Learning to drive a stick shift may require a shift in teachers

Dear Car Talk:

My husband has a 2012 Ford Focus with a manual transmission. I have tried to drive this car, but not only am I not very good at it, he has no patience for me driving it (or learning to get better at it).

Every time I stall or screech or hit the engine too hard, a part of him dies. I’ve offered to buy a new automatic car, but he doesn’t want to get rid of this car until it breaks down.

Can you tell me a safe way I can make it “break down” so that we can get on with our life and marriage? I would appreciate it very much. Thank you! -- Mary

RAY: Well, if you want to go undetected, you could just buy a $10 oil filter wrench, and then loosen the filter by about half a turn. That’ll create a slow oil leak and seize the engine in a few weeks. Or if you’re less concerned about subtlety, there’s always a fire.

Actually, it’s wasteful to ruin a perfectly good car, and I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that. The real problem here is your husband’s impatience.

I remember when I was teaching my teenage son to drive a stick shift in a big, empty parking lot. He’d be lurching and stalling, and I’d be sighing and saying “do this, do that, no, don’t do that.”

Finally, he stopped the car and said “Get out.”

So, I got out, and he proceeded to buck and stall for about half an hour, and by the time I walked home, he’d figured it out.

I think what you need is a different teacher. It’s hard to find driving schools with stick-shift cars these days, but there is Craigslist.

So post an ad that reads “Married woman seeks wise, skilled, patient individual to teach me to drive stick on his or her car, long walks on the beach optional.”

Somewhere, there’s someone who would love to share their skillset with you, whose family has abandoned them and embraced automatic transmissions, who’s been waiting years to see an ad like this.

And since your teacher won’t be related to you, you’ll feel much more relaxed, and be able to make normal newbie mistakes while you learn, without the withering scorn of your husband’s sighs.

And I predict it won’t take long for you to get very good at it, Mary.

Then, when shifting is second nature to you, you can surprise your husband by saying, “I’ll drive, hon.” And when he asks how you got so good at driving stick, you can say “My friend James has been giving me lessons near his beach house. In his Porsche.”

Car modifications can bring some unexpected results

Dear Car Talk:

My son owns a 2019 Subaru WRX that he loves to modify. His first modifications included replacing his stock wheels with premium wheels with wide tires, adding coil-overs (thereby lowering the car) and “tilting” the wheels in at the top (not sure of the technical name!).

A few days ago, he was preparing to go to a Subaru festival. So he reinstalled his stock wheels (that had been stored vertically for two years in our cool, dry, dark basement) for the long drive, carrying his fancy wheels and his ramps and jacks inside the car, to be installed when he got to the festival. His stock wheels had essentially zero miles on.

He was driving along for about three hours when -- BAM -- he had a rear-wheel blowout. He doesn’t think he ran over any road debris, and the blowout was on the inner side wall.

Is it possible the blowout was caused by the modifications he made to his car? The good news was he was able to change out all four wheels on the side of the highway and was back on his way in no time! -- Pam

RAY: It’s more than possible, Pam. It’s quite likely. That’s what happens when you do wacky things to your car. But hey, at least he’s not playing with Tide Pods, right?

There are two possibilities that come to mind. One is that the original tires have a different profile than his new tires. They’re probably a little taller, for instance, with high sidewalls.

So while the new tires worked when the car was lowered, the inner sidewall of the old tires may have ended up rubbing against the strut assembly or some other part of the rear suspension.

Or -- even if they weren’t rubbing -- the tire was so close to something else that a big bump on the highway forced the tire into that piece and put a gash in it. If they were actually rubbing against something, he should see evidence of that on the other (stock) rear tire.

The other possibility is that he adjusted the camber (that’s the term for whether the tires lean in at the top or out) to such an extent that the stock tires were practically running on their inside edges. Maybe one wore out that way.

Or, since the sidewall is much more vulnerable to puncture than the tread surface, a road obstruction may have had an easier time damaging it.

The good news, as you say, is that he happened to have four spares, along with jacks and ramps in the back of his car. That was lucky.

So he’s just going to have travel like that from now on. And the good news for you, Pam, is that it’ll clear up some storage space in your basement.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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