Good news, ladies and gentlemen! The end of the week is nigh, and we shall lionize by exulting ourselves with the corpuscular altruism of Letters to Doug! I have no idea what many of those words mean!
For those of you who want to participate in Letters to Doug, just remember that you can write to me in two ways. Number one is on Twitter, where you can find me at @DougDeMuro. You can also send me an e-mail at Letters2Doug@gmail.com. Both of these are excellent avenues you can use to get in touch with me if you have an automotive query that you want to be aired publicly for thousands of Internet viewers to see.
This week’s letter comes to us from a reader named William, who is located in Ohio, where the most interesting thing that has happened in the last 25 years is that ongoing dispute with North Carolina over who really invented powered flight. William writes:
I can’t drive stick, but I’m planning on purchasing a used manual-transmission car. Issue is, I’ve gotta test drive the thing, and none of my friends/family can drive stick or have such a vehicle on which I could practice. The mainstream rental agencies don’t seem to offer any manuals, either. Were I buying the car from a dealer, I’d feel better practicing with the salesperson in the parking lot, and I don’t think it’d take too much time for me to get the hang of it. However, the the car in which I’m interested is being sold by “some guy,” and so I feel bad wasting his time and driving his car without any prior practice. What should I do?
For those of you who don’t want to take a break from your clearly busy work day and slog through William’s message, allow me to summarize his question: William wants to buy a manual car, but he doesn’t know how to drive manual, and he’s not sure how to learn before he takes a test drive.
Now, most of the time when I get a letter here on Letters to Doug, I have the answer because – let’s be very clear here – I have all the answers. For example: I once got a letter from a guy who told me he wanted to buy a Lincoln Navigator, and I told him that’s fine, but please understand that your nearest Lincoln dealer might be out of Navigators, depending on the size of your local airport limo driver community. This is the kind of hard-hitting journalism you get from Letters to Doug.
Unfortunately, in this particular case, I don’t know what to say to William. I get asked this question a lot, and I have no idea how to answer it.
Instead, I will share with you the story of how I personally learned how to drive manual. It was the summer of 2008, and I had just been hired by a Ferrari dealership to deliver cars to customers. Now, when you’re being interviewed by a Ferrari dealership for a job where the sole task is driving cars, and they ask you if you can drive manual, you say yes. You don’t think about this. You don’t consider your options. You don’t ask yourself whether you can actually drive manual. You say yes. So I said yes, and they told me to start the next day.
The only problem was, I had never driven a manual car before in my entire life.
Facing the same issue as William, I called up every single person I had ever met who could’ve possibly possessed a manual car, until I landed – I swear this is true – on my high school French teacher. She had – and to my knowledge, she still has – a stick-shift Toyota RAV4, and she was happy to let me take it out for a while. So for the next hour, I drove it around the neighborhood, where I never went above 20 miles per hour and stalled roughly forty-seven times.
The next day, I reported for work, and the very first car they asked me to drive was a stick-shift Ferrari F355.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what I like to call trial by fire. Faced with no other choice, it’s also the solution I recommend to you, William. Here’s what you do: show up at the dealer, announce your interest in the vehicle, and then take it for a spin with all the confidence in the world. At the end of the test drive, tell them you’ll buy the car, but only if they install a new clutch, because that last guy who drove it clearly had no idea what he was doing.
Meanwhile, if anyone has any better suggestions, I think we would all like to hear them.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.