There are three things almost guaranteed to provoke an argument. Just comment on how someone drives, performs in bed or how they bring up their kids, and get ready for a blue.

At the risk of upsetting some drivers, manual cars can be ruined by dubious and out-of-date driving techniques.

“Use your gears to slow down” is an instruction that some drivers still follow doggedly, sequentially changing down through every gear as they approach every stop sign, traffic light, corner or parking spot without touching the brake pedal.

After a period of this abuse, it is no wonder the gearshift quality is gritty, synchros have given up, the clutch is at the end of its travel, and there are clunks in the driveline and strange whines in the gearbox and diff.

In the old days, using your gear to supplement marginal brakes made the difference between stopping or not on some cars.

But some drivers take this instruction literally.


The correct technique is to slow the car by using the brakes first and then changing down into the lower gear that matches the slower speed.

The lower gear allows you to use the engine to hold it at that speed. On a steep, winding road or in slow-moving traffic, this is the correct way of using the gears to hold a slower speed without constantly using your brakes.

If you’re approaching a stop sign or red light while in fourth or fifth gear, most advanced courses teach you to leave it in that gear, use your brakes to slow down and depress the clutch just before the driveline shudder.

You then come to a dead stop under brakes with the clutch pedal depressed ready to shift it into neutral if it’s a long stop or select first gear ready to move away.

If the light turns green before you stop, you go straight to the gear that matches your speed and you are ready to accelerate. In most cases, you will save at least three unnecessary gear changes and associated clutch wear.

The gearbox and diff are engineered to take the strain while accelerating the car, not to act as a brake.

That’s why you get clunks, crunches and whines if you don’t use the brakes to wash the speed off before selecting a lower gear.

If you select a lower gear that’s too slow for the speed you’re travelling, it’s the clutch that has to slow the car down to match the lower gear as you take your foot off the clutch pedal.

When a clutch is only quarter the size of a car’s brakes, that’s a guaranteed way of wearing the clutch out quickly or blowing it up.

If you need any more convincing, the cheapest gearbox or clutch job is usually more expensive than the most expensive brake reline job.

So gears are for going, brakes are for stopping.

© Joe Kenwright, Herald Sun, 28-6-1996