A little while ago, Dom posted about the cost of going to driving school to change an AT licence to MT (see our "Live" archive page for more driving articles).

That's expensive. Luckily, if you are already capable you can just take the test. Today, guest poster Joe talks us through it:

The “Automatic Transmission Only” license (recognizable by the following appearing to the left of your picture: 普通車はAT車に限る), is upgrade-able to manual transmission simply by testing.

So, schedule a test with your local driving center. You’ll pay a small fee (currently the one near here charges ¥3,350), wait a bit, then (hopefully) successfully drive an examiner around the course.

It is worth noting that if you are American and have not yet converted your foreign drivers’ license to a Japanese license, you can request to take the required course in a manual-transmission vehicle, rather than the typical automatic transmission vehicle provided. You'll be allowed to drive the easier course and, upon successful completion, will receive an all-vehicles (MT) license!

The test is slightly more difficult than that for AT. The standard elements are the same - accelerate to 50km/h (the required speed depends on the driving center), Crank, S-curve, etc. - but some additional obstacles are present: you will be required to come to a complete stop on an incline, then continue forward without drifting backward, you will be required to demonstrate proper procedure at a set of railroad tracks, navigate around some road construction, and reverse into and safely escape from an extremely narrow parking space.

You will of course be judged upon your ability to comfortably, effectively, and appropriately handle the clutch and transmission. The passing system operates on points. For each mistake, you lose points. Some things result in automatic fail (rolling backwards on a hill, hitting a curb etc). You are allowed to kill the car a certain number of times, but not many. If you cause a dangerous situation, you're finished.

It is especially important for you to memorize the course before the test begins (here's an example in Nagano-ken). The examiner may or may not prompt you to turn at certain locations, but they will expect you to know the course. You may be given a map, or you may be directed to examine one posted somewhere. Either way, study it!

A few helpful tips to help you pass the test:
  1. Watch what others are doing, especially if you’re not the first tester. They will help clue you in to things for which the examiner may be looking.
  2. At the railroad tracks, stop, look both directions for the imaginary train, roll down your window a little and listen for the imaginary train (because railroad tracks, of course, often have sharp ninety-degree turns behind which a sneaky train could be lurking), look again, then drive over the tracks. Roll your window back up after you have crossed the tracks.
  3. On the hill, come to a stop, put on your parking brake (and REALLY pull on it… you do NOT want to drift backwards here), wait a second, then start to pull forward with the parking brake on. As you feel the car begin to “pull” against the brake, slooowly release the parking brake as you slooowly release the clutch. You will pull forward up the hill quite smoothly. If at all possible, practice this in someone’s manual-transmission car beforehand.
  4. On the “reverse-into-a-narrow-parking-space” part, hug the curb on the side with the parking space with both the front and rear wheels—do not “angle” the back of your car toward the space. The road from which the parking space extends is extremely narrow. If you don’t keep your car close to the curb, there won’t be enough room for the front of the car to swing around without hitting the opposite curb. Hugging the curb, pull the rear wheel just past the space, then turn your wheels as sharply as possible and back into the space. Ideally, you will have approximately the same amount of space on either side of the car. There are poles here—if you hit one, you failed, but you can also fail by simply bringing the car too close to the poles on one side. If possible, it pays to practice this maneuver in as narrow a space as you can find.


Author:
Joe
Guest-posting ALT who has lived in Japan for three years. Lives with his wife, Christie, in Tenryu Village; a tiny rural town in southern Nagano Prefecture.

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