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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Give left foot a rest

For decades, cars with manual transmissions were the norm.  Whether it was with a three-on-the-tree, four-on-the floor, or a five-speed gearbox popularized in Japanese imports, mastering the friction point of a clutch and selecting an appropriate gear was every driver’s past quest.

During the manual reign, even luxury car owners had three pedals on the floor instead of two.  As automatic transmissions began emerging (around 1940), many drivers shunned them, believing, correctly at the time, that automatics provided less control, consumed more fuel and were more expensive to buy.

But since their inception, the evolution of automatic transmissions has made them increasingly sophisticated and economical.  As a consequence of computer-controlled shifting of automatics with at least six and as many as ten gears, their efficiency has equaled and surpassed manuals.  Newer Constant Variable Transmissions actually have an infinite selection of “gear speeds,” offering just the right one for every power demand and driving situation.

Because of all that, the latest statistics reveal that only 3% of vehicles sold in the United States in 2016 were equipped with manual transmissions.  And those did not appear in mainstream models, but mainly in factory “hot rods” like Mustang, Camaro and Charger. 

In 2007, 47% of U.S. models were available with both manual and automatic transmissions.  Now, that figure is down to 27%, though it is likely to dwindle further quickly given the woeful 3% U.S. manual vehicle sales share.

The decline may have been sped in the 1960s, when dragstrip racers proved that cars with quality tight-shifting automatic transmissions could equal or better the quarter-mile elapsed times of similar vehicles equipped with manual transmissions.  Masters of the manual “power shift” hated to admit it, but the proof was in the stopwatch.

It’s still more enjoyable for me to manually select gears while driving “muscle cars,” but those days may be numbered for new models, since even Ferrari now offers no vehicles with manual gearboxes.  As demand for shifting heads toward zero, future offerings will become nil.

That’s all a background for my next topic.  Since we are destined to have only automatic transmissions, shouldn’t we learn how to drive properly with them?

I think most of us know not to rev the engine before selecting a gear, not to change from “D” to “R” while moving, and to come to a stop before selecting “P,” but do we all properly use our right foot for depressing the brake pedal?

Based on a few cars I’ve followed lately, I don’t think so.  When your car is moving forward at speed, the brake lights should not be illuminated.  If they are, either the brake light switch is broken (unlikely) or you are using your left foot for the brake.

With manual transmissions, the left foot was assigned to the clutch pedal.  Now, however, one can mistakenly use their left foot for the brake pedal, causing excess brake wear, inadvertent brake lights and the ability to apply the brakes and the accelerator simultaneously.  The latter can adversely affect vehicle control, and is simply wrong.

Using one’s right foot for both pedals (brake and gas) will assure that brakes are released when accelerating, and that the accelerator pedal is released while braking.  Using the left foot for braking has no justification other than absence of a right foot.  No driving school in the world condones the practice.  

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at