What Is Short Shifting?
Short shifting refers to a technique where a driver decides to shift before reaching the max RPM range of a gear. As a racing technique, short shifting sacrifices acceleration now for potential acceleration later. In anticipation of a maneuver, like overtaking, a car might short shift in order to ensure they’ll be able to accelerate later.
Some drivers short shift on their daily commute in order to maximize fuel economy. Fuel consumption is always greater in the higher RPM range, and by short shifting, drivers can ensure that less fuel is consumed.
In order to understand short shifting, first, you need an understanding of what “normal” shifting looks like. Typically, as drivers hit the peak range of a gear and cannot accelerate within that gear more, they shift to a different gear and gain more acceleration range.
The typical “rule of thumb” with shifting is that when you reach around 3,000 RPM it’s safe, and desirable, to shift. Of course, shift any sooner than reaching 1,500 RPM and it’s safe to say you’ll stall out. Short shifting aims to hit the mid-point between these two numbers.
While shifting, the clutch of the vehicle has to be disengaged, losing precious acceleration and torque. This should only last a second, which for most drivers is trivial, but for the track shifting at the wrong time can be the difference between a when and a loss. Short shifting is one way that drivers choose where and when they’ll shift.
Really, short shifting should be referred to as early shifting, since that’s what you’re doing.
Benefits of Short Shifting
Since nobody wants to be called out for granny shifting, drivers have developed a lot of interesting and competitive ways to shift. Unlike powershifting (which is a bad idea) or double clutching (which just doesn’t do anything) short shifting actually has some viable applications and it won’t damage your transmission.
There are a few reasons you may want to shift early. Most of them are about anticipating what you’re going to need later in your driving. For example, if you shift a little early while going around a curve you won’t need to shift in the straight and can instead enjoy pure acceleration. It’s also useful when approaching a vehicle that you plan to overtake.
Short shifting maximizes your fuel efficiency by keeping you out of what’s known as the “Power Band,” which is the point of your acceleration cycle when your torque and RPM are both very high and your engine is working at peak power. In general, cruising in the highest gear you can boost your fuel efficiency. In one study, Car and Driver measured the fuel efficiency of the same vehicle moving at the same speed in both fourth and sixth gear. In sixth gear, they saw a 12.5 percent improvement in fuel consumption.
Added fuel efficiency makes sense when you really think about your gears and the work that your car is doing in the process of driving. A small gear has to move much more quickly than a large gear in order to cover roughly the same distance.
Will Short Shifting Hurt Your Car?
Of course, the biggest question everyone has about short shifting is whether or not it’ll cause damage in the long term to their car. The good news is that short shifting isn’t bad for your car and shouldn’t hurt anything as long as you’re doing it correctly. Shifting too early will obviously stall out your car which is bad, but upshifting at 2,500 RPM instead of 3,000 isn’t going to hurt your transmission, gearbox, or clutch.
There’s actually pretty much only one situation where it could be hurting your car and that’s if you’re lugging. Lugging is when you’re in too high of a gear and trying to accelerate with too low of an RPM. Shifting too late can be bad for the overall health and well-being of a car as well.
This is easily avoided by downshifting before accelerating though.
Not The Shifter
Short shifting frequently gets confused with having a short shifter. Short throw shifters are a different thing entirely and not needed to short shift. That said, if you’re interested in improving your throws further, short throw shifters are a great way to do that.
Ultimately there are a lot of ways to improve your shifting technique, and there’s no reason to resign yourself to uninteresting shifts.
Sources: Every Man Should Know How to Drive Stick, The Art of Manliness | How to Heel-and-Toe-Shift a Manual Transmission, Car and Driver | Here's When You Should Shift a Manual Transmission for the Best Fuel Economy, Road and Track