Buying a car in South Africa Part 1: Manual Transmission Newbies -You can do it!

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I’m not quite sure how many parts there are going to be to this series, as buying a car in RSA is an exercise in insanity and perseverance. All I can say is that after approximately three months of living here, we are off the company rental and into our own Renault Clio (above). Actually, I’m not even sure there will be a part 2 as I can hardly even bear to think about the whole process, let alone record it (and I wasn’t even the one who had to deal with the Randburg Licensing department)

What I want to talk about right now  is driving a manual having had no experience. Hardly anyone in the States knows how to drive a manual, including us, and we fully expected to buy an automatic. Well it is on average about 20-40,000 Rand (almost 5,000 USD) cheaper to buy a manual (fyi cars are double sometimes triple the price of the same car in the US here). Since we were already irate about having to spend ANY money on a car the decision was made for us. After not even a week into it here are some tips for manual newbies like us.

1. If you are switching the side of the road, (it is not difficult, you can do it!) give yourself a few weeks in an automatic to just focus on driving on the left side, the new road rules, and driving habits in this country. Trying to learn manual and getting used to the new side might be a bit overwhelming.

2. If you have no idea how to drive a manual, book at least one professional lesson. We did that and those 2 hours were invaluable. I can give a hearty recommendation to Johannesburg residents for Patricia’s Driving School. She is patient and nice and has been doing it for 15 years. I mean we didn’t need to go back after only 2 hours with her!

3. Practice just moving off up hill. Yours or a friend’s driveway should do the trick. I spent at least 2 sweaty hours out there (I was so frustrated I took off my pants) and it helped me get to know the car tremendously. Plus a driveway is the most low pressure situation you can be in.

4. PRACTICE. You are going to stall and it is going to be ok. I spent 10 minutes stuck at a steep uphill intersection sweating it out with the hazard lights on my first solo drive. The cars didn’t even honk at me, just drove around. It made me realize I hate using the hand brake to start and avoid it as much as possible. It is also a bad but easy habit to have, if you have a partner to depend on him or her to do the majority of the driving. Don’t fall into that trap! Be independent! The only way you will be good at driving a manual is if you practice, Make yourself go through the discomfort so you can come out the other side.

5. Enjoy! Driving a manual is so much more fun than an automatic and if it continues to go well we are converts for life. You also have to be a lot more engaged in your driving (at least in the beginning) and that can ultimately mean being a better driver. You are learning a great life skill besides!

PS. Drivers everywhere…don’t ride the back of the car in front of you at a stoplight! It’s probably me sweating it out in my manual wishing you’d back the f*ck away so I don’t hit you when the car rolls back 3 feet slightly during moving off uphill.