Monday, September 11, 2017

Bump Starting a Manual Transmission

When it comes to evacuating an in an emergency, you may be forced to use what's available instead of what you like. This can include everything from hitching a ride on a city bus, to carpooling, to just straight-up walking. Some people even have a perfectly prepared BOV ready to go, but even if you are ready in that way, life will happen, and at some point people will have to improvise. 

When you improvise, you sometimes have to use whatever is at hand, including cars that you had not planned to use because they have… issues. Sometimes these issues develop while you are on the road, and you have to get the vehicle moving again. 

As a note, this post focuses on manual transmission vehicles, since they are easier to get running in problematic circumstances, and will run even with problems that would cripple an automatic transmission vehicle.

Do you have the key?
If not, you have a whole other set of problems. Entire books have been written on this subject, and the best advice I can give in the space I have is for you to call a locksmith or read up on it elsewhere on the internet.

From personal experience, I recommend that you keep a spare copy of a key to any vehicle you own on a backup ring that you store somewhere safe.

Stick Shift Basics
If you can drive a stick shift, ignore this. Otherwise, this is a basic primer.

A stick shift is like the gears on your bicycle. There are a few safety features in modern transmissions (such as preventing you from going into reverse at high speed), but otherwise the mechanism is very similar. 

The clutch is just a way to unlock the chain so that you can change gears. It also allows the engine and/or wheels to spin freely.

How to Shift
  1. Make sure the parking brake is off and your foot is on the brake pedal. 
  2. Unless the clutch is broken, you will have to engage (press down on) the clutch in order to change into gear. 
  3. Engage first gear (upper left hand corner of the shift tree in most cars) with your left foot on the clutch to fully disengage the transmission. 
    • If you are unfamiliar with the vehicle, slowly raise and lower your left foot a few times on the clutch to try to find that point that it catches just a little bit. This is called a clutch point. 
  4. Make sure the transmission is fully disengaged and turn on the vehicle. 
  5. Take your foot off of the brake and push on the gas with your right foot until you can just hear the rumble of the engine. 
    • Take your foot off too slowly and the engine will not engage the transmission with enough force, and will stall out from the load. 
    • Take your foot off too quickly and you will get “Kangaroo Gas”, where the car will jump and then stop. 
    •  Thankfully, there is a fairly wide range of useful engine speeds, and it gets larger when you practice. 
  6. Slowly disengage the clutch as you engage the gas. As you bring your foot back, you will find that “clutch point” again as the transmission engages enough to move power between the engine and the wheels. (This is where most people have a problem when learning to drive, since they usually let off of the clutch too quickly. The engine is unable to handle the strain and it turns off.)
  7. Keep disengaging the clutch and slowly engaging the gas in order to increase power. 
  8. Changing gears is basically the same procedure, but going from one gear to another instead of from a stop. 
If you need further explanation, I have found this song a useful resource when teaching new drivers.

Bump Starting a Car
There are a lot of reasons a car may not start: the battery may be dead, the battery charging system may have problems, the starter may not work, the distributor may have issues… the list goes on. A surprising number of these can be bypassed by what is called “Bump starting” or “push starting” a car.

This works best on either a flat surface or a slight downward slope, and these techniques also work on most motorcycles and some scooters.

  1. Prep the car. Make sure that your emergency brake is off and that the keys are in the ignition and turned so that you can turn the wheels freely. 
  2. Fully engage the clutch and go into first gear, and make sure that you turn the key so that the electronics are engaged, but not the starter.
  3. Get up to speed. The more skilled you are at this, the easier it gets. I recommend that you be traveling at least 5-7 miles an hour. This is best accomplished by having someone else get out and push, even though I have learned how to push with one leg while operating pedals with the other.
    • As a note, have the lightest person drive if you can. Shaving 50-60 pounds off of the weight does not sound like it would make a huge difference with a several thousand pound vehicle, but often it does.
  4. Pop the clutch. When you are up to speed, release the clutch. The car should shake a bit, and the engine should start. Operate the vehicle from there as normal.

As always, don’t lick the wires, and don’t forget to practice.

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