Learning to Drive a Stick Shift May Require a Shift in Teachers

Dear Car Talk:

My husband has a 2012 Ford Focus with a manual transmission. I have tried to drive this car, but not only am I not very good at it, he has no patience for me driving it (or learning to get better at it).

Every time I stall or screech or hit the engine too hard, a part of him dies. I've offered to buy a new automatic car, but he doesn't want to get rid of this car until it breaks down. Can you tell me a safe way I can make it "break down" so that we can get on with our life and marriage? I would appreciate it very much. Thank you! -- Mary

Well, if you want to go undetected, you could just buy a $10 oil filter wrench, and then loosen the filter by about half a turn. That'll create a slow oil leak and seize the engine in a few weeks. Or if you're less concerned about subtlety, there's always a fire.

Actually, it's wasteful to ruin a perfectly good car, and I can't, in good conscience, recommend that. The real problem here is your husband's impatience.

I remember when I was teaching my teenage son to drive a stick shift in a big, empty parking lot. He'd be lurching and stalling, and I'd be sighing and saying "do this, do that, no, don't do that."

Finally, he stopped the car and said "Get out." So, I got out, and he proceeded to buck and stall for about half an hour, and by the time I walked home, he'd figured it out.

I think what you need is a different teacher. It's hard to find driving schools with stick-shift cars these days, but there is Craigslist.

So post an ad that reads "Married woman seeks wise, skilled, patient individual to teach me to drive stick on his or her car, long walks on the beach optional." Somewhere, there's someone who would love to share their skillset with you, whose family has abandoned them and embraced automatic transmissions, who's been waiting years to see an ad like this.

And since your teacher won't be related to you, you'll feel much more relaxed, and be able to make normal newbie mistakes while you learn, without the withering scorn of your husband's sighs. And I predict it won't take long for you to get very good at it, Mary.

Then, when shifting is second nature to you, you can surprise your husband by saying, "I'll drive, hon." And when he asks how you got so good at driving stick, you can say "My friend James has been giving me lessons near his beach house. In his Porsche."


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