I learned to drive on a Volkswagen Bug which had, of course, a manual transmission. Little did I know what a valuable skill this would turn out to be in my travels.
In the United States today, something like 90 percent of the cars sold have automatic transmissions. I can think of only a few people I know who drive a stick. Many young people – including my daughter – have never driven a car with a manual transmission.
But in Europe, about 80 percent of cars are still sold with manual transmissions. And that holds true in most of the world. In many places it can be considerably more expensive to rent a car with an automatic transmission, if you can find one at all.
This came to mind lately when I ran across a desperate Web posting by a woman who was considering hiring a car and driver in Turkey because she could not locate a rental car with an automatic transmission. She finally found one, but I’m guessing she paid big for it.
Years ago the husband and I rented an automatic in Costa Rica, and paid an inflated rate, so that he could help with the driving. (He hates manuals.) It was a terrible car – the automatic transmission was trashed and the heater core was blown, causing the windshield to fog constantly. The steep winding terrain was so demanding that I would have felt better with the control of a manual.
So when we rented a car in Spain for a family trip last year, I insisted on a manual, even though it meant I would be the only driver. The husband and daughter wouldn’t touch a stick, and it would have cost a lot to add either of my parents as drivers.
I was plenty nervous because I’d been driving an automatic for years. I remember how, when I first switched to an automatic, I had to keep my left foot back toward the seat so I wouldn’t reflexively try to put it on a clutch pedal that wasn’t there. Still, in Spain I was afraid I’d find that I had forgotten how to shift and use the clutch.
The first few hundred yards – lurching out of the rental car lot into a crowded traffic circle – nearly gave me and my passengers heart attacks. But I quickly adjusted to the clutch and after that it was smooth driving. OK, smooth shifting. Some of the driving was horrendous.
I will draw the line, however, at driving a stick left-handed. I’ve never rented a car in a country where people drive on the left, but I believe that it would overwhelm my brain. Motor control is one thing. Spatial realignment is quite another.
Anyway, thanks, Mom and Dad, for the Volkswagen training. And thanks for not swearing or trying to grab the wheel – back in the Volkswagen days. Or in Spain.