How to never miss a shift when driving a manual car

July 14, 2023

Car Nerd Time!

If you drive a manual transmission car you owe it to yourself to learn the “open palm” technique to eliminate missed shifts, especially during high-performance track driving.

The secret to never missing a shift is to not grip the shifter. If you do, bumps and jostles will easily shift the lever into the wrong position. Keep your palm open and relaxed, and be sure to apply forces only in the directions that result in a proper shift.

The open palm technique involves positioning your hand in various orientations and contacting the shifter only in certain locations that always result in the correct gear selection. After some practice, this will become so natural and subtle that you’d be able to do it without a thought.

Here’s what I mean. For these examples, I assume you’re driving a left-hand-drive car (e.g. US) so you’re using your right hand to shift. I also assume a standard H pattern, not a dogleg.

In all of these examples, keep your palm open. Do not form a fist.

1st gear: Thumb points up. Palm contacts the back right of the shifter. Push the stick to the left then forward with palm.

1st–2nd: Thumb points up. Fingers contact the front right of the shifter. Apply pressure to the left, then shift straight backward.

2nd–3rd: Thumb points left. Palm contacts the rear of the shifter, fingers over the top of the shifter. Push the shifter directly forward. Allow the spring to center the shifter, then push it forward again. Do not move the shifter to the right; let the spring do its job.

3rd–4th: Thumb points down. Fingers curl around the front of the shifter. Pull the shifter directly backward with fingers.

4th–5th: Thumb and fingers together, palm contacting the rear left of the shifter. Push the shifter toward the right and forward in a “go away” motion.

5th–6th: Thumb points down. Fingers contact the front left of the shifter. Apply pressure to the right as you shift straight backward.

The key to this technique is to make it impossible for your hand to apply pressure on the shifter which will cause it to go into the wrong gear. By keeping your palm open, jostles and bumps can’t cause you to mis-shift. For example, by contacting the shifter only on the forward surface and keeping your palm open, it’s impossible for your 3–4 shift to become a 3–2 money shift even if you got jostled.

Downshifting uses the same techniques but in reverse. You can probably figure it out yourself.

Practice these shifts with an exaggerated open palm until you get the hang of it. Over time, your hand will return into a more natural position even as you keep your palm loose and open.

Good luck!