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Two main patterns. Many possibilities for mayhem.

"If you can't find it, grind it."
Homer Simpson struggles with a truck transmission, The Simpsons


Ezekiel: Why didn't you tell me you can't drive?

Havana: I can drive! I just can't drive stick!

Ezekiel: Why is it so hard? It's simple!

Havana: If it was simple, I could do it!
Holy Matrimony

Perhaps the American tourist is picking up their European rental car at the airport, or perhaps the main character needs to park the old banger or the superpowered Cool Car. Either way, they'll take a look inside at the manual gearbox and then exclaim in horror "I can't drive stick!" - and then proceed to anyway. Usually used as an excuse to then laugh at some terrible driving (crunching gears and noisy stalls are a must) or as the setup for a "My Car Hates Me", although it can also be used to provide justification for allowing one character to drive over another, more sensible choice (e.g., if you need The Ditz to come along for the road trip).

Far more common in US comedies, as automatic transmissions are very widespread in the North American continent, but aren't as popular in Europe. Also uncommon in UK shows, because you need a different class of license to drive a manual - if you learned on an automatic, that's all you'll be driving (legally). Rare in manga/anime, as even though automatic transmissions are even more widespread in Japan, to get a driver's license you're required to demonstrate that you can drive stick. If you do have that ability, though, you are probably a Badass.

Also tends to show up in any situation involving commercial vehicles above 25 tons, as heavy trucks are typically running unsynchronized manuals with nine to eighteen gears. As of this writing, however, new heavy-duty automatics are standard in transit buses and even starting to appear in full-size semis.

TV characters can still make the most common shifting mistake in an automatic, however. They can put it in reverse when they want to go forward, or vice-versa. A mistake also common in manual, if you have a y-pattern.

Contrast Universal Driver's License

Examples :



  • Used as a plot point in one Speed Racer episode: Speed suspects (rightly) that something is wrong with one of his competitors because his racecar has an automatic transmission.

Comic Books

  • Knights of the Dinner Table: Weird Pete discovers that Gordo can't drive stick during a road trip to GaryCon when he wakes up to to find Gordo is still driving in first gear. By the end of the trip, Gordo has mastered driving stick (with the aid of Squirrely) and is ecstatic.


  • Batman Begins - The new Batmobile is manual transmission, and Batman makes a point of asking whether Jim Gordon can "drive stick" before letting him use it.
    • It's actually controlled with a Throttle lever like that in a boat or plane. It's the same sort of joke though.
  • RV has our main character trying to turn around a huge RV on his street. He manages to break the parking prawl during the gear grinding ordeal. Remember, this RV is a column shift automatic. The RV rolling away on perfectly level roads becomes a Running Gag.
  • Little Miss Sunshine - The manual transmission of the VW is given as the reason why the whole household needs to make the journey; the mother needs to look after her daughter, but can't drive a manual transmission, so her husband also needs to make the journey. Later, the clutch breaks down, necessitating the comedic rolling starts which appear throughout the film.
  • In Dogma, not only does Jay not know how to drive stick, but he doesn't even understand what it is. This leads to:

 (while Jay is driving Bethany's car about 65 MPH in first gear)

Bethany: What gear are you in?

Jay: "Gear"?

(cut to the car with its hood open, copious amounts of steam and smoke billowing out)

Jay:"Well, what am I supposed to know about shiftin'?"

  • Several characters from the The Fast and the Furious series like to give entire lectures about shifting technique. Also, the movies make a point of using badass shifting. At least one of the lectures is either horribly wrong or possibly an effort to sabotage another character's driving techniques.
  • Both National Treasure films have Riley driving his new Ferrari with no concept of a clutch. It gets better in the second movie when he grinds it in gear from a stop, only to drive backwards into the car behind his!
  • In the Broken Lizard comedy Super Troopers, officers Foster and Mac are stymied from posing as truckers to gain information when it turns out that neither of them are capable of driving a stick shift big rig.
  • The remake of The Italian Job had a whole deleted subplot during the climax where Left Ear has to drive one of the gang's Mini Coopers with Handsome Rob talking him through it.
  • Funnily enough, in Columbia's 1998 Godzilla film, DGSE agent (France's equivalent to the US Secret Service) Philippe Roche tries to get an Army Humvee moving in order to sneak into the subway system, but fails. It's American Nick Tatopoulos who points out that it's not in gear. Nevermind the fact that in Real Life, the Humvee is an automatic specifically to avert this trope.
  • In Pretty Woman, at the beginning of the film Richard Gere's character leaves a party in a Lotus sports car, and clearly has trouble with the shifter (making a lot of the sickening grinding noises). When he meets Julia Robert's character, after observing him she takes the wheel and has no trouble driving.
  • In Buffalo '66, Billy comandeers Layla's vehicle, but needs her to drive it. With disdain, he says he doesn't drive "shifter cars" because he drives fancy cars like Cadillacs, which "shift themselves." Of course, Billy is a pathological liar.


  • The Da Vinci Code - at one point in the book, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu make a getaway in a stolen taxi: this doesn't go as smoothly as they would like, owing to the fact that Langdon normally drives an automatic.
  • In Jonathan Gash's first Lovejoy novel, The Judas Pair, Lovejoy is humiliated when a new girlfriend shows him that he's been driving his veteran car in first gear for months because he couldn't understand its unusual gear-shifting controls.
  • In Piers Anthony's Killobyte, a lack of ability to drive stick stymies one of the players of the virtual reality game when confronted with a Jeep.
  • Artemis Fowl: Mulch Diggums steals an LEP shuttle and flies to the rest of the group's rescue. Once back in the pilot seat, Holly is horrified to find out he was in first gear the whole time, Mulch answers he didn't know it had gears, and thought it was automatic.

Live Action TV

  • Scrubs - J.D. accidentally destroys a parked car with a monster truck - he puts this down to the fact that "it's been a while since I drove shift!". Ironically, this is a case of poor research, as monster trucks are usually custom automatics; try double-clutching while airborne and see how well you do.
    • Might that have been a parody of the trope? It seems a little obscure, true, but it could have been intentionally funny.
    • Or it could have been automatic and JD just screwed up driving and lied so he looked less idiotic.
  • Inverted in an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, where the already reluctant driver Clegg is terrified at the prospect of driving an automatic.
    • However, also played straight in a running joke about Edie's bad driving - half the time she blames "this stupid stick thing", and the other half "it's because your father keeps moving the pedals around!"
  • On the reality show The Amazing Race, there are times when the contestants are given stick shift cars to drive. Often, neither member of a team knows how to drive stick. Teams have been eliminated from the race over this.
    • Subverted by S12's Vyxsin who could drive stick, apparently because she comes from Kentucky, where sticks are apparently common. That said, even she had troubles with stick in Italy...
      • For Americans in Europe Great Britain, driving stick shifts can still be tricky even if they know how, given that they're suddenly using their left hand to do it.
  • Captain Kirk, in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Piece of the Action", though it's doubtful he'd have done any better had it been automatic.
  • Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment fits this trope, when Americans appear as the guest.
    • Jeremy Clarkson to American singer comedian Rich Hall (he's done some comedy singing before) before they showed the video of Hall driving the lap: "You can drive a stick shift car?" Rich Hall: "I can now"
    • Of course, being a British show, even Americans who can drive stick have problems because the lever's on the wrong side.
    • Lionel Ritchie, a notable exception who was doing well until the driver side front wheel came away from the car at full speed.
      • It happened on the first corner, so there wasn't much shifting going on yet. On his full run he drove nicely, but shifted messily, leading Jeremy to say, "apart from the gear changing, this is extremely good."
    • British example, Christopher Eccleston was only going to go round the track in an automatic, as he only passed his test a few weeks previous, in an automatic. Whether this was because of Eccleston's demand, to keep the insurance company happy or to keep the right side of the law is not clear.
      • Either of the first two options; the lap is not done on a public road so what class of driving licence (if any) the participants carry is irrelevant.
      • They did make the same automatic allowance for Jeff Goldblum when he did his lap, so personal preference looks likely at this point.
      • When they did Eccleston's lap they revealed that there was exactly one automatic car of the proper model in all of England - which Top Gear borrowed. Clarkson highlighted this by showing the blooper real of Eccleston skidding out and getting bogged in the grass, saying, "If that's your car - sorry!"
    • After the "Masters of the Universe" race:

 Sixth Doctor: For an automatic, it was very noisy, I have to say that.

Jeremy Clarkson: Er... It wasn't an automatic.

Sixth Doctor: Oh, wasn't it? That's why it was so noisy.

    • When David Tennant did the track, he actually broke third gear due to some overeager shifting.

 Tennant: Third gear, come on!(grunts)


      • David Soul (the American actor who played Hutch) broke two gearboxes because "the stick shift confused him" as Clarkson put it in S 3 E 4.
    • "...change gear, murder a prostitute, clutch, change gear..."
    • Subverted by the Aston Martin DB7 GT, which went from a standstill to over a hundred in one gear (fourth).
    • Subverted again (and harder) by the Corvette Z06, which went from a standstill to 175 mph all in fifth gear.
    • When Jeff Goldblum was the star in a reasonably priced car he kept complaining during portions of his lap that he wished he'd had more car, these being the parts most guests take in fourth gear while Jeff (on advice from the Stig) never went above third.
    • Amusingly, Rubens Barricello, of all people, had at one point trouble shifting during his run on the Reasonably Priced Car (during the interview, he admitted that his personal car was one with Paddle Shifters and subsequently got used to it). Still, that didn't stop him from beating the Stig's time.
  • On Sex and the City Carrie rents a car with a stick shift even though she never learned how to drive anything but automatic. She explains to Miranda and Samantha that "This car went with my outfit."
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Phases you can see the stage hands pushing Giles' Citroen when he and Buffy arrive at the Bronze, because the actor, Anthony Stewart Head, couldn't master the unusual gear-changing system fitted to that kind of classic Citroen.
    • An inversion in the episode Real Me as Giles had just purchased a new Midlife Crisis Car and has trouble with the automatic transmission, being used to a stick. He puts it into neutral while driving apparently several times as he instinctively tries to shift.
  • In the NCIS episode "Kill Ari (2)", Ducky's former assistant Gerald, held hostage by Ari until Ducky swaps places with him, dashes for Ducky's Morgan, and attempts to drive away. Gears grind, and the car lurches forward several times. Ultimately Ari takes pity on Ducky and they swap cars, allowing Gerald to drive off in his own automatic.

 Ducky: Use the clutch. Good God man! USE the CLUTCH! (almost crying) You're stripping the gears!

Ari: This is too painful, Doctor.

  • Season three of Ice Road Truckers has two of the Canadian drivers from previous seasons come to Alaska to drive on the Dalton Ice Road. One of them has driven trucks most his life but the truck he is driving has an unfamiliar transmission setup and in the beginning he keeps shifting to the wrong gear. Considering they are driving over steep hills and along winding mountain roads covered in ice, shifting to the wrong gear could cause the truck to lose traction and go off the road. If that happens in the wrong spot, it can be deadly.
    • Similar problems are experienced by Lisa in the first season of IRT Deadliest Roads. The first-second shift is a dogleg.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 uses this in Pod People. A car is driving slowly and jerkily. Crow's comment is a disgruntled "You don't know how to drive a stick, do you?"
  • Used on Voyagers!, with Jeffrey knowing more about how to use a clutch than Bogg.
  • Canadas Worst Driver, is a reality show which tries to rehabilitate bad drivers using various challenges. For obvious reasons, the show's participants absolutely play this straight, all the time. You can just guess what happens when they do a challenge that involves using a manual transmission; ground gears, burned clutches, and the like.
    • One participant in Season 2 was utterly incapable of driving stick, to the point that during the stick shift challenge, after being taught by the head instructor of the country's top driving school, her MTBF on the challenge vehicle was 45 seconds. Possibly less.
    • In Season 6, the manual transmission challenge was to balance a car on a teeter-totter. While some did good, even some contestants who already owned cars with sticks had issues. Even worse, every single car they had brought out for this challenge got its transmission damaged by a contestant, meaning that the final contestant wasn't even able to have a turn!
  • A recurring problem in Time Trax is that the main character is totally incapable of driving a stick shift. This is due to his being from 200 years in the future, when all cars are automatics.


  • Red vs. Blue: Caboose can only drive stick, not automatic. It's easier to just go with it.
    • Some drivers who "grew up" on the stick are extremely irritated by the automatic shifting patterns and the fact that they cannot control it. It could even made driving on automatic by all intents impossible for them. To say nothing of accidental left-foot braking.

Real Life

  • Carjacker Changes Mind After Seeing Car Is Stick Shift
    • In a similar comiotragic event, attendees of a 2008 Jeep enthusiast's club meeting in Maryland emerged to find that every one of their cars had been stolen except for the ones with manual transmissions.
  • Kobe Bryant bought his wife a Lamborghini for her birthday. Problem: they're all manual, and she can't drive stick. Solution: blow multiple thousands of dollars on having an automatic transmission fitted! "Hey big spender, come spend a little time with me..."

Video Games

  • Sly Cooper 2. Bentley has ... difficulties driving the team van, a manual transmission.
    • Though the player finds out a level later Murray has never let him drive before. When one considers they'd never been separated before Sly and Murray being arrested, one wonders if he could drive at all before that.
  • Sega's Ferrari F355 Challenge arcade game has the options of fully automatic shiftng, F1-style semi-automatic paddles, or fully manual 6-speed stick and clutch.
  • Forza Motorsport 3 and Forza 4 includes the option of fully manual transmission with clutch, the problem is that most Xbox360 steering wheel peripherals generally don't have a clutch pedal. Unfortunately, Forza doesn't simulate full-out engine stalls (it'll take over the clutch before the engine dies) as there is no button to start the engine; though if you don't use the clutch when taking off, the engine will repeatedly nearly seize-up as you start idling forward.
    • Both Fanatec Porsche and the Fanatec CSR wheels (both work with Forza 3 and Forza 4) have a clutch pedal, and a $50 accessory is a 6 speed H-pattern stick shift. The first time you use it, you'll be grinding through the gears trying to find 5th or reverse. Have fun accidentally throwing your $800,000 Ferrari into first gear at 180 MPH!
  • Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (and later) supports fully manual transmission with clutch with the appropriate controller (such as the Logitech G25/G27 wheel). Though activating the clutch requires hitting the triangle button when the race starts.
  • The Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune arcade games have manual transmission controls but no clutch (though fully automatic is an option).
  • The latest Battle Gear arcade games have options for fully manual transmission with clutch as well.
  • The veteran PC game Hotrod featured all-manual cars. Pressing space moved you up a gear. It rolled over after 4th whereupon you dropped to 1st and dropped your transmission. Most players never learned how to go down a gear in-game and were only able to either accelerate or slow down, stall out, and start over at 1st.
  • Rigs of Rods Zigzags this almost. Defaultly, the game is set for automatic, allowing a player to shift using Page Up or Page Down in a standard automatic pattern (R, N, D, 2 and 1 from top to bottom). Pressing Q will change the mode to a manual shift with an automatic clutch, using A to shift up and Z to shift down. The next is a manual clutch with sequential shift, using the Shift key to depress the clutch (even though the effect of pressing gas, brake and clutch using a keyboard is instant. Thankfully the game doesn't simulate engine, gearbox or clutch damage... yet). The last two is stick shift, designed for the Logitech G25/27 which they have a shift stick and clutch pedal. Finally, there is stick shift with ranges, designed when driving trucks in the game with more than 6 gears, allowing to switch up a range.
    • This can result in oddness as you can drive manual in automatics and automatic in manuals (also, detailed cars will show the stick moving such as the Tatra T812 DAKAR and Gavril Bandit).

Web Comics

  • Emily doesn't even know what that funny third pedal on Ash's car is in an early Misfile strip. It appears she is a quick learner though.

Web Original

  • In the first episode of Code Ment: "Oh shit. This may be a bad time to tell you but I can't drive stick." (crash) Applies to Rule of Funny as the driver was driving quite well up until the crash.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons - Homer murders the manual transmission of a truck in "Maximum Homerdrive".
  • In an episode of Rugrats where Chuckie was revealed to be left-handed, Charlotte Pickles expressed dismay, claiming that "He'll need special scissors, desks, notebooks ... and he'll never be able to drive a stickshift!" (Apparently she was unaware that stickshift is standard in British right-hand drive cars.) It's then revealed that Didi and Chaz can't drive stickshift either. (Naturally, Angelica being who she is, she proceeded to translate this to Chuckie as "Oh, and you'll never be able to drive a car.")
  • Happened in King of the Hill during a flashback scene when Hank, Dale, and Bill are joyriding Boomhauer's car. Dale displays his inability in driving stick when it's his turn to drive and caused the car to fall into the quarry. This is why the three help the environmentalists to protect the quarry from being drained revealing Boomhauer's car and their lettermen jackets.
    • "The left brake isn't working!" shouts Dale, as he repeatedly stomps the clutch.
  • Futurama: The Planet Express Delivery Ship has a manual transmission. Professor Farnsworth makes a point of asking if any of them can drive stick when Fry, Bender and Leela board it for the first time in "Space Pilot 3000".
  • Brock Samson (and Hank during one episode) of The Venture Brothers drives a 69 Charger with a stick shift. Brock, who has driven it for years, has no issues, and even Hank did reasonably well when driving. Especially since it was his first time driving. The only person with the driving stick issue? H.E.L.P.eR. As Brock discovers when strapped to the hood of his car by Doc's escaped parasitic twin brother

 Brock: You know to fly the X-1, but you can't drive stick!?