What are 5-speed and 6-speed manual transmissions?
Manual transmissions (or stick shifts, as they are known in the USA) have been around for over a century. The first manual transmission was developed in 1894 by Emile Levassor and Louis-Rene Panhard and used a chain drive. In 1898, Louis Renault modified the design, replacing the chain with a drive shaft and adding a differential axle for the rear wheels.
In the first half of the 20th century, most cars had sliding-mesh manual transmissions with three forward gears. Constant-mesh manual transmissions began to pop up in the 1950s, making it possible to have more forward gears, although until the late 1970s, five-gear transmissions were generally only found in high-performance sports cars.
The number of gears
Today, manual transmissions have either five or six gears, the latter being more common in cars produced since the late 1990s. The number of gears always refers to the forward gears and does not include reverse or neutral. More about what is a gearbox here.
Driving a car with a manual transmission requires you to do more work than driving a car with an automatic transmission. As the name suggests, you need to select the gears manually, based on the amount of torque needed. At each gear change, you need to depress the clutch, which momentarily stops the power coming through from your engine so you can transition smoothly from one gear to the next.
Each gear fulfils a different purpose. The lower the gear, the more power but less potential for speed.
- First gear is used for getting the car moving, parking manoeuvres, and driving at very low speeds (generally below 25km/h).
- Second gear is used for gaining speed after being in first gear, low-speed cornering, and driving between approx 25-40km/h.
- Third gear is used for accelerating from second gear, downshifting for more power (such as going up a hill), engine braking, and medium speed driving (approx 40-60km/h).
- Fourth gear is used for accelerating from third gear, gaining more power or engine braking after being in fifth gear, and general open road driving (approx 60-80km/h).
- Fifth gear is mostly used for driving on flat, open roads at speeds of over 80km/h.
- Sixth gear is also known as overdrive. It is used in the same situations as fifth gear, but allows the engine to operate at lower RPMs, which saves fuel.
Often, you’ll change gears a little differently in a six-speed manual than a five-speed. You may need to shift gears earlier and at a slightly different speed. There’s no hard and fast rule – you’ll know intuitively when you need to change gear by the feel of the car and the RPMs.
Get an obligation-free quote
If your five or six-speed manual transmission isn’t changing gears smoothly, or it’s slipping, making unusual noises, or producing burning smells, then it probably requires attention. Don’t wait for it to stop working altogether – our transmission experts can perform a ten-point check to diagnose any problems. Get in touch today to book your car in!