The 10 Best Shift Knobs
Not Just An Idle Consideration
Having a great-looking ride is perhaps the first concern of anyone buying a new shift knob, followed closely by whether it will fit correctly, but there are a few other concerns it pays to heed. After all, if you put in a lot of miles, you use the shifter a lot, so you'll want to be able to shift quickly and effectively. Plus, any irritation will get old fast.
For instance, if your hand doesn't fit your new shift knob, you're in for an uncomfortable ride. Whether the knob is too big or too small, you'll have trouble getting a good grasp, potentially causing you to shift more slowly. For the best fit, you'll want to grab a tape measure and determine the width of your palm, then compare this to the measurements of the knob you're considering.
And then there are the materials from which the knob is made. Metal knobs may look awesome, but if you live in a hot desert climate (as in Arizona or Nevada), you'll run the risk of burning yourself every time you get in the car. Extreme cold won't be much more comfortable. In either case, a material that's less prone to temperature changes, like wood or lightweight plastic, might be your better choice — that or be sure to keep and use a cover.
There's also shape to consider, as today's manufacturers offer just about every style of shift knob you can possibly imagine, including those that resemble a huge range of objects. Swords, pistol grips, characters from movies or television — if you can imagine it, it's likely that someone, somewhere, has designed it. The only caveat here is that you still want a knob that's comfortable, one that won't jab you in the palm, unless you are okay with sacrificing some usability for design.
What Grinds Your Gears
Although your manual transmission is probably pretty hardy, you may be doing things that unintentionally shorten its lifespan, as well as that of the clutch. As having a transmission rebuilt can cost thousands of dollars, you probably want to avoid damage to yours if at all possible. Luckily, all anyone needs is a little awareness to put the brakes on their bad shifting habits.
One habit it's crucial to notice is where you rest your foot in the course of driving. If your foot sits on the clutch, even gently, you could be creating unnecessary wear. Both this action and that of continuously keeping the clutch halfway disengaged (common in heavy traffic) are known as riding the clutch, an action that puts a lot of wear and tear on the attendant parts, especially the bearings. Whether you're stopped at a light or coasting along, if you don't need the clutch, take your foot entirely off it.
In a similar vein, don't rest your hand on the shifter — even though it may be tempting — because it's not a hand rest. When you use it as such, you're placing pressure on the shifter fork and in turn the gear that sits beneath it. In the end, you're again causing extra wear and tear on these parts that will cause them to deteriorate more quickly than they should.
You could be engaging in more actively harmful habits than resting your foot or hand where they could cause problems. One habit some people develop is sitting at red lights with the clutch depressed, waiting in gear for the light to turn. As with riding the clutch, this causes needless wear to the release bearing. Remember that your clutch is meant to be disengaged and engaged swiftly; it wasn't designed to sit in the disengaged position.
Finally, even if you're going for acceleration and speed, you can gain these without being unduly hard on both the clutch and the transmission. Stomping on the clutch, slamming through the gears, or power shifting might feel satisfying, but you probably won't be gaining much, and the risk to all the parts inside your transmission isn't worth it. True, race car drivers might do these things, but race cars require constant expensive maintenance that you probably won't want to perform on your ride. If you want to accelerate quickly, learn how to shift quickly and properly, instead.
A Brief History Of The Transmission
When you pop a new shift knob in your car, you're engaging with a history that extends all the way back to the 1800s, when the first manual transmission was created. The work of two Frenchmen, Louis-René Panhard and Émile Levassor, it hit the scene in 1894, just eight years after Karl Benz earned his patent for the first gasoline-powered motorcar. Early manual transmissions were unsynchronized versions, using a sliding-mesh gearbox; to operate this successfully, the user had to pay close attention to timing and throttle to successfully shift gears. In fact, this version of the transmission was so tough to drive without grinding that it came to be called a crash box.
Drivers got an upgrade in 1928 with the development of the synchromesh transmission. This new version, the brainchild of Earl Thompson of General Motors, did not require a user to align the gears for engagement during operation; instead, the synchromesh performed the work of equalizing the rotational speed, making shifting both easier and quieter. Although most passenger cars today with a manual transmission are synchronizing, the synchromesh did not render its predecessor completely obsolete. The older design is still used in farming machinery, semi trucks, and some racing vehicles thanks in large part to its durability.
Today, especially in the United States, cars equipped with automatic transmissions are widely available and the preferred choice over their manual cousins, synchronous or not. While it's true that an automatic can be easier for a beginning driver to learn on, plenty of drivers will tell you that driving a stick shift is fun, giving a greater sense of power and control (unless you're stuck in heavy traffic, of course).