Home » How Many Times Do You Yank The Shifter To Know It’s In Neutral? Tell Us About Your Involuntary Car-Driving Habits

How Many Times Do You Yank The Shifter To Know It’s In Neutral? Tell Us About Your Involuntary Car-Driving Habits

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David does a lot of things here at the Autopian that we all know about, but there’s also one thing he does secretly: he watches me. If that sounds creepy, that’s only because it is. No, no, I’m kidding, it’s not creepy, but it is A Thing. Once he pointed out this weird shoulder tic I seem to have when on camera, and I get to feel all self-conscious about that, and now he’s noted a habit of mine I’ve never realized before: when I get in a car, especially one I’ve never been in before, I tend to give the steering wheel a little sawing, left and right… Huh.

[Ed Note: Let me just point out the Jason Shoulder Twitch:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

There’s a slight one at about 52 seconds into that video, and then there’s a big one at 1:37. It’s always the left shoulder — it just shoots up! -DT]

I had no idea I even did this steering wheel sawing motion until David pointed out that it shows up in the recent Instagram video of me driving Adrian’s Ferrari Mondial:

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Yep, there I am, cranking that steering wheel for no clear reason, right as I get settled in there. I think maybe I do it to get, like, settled in with the controls? Get a feel for things? Those tugs on the wheel can telegraph an awful lot of physical information about the car, how mechanical or assisted it feels, how much play is in the wheel, how well the seat is adjusted, and all of that is conveyed almost instantaneously! So I’m going to defend my unconscious wheel-cranking, I think.

Also, there’s another unconscious car-gesture you can see in this little video: the waggle of the shifter to confirm the car is in neutral. I think usually I do a wag-wag-wag to confirm, but it’s possible some people may do more or less? Three seems the right number of wags? I think this is worth discussing, too.

Damn, now that I’m thinking about this, I’m realizing I have one more physical car unconscious habit: if there’s a between-seat handbrake, I’ll check that it’s down multiple times, without realizing it, pushing the little button on the lever and making sure it’s all the way down. I know I picked this habit up from my years of Beetle-driving, where it was easy to, say, leave the handbrake on the first pawl notch there.

So what are your habits? What strange things do you do when you get in a car unconsciously, things that, if you worked closely with David, he’d tell you about?

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Bennett Alston
Bennett Alston
7 months ago

My S2000 has a reverse gear safety mechanism where you have to press down on the shifter to get it into the slot. I have found that when the car has been sitting a while or is cold, I can get it into 6th and move the lever back out into neutral, but then something sticks and I can’t get it into another gear for a couple minutes. Very scary the first time it happened! Now, I let the car warm up a minute and shift through all the gears with the clutch in before reversing out of my garage and it seems to help, and I’ve found myself doing it on every car I drive now. Probably wasting my synchros a bit more, but I have seen the same issue reported by other S2k owners in forums.

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
7 months ago

I’ve noticed that when I’m accelerating hard in a good-sounding manual transmission car on the street, I turn my head a bit with my mouth slightly agape. I think I’m focusing on listening to the engine/exhaust, but I’ve recognized that I do this involuntarily!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago

I noticed a couple yesterday. One pointless, and one outdated.
Both my cars are manuals, and when I get ready to take off (ie, just starting to engage clutch, so holding from rolling backwards in my driveway) , for no conscious reason, I rev up 5 or 700rpms, let it settle back, then start letting the clutch out while gently getting on the gas. Not great for the clutch—and have no idea when I started doing it, but remember stalling the WRX a few times after I changed the clutch and put a lightened flywheel in there.

From the carbureted days, I always momentarily goose it up to 15-1700, then cut the key off a fraction of a second before the tach rises there. If I ‘member right, that was to forestall dieseling when I cut off my shitboxes. Like, cut the key off as the needle swings up past 1200 or so

Goblin
Goblin
7 months ago

My first Hyundai gave me the habit of pinching my finger on the shifter’s button (it’s made in a way that allows a gentle pinch between the button and the shifter when you release it) and I’m absolutely obsessing on clicking this button every few seconds in traffic and pinching my finger. I can’t imagine a car without that type of shifter anymore.

Last edited 7 months ago by Goblin
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

Jason: it’s only fair that we hear some tea about DT. What other weird things does he do?

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

The shifter wag in neutral is mandatory. It’s the law. That’s just how it is and it shall not be questioned.

Shifty McShifterson
Shifty McShifterson
7 months ago

Many years ago, I dailied a 78 Civic CVCC 5-speed. The speedo had a little glitch where, if you were going only a few mph, such as stop-and-go traffic, the needle wouldn’t move from 0. So I’d give it a little thump to free it.

Fast forward about 25 years and I still do that speedo thump on my current daily, whose speedo does not have that sticking behavior. Habits.

Vee
Vee
7 months ago

One of my weird habits that people actually do tell me about every time is while the car’s starting I always reach over and turn down the volume before power gets to the stereo. The reason being is that when I was younger I’d get into a car after my dad drove it and he’d have the volume halfway to max, not only scaring the shit out of me but hurting my sensitive hearing. It’s for this reason I hate digital inputs on stereos for the volume because they’re so damn slow.

Thomas Barnes
Thomas Barnes
7 months ago
Reply to  Vee

Reminds me of the old Rich Hall sniglet

Dashblast (dash’ blast) n.
The head splitting change in decibel levels when a car tape is removed and the radio comes on.

Parsko
Parsko
7 months ago

Two flicks left against the reverse spring. This is my go-to neutral confirmation. 6-spd with reverse past 1-2 and up.

I park on a flat against a curb. No parking brake, in 1st gear, placed into gear after movement has stopped. I still shift into neutral and back into 1st when I go, even though it’s already there.

H^&Y F@CKING H#LL!!!!!

Did I just discover that the different shift patterns have no names!?! Is this true???? I think I’m starting to hyperventilate. We… neeed.. to .. name.. this…………

Parsko
Parsko
7 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

We named them on Discord: Howard, Fran, Chris, Jeff, Geoff, and Mathilda.

Old Hippie
Old Hippie
7 months ago

Let’s see….

Waggle the shifter to be sure it’s in neutral? Check. I’ve driven rigs where the shifting was so vague it was hard to tell where you were in any gear (here’s looking at you, ’56 Transporter).

Handbrake? Never, unless I need it–parking on a steep hill, working on the rig, letting idle while I get the mail from the box, etc. This is learned behavior, as living in a place where things get rusty and winter is long and cold, leaving the handbrake set overnight is a recipe for a lot of crawling under the rig in the frozen mud and snow with blowtorch to free up the brakes first thing in the morning. I hear that newer handbrake lines aren’t prone to freezing up, but, yeah, right. That’s a lie perpetuated by Big Propane to sell more canisters for blowtorches.

Double-clutch downshift? Every time! I learned to drive a stick in a ’47 IH 6-tonner, with no syncros, square gears and 12 speeds. I’ve since driven a fair number of rigs with no syncros–either from the factory or due to wear.

Reach for the shifter and the clutch on an auto? Yep, that’s me. That sound was my foot hitting the left foot well firewall. I really hate those stupid double-wide brake pedals that were so common a few years (decades?) back, as I’d send my face into the steering wheel every time I tried to shift.

So many other things….

Last edited 7 months ago by Old Hippie
Scruffinater
Scruffinater
7 months ago

I do things in a particular order when I enter and exit a vehicle, some combination of what is needed for safety (right foot immediately on brake pedal) and what is the smoothest (and therefore fastest!) for me ergonomically. The more frequently I drive that particular vehicle, the faster I do it and the more I do it on auto-pilot. God forbid something interrupts me or makes me start off wrong when I am in auto-pilot… I look like Hammond on that episode of Top Gear where they hypnotized him and told him to forget everything about driving a car. I am a creature of habit. My manual shifter habit is to knock it down out of 1st and pull it left once to ensure neutral. I used to do a fair amount of left-right fidgeting in neutral, but at some point I went on a ‘purge needless driving behaviors’ tear and mostly cured myself of that.

It’s also pretty funny when I have been driving my manual daily driver for a while and hop into one of our a/t vehicles for some highway driving. Never fails when I’ve been cruising for a bit and come to an exit or something you’ll hear my left foot frantically stomping on the firewall!

Ben
Ben
7 months ago

I always move the shifter in and out of first (or reverse, depending on which direction I need to go) a couple of times when I first get in the car. Reverse isn’t quite as ridiculous as first because reverse in that car is a little tricky to shift into and I’ve had a couple of times where I thought it was engaged and got to listen to the horrible gear grinding when it turned out I was wrong. The first gear one is purely a habitual tic though.

Myk El
Myk El
7 months ago

When The Autopian Twitter account asked, I answered in my manual car I have a 4 waggle pattern, L-R-L-R which I then was reminded was part of the Konami code. Not sure exactly how to do the UU DD part. 1st 1st, 2nd, 2nd, L-R-L-R, brake, accelerator Start?

Noah Saydel
Noah Saydel
7 months ago

Had a few manual transmission cars, and my wife’s current car is manual so haven’t broken the parking brake habit with my automatic Elantra. If you’re going to keep the big parking brake lever in there I’m going to use it. Every. Time.

Also, I always drive with my lights on. I have a weird distrust of the “auto” light mode, so I set it to “on” each drive. At dusk or night I’m always have to do a good 5-6 checks of the dial just to make sure. It’s a weird tick, but keeps me safe I suppose.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Noah Saydel

> If you’re going to keep the big parking brake lever in there I’m going to use it. Every. Time.

Why wouldn’t you?

VanGuy
VanGuy
7 months ago
Reply to  Noah Saydel

I’m the same with my lights. My car doesn’t have DRLs but a rental I just had did, and I just found myself switching between “[forced] on” and the lowest “DRL OFF” setting when I parked it, because dammit, Auto would leave the DRLs on until I opened the door. I don’t want a single damn light on once I’ve turned the vehicle off.

I don’t know how people can walk away from their vehicles that have that 30-second timer for the headlights after they step out and lock it. I’d be paranoid as hell.

HiwattScott
HiwattScott
7 months ago

Coasting to a stop in a manual car with the clutch pushed in, I frequently row the shifter down through the gears, even though I know I’m coming to a full stop and just need to be in neutral or first.

Noah Saydel
Noah Saydel
7 months ago
Reply to  HiwattScott

I also do this.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
7 months ago
Reply to  Noah Saydel

This is bad practice. You shouldn’t disengage the clutch until almost at a standstill.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

He did say ‘…with clutch pushed in,”
I used to do the same thing with my old VW vans: if motor died or light changed, I was already in gear with clutch in.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
7 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I think we’re at crossed purposes. You absolutely should not coast with your foot on the clutch and the vehicle rolling, even if coming to a stop.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Yes
reading comprehension fail here

Joey Trimyer`
Joey Trimyer`
7 months ago
Reply to  HiwattScott

This isn’t normal? I always do it just in case I need to disengage the clutch because I want to be in the right gear at that moment.

Chally_Sheedy
Chally_Sheedy
7 months ago

Try to jam key into transmission tunnel.
Try to leave in R whenever parking.
Try not to shed a tear for a brilliant Rose Quartz legend from a better, vanished time.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
7 months ago

For me it’s specific to a 6-speed manual car: On a 5-6 upshift, I tend to grip the shifter “backwards” from above, with my palm facing the rear of the car. This is left from the days when I owned a 2005 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V. In this car, for some reason, when I gripped the shifter normally for a 5-6 shift, I had a tendency to hit 4th by accident. But when I did it as described above, I hit 6th every time.

It’s been more than 8 years since I’ve owned that car, but I still find myself doing this on my current 6-speed daily driver.

Mike Dris
Mike Dris
7 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

I learned this from forums for my E36 M3. You would grab the shifter differently for 4 to 5 shift to avoid hitting 3rd gear. Going to 3rd accidentally was referred to as the money shift because it would usually cause damage to the engine.

Vee
Vee
7 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

I do this too for certain cars. Do almost like a Vulcan greeting from Star Trek, press your index and middle finger down towards the shifter handle, palm back against the front, your ring and pinkie fingers wrapped around the side with the thumb pressed in under the curve of the handle for stability, and then just flick your wrist and pull back.

Beekeo
Beekeo
7 months ago

Absolutely would do the Left-Right-Left wiggle in the Focus! Would do it at any time that the car was stationary for more than a brief moment.

And I really wish the gear puck in the Maverick had some sort of tactile lock when you go three steps to the right from P to D or three to the left from D back to P.
I spin it a bunch of clicks to right or left to select D or P and then meticulously move the one or to clicks for R when it is needed.
Muscle memory is very slow to form with this input and so a new anxiety tic is born!

But an old tic that has resurfaced: when my travel mug is in the center cup holder and my elbow on the arm rest my hand will rest on the mug lid in the exact same manner as the focus shifter – here’s hoping I don’t attempt an spirited down-shift into 4th with 10oz of hot coffee!

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
7 months ago

Just one slap, to ensure the gearstick moves left to right & is therefore in neutral. I mean, granted, there are plenty of vehicles, including some I’ve driven, where there’s enough play even IN gear to fool the unwary, but that’s still how I roll. Or, occasionally, lurch.

Phuzz
Phuzz
7 months ago

When I first started driving I was taught to waggle the gearstick to check it was in neutral, and so I picked up the habit of moving it right, then left. Then my first car only had four gears (I’d learnt in 5 speed cars), and the shifter naturally sat on the far right for the H, between third and fourth. So, moving it right wasn’t possible, and I learned a new habit, of moving it left first, then right, and I’ve kept that habit ever since.

Lokki
Lokki
7 months ago

I do a double-waggle of the shifter to make sure I’m in neutral, and even in an automatic I put my left foot on the brake as a sort of clutch-push substitute before hitting the ignition. I have a 1998 328I (auto) and I had always thought it had a safety interlock where the car wouldn’t start without a foot on the brake. I just recently discover that it doesn’t.

My real sin though is that on downshifts I always blip the throttle as I change gears. I have lots of mechanical sounding excuses for why, but the truth is that it just sounds cool and has now become pure habit.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
7 months ago

My son bought his first car as a manual, and he does that handbrake thing. Checks it 2x or more. I have to park my Tacoma in gear since the parking brake doesn’t do it’s braking thing anymore. So no more wiggle check upon getting in.
Aren’t humans interesting, silly, bags of *mostly* water. The odd things we do…

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  MikeInTheWoods

> interesting, silly, bags of *mostly* water.

Nice.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago
Reply to  MikeInTheWoods

Reading just this page, I feel a bit better: I’m not the only silly human out there. Mostly ok with my various tics/habits, but, once in awhile, I’ll notice & chuckle or grin and shake my head at the silliness

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