car. She only killed it five times, a fairly low number for an hour-long drive around neighborhoods with stop signs every block. Besides a few moments of near panic, she says she felt powerful, exhilarated and enjoyed driving the stick.

"I think it's a good skill to have in case of emergency or if a friend has trouble," she says. "Then you can easily help drive their car."

Lilley volunteers to drive back to campus, involving one highly stressful crossing of Mill Avenue. She does a perfect, smooth job of starting and accelerating through the intersection, but then a skateboarder racing along the sidewalk nearly leaps into the street in front of her.

Lilley shrieks and sucks in a big gulp of air before pulling over and cutting the engine. It's been stressful, but now Lilley says she feels prepared for anything.

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