Follow TV Tropes


Driving Stick

Go To

Ezekiel: Why didn't you tell me you can't drive?
Havana: I can drive! I just can't drive stick!
Ezekiel: Why is it so hard? It's simple!
Havana: If it was simple, I could do it!
Holy Matrimony

A non-videogame example of Some Dexterity Required, also known as driving a manual.

Perhaps the American tourist is picking up their European rental car at the airport, or perhaps the main character needs to park the old banger or the superpowered Cool Car. Either way, they'll take a look inside at the manual gearbox and then exclaim in horror "I can't drive stick!" - and then proceed to anyway. Usually used as an excuse to then laugh at some terrible driving (crunching gears and noisy, lurching stalls are a must) or as the setup for a "My Car Hates Me", although it can also be used to provide justification for allowing one character to drive over another, more sensible choice (e.g., if you need The Ditz to come along for the road trip).

For the most part this is a US-only trope, as automatic transmissions are very widespread in the US and Canada, but aren't as popular elsewhere. Manual transmissions tend to be more fuel-efficient, cars are generally smaller where a manual transmission is better suited to extract power from less powerful engines, and gasoline is way more expensive in other countries than in North America. note  Another reason for it being uncommon in European shows is that most countries require a different class of license to drive a manual - if you take your test on an automatic, that's all you'll be legally driving. This system is also used in Japan, even though automatics are even more dominant there than in North America. In many other countries around the globe, the law even states that driver's education must be given on a manual transmission car. note  It should be also noted that people accustomed to a manual transmission can still have a hard time getting used to a car with a different gear layout, especially with the reverse that may or may not require pushing the lever down or raising a retainer ring up before shifting - this is particularly common in 6-speed gearboxes, to prevent the driver from smoothly shifting from fifth into reverse while at speed and thus experiencing some minor inconveniences like the engine trying to jump out of the front of the car while the tyres either take up heavy smoking, or decide to amicably part company with the vehicle in order to make their own way in the world.

It should be noted that in real life, and in some fictional works by people who know cars, changing gears on a truly old vehicle is a challenge, even for people used to driving manuals. This is because of the now-ubiquitous mechanism called "synchromesh", which allows you to change directly from one gear to another, but didn't become common until after World War II. Before that, you had to play with the throttle to spin the engine into the right RPM for the next gear, otherwise you'd get grinding gears (not good for the transmission service life) and/or can easily stall the engine.

Also tends to show up in any situation involving commercial vehicles above 25 tons, as heavy trucks are typically running nine to eighteen gears, usually without synchromesh in the US even today (though not in Europe as synchromeshes are legally required over there).

May become a Dead Horse Trope if electric and hybrid vehicles really take off, as automatic transmissions are strongly favoured in the powertrains for vehicles of that type — electric motors can deliver more torque than petrol or diesel, and more significantly deliver their maximum torque at zero RPM, effectively eliminating the need for a high-torque, low-speed first gear to get the car moving, and hybrids use the automatic transmission as a part of softening the transition from electric to fuelled drive. On the other hand, some manufacturers are developing EV manual transmissions, or "simulated" manual transmissions for EVs, so only time will tell.

Contrast Universal Driver's License.


    open/close all folders 

  • An old Cartoon Network Ad Bumper had Speed Racer (under the effects of Wonder Woman's magic lasso) admit that he can't drive stick. Cue Dramatic Gasp from Trixie.
  • This commercial for the 1969 AMC Rebel begins with a learning driver trying to get the car into gear:
    Instructor: Alright, now let's see if we can find first. (student crunches the gears) No, that's not it. Believe me, it's in there somewhere!
  • Downplayed for Type S: Chiaki's Journey. The second batch of commercials has Badass Driver Chiaki manage a manual Integra Type S with no effort at all. The real challenge comes in conquering Pike's Peak, which she does in the end.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Used as a plot point in one Speed Racer episode: Speed suspects (rightly) that something is wrong with one of his competitors because his racecar has an automatic transmission. Turns out his arm was permanently paralyzed by the gangsters he double-crossed.
  • Arianna of Campione! made her first introduction driving a car with manual transmission. She didn't actually understand why the car had an extra pedal and compensated for not shifting gears by flooring the accelerator. She managed 80 kilometers per hour on a congested road in first gear. This part was mostly ignored in the anime version, however.note 
    • Her not recognizing a manual may be a case of the author not realizing the prevalence of such vehicles in Europe. It does not, however, explain how she got a driver's license in Japan where she would be required to understand a manual transmission. But as is stated in-universe, how she got a license at all is unknown.

    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, Karolina has her drivers licence, but cannot drive a stick shift. Hilarity Ensues (and much cursing about the impossibility of stick shifts) when she has to drive Chase's van.
    Karolina: Stupid manual transmission is impossible.
  • An implied inversion with Guy in the Green Lantern spin-off Guy Gardner Reborn. When he's reinvented himself as a Punisher type called The Gardener, he rapidly loses control of his BFG and says "Shoulda known. Don't drive automatic, don't shoot automatic."

    Comic Strips 
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: Weird Pete discovers that Gordo can't drive stick during a road trip to GaryCon when he wakes up to to find Gordo is still driving in first gear. By the end of the trip, Gordo has mastered driving stick (with the aid of Squirrely) and is ecstatic.
  • A one-off comic by Aaron Williams in Dragon has a stablehand offering a knight a unicorn, and the knight saying he's not used to a stick.

    Films — Animation 
  • Wreck-It Ralph: The racing karts in Sugar Rush are stick-shift. As a result, Vanellope has a bit of trouble at first when doing practice runs with Ralph on a custom track in Diet Cola Mountain. The cars seen in Slaighter Race in the sequel are also stick-shift; with Shank pulling off a heel-toe maneuver during the Chase Scene between her and Vanellope.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Used for comedic effect in Flora and Ulysses, where the protagonist's father has to flee law enforcement driving stick with a numb arm from a tranquilizer gun. He laments that he only bought a car with manual transmission because he wanted to look cool.
  • The Truman Show:
    • Truman tries to leave his "hometown" by taking a bus to Chicago. But of course, as his hometown is located in a giant studio (a fact that is kept hidden from him), the bus is operated by a walk-on, and cannot drive anywhere. To cover up this fault, the driver panics and grinds the gear instead of starting it, completely trashing the bus.
    • Becomes a Brick Joke when Truman escapes by the sea and orders are given to go after him: the same thing happens with the ferry's gear and the actor explains that he can't drive it because he's just the bus driver.
  • Batman Begins: The new Batmobile is manual transmission, and Batman makes a point of asking whether Jim Gordon can "drive stick" before letting him use it. It's actually controlled with a Throttle lever like that in a boat or plane. It's the same sort of joke, though.
  • RV has our main character trying to turn around a huge RV on his street. He manages to break the parking pawl during the gear grinding ordeal. Remember, this RV is a column shift automatic. The RV rolling away on perfectly level roads becomes a Running Gag.
  • Little Miss Sunshine: The manual transmission of the VW is given as the reason why the whole household needs to make the journey; the mother needs to look after her daughter, but can't drive a manual transmission, so her husband also needs to make the journey. Later, the clutch breaks down, necessitating the comedic rolling starts which appear throughout the film.
  • In Dogma, not only does Jay not know how to drive stick, but he doesn't even understand what it is. This leads to:
    [while Jay is driving Bethany's car about 65 MPH in first gear]
    Bethany: What gear are you in?
    Jay: "Gear"?
    [cut to the car with its hood open, copious amounts of steam and smoke billowing out]
    Jay: Well, what am I supposed to know about shiftin'?
  • Several characters from the The Fast and the Furious series like to give entire lectures about shifting technique. Also, the movies make a point of using badass shifting. At least one of the lectures is either horribly wrong or possibly an effort to sabotage another character's driving techniques. They also have an instance in the fifth movie where their cars apparently have two reverse gears, so they can dramatically shift from "go backwards fast" to "go backwards even faster". This is mechanically possible, but extremely unlikely given that cars are designed to be primarily driven, you know, forwards.
  • Both National Treasure films have Riley driving his new Ferrari with no concept of a clutch. It gets better in the second movie when he grinds it in gear from a stop, only to drive backwards into the car behind his!
  • In the Broken Lizard comedy Super Troopers, officers Foster and Mac are stymied from posing as truckers to gain information when it turns out that neither of them are capable of driving a stick shift big rig.
  • The remake of The Italian Job (2003) had a whole deleted subplot during the climax where Left Ear has to drive one of the gang's Mini Coopers with Handsome Rob talking him through it. At one point, Left Ear ends up stalling their car on a hill and they end up rear-ending the car behind them.
  • Funnily enough, in Columbia's 1998 Godzilla film, DGSE agent (France's equivalent to the US CIA) Philippe Roche tries to get an Army Humvee moving in order to sneak into the subway system, but fails. It's American Nick Tatopoulos who points out that it's not in gear. Nevermind the fact that in Real Life, the Humvee is an automatic specifically to avert this trope.
  • In Pretty Woman, at the beginning of the film Richard Gere's character leaves a party in a Lotus sports car, and clearly has trouble with the shifter (making a lot of the sickening grinding noises). When he meets Julia Robert's character, after observing him she takes the wheel and has no trouble driving, her brothers all having driven hot cars before.
  • In Buffalo '66, Billy comandeers Layla's vehicle, but needs her to drive it. With disdain, he says he doesn't drive "shifter cars" because he drives fancy cars like Cadillacs, which "shift themselves." Of course, Billy is a pathological liar.
  • Inverted in The Philadelphia Experiment. Two sailors from the 1940s are time-warped to the 1980s and attempt a carjacking.
    Sailor #1: Where the hell is the clutch?!
    Driver: It's an automatic.
    Sailor #1: YOU'RE DRIVING!
  • Wild Child has Poppy borrowing Freddy's car and drive it very slowly with an awful revving noise until Freddy helps her change gears. Obviously he really does care about her.
  • The climax of the Jackie Chan film The Accidental Spy has a tanker that has to be kept above a certain speed in order to stop it from exploding. Jackie Chan's character offers to take over from the driver, but changes his mind when the driver tries to explain the tanker's complex gear system.
  • In The Spy Who Dumped Me two American young women in Europe try to carjack a Jaguar, but have to abandon it after it turns out neither can drive stick.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me. KGB agent Anya Amasova is hilariously inept behind the wheel of a manual transmission truck, which makes escape from Jaws difficult. Apparently, this was down to Barbara Bach herself being unable to operate the gears properly. The quips made by Roger Moore are all unscripted.
    • Though when she does finally get it in gear, the truck lurches forward and slams Jaws into a stone wall.

  • In The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu make a getaway in a stolen taxi. This doesn't go as smoothly as they would like, owing to the fact that Langdon normally drives an automatic.
  • In Jonathan Gash's first Lovejoy novel, The Judas Pair, Lovejoy is humiliated when a new girlfriend shows him that he's been driving his veteran car in first gear for months because he couldn't understand its unusual gear-shifting controls.
  • In Piers Anthony's Killobyte, a lack of ability to drive stick stymies one of the players of the virtual reality game when confronted with a Jeep.
  • Artemis Fowl: Mulch Diggums steals an LEP shuttle and flies to the rest of the group's rescue. Once back in the pilot seat, Holly is horrified to find out he was in first gear the whole time. Mulch answers he didn't know it had gears, and thought it was automatic.
  • Viktor Suvorov wrote in one of his books how a man on television was given a Western and a Soviet tanks to drive, and stated that the Western is better because it has automatic transmission. Then Suvorov remarks it is very foolish of the driver not to understand the difficulties in wartime production and field repairs. Suvorov failed to understand that a properly designed heavy-duty automatic is actually more "soldier proof" than a manual.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On the reality show The Amazing Race, there are times when the contestants are given stick shift cars to drive. Often, neither member of a team knows how to drive stick. Teams have been eliminated from the race over this. Kurt and Bergen simply gave up trying to drive their manual-transmission car in Season 26, and, since the whole leg involved driving around in a car, they were eliminated.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • When Amy and Jake have a bet going where the prize is Jake's car (a classic Mustang), Amy claims that if she'd won, she would've used the car to learn to drive stick.
      Amy: It would've been like [makes screechy sounds]
      [Jake groans]
    • In a later episode, Gina and Holt "borrow" a truck to rescue the others... except Gina can't drive stick and Holt has an injured leg. Cue Holt driving from the passenger seat while Gina pushes the pedals.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the episode "Phases", you can see the stage hands pushing Giles' Citroen when he and Buffy arrive at the Bronze, because the actor, Anthony Stewart Head, couldn't master the unusual gear-changing system fitted to that kind of classic Citroen.
    • In the episode "A New Man", it's obvious Spike has trouble with it too.
    • An inversion in the episode "Real Me" as Giles had just purchased a new Mid-Life Crisis Car and has trouble with the automatic transmission, being used to a stick. He puts it into neutral while driving, apparently several times, as he instinctively tries to shift.
  • Café Americain: In the B plot of "There's No Business Like Show Business", Marcel teaches Holly to drive a stick shift.
  • Canada's Worst Driver, is a reality show which tries to rehabilitate bad drivers using various challenges. For obvious reasons, the show's participants absolutely play this straight, all the time. You can just guess what happens when they do a challenge that involves using a manual transmission; ground gears, burned clutches, and the like.
    • One participant in Season 2 was utterly incapable of driving stick, to the point that during the stick shift challenge, after being taught by the head instructor of the country's top driving school, her MTBFnote  on the challenge vehicle was 45 seconds. Possibly less.
    • In Season 6, the manual transmission challenge was to balance a car on a teeter-totter. While some did well, even some contestants who already owned cars with sticks had issues. Even worse, every single car they had brought out for this challenge got its transmission damaged by a contestant, meaning that the final contestant wasn't even able to have a turn! Manual transmissions would soon be retired from the show after this season, possibly in light of this.
  • The spaceship in Dans Une Galaxie Près De Chez Vous has a manual transmission. Only the pilot and the android can pilot it well, the captain and the radar operator can do the basics, the other crewmembers almost crashed the ship when no one else was around and the scientist can only drive an automatic lawnmower.
  • Doctor Who: In "Remembrance of the Daleks", Ace (who's from The '80s) doesn't have trouble with the gearbox on a 1963 van, but is initially flummoxed by its manual choke.
  • ER. The dying Mark Greene teaches his daughter Rachel to drive. She complains the entire time, but he insists that it's better to learn how to drive a stick shift first. As the scene ends, she gets the hang of it.
  • The Facts of Life: The episode where Tootie takes her drivers license test mentions it; when it comes time for the test, no one has a car for her to borrow except Blair — and her car is a manual, which Tootie doesn't know how to operate.
  • Fame: The Episode "Street Kid" has Ms Sherwood giving Mister Shorofsky driving lessons, but she only knows how to drive an automatic and the classic car he bought turns out to have a four-speed manual transmission meaning that all her lessons were useless because neither of can drive it at all.
  • Gekisou Sentai Carranger / Power Rangers Turbo had this, but typically the Rangers (or in some cases the Blue Senturion) would use their shift levers to trigger transformation, combination, or the Finishing Move. For instance, the Gekisou-Giri/Turbo Megazord Spinout would be triggered by the Red Ranger shifting "south" (causing the sword to form out of steam in the mecha's right hand).
    • Averted by the previous car-themed sentai, Kousoku Sentai Turboranger; they only ever "shifted" for combination, not for attacks. Also averted by Engine Sentai Go-onger / Power Rangers RPM; their car mecha were automatic (albeit with an extra gear with the team symbol on it; shifting into this gear would precede a combination).
  • Ice Road Truckers:
    • Season three has two of the Canadian drivers from previous seasons come to Alaska to drive on the Dalton Ice Road. One of them has driven trucks most his life but the truck he is driving has an unfamiliar transmission setup and in the beginning he keeps shifting to the wrong gear. Considering they are driving over steep hills and along winding mountain roads covered in ice, shifting to the wrong gear could cause the truck to lose traction and go off the road. If that happens in the wrong spot, it can be deadly.
    • Similar problems are experienced by Lisa in the first season of IRT Deadliest Roads. The first-second shift is a dogleg. She manages to figure it out and eventually be the only one to complete her load.
  • Last of the Summer Wine:
    • Inverted in one episode where the already reluctant driver Clegg is terrified at the prospect of driving an automatic.
    • Also played straight in a running joke about Edie's bad driving. Half the time she blames "this stupid stick thing", and the other half "it's because your father keeps moving the pedals around!"
  • In the Season 6 finale of Mad Men, Pete loses the coveted Chevrolet account (and accordingly the chance to run SCP's Detroit office) because he can't drive stick, and wipes out a Chevy showroom.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
  • NCIS. In "Kill Ari (2)", Ducky's former assistant Gerald is held hostage by Ari until Ducky swaps places with him, dashes for Ducky's Morgan, and attempts to drive away. Gears grind, and the car lurches forward several times. Ultimately Ari takes pity on Ducky and they swap cars, allowing Gerald to drive off in his own automatic.
    Ducky: Use the clutch. Good God man! USE the CLUTCH! [almost crying] You're stripping the gears!
    Ari: This is too painful, Doctor.
  • In the Psych episode "No Country for Two Old Men", Juliette's father is so scared of the stick shift on what would have been his and Henry Spencer's getaway car that the two have to trade places. And, as Henry points out, this is after having successfully flown a plane and executed a perfect landing despite having no flying experience.
  • A Saturday Night Live sketch from Season 47 parodied heist films with a scenario of a heist team boosting an expensive Lamborghini. The wheelman was stymied by the car's manual transmission.
  • Scrubs: J.D. accidentally destroys a parked car with a monster truck — he puts this down to the fact that "It's been a while since I drove shift!"
  • On Sex and the City Carrie rents a car with a stick shift even though she never learned how to drive anything but automatic. She explains to Miranda and Samantha that "This car went with my outfit."
  • Captain Kirk, in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Piece of the Action", though it's doubtful he'd have done any better had it been automatic. (He's from the future and has probably never had to drive a car.)
  • A recurring problem in Time Trax is that the main character is totally incapable of driving a stick shift. This is due to his being from 200 years in the future, when all cars are automatics.
  • Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment fits this trope, when Americans appear as the guest.
    • Jeremy Clarkson to American comedian Rich Hall (he's done some comedy singing before) before they showed the video of Hall driving the lap: "You can drive a stick shift car?" Rich Hall: "I can now"
    • Of course, being a British show, even Americans who can drive stick have problems because the lever's on the wrong side.
    • Lionel Ritchie, a notable exception who was doing well until the driver side front wheel came away from the car at full speed. It happened on the first corner, so there wasn't much shifting going on yet. On his full run he drove nicely, but shifted messily, leading Jeremy to say, "apart from the gear changing, this is extremely good."
    • British example, Christopher Eccleston was only going to go round the track in an automatic, as he only passed his test a few weeks previous, in an automatic. The automatic car that they crew tracked down was one of only two of that specific model in the entirety of the UK.
    • After the "Masters of the Universe" race:
      Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor): For an automatic, it was very noisy, I have to say that.
      Jeremy Clarkson: Er... It wasn't an automatic.
      Colin Baker: Oh, wasn't it? That's why it was so noisy.
    • When David Tennant did the track, he actually broke third gear due to some overeager shifting.
      Tennant: Third gear, come on! [grunts]
      Clarkson: NO! FOURTH THROUGH THERE!!
    • David Soul (the American actor who played Hutch) broke two gearboxes because "the stick shift confused him" as Clarkson put it in S3E4.
    • "...change gear, murder a prostitute, clutch, change gear..."
    • Subverted by the Aston Martin DB7 GT, which went from a standstill to over a hundred in one gear (fourth).
    • Subverted again (and harder) by the Corvette Z06, which went from a standstill to 175 mph all in fifth gear.
    • When Jeff Goldblum was the star in a reasonably priced car he kept complaining during portions of his lap that he wished he'd had more car, these being the parts most guests take in fourth gear while Jeff (on advice from the Stig) drove the whole lap in third because he doesn't know how to drive stick.
    • Amusingly, Rubens Barricello, of all people, had at one point trouble shifting during his run on the Reasonably Priced Car (during the interview, he admitted that his personal car was one with Paddle Shifters and subsequently got used to it). Still, that didn't stop him from beating the Stig's time.
    • Jeremy himself fell victim to this, when he discovered that the lorry he purchased for the Burma Special lacked a synchromesh.
    • James didn't get away from this either. In a challenge where the guys all bought German saloon cars, he bought a Mercedes with a "dog-leg" gearbox. Imagine a layout like a normal gearbox, but going from left to right, instead of the upper-left-hand corner being first gear, it's reverse. Guess what happens.
  • Used on Voyagers!, with Jeffrey knowing more about how to use a clutch than Bogg.
  • In The Walking Dead Daryl is shown grinding gears trying to drive a manual transmission light truck. Daryl is a 40-year-old backwoods Georgia biker who can build his own motorcycle, so you'd think he could drive stick.

  • The Getaway: High Speed II uses a shifter with "shift up" and "shift down" positions in place of a traditional pinball plunger, both to launch the ball and to change gears. The latter is done by building up the RPM gauge. Among other things, you need to reach 5th gear in order to have a shot at Red Line Mania.

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Who's Going Where", Mr. Conklin insists on going to Crystal Lake and having Miss Brooks accompany him (and type out his reports while being a "guest" at his family cottage). Miss Brooks offers Mr. Conklin the use of his car. However, Mr. Conklin claims that he can't drive Miss Brooks' pre-World War II car, because of the unfamiliar gear shift system described above.
  • Car Talk had Tom and Ray tell a story about how they'd just finished putting a new clutch in a car when an old friend came by for the day and asked to borrow a car. They lent her that car, but cringed when she said, "Oh, it's a stick...oh well! I can learn!" When she returned the car the same day, she told them, "You'd be so proud of me! I didn't stall out once!" And due to the fact that she never stalled out because she was constantly riding the clutch, the brand new clutch they put in lasted less than a day.

    Tabletop Games 
  • According to the 2nd edition rulebook for Vampire: The Masquerade, anyone capable of driving stick should have 2 dots in driving as opposed to 1, which is the minimum to be able to drive cars with any skill at all. The implications that driving stick requires twice the skill of an automatic are, perhaps, best left untouched.

    Video Games 

In gameplay:

  • The latest Battle Gear arcade games have options for fully manual transmission with clutch as well.
  • Sega's Ferrari F355 Challenge arcade game has the options of fully automatic shifting, F1-style sequential paddles, or fully manual 6-speed stick and clutch. This to accommodate the fact the F355 (and its Spider model) were built in two distinct drive-train configurations, one with a manual transmission and another with a sequential transmission, denoted by the F1 in its name.
  • In Daytona USA, the shifter is often used to manipulate powersliding, and provides better control than the "tap the brake" method. However, Daytona USA 2 discourages this; unless you're using the Hornet, shifting to slide will just cause you to spin out.
  • The early Activision video game Dragster for the Atari 2600 had this as its main game mechanic: getting the best times in the drag race requires knowing when to pop the clutch and shift gears.
  • Euro Truck Simulator ups the ante by featuring Big Badass Rigs with twelve speed gearboxes mated to engines that barely rev to 2500 RPM and can't get past 25kph until they're in 6th gear. Driving with the manual transmission option on an H-pattern shifter necessitates either a second shifter for gears 7-12, or a button to flip the single shifter between 1-6 and 7-12, or fitting into your truck a 6-gear aftermarket transmission along with a superpowered engine that can compensate the massive gear ratio drops. The multiplayer mod allows experienced drivers to laugh (or curse) at greenhorns who are struggling to find the right gear for going up a hill while carrying a load. Driving stick allows truckers to find the perfect gear for slopes, shift in anticipation of road conditions, and engine brake.
    • The sequel/spinoff American Truck Simulator features eighteen speed gearboxes on the American-style rigs, and even drove development of a replica Eaton Fuller 18-speed shifter grip that can be attached to most H-gate shifter controls, with a gear range control switch in front and a splitter control switch on the side. Those two switches are what shift a 6-gated shifter into an 18-speed one. Just keep in mind that reverse is top-left on Eaton Fuller transmissions, should you be used to having it on bottom-right.
  • Forza Motorsport starting with the third game includes the option of fully manual transmission with clutch; the problem is that most Xbox 360 steering wheel peripherals generally don't have a clutch pedal, including Microsoft's official wheel. Unfortunately, Forza doesn't simulate full-out engine stalls (it'll take over the clutch before the engine dies), as there is no button to start the engine, though if you don't use the clutch when taking off, the engine will repeatedly nearly seize-up as you start idling forward. Also, with Simulation damage enabled, failing to depress the clutch while shifting causes transmission damage, while downshifting too fast will wreak havoc on your engine.
    • Both Fanatec Porsche and the Fanatec CSR wheels have a clutch pedal, and a $50 accessory is a 6 speed H-pattern stick shift. The first time you use it, you'll be grinding through the gears trying to find fifth or reverse. Have fun accidentally throwing your $800,000 Ferrari into first gear at 180 MPH!
  • Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (and later) supports fully manual transmission with clutch, with the appropriate controller (such as the Logitech G25/G27 or Thrustmaster T300RS wheels). Activating the clutch requires hitting the triangle button when the race starts, however.
  • The veteran PC game Hotrod featured all-manual cars. Pressing space moved you up a gear. It rolled over after 4th whereupon you dropped to 1st and dropped your transmission. Most players never learned how to go down a gear in-game and were only able to either accelerate or slow down, stall out, and start over at 1st.
  • The Initial D Arcade Stage arcade games have options for both automatic and manual transmissions, although the Initial D cabinets before Zero use an up-down slap shifter instead of a full stick. In both cases, players may find themselves reaching with the wrong hand as the import-only and export arcade cabinets will often have the shifter on different sides compared to an actual (local market) car.
  • Rigs of Rods zigzags this almost. Defaultly, the game is set for automatic, allowing a player to shift using Page Up or Page Down in a standard automatic pattern (R, N, D, 2 and 1 from top to bottom). Pressing Q will change the mode to a manual shift with an automatic clutch, using A to shift up and Z to shift down. The next is a manual clutch with sequential shift, using the Shift key to depress the clutch (even though the effect of pressing gas, brake and clutch using a keyboard is instant. Thankfully the game doesn't simulate engine, gearbox or clutch damage... yet). The last two is stick shift, designed for the Logitech G25/27 which they have a shift stick and clutch pedal. Finally, there is stick shift with ranges, designed when driving trucks in the game with more than 6 gears, allowing to switch up a range. This can result in oddness as you can drive manual in automatics and automatic in manuals (also, detailed cars will show the stick moving such as the Tatra T812 DAKAR and Gavril Bandit).
  • The arcade versions of San Francisco Rush and SF Rush 2049 both include clutch pedals in their manual transmission option, as did their spiritual precursors, Hard Drivin' and Race Drivin. In the latter two, you had to push the clutch while starting the car to avoid stalling.
  • The Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune arcade games have manual transmission controls (with a six speed shifter and slotted gate), but no clutch (though fully automatic is an option).

In narratives:

  • As part of the torments inflicted on Samuel in Manual Samuel, Death switches out his automatic transmission for a stick shift. He gives Samuel a quick run-through on how (and when) to change gears, but trying to keep up with working a manual transmission while also maintaining all the other tasks you need to track is an absolute chore.
  • Sly 2: Band of Thieves. Bentley has... difficulties driving the team van, a manual transmission.
    • Though the player finds out a level later Murray has never let him drive before. When one considers they'd never been separated before Sly and Murray being arrested, one wonders if he could drive at all before that.
  • In Saints Row: The Third, Johnny Gat pitches the idea of hijacking an enemy plane to rescue his kidnapped crew. Shaundi comments: "You can't even drive stick, how are you gonna fly a plane?"
  • In Vigilante 8, Y the alien's Flying Saucer apparently is a manual, judging from what he yelled at the idiot who took it for a joyride.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door this is the reason why Luigi crashed his kart during a go-kart race. He wasn't used to stickshifts and accidentally Had the Silly Thing in Reverse, crashing into a wall.

    Web Animation 
  • Inverted in Red vs. Blue: when Caboose is asked if he can drive, he replies that he can only drive stick, not automatic. Washington starts to ask how that even makes sense, before deciding to just roll with it because they're in a hurry.note 

    Web Comics 
  • Emily doesn't even know what that funny third pedal on Ash's car is in an early Misfile strip. She's a quick learner, though.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer murders the manual transmission of a truck in "Maximum Homerdrive".
    • At the end of "Sunday Cruddy Sunday", Vincent Price has difficulty starting a bus without stalling.
  • In an episode of Rugrats where Chuckie was revealed to be left-handed, Charlotte Pickles expressed dismay, claiming that "He'll need special scissors, desks, notebooks ... and he'll never be able to drive a stickshift!" It's then revealed that Didi and Chaz can't drive stickshift either. Naturally, Angelica being who she is, she proceeded to translate this to Chuckie as "Oh, and you'll never be able to drive a car."
  • Happens in King of the Hill during a flashback scene when Hank, Dale, and Bill are joyriding Boomhauer's car. Dale displays his inability to drive stick when it's his turn ("The left brake isn't working!") and causes the car to fall into the quarry. This is why the three help the environmentalists to protect the quarry from being drained; it would reveal Boomhauer's car and their lettermen jackets.
  • Futurama: The Planet Express Delivery Ship has a manual transmission. Professor Farnsworth makes a point of asking if any of them can drive stick when Fry, Bender and Leela board it for the first time in "Space Pilot 3000". Turns out Leela can drive stick but she won't parallel park.
  • Brock Samson (and Hank during one episode) of The Venture Brothers drives a 69 Charger with a stick shift. Brock, who has driven it for years, has no issues, and even Hank did reasonably well when driving. Especially since it was his first time driving. The only person with the driving stick issue? H.E.L.P.eR. As Brock discovers when strapped to the hood of his car by Doc's escaped parasitic twin brother. Thankfully, H.E.L.P.eR is a fast study.
    Brock: You know to fly the X-1, but you can't drive stick!?
  • The first time Danny Phantom tries to drive the Fenton Family Ghost Assault Vehicle; "Oh, great. It's a stick." He pulls it off, though.
  • Regular Show:
    • In one episode, Mordecai and Rigby borrow Pops' car. Pops asks if Mordecai knows how to drive stick, which he does. Mordecai does ask what the second stick shift is for.note 
      Pops: Carmanita's special parts should only be manipulated by a professional.
    • In "Benson Be Gone", Mordecai accidentally crashes Mr. Maellard's limo into the house and comments: "Remember when I said I can drive stick? Well, I'm a little rusty..."
  • Only for a select few times in Megas XLR did Kiva or Jamie ever get a chance to drive the Megas. Driving stick wasn't a problem for either of them, but given the Plot-Sensitive Button nature of the entire dashboard, the problem was figuring out which of the NUMEROUS stick shifters to use. Coop's normal stick shifter has the usual gears 1-5 and reverse, but his goes even further than reverse right into "Save Jamie" gear.
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: Buzz's space-car is a stick-shift. Buzz can drive stick. Warp Darkmatter cannot. This leads to a Can't Kill You, Still Need You in their Enemy Mine episode.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy's invisible boatmobile is a standard. While jumping into the car in their third focus episode, Barnacle Boy accidentally sits on the gear shift.
    Barnacle Boy: I told you we should have gotten the automatic!
  • On Steven Universe, Lars' friends are being eaten by a magical moss, and the only way to stop it is to get it up a hill so the sun will shine on it. Unfortunately, their car has a stick shift, and Lars doesn't know how to use it, so Steven handles the stick (poorly) while Lars drives. Later on, Stevonnie manages to operate a stick shift car with zero issues; and neither does Pearl when she drives the same car.
  • In one episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo? where the gang goes to Italy, Fred has to drive a stick shift and confidently claims he'll have no trouble despite the others' misgivings because he "saw it in the movies". His subsequent jerky driving proves otherwise, forcing them to switch driving duties over to Daphne offscreen; though he tries again at the end, to similar results. This becomes a franchise-wide Running Gag of sorts later on, with Fred similarly being incapable of driving stick in Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (where he goes on a tirade about it in "Ghost in the Mystery Machine" and Daphne gets Cut Short trying to convince him about the benefits before switching places) and Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost (where he has to learn from Velma when the gang have to get to Vincent's castle during the climax).
  • The Dick Tracy Show: In "Rocket and Roll," Stooge Viller and Mumbles are about to send Hemlock Holmes and the Retouchables to the moon in a rocket. Mumbles asks if Stooge knows how to work the controls:
    Stooge: Of course I know how! It's a standard gear, ain't it?
  • Unlike the film series it's based on, Fast & Furious: Spy Racers tones down the use of standard transmission vehicles; with only Leyla's car being shown overtly as a stick. Some minor vehicles like the buggies in the Sahara season are also standard shifters, and a minor plot point in the third episode of that season is that the resident Teen Genius Frostee has to be taught how to drive using one of the buggies by Cisco during a chase with a gang. Also unlike the films, the shifting is, for the most part, portrayed with more realism.
  • Season 1's "The Lucky Cat Caper" in Carmen Sandiego has Tigress steal a guy's sports car to escape Carmen. Not only is it shown to be a stick, but she also manages to successfully pull off a complex heel-and-toe drift wearing her usual heeled boots.

    Real Life 
  • Carjacker Changes Mind After Seeing Car Is Stick Shift
    • In a similar comitragic event, attendees of a 2008 Jeep enthusiast's club meeting in Maryland emerged to find that every one of their cars had been stolen except for the ones with manual transmissions.
    • Another example. According to some accounts, the thieves apologized as they tossed the keys back to the owner.
    • Inverted in Brazil, in at least three known cases. Justified in that manual transmission is ubiquitous in the country, and automatic shift is not covered in driving school at all.
    • American car thieves had to abandon manual cars because there was no lever on the steering column where they expected it, and in what little time they had to get away, they didn't remember where else to look.
  • Kobe Bryant bought his wife a Lamborghini for her birthday. Problem: they're all manual, and she can't drive stick. Solution: blow thousands of dollars on having an automatic transmission fitted!
  • According to Urban Legend, an American tourist rented a car and went on a driving tour of Europe- without ever getting past first gear.
  • Bumper Stickers:
    • "Stay well back – I'm new at this stick shift stuff".
    • Often seen on off-road vehicles, particularly Jeep Wranglers: "Equipped with a 'Millennial Anti-Theft Device'"
    • Another sticker, seen on a VW Bug: "Learning Stick With 40 HP."
  • Even as late as the 1970s, many cars (and pretty much everything with a three-speed transmission) lacked synchronizers on first gear on the assumption that one would only use first to start out from a dead stop. It can come as a surprise for the unwary modern driver taking a classic for a spin.
  • Manual transmission is still standard in many developing nations, as these are usually cheaper than automatic. Many tourists and immigrants from more developed nations where automatics are more common often find themselves having to relearn how to drive if they want to drive a car in said nations. This has also resulted in people from said countries wondering what the big deal is when seeing this trope invoked in foreign fiction.
  • One thing to really watch out for is "The Money Shift". If you take your manual car racing, this can happen with poor shifting technique, by attempting to shift from third-gear to fourth, only to hit second-gear instead sending the engine well past the redline. This usually results in a severe engine failure, due to damage such as pistons crashing into the valves, and/or engine bearings being grossly over-loaded. It's called the "money shift" due to how expensive this mistake can be. This can also cause the driven wheels to lock. Anti-lock brake systems do not help in this case - it's not the brakes, but the engine which is braking the car. A car can easily spin out of control that way. A motorcycle will react even more unpleasantly. Back-handed shifting from third to fourth can greatly reduce the risk of this costly error.

    For similar reasons, driving instructors in Germany will almost always insist on shifts from third up straight into fifth if the speed is sufficient (i.e. being on the Autobahn and already over 100km/h). Apparently, this is so common that car mechanics can identify a driver's behaviour solely based on the wear-and-tear on the gears.
  • Most Soviet cars had gears arranged typically. Except Zaporozhets, whose models had trunks swapped with hood and gears positions flipped upside-down. There's a supposedly true story about thieves stealing a 15-year-old, run-down Zaporozhet in Lvov, Ukraine, around the year 2000. The sound of the engine kept attracting police, the engine kept stalling and the car kept jumping in random directions. The thieves used 2nd gear instead of 1st and 3rd instead of reverse. Because of their hilarious driving and since the car cost its owner around a mere $50 in damages the thieves became laughingstocks and the car got nicknamed "Challenger".
  • Similarly, the old DKW two-stroke cars had their gear layouts mirrored with the odd gears at the bottom and the even gears at the top.
  • Even if you can drive stick, small vintage French cars such as the Citroën 2CV or the Renault 4 will trouble you until you learn that, instead of moving the lever that sits in the middle of the dashboard up and down, you have to push it in and pull it out.
  • This is also why West Germans have a hard time driving a Trabant for the first time: Not only do you have to push and pull the gear lever, you also have to turn it, and even then, the entire gear layout is basically rotated clockwise by 90 degrees. Then again, you probably won't even be able to start this thing up in the first place unless you remember that it has a fuel cock.
  • The gearing systems of large trucks are very different from those of cars. Where cars rarely have more than 5 speeds, trucks have 8, 10, 12 or even more. The stick often has a range switch or, on very old trucks, a second gear shift. It is possible to float gears on a truck, but only with a lot of practice. Finally most large trucks have a clutch brake that engages when the clutch is released and the gearbox is in neutral in order to slow down the spinning of the gears. The recommended shifting pattern is to press the clutch, put the transmission in neutral, release the clutch, then press again to put the transmission into the next gear - a process known as "double clutching". All this adds up to a situation where it is actually more difficult to learn how to drive a semi-truck manual if you have experience with a car's manual since you must unlearn what you have learned.


I Got This, Guys!

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / DrivingStick

Media sources: