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Manual transmission in the UK 
19th-Apr-2009 01:12 am [driving (uk)]
This has been bugging me for a long time.

I live in the US and can drive a stick shift (manual transmission). I have considered trying to drive a manual transmission rental car when visiting the UK, but I find it daunting. Already having to deal with the whole driving on the left and different rules, and all that.

In a manual transmission car in the UK, what order are the gears in? Is first gear to the upper left on the shift box? That would match the US style.

Like this?

Or is the shift order reversed, with first in upper right?

I'm already assuming the foot pedals are in the same order as in the US: left is the clutch, center is the brake and right is the accelerator.
19th-Apr-2009 05:18 am (UTC)
Yep, that's how it is, though in some cars you get reverse way over on the left beside 1st, like this. Sorry for the huge pic.
19th-Apr-2009 06:17 am (UTC)
Reverse is sometimes very weird. On my current car, I just slot the gear stick into the bottom right, as on that picture. On one I had, I had to pull the stick up before I moved it into whatever slot reverse was, so you couldn't try to change into it accidentally. And a variety of other subtle variations.
19th-Apr-2009 11:25 am (UTC)
That's how the Chevy Corsica manual transmission car I learned on was: you had to pull up on the stick to move it down into reverse!
19th-Apr-2009 08:03 am (UTC)
That's how my fiance's car is, he's an American living in the UK.
19th-Apr-2009 11:26 am (UTC)
The gear shift on my MINI in the US is like that.
19th-Apr-2009 05:31 am (UTC)
If you're at all like I was, you'll be much better off getting an automatic. Once you're comfortable with driving on the other side and all the other nuances, then go for the stick.

It took some getting used to (I started off with a stick). Kept ramming my right hand into the door reaching for the stick.

Fair warning: the turn signals and windshield wipers will get you (and different cars have them on different sides to make it even more fun).
19th-Apr-2009 06:37 am (UTC)
What got my husband when he moved UK>US was the rearview mirror. He got the actual driving part down fast, but he had a really hard time learning to check his mirror without finding himself looking out the window.
20th-Apr-2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
That's still me. I now use the wing mirror way more than I ever did in Britain, though after a few months I did manage to get back into the habit of using the rearview too (and finding it!).
19th-Apr-2009 06:57 am (UTC)
Seconded about the indicators and windscreen wipers (OP: note terminology). I don't think I've been in two cars where they work exactly the same way, and it's quite arbitrary which is on which side. Fortunately nowadays they come with little symbols on them to tell you which is what, but with my current car it was a little while before I worked out how to operate the rear window wiper and the windscreen washer. Whether the hire car is automatic or manual, I'd recommend that the OP specifically ask at the time of hiring to be shown where everything, and I mean everything, is - including the hazard warning light and how to open the bonnet.
19th-Apr-2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
I generally think that anyone who has got used to the ergonomic train-wreck that is the control layout on most US cars should do fine with the reasonably sane layout of European (and Japanese) cars. Things move around between cars, but they're not usually placed in utterly random and incomprehensible places.
19th-Apr-2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
You'd be surprised. I've driven a host of different cars through auto auctions, and some of the symbols that manufacturers come up with to label their buttons and switches are downright bizarre, along with their placement.

OP: Yes, the car my fiancé owns in the UK is a Ford Escort and has the gear shift the same as the ones in the US, the clutch on the left, the brake in the middle, and the gas on the right.

My uncle and I were chatting last night about getting used to driving on the left side (he used to be stationed in Korea and Japan): he said what worked for him was to remember to keep your body near the center line, and abandon thoughts of left/right. Hope that helps!
19th-Apr-2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Fair warning: the turn signals and windshield wipers will get you (and different cars have them on different sides to make it even more fun).

But that's like a rite of passage when you hire a car. Indicating with the windscreen wipers, that is. (Or as we once did - indicating with the windscreen wipers, which promptly flew off the car. Good job we did it really or we'd have had a nasty surprise when it rained!)
19th-Apr-2009 05:37 am (UTC)
As others have noted, the pedal order and (allowing for make/model variations) the general shift pattern is the same. I went from a manual transmission in the US to a manual transmission in the UK and found the transition not too painful, if a bit weird to be changing gears with my left hand.
19th-Apr-2009 06:37 am (UTC)
Shift is as you'd expect (with the caveat of reverse that others have noted), although it did seem weird at first to have 1st gear away from me rather than closest to me.

I did find that driving while sitting on the right side of the car was 'weird' enough that it was a constant clue that I should be driving on the left, and so in that sense it was easier to remember to do so. I got used to it in a couple of hours or so.
19th-Apr-2009 07:41 am (UTC)
I drove out of Heathrow on my first visit to the UK and did slright; I just went around the parking lot a few times to get a feel for it. If you can rent your car in a less congested area that would help a lot. Dealing with the opposite side of the road, the opposite side of the car, the opposite hand, traffic AND roundabouts at the same time put more than a few gray hairs on my head.
19th-Apr-2009 07:43 am (UTC)
Have a practice session driving around somewhere that's pretty quiet - it doesn't take that long to get used to driving on the left, but I found that more often I'd end up driving in the middle, because both sides of the road were taken up with parked cars, and I did find that a bit scary.

I kept smashing my hand into the door, too - habit. Definitely ask to be shown where EVERYTHING is.
19th-Apr-2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
but I found that more often I'd end up driving in the middle, because both sides of the road were taken up with parked cars, and I did find that a bit scary.

Seconding this--I think the scariest thing for me when driving in the UK was having to go into the lane that would have oncoming traffic because the road was so narrow but I had to get around parked cars. But, I'm not dead, so you know, I managed.
20th-Apr-2009 09:34 am (UTC)
More slightly OT puzzlement: how else would you pass a parked car? Or, indeed, over-take a slow-moving one?
(Deleted comment)
19th-Apr-2009 08:11 am (UTC)
Just like cars in the states, it varies from car to car. I've rented a lot of cars here, and sometimes reverse is up to the right, sometimes down to the right. I've even had cars where you has to pull up on the gear stick to shift into reverse.

It really isn't that difficult to make the switch to right hand driving. In fact to me, once I was over on that side of the car, it felt natural to shift with my left. I was also nervous about doing it the first time I drove, so I rented an automatic in the beginning. But I was surprised at how easy the shifting was when I finally rented a manual - it may have been that I was already used to the road by then. But if you are a good, confident driver in the States, you should do fine with it on the first go.
19th-Apr-2009 08:46 am (UTC)
If you drive stick shift all the time, you should be fine adjusting. The general rule of thumb for indicators is european cars haved them on left side of the steering column and japanese cars have them on the right. There may of course be exceptions.

The one thing to watch out for is pulling out onto an empty street. Without the visiual cue of other traffic, it's easy to forget and pull out onto the wrong side of the road.
19th-Apr-2009 10:08 am (UTC)
In comparison, when we've hired cars in Germany, we've sometimes had a manual rather than auto. I didn't drive, my husband did, but it meant other side of road, different rules, gear-stick in the other hand etc, plus a different language (well, that bit was my problem rather than his). The only problem he found was as other people have mentioned, banging knuckles on the door as you instinctively use the wrong hand.
19th-Apr-2009 10:45 am (UTC)
There is an option #3 also. The first two are as you describe, and as the first comment describes. I.e. reverse is either back from 5th, or left and forward from 1st. Option 3 is that there is a ring around the stick that you pull up to get the reverse gear (common on Vauxhall cars and some others). I don't see that one so often these days but you may need to look out for it - if you can't get the rental car into reverse before leaving rental location, ask them how the stupid thing works :)
Pedals are the same as in a US car.
The main thing I find with driving a manual car on the other side of the car is a tendency to try to change gear with the window handle (think about it...) the first few times. Other than that it goes fine.
(Deleted comment)
19th-Apr-2009 11:38 am (UTC)
Do you regularly drive a manual transmission car or an automatic?

I mention this because your post says you "can" drive a stick shift, not that you currently do, and I think that what you're used driving to on a daily basis should dictate what you drive in the UK, insomuch as from my own experience, it's best to try to do something that requires the least amount of extra thought since you already have to know not just to drive on the left, but that the traffic signs, street markings, etc. are different, and there's the already mentioned driving in the center of the street because of cars on either side.

I drove an automatic for 8 years before buying a stick. Learned stick so I could buy a MINI (the cost difference between manual and automatic on those is a good deal more than it is with other car manufacturers, to the tune of $1500) and have been driving a manual transmission car ever since. When my husband and I went on holiday, we rented a car, and because we're in the US, it was an automatic. (They looked at us funny when we asked if it'd be a manual or automatic transmission. lol)

Now, we live in the US, so it's not like we were learning a new country's driving patterns/system -- we were just in a different state, but of course things differ from state to state. Being from NJ means I'm used to driving circles (roundabouts) and look for jug handles to make left hand turns, not to mention I expect a sign every few miles telling me what's going to happen in the next mile and where the hell I am. Driving in Las Vegas, none of those things apply, so I was not only learning my way around the city, but how to make a left hand turn/u-turn and at the same time was constantly reaching for the gear shift (luckily, the gear shift was a stick on the wheel, so I didn't accidentally shift into reverse or park or something at a light!) and slamming my foot into the floor whenever I came up to a stop light.

I can't even imagine combining that awkwardness with learning the driving patterns in a different country!
19th-Apr-2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Just curious: what's a "jug handle" in this context?
19th-Apr-2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
You actually veer off to the right onto a ramp so that you can make your (overall) left-hand turn, without all the inconveniences of left-hand turns (these take longer, tie up traffic, etc, the more congested the area is: and I've visited New Jersey, it's shockingly congested).

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jughandle
20th-Apr-2009 09:12 am (UTC)
That looks like an excellent idea where there's room for it: but surely any junction with as much space as that will be on a dual-carriageway in any case, not a normal road?
20th-Apr-2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
It is very unusual to be able to turn right on high-speed multi-lane roads in Britain - the normal solution is to have a fly-over/underpass with ordinary T-junctions on the minor road - or a roundabout. When two major roads cross either there's a roundabout on a third level or individual left-hand turns for the different directions (although they rarely use a classic cloverleaf and tend to end up with beauties such as this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gravelly_Hill_Interchange.svg).
19th-Apr-2009 01:32 pm (UTC)
What everybody said -- in general, everything is the same, with the exception of the exact same manufacturer variation you'd get in the US -- so yeah, you may get different places for reverse and wipers and lights depending on whether it's a VW or a Ford or a Toyota.

Here are the things I noticed when I drove in the UK -- and I hadn't driven anything in a couple years when I finally did rent a car, and was used to driving in the US (although I drove a couple of times in Germany -- same side of the road as the US, same traffic signs -- mostly -- as the UK):

  • If driving a standard transmission is pretty much second-nature for you, your body will deal with it pretty well in normal situations.
  • If things get a little less normal, you may find yourself stalling as you try to shift the window handle! This happened to me once when trying to negotiate getting onto a roundabout (traffic circle) from a full stop -- figuring out which lane I was getting into on top ove everything else seemed to overload my brain!
  • What somebody said about the rearview mirror -- that's a bit harder. Also coming out of parking lots, before you're really on the road, it's easy to forget which side you're on.
  • Honestly, the hardest part for me was getting a feel for the road signs and pavement markers -- and parking regulations. If you're a good driver, that part is the least of your worries. Make sure you know all the rules really well, and you're less likely to make actual mistakes with the car part of driving.
  • Finally -- most of the drivers I know in Europe and the UK actually use the hand brake (emergency brake) while driving. They put it on when sitting in traffic, hovering on hills, etc. I don't know if this is required in the UK, but it was when I lived in Germany.

Edited at 2009-04-19 01:34 pm (UTC)
19th-Apr-2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
Using the handbrake when stationary in a queue is not compulsory, even on hills. If your clutch control is a bit uncertain it can make your life easier, and it's recommended in case someone shunts you up the rear (you're less likely to be pushed into the car in front), but it's not compulsory at all.

Obviously if you park, you apply the handbrake, or the car will have rolled away by the time you get back.
20th-Apr-2009 09:06 am (UTC)
Not applying the handbrake in a queue, when it's apparent you're going to be there more than a few seconds, is marked as a minor fault by a UK driving test examiner. So it may be that people who've learnt to drive fairly recently still have it as a "good habit", although I don't know anyone who's been driving for a long time who does.
20th-Apr-2009 09:08 am (UTC)
Yes, I think it's another of those differences between learning to pass a driving test and learning to drive. I was very fortunate in my final instructor: he taught me both, and the differences between the two.

20th-Apr-2009 09:26 am (UTC)
No, I still do this. Possibly because our last car had a very heavy clutch that caused real pain in stop-start traffic.
20th-Apr-2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
The other reason is that sitting on the clutch can wear it out more quickly, so you're better off putting on the handbrake and leaving the car in neutral than keeping it on the balance or sitting with your feet on the clutch and the brake.
20th-Apr-2009 09:22 am (UTC)
Handbrakes are also necessary on steep hills to avoid rolling back into the car behind while switching pedals! But I assume the OP knows about hill starts. I drove an auto in Canada for the first time last year and it was the thing that really worried me - how can you do a hill start when there's no clutch to bring up to the 'bite'? Of course what happens in an auto is that once you are in 'drive' the car has some forward momentum even if you aren't touching the accelerator/gas pedal - this freaked me out - a couple of times I nearly rolled into other cars because I wasn't expecting it.
20th-Apr-2009 09:26 am (UTC)
Still not "necessary" - as I say, it depends on how good your clutch control is. I just hang it on the clutch, unless I'll be there for ages. But it can make your life simpler, if somewhat slower pulling away.

Yes, autos on hill starts worry me, too! I'm used to balancing it on the clutch, not the throttle, and I don't expect to have to hold the foot brake on to stay stationary on the flat.
20th-Apr-2009 09:33 am (UTC)
Thinking about it I realise my sense of 'necessity' is based on a Pavlovian response to my partner's repeated insistence that it wears the clutch out!
20th-Apr-2009 09:35 am (UTC)
Sounds like my husband's comments on tyre wear and the speed at which one should take corners :)
19th-Apr-2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
It depends on the car. Ours (a Citroen C3) is like that; however Vauxhalls have their reverse gear next to 1st, with a ring round the lever that you must pull up so that you don't accidentally engage it at a traffic light or something equally disastrous!

And yes, the foot pedals are the same order.

I haven't yet driven a left-hand-drive car, but my husband and daughter, who both have and say it is very easy to adjust to; I imagine the reverse will be true, too.
19th-Apr-2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Just something to consider.. I may be wrong about this, I'm not too sure on the rules re foreign licences.. but in the UK you must have a specific licence to drive manual cars. I don't know what the position would be if you turned up with a US licence, as I assume no distinction is noted on it? It may be something to check with the rental company, as they may have a policy about hiring manual cars to US drivers anyway.
20th-Apr-2009 09:31 am (UTC)
Interesting thought. The UK licence assumes that manual is the norm, and there's a special licence for the few people who pass their test as automatic-only. Possibly car hire companies make the same assumption, and unless your licence specifically says "auto only", they'll take the ability to drive a normal car for granted? In that case, probably worth not drawing their attention to it :)
20th-Apr-2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
If you only have an American licence, most carhire companies will not *let* you rent a manual.
14th-May-2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
UK manual transmissions are oriented the same as US ones, just like the picture you posted. The pedals are the same as the US also. The only thing you'll find yourself doing is whacking your hand on the door by mistake going for the shifter on the right :P
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