Learning How to Drive Stick Shift with MAX

Reader Contribution by Katherine Loeck
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When I showed up on the doorstep of Kinetic Vehicles earlier this year to check out the high-mileage DIY car known as MAX (see Update No. 22), my aura somehow communicated “car enthusiast.” 

Although I took my first road trip in the back of a Corvette at 2 weeks old, my father’s passion for automobiles has not rubbed off on me. I have never waxed my rig, checked the tire pressure or paid any attention to the confusing maze of gray intestines under the hood of my car. As far as transportation goes, I prefer to focus my energy on the power and strength of the human body. 

I had read about MAX in my days as a MOTHER EARTH NEWS intern. But now, given that I live in Oregon (like Jack McCornack and the Kinetic Vehicles team), I had the chance to actually see this unique creation in action. What I didn’t expect was that this encounter would bring about a long overdue engagement of mind, body and machine: learning to drive a manual transmission. 

At first, MAX made me think of a big kid version of a bumper car that had escaped from the state fair. But this image vanished when my Pontiac Sunfire convertible couldn’t keep up with MAX on the drive back to the shop. I can attest that MAX is definitely a real car … except with more personality than any car I’ve ever known. 

When I jumped into the driver’s seat, it wasn’t the five-point safety harness that made me nervous, it was the stick shift. MAX is dear to Jack, the Kinetic Vehicles team and the editors at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, so the last thing I wanted to do was ruin the transmission or clutch.

In the passenger seat, Jack began the lesson. MAX is probably the best manual transmission to learn on because it won’t die if the driver messes up while coaxing it into first gear. Regardless, as soon as the clutch would start to engage, my feet would freeze until MAX putted along. 

After multiple stop and go circles around the parking lot, and multiple commands from Jack to stop, I finally learned to give MAX some gas when I felt the clutch turning over. What a pivotal step in the learning process! I was ready for second gear. After a couple up and down shifts, I felt fairly confident in my stick shift driving abilities. Not that I’m road ready, but if I needed to drive someone to the emergency room and the only available car had a manual transmission, I could pull it off.

Learning to drive MAX was more than learning to drive a fun car. Seeing firsthand the time, skill, science and enthusiasm behind MAX made the experience unique and meaningful. This machine was built from scratch to prove a point about the possibilities of green transportation. The necessary technology is already available. The innovation is what we need. Thank you, MAX.

You can see lots of photos from my trip in the MAX, the High-mileage DIY Car gallery.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Browse previous MAX Updates.
Read the introductory MAX article, Here Comes the 100-mpg Car.
Visit the Kinetic Vehicles website for more technical details on MAX.