Kids These Days

Tam highlights a post from someone who visited Europe, tried to rent a car, only to be told they didn’t have any “American transmissions.” It’s hard to find anyone born after 1980 that knows how to drive a manual. Kids these days. I suppose I don’t mind if they don’t know how to drive cars with manual gearboxes, as long as they stay the hell off my lawn.

I learned to drive on an old 1982 Datsun 720 pickup truck, because that’s what my dad drove. When I was rear ended in an accident right outside my high school, he replaced that car with a 1990 Nissan Sentra two door. It was literally four wheels and a steering wheel. I didn’t even have a tape deck. Both were manuals. I have actually never owned a car with an automatic transmission. I had to learn to drive these because that’s what my dad bought. Dad took the train to work, and didn’t have a need for a fancy car. That worked for me because I generally had use of it during the day. I don’t know at what point parents stopped teaching their kids to drive manuals, but it had to have been around 1980 or so.

If you want to be truly horrified at kids today, apparently one problem the auto industry is having is millennials just aren’t learning to drive. Now, if we had flying cars, I could accept this. We’d all be lamenting these damned kids, with their flying cars, zooming over the house all hours of the night. I could live with that. But no, they just aren’t interested. I couldn’t wait to get my license, so I could go places without having to beg mom, and more importantly, without having mom tagging along wherever I went. Cars represent independence from your parents, even if you’re driving around mom and dad’s old beater. It was this way for generations of Americans, except this one, apparently. Maybe this is the consequence of helicopter parenting.

UPDATE: I should note, just in case dad is reading, I smashed up the 1990 Sentra too. Not my fault. Hit and run driver on the onramp to the Schuylkill Expressway from 30th street in Philly. Car was un-drivable. I got the plates from the car that ran, and we had a cop we know run it… they were stolen tags. The risks of driving in Philly. But my dad would have been sure to remind me of this fact if I didn’t bring it up.

47 thoughts on “Kids These Days”

  1. My buddy’s kids are like that. The son’s out of high school this spring, the daughter next year, and neither shows any interest in driving, nor do their friends.

    I couldn’t wait to get mine. I’m thinking that A) we (I’m 41) didn’t have phones with us 24/7 through our childhood, and house phone use was controlled by the folks, so if we wanted to talk to our friends with any privacy we had to go find them, and 2) we weren’t saturated with computers and game consoles for shared remote playtime and didn’t have theater-quality movie equipment in our living rooms, so if we wanted recreation we had to leave the house to go find it.

    On the gripping hand, I wonder where these kids are fooling around at out from under the parental eye. That’s a big part of what cars have been for in the US since the Model T. I read something about how a significant percentage of young Japanese claim to have no interest in real sex. Are these damn electronics sapping our boys and girls precious bodily fluids as well?

  2. Mom of two here. Son, 33. Daughter, almost 28. Taught son to drive automatic. Somewhere along the line, he learned to drive a manual. Without my knowledge, he taught sister to drive; thus, by the time I got to her, she drove just fine, and I (ignorantly) thought, “What a natural!”

    Move forward to when daughter was 23. She was attacked by a stranger right after she got off the subway near her university. Every woman’s worst nightmare. Less than a month later, she bought a car. She opted for a stick-shift because it made her money stretch farther. CarMax gave her 30 days to return it; no questions asked so long as the car was fine. … Her dad tried to teach her; didn’t work. Lots of tears (both sides). She was going to return it. … Her brother stepped in: “I’m not sure the car’s all that great. But after what she’s been through, I don’t want to see her returning the car because she gives up. I’ll teach her. Then she can return it because she doesn’t like it, not because she can’t drive it.” One afternoon with her brother, and she was driving the stick-shift like a pro. Especially for a woman, knowing how to drive a manual transmission is a confidence builder.

  3. One thing to realize, that since they drive on the wrong side of the road, they get in the wrong side of the car.

    Which makes clutch work and shifting a bit trickier than usual.

  4. Learnt stick shift from a friend in a 10 minute session. Haven’t went back to auto tranny since.

    Then learnt how to ride a motorcycle from youtube video, thanks to the manual stick knowledge, it’s the same.

    There’s something to be gained in life from knowing how to drive at least a few forms of transportation.

    Allegedly, a lot of HMMWVs were auto tranny because many recruits [of the time] couldn’t drive stick shift.

    1. I’ve been told all military HMMWVs are automatics for just this reason. But it’s possible the Marines still drive stick. If so the Marines will say it’s because stick is better while everyone else will quietly comment tell you that the Navy wouldn’t pay the additional grand for an automatic.

    2. Husband let me teach him stick and it was a good thing since that was all they had in the sandbox when he went.

  5. All my kids ride motorcycles, so it’s easier for them to grasp when in a car. My oldest had a car that was manual, but switched because it was harder to text on iPhone. I learned to drive stick in a truck that was a 3 speed on the column. My 62 Chevy Belair was automatic, but my 68 Chevy Impala SS was stick. Hurst 4 on the floor. I can drive anything!!

    1. Had an International Scout with 3 speed manual and on the floor shifter, still miss that truck…..

      Offroad automatics are slightly better as there is no clutch, if you open the clutch while it’s underwater and the bell housing isn’t airtight (they usually aren’t) you have the same problem as wet brakes, slippage. You either need to be able to shift gears without the clutch (doable if you have synchronized gears and tach) or you do not shift gears until out of the water, so plan ahead and shift to low gear before entering water.
      You don’t have this problem with an Automatic.
      Also a Automatic having no clutch is a little more durable in theory as there is no clutch or throwout bearing to fail.

  6. I actually had to wait two months for the dealer to order me a stickshift car. This was back in 2006 when gas first broke $3/gallon and everybody panicked and rushed to buy econoboxes. I have never owned an automatic transmission vehicle in my life. Too much money to maintain, fuel mileage and power are reduced, and cornering/braking sucks with an auto trans.

    1. It depends on the maker and how many horsepower you have. Automatics for most drivers actually last longer than sticks (because so many people can’t seem to drive a stick without damaging at least the synchros and certainly the clutch). My father and I removed and repaired the manual trans from my sister’s Triumph TR6GT–and my, the gears that came out of it made interesting art, because some were missing 40% of their gears.

      For a car with 100 HP, yes, an automatic sucks a lot of power, and reduces mileage. For my Corvette, the difference between the automatic and the stick is pretty negligible. (I can, and often do get >30 mpg on the highway.)

  7. As I said at Tam’s (but the internet ate it), it’s hard to get manuals these days. I came close to getting the manual version of my car but it was actually quite a bit more expensive than the auto.

  8. I’m 25 years old, daily driver is a manual 5 speed. I wish it had a 6th gear

    Learned how to drive a manual on that car along with a old ford F150.

  9. There are some vehicles that simply don’t belong with a manual. The thought of a 5-speed in my old Buick Roadmaster is rather hilarious considering what it was built for – comfort above all. (Although the row-your-boat jokes would be humorous.) Having said that, though, there are also some vehicles that simply don’t belong with an automatic.

    What about the double-clutch transmissions from VW, though? Manual innards, automatic control? Where does that belong?

    1. There’s a place for old land yachts. I have a friend that is partial to them. And I agree, manual would be silly.

      1. Age 29 (and almost 30) here, who grew up driving manual trans cars. Of course, it helps that you learn how to drive and shift a non-synchronized light farm tractor in the back yard along with being taught in a 82 S-10 4 speed in the back yard at age 8. I guess the benefits of living on “some” land.

        I then graduated to a 1990 VW Jetta Diesel (that you gained horsepower from when you turned OFF the AC), and learned how to do damned near everything in the car. Heel toe downshifting? No problem. Drifting, rally style on a dirt road? Yep. Damned near run off the road into a fence but didn’t? Yeah, that too.

        After torturing myself in the hand-me-down chevy malibu (with a slush box) for a college years, finally got back into a manual box with my first car purchase.

        I need to teach my lady to drive a manual, because I have a feeling the next vehicle I will have will also be a stick.

  10. I think many “kidz” are maybe not learning to drive because they have been raised to view the car as an Evil, anti-Environmental Gaia-h8tin’ smog-spewing destructive thing – and besides which they can get down to their #OWS camp-out on a skatebaord. Don’t be h8in’ the sk8erz! And they don’t need to try and have sex in the backseat when they can just do it at home…

  11. I’ve never owned a car/truck with and automatic transmission. Nor would I ever buy a truck without a manual transmission.

  12. the car is an Evil, anti-Environmental Gaia-h8tin’ smog-spewing destructive thing. I prefer to ride my bike, but then again i live 10 miles to town so i can. Im 21 learned gears when i was 10 on a bike 12 on a tractor and its just natural i do have a three speed IH scout w/out syncro and a 5spd jeep to get around when its rainy. But yes it is truly sad that people wont learn something that will save money, fuel, and make you a better driver with more control

  13. Born after 1980 and my first car was a stickshift. I made my husband learn to drive it. Died last spring though, quite sad.

    I, also, don’t get the not-learning-to-drive thing. If nothing else, I had to learn because my mother was Done Driving Me Everywhere At All Hours.

  14. Born in ’77. My parents last car with a manual transmission was taken out by a drunk driver while I was actually enrolled in driver’s ed. Never learned to drive stick. Neither did my wife. I wouldn’t mind learning but she doesn’t want to. Even if I did learn, no new car I bought would be stick because my wife would have to be able to drive it. Unless I bought total toy like a Seven or something.

  15. Need + opportunity. They don’t need to so much and there’s not as much opportunity. And it doesn’t help that the states are ratcheting down on teen age drivers. Even after they get their license, they can’t drive anywhere with their friends. It’s illegal in many states for somebody under 18 to have under 18 passengers without an adult in the car. I find this very annoying. An older child can no longer take a younger child to do anything without the parent, so why bother getting your kid a license?

    And you can’t get a minivan with a manual.

    1. I suspect the regulations are a big part of it. If my friends and I couldn’t go out with one another, I’m not sure we would have gone out beyond school and maybe over to one or two houses afterwards. Why drive alone when you can be at home on IM talking to your friends and surfing the web?

  16. A F-150 with an auto trans is awful nice when you’re out in the boonies and wadded your dirtbike and have to drive home with a couple popped ribs – although you could always try matching revs just jamming the stick in there…

    1. Clutchless shifting is much easier with a tach, once you know the RPM you can upshift and downshift with ease.

  17. What? My kids grew up with automatics, but they learned to drive sticks without any difficulty at all. I think they managed to learn it more readily than I did.

  18. I’ve owned many stick shifts. I learned to drive in a Ford with a three-on-the-tree (readers under 45 will have to google that). The Ford was actually a ’70 station wagon, but for some reason it came with a standard. I’m also big into off-roading.

    The reason why I haven’t owned a standard in a daily driver is simple: I’m lazy. I don’t want to sit in heavy traffic constantly moving between 1st and 2nd. And yeah … it gets in the way of sipping my drink.

    The reason why I have an automatic in my off-roader, though — and I’m sure the reason the Military does also — is that an automatic is just plain better for off-roading (at least unless you get into some expensive gearing setups, but those gearing setups aren’t ones I’d want to have to manipulate while under fire). The “slush box” (aka torque converter) makes life a whole lot easier when traversing over big rocks — particularly if you want to floor it immediately afterward because some guy is shooting at you.

    I’ll find a standard to train my kids on so they’ll know, but that shouldn’t be a problem; there are still plenty of them out there.

    1. three-on-the-tree (readers under 45 will have to google that).

      No, I don’t! (Although I own a ’41 Ford I’m ‘restoring’ (and have been for almost 10 years), so I’m not a fair example of my age.)

  19. BTW — one reason some kids don’t jump on driving right away in Colorado, at least at age 16, are all the rules one now has to follow to get a license. A year with a permit, keeping a log, then you can’t drive any friends in the car for awhile. It’s a simple matter where the expense/effort of getting a license has risen greatly and the benefit of having one has been greatly reduced.

  20. So, a long nose Peterbilt with a non-syncrho’d 4 over 4 (sixteen speed) tranny driving a set of Spicer two speed “twin-screw” differentials might be a bit much?

    If ya can’t find ’em, grind ’em!

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

    1. Never drove an 18 wheeler, but did drive transit bus with a non syncho manual trany.
      Been years ago, wonder if I can still double clutch?

  21. Well first off, still in my early 30’s, and I can drive almost anything (never driven an 18 wheeler, but I’m sure I could learn). Living in Filthy though, did not buy a car until I was about 23, SEPTA was cheaper (although perhaps not as reliable) and I was poor. Living in the city, I admit I own an automatic, because it is less of a pain in the butt in the city traffic.

    Of course I learned how to drive in a mid 80’s Honda Accord with a 5 speed, and learned to parallel park a 70’s Suburban in Port Richmond. After that, pretty much any passenger vehicle is just not a problem.

  22. If the country in Europe is right hand drive, it is understandable. Shifting a manual with the wrong hand is surprisingly difficult for many Americans. I managed to thrash a new Porsche doing exactly that, and I guess the European rental agencies have learned.

    It’s amusing that the original blog post didn’t even think of that….

    1. I never thought of that either, is their clutch pedal on the left as in the US or is everything reversed? US is left to right Clutch, Brake, Gas. Are they same or a mirror image? I assume a steering column shifter is still on the right side, or do they have that backwards as well?

  23. I learned to drive on a manual transmission. In fact the first automatic I drove was the driver’s ed car. I remember the instructor giving me a funny look when I asked how it worked.

    VW’s DSG is a nice alternative, but still misses the fun factor of a manual. There is nothing like nailing the perfect heel-and-toe or power-down-shift. It is less satisfying when a computer does it for you. I might be coming around for off-roaders after renting a Rubicon for Easter Jeep Safari. As Stephen said, automatics are just better off-road. Then again, hand throttles are quite fun and can make up for some of a manual’s deficiencies on hill climbs.

  24. I live in a “gentrifying” neighborhood in DC. The benefit of youths unable to drive a manual, is the local thuggery is unable to steal my toyota tacoma pickup.

  25. The car might have represented Freedom to your generation, but to kids these days cars are big hulking things that mainly guzzle — both gas and money (which may as well be the same thing these days
    ). For modern kids, Freedom might better be represented by a lack of debt.

  26. Learned to drive on an 86 Town Car and an 89 Sable Wagon. First car I had was a 97 Escort with a 5-speed and no tach.

    I was born in ’85.

  27. Been watching the replies to this on my email. Probably the hottest topic yet … I wonder how badly this conversation would scare Joan: “Now they want AUTOMATIC transmissions and they’re talking about high-capacity gear boxes with 14 GEARS!”

    On all the British style vehicles I’ve driven the floor pedals are in the same order. I never had a problem shifting left handed in Britain, and I could deal with driving on the wrong side of the road … but sitting on the right side of the car really threw me for a loop. That was weird.

    Automatics are the best for general off-roading (again, with normal stock-ish gearing) mainly because you can control power to the wheels. So you can creep up a big rock and not have the engine die because it can’t run that slow in gear — as happens with a stock geared off-roader with a clutch. That really heats up the automatic tranny, of course, but they can take a lot of that.

    Also nice for river crossings/mud where you don’t want to have to shift in the middle of something and maybe lose momentum/kill the engine.

  28. As a child of the “80s” (1981 to be exact) and learning to drive in 1990 (on the game lands) I did,t see an “American transmission” until 1999. You either learned how to drive a manual tranny or shift your but into bicycle gear. I taught my wife how to drive a stick and both of my children will know how when they are old enough. It is one of those essential skills that every one should possess.

  29. Where I grew up a lot of kids got there first licence at the age of 14. Some were learners permits other were “school” permits.

    School permits allowed some one who qualified to drive back and forth from home to school or school sponsored events without there parents.. all by yourself. AT 14!! With Friends in the car. Some people were in 8th grade when they got this.

    You got a full licence at age 16, no restrictions on when, how, who, you could drive.

    Now my state at age 16 you get a provisional licence. You have to have a learners permit for 12 months first with and crash-free and violation-free for 12 consecutive months immediately preceding application for full license. (I would have never got my licence.) You can’t drive after 12:30AM (this would have sucked).

    And thee might be more that I’m not aware of.

  30. My fist car was a 4 speed stick Plymouth Arrow, The full time driver till I totalled it.

    Then a 1971 brown Oldsmobile delta 88 sedan automatic for around a year.

    Then an tan, brown ford maverick (I think that was the make) stick.

    89 4 cylinder mustang stick.

    Then a White Ford Bronco II Stick with inside wheel locks

    90 Jeep Wagoneer with push button 4 wheel drive automatic.

    Every car since has been an automatic

  31. I’m 27, and cannot drive a stick shift either. I understand the concepts of a manual transmission because I grew up with a 1969 Austin Healey Sprite and a ’69 Camarro convertible. My father crumpled the Sprite about a decade ago, and my mother sold the Camarro around the same time I got my license (in college). In her defense, she didn’t know I had my license when she sold it. She would have held it until my next home visit but if I had asked. In short: my generation can’t drive stick because many of us never had the opportunity to drive one! Most of our parents drive automatics, too.

    I learned to drive late because it offered no appeal. In adult-speak, the costs outweighed the benefits. Also, growing up in the Appalachian mountains meant narrow, winding rounds at high speed. To a new driver, it was like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. My high school girlfriend drove so we could go out together. Sex? In the car? Are you insane? City life doesn’t provide sufficiently secluded locations, and the risk-benefit just doesn’t play out well. Sex in public is a crime PLUS our families would find out from the police (one of the worst ways to get caught). Word would get around school. We tried once, but we were too nervous. After we gave up and started towards home, we passed a police cruiser 2 minutes away and headed towards our ‘seculuded spot’. It may have just been coincidence or maybe somebody saw our tail lights and made a report. Either way, that confirmed our paranoia and we never returned. Instead, we saved our pennies and would visit an economy motel when we got desperate for intimate time. I didn’t need to drive in college, either. It was a small school (4,000) and a smaller town (1,000) so everything was within walking range. If we needed to go further, we could catch a ride with friends, take the bus, or my (same) girlfriend could drive. Still, it was cheaper to carpool or take the bus than to put gas in the tank. I finally learned to drive my senior year because I had a class 50 miles away. I usually carpooled but that occasionally fell through. Driving became an unpleasant necessity. Driving at 75 mph is scary when you’ve only been done it a few times before. It was still like squeezing livestock through a keyhole but the class was necessary for graduation. My girlfriend was my junior by a year. After graduation, I drove back to visit her once a month. It was a 150 mile (2 hour) drive, and my back would start hurting from stress-tension at around the 1 hour mark. By the time I arrived at her apartment, it was time for a dose of painkillers and an hour in the bathtub. It took more than a year before the rewards of driving started to outweigh the terror.

    The point of this rant? Driving sucks and offers very little advantage in the beginning. The benefits have increased over time and the difficulty has decreased. Our longest car-trip was driving to/from Atlanta. It’s 10 hours of driving and we took turns. We can both handle the worst of San Francisco or Atlanta. Now that we’re married in California, driving is even more critical in the urban sprawl of silicon valley.

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