Wow… what a confusing and HUGE topic to cover! I won’t be able to do it justice in this one blog, so please do talk to your driving instructor if you want more information, or contact us at DKM Driving if you want to talk further about this.
What are gears?
The gearbox contains the gears, which control the relationship between the engine speed and wheel speed.
First gear provides the greatest force for the driving wheels and is normally the one you use to get the vehicle moving. As you speed up, you change up to the higher gears, each one giving you less engine power, but more speed for your wheels. Using the highest gear possible for speed and road traffic conditions saves fuel – as long as your speed isn’t too low for that gear.
When you’re pushing on your gas pedal, you make your engine go faster/work harder, which puts pressure on our engine. This is when we hear that ‘screaming’ noise, and we need to change up a gear. When we change up a gear, our engine now doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain its speed.
Most vehicles have 5 gears, some have 6 gears, and all have a reverse gear. When neutral is selected, no gear is engaged – this is known as coasting.
We start by moving off in 1st gear as this gear gives us the most power/force. As we build up our speed, we listen to our engine. When our engine starts ‘screaming’ at us, we change up a gear. We then work our way up through the gears. It’s perfectly ok to ‘skip’ a gear if we have built up enough speed. For example, you could be in 3rd gear building your speed up on a dual carriageway, and then be doing around 55-60mph in 3rd gear, and it would be perfectly ok to go straight from 3rd to 5th gear. Skipping gears at the appropriate time will give you more time to concentrate on the road ahead and allow you to keep both hands on the steering wheel for longer.
As you become more confident and experienced, you’ll be able to judge which gear you need for the speed you’re doing and the situation you are in, or are approaching.
It’s also important to know where each gear is. All vehicle’s gears are in the same place, however sometimes reverse gear can be in a different place, or if the car has 6 gears, then this would also change the position slightly. You can see some variations in the pictures below.
You can practise getting to know the position of the gears with the engine switched off – if the engine is switched off, nothing will happen and you’re not driving – so if you do want to look at the gear stick to become familiar with the different positions, then this is ok. If you are looking down at the gear stick whilst driving, where are you not looking? At the road!
If you feel resistance when changing gear, don’t force the gear stick. Don’t rush gear changes, and make sure you return your hand back to the steering wheel once you’ve changed gear, so that you have full control over the vehicle.
When to change up
You need to change gear in order to match the engine speed to the speed of the vehicle. This will vary with the vehicle that you’re driving, whether you’re driving on a flat level, uphill, or downhill. As a general rule, you should change up a gear as your road speed increases, and you hear the engine working harder. You’ll become more familiar with when to change up gear as you become more experienced and get more practise.
To change up gear;
– Place your left hand upon the gear stick
– Press the clutch pedal down, at the same time as you ease off your gas pedal
– Select the next highest gear required and which is suited to the road and traffic conditions
– Let the clutch pedal come up smoothly, and at the same time press the gas pedal back down gently. (I relate to this as a see-saw! As the clutch pedal comes up, the gas pedal goes down at the same time)
– Put your left hand back on the steering wheel
When to change down
You’ll need to change to a lower gear;
– If you’ve slowed down and the gear you’re in doesn’t provide enough power for driving at the lower speed
– If you’re going uphill in a high gear and your engine struggles to give your vehicle enough power
– To increase the effect of engine braking – for example, when driving downhill
To change down a gear as you are slowing down;
– You will already be braking as required for the junction/roundabout/hazard/situation ahead. We should brake to the desired speed for the gear we want to select
– Place your left hand on the gear stick
– Press the clutch pedal down, keeping your foot on your foot brake
– Select the most appropriate gear for the lower speed that you are doing. Being able to judge which gear is the most appropriate comes with practise, experience and good judgement
– Bring the clutch pedal up smoothly, continuing to brake if still appropriate
– Put your left hand back on the steering wheel
You are able to stop in any gear if you know you are coming to a complete stop. However, remember to be in the correct gear when you move off again.
– Put light pressure on the brake at first
– Gradually increase the braking pressure as required
– When the car starts showing signs of struggling, push the clutch in, leaving it in the gear you’re already in. Because the clutch is pushed in, there is no connection between the engine and the wheels, therefore the gear you’re in is irrelevant in this situation
– Carry on braking as required to stop the vehicle
– When the vehicle has almost stopped, ease off the pressure so that the vehicle stops smoothly
Coasting is where we have the vehicle in neutral, or have the clutch down unnecessarily whilst driving (such as turning into a junction, driving down a road, going round a roundabout). Coasting means that although the vehicle is still moving, it’s not being driven by the engine.
Coasting for any distance is wrong, because;
– It reduces the driver’s control of the vehicle
– You might have difficulty engaging a gear if something unexpected happens
– It almost certainly leads to the vehicle gathering speed when travelling downhill, resulting in it being harder to brake, and removes the assistance of engine braking which you would get in a lower gear
Each time you change gear you coast a little bit – this is unavoidable, but as long as you bring your clutch back up as soon as you’ve changed gear, this isn’t a problem. Also when you come to a stop, the clutch must go down to disengage the engine and the wheels, to prevent you from stalling.
Some cars are ‘automatic’, in the simplest of terms – this means ‘we’ don’t have to change gear! Automatic vehicles have no clutch pedal. The engine decides when the vehicle is struggling or working too hard, and changes up and down gears automatically for the driver. This can make the physical job of driving easier, and give you more time to concentrate on the road ahead.
The ‘gears’ in an automatic vehicle are often;
P – Park – mechanically locks the gearbox inside the engine, and should only be used when the vehicle is stationary
N – Neutral – is the same as ‘neutral’ in a manual gearbox
D – Drive – is for driving forwards
R – Reverse – is for reversing backwards
Some automatic vehicles are ‘semi automatic’ – meaning you can change up and down the gears yourself, however the engine still does the physical work of changing gear, as you don’t have a clutch. This might be useful to use if you want the vehicle to stay in a lower gear whilst you are building up speed, or if you want your vehicle to stay in a lower gear whilst you are driving downhill, for example. Also if the road conditions are icy, it’s best to drive in a higher gear – therefore you can ‘manually’ select a higher gear in an automatic car.