How to live with a manual transmission in Metro Manila

It doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal
by Anton Andres | May 29, 2022
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PHOTO: Anton Andres

For anyone who has to drive a manual, slogging through rush hour traffic is a dreadful prospect. Whether it’s heading to the office or coming home from a tiring shift, the motion of rowing gears and working the pedals for several hours make you wish you had an automatic.

But driving a manual doesn’t mean you have to feel beat-up after every drive. There are a few ways for you to make driving stick less tiring, whether you’re driving around the Metro or on long road trips. Here are five simple tips to make the drive bearable.

1) Optimize your driving position

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As simple as this sounds, we see far too many drivers either too close to the wheel, too low on the seat, or doing the ‘gangsta’ pose. All those positions will make you tired quickly, and these are also not the safest ways to sit as there is a greater chance of injury in case of an accident.

So, what is the ideal setup? You want to be able to fully depress the clutch pedal while having a slight bend in your knee. If your car has a seat height adjuster then maximize it, since it can also give you additional under-thigh support.

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Next, set your backrest a little over 90 degrees. If it’s too upright, all the pressure goes straight to your lower back. But if it’s too far back, you’ll end up slouching that can cause discomfort around the neck and some shoulder pain.

Also, place the base of your wrist at the top of the steering wheel and form a fist that points upwards. Your arm should form a slight bend as well. This will tell you if you’re seated just far enough from the wheel. 

2) Put it in Neutral at long traffic light periods

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Stepping on the clutch pedal requires effort, but holding it down for a long time is asking for a cramp. There is no point in keeping the pedal down when you’re stopped for a long time, so it’s better to put the car in neutral, let go of the clutch, and relieve the pressure off your left leg. You don’t have to be on the clutch pedal all the time.

3) Do not ride the clutch pedal

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If you’ve heard the term ‘clutch driver’ before, it describes someone who leaves their foot on the clutch even when the car is cruising. Not only does this practice accelerate wear and tear, it’s laso not a comfortable position for your legs. It forces your foot to have an awkward angle, and your left leg won’t like you for it.

4) Use the footrest

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So where can you put your left foot when you’re not on the clutch? If your car has a footrest (or dead pedal) beside the clutch, put it there. Those things are usually at an angle where your foot can stretch out a little bit. And because it’s floor-mounted, you don’t have to keep your leg lifted for the whole trip.

5) Avoid ’hanging’

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While we can’t avoid stopping on an incline, we can avoid the practice of hanging. This is when you balan ce the clutch and accelerator so you don’t have to step on the brake pedal. It’s a rite of passage of sorts for those learning how to drive a manual, but it’s something you shouldn’t do too often.

For starters, you’ll burn out your clutch quicker that way, but leaving your feet at an awkward angle is also a recipe for ngalay. Sure, you’ll get off the line quicker, but you’ll wear yourself out just as fast. The solution here is to hold the handbrake, find the sweet spot of your clutch, and release the lever once you’re ready to go.

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To sum up, posture is the key to less fatigue behind the wheel. The more natural your position is, the better it is for you. Yes, driving a manual requires more effort, but these tips should make it less tedious. It also helps to try out a car first and see if the pedal effort is to your liking. A heavy clutch will make you wish you bought a different car, while a light one can make you finish a trip without the cramps and the aches.

That said, is it still worth driving a car with a manual transmission these days? Enthusiasts will say yes, but those who aren’t might say no. Either way, for as long as these are around, driving a stick shift is always a skill worth learning whether you’re based in the city or province.

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PHOTO: Anton Andres
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