A Monkey Off the Back: Manual Transmission.

For the last decade or so, I have had a dirty little secret – despite having a Full Drivers Licence, I couldn’t drive manual transmission (stick shift to Americans). I knew the theory of it; I’d just never had the opportunity to actually learn it, on account of the family car being automatic. To be honest, I’d always hated this state of affairs – it made me feel like a second class driver, and it does actually impact on which jobs you can apply for.

I finally got the opportunity to rectify this recently. For two reasons:

Firstly, my old car, a 1998 Volkswagen Polo, got wrecked in a car accident back in July (not my fault, incidentally). With the insurance money, I was able (as of early September) to get my hands on a new car, this time a manual (specifically, a 1990 Ford Telstar) – allowing me to put theory into practice. Bonus points for the new car not having a rev counter, thus forcing me to learn clutch bite purely by ear and feel.

Secondly, New Zealand’s driver licence system played to my advantage. You see, New Zealand has three tiers of licence – Learners, Restricted, and Full. If you do your Restricted Test in an automatic, you are stuck with automatics while you have your Restricted Licence. However, once you pass your Full, you can legally drive either automatic or manual, regardless of what you actually did your test in. This means that, legally, it was perfectly fine for me to drive about in a manual – the only limit was my technical ability.

(This is different from certain other countries, of course. It also leads to misinformation, confusing the Restricted Licence situation with the Full Licence situation).

In the interests of not actually causing accidents* via stalling, I drove around the silent streets of Dunedin at 2 or 3 a.m. – again, while Restricted imposes a time limit on when you can drive, you can drive on a Full licence at any time. And since Dunedin has hills, and lots of them… yes, I did stall, quite a lot, though at least the only issues I needed to actually learn were clutch and gear change. Having driven an automatic for a decade, I was obviously comfortable with the rest of it. Now I am sufficiently competent to take my manual out in the day time; I’m not 100% there, but it’s really impressive progress.

So, yes, woohoo. 🙂

*There was one accident, though not through stalling. Via mishandling the clutch, I managed to reverse into a neighbour’s fence**. Since I’m not an arsehole, I acknowledged fault, and paid for repairs.

**Which, as far as authors knocking down fences go, puts me in good company!


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