How to Drive an Automatic Car


Gear shift stick of my Mazda Protege SE 1999.

Gear shift stick of my Mazda Protege

What You Need to Know

  1. Driving an automatic means you’ll have much less chance of stalling, can make learning to drive considerably easier and take some of the stress out of motoring.
  2. Remember, both the acceleration and brake pedals should be operated by your right foot. Keep your left foot still and out of the way!
  3. Do not shift into park or reverse while your car is moving. This could do serious damage to the transmission.
  4. Putting the car into neutral if you are at rest for any length of time will help save on fuel.
  5. If you learn using an automatic car, you’ll only be licensed to drive automatics.
  6. Automatics are often more expensive, as, being less in demand in the UK, they are generally more scarce.

Why Drive an Automatic?

While cars automatic transmission may be relatively rare in the UK and Europe, especially when compared with the United States, there are a number of good reasons to make the move to auto. Benefits of this type of car include;

  • Driving tends to be easier; mastering clutch control is, for many people, the hardest part of driving. Bypassing this altogether can make driving much easier and so more practical and enjoyable.
  • You have much less chance of stalling an automatic car than you do a manual transmission.
  • You can learn and take your test in an automatic car. If you struggle with gear changes, this could be the difference between a pass and a fail.

Possible Drawbacks to Automatic Cars

At the same time, however, there are a number of potential drawbacks to ditching the stick and shifting to automatic. These include, but are not limited to;

  • While you can pass your test in an automatic, if you do so, you will only be licenced to drive an automatic. However, passing in a manual means you are qualified to drive both manual and automatic cars.
  • You will have less control over gear selection in an automatic. For some, this even takes the fun out of driving.
  • As a rule, automatic cars consume more fuel than manual ones.
  • Furthermore, since fewer are produced for the UK market, the cars themselves tend to be more expensive.

Learning the Basics: Getting Moving

To begin with, you should note that there are just two pedals in front of you – the brake and the accelerator. There is no clutch pedal. Generally speaking, driving instructors recommend you use your right foot to operate both of these, leaving your left foot still and out of the way. Aside from this, there will be no gearbox. Instead, there will be a gear shifter, usually marked with the letters P,R,N,D (for park, reverse, neutral, drive).

Now, to get driving, you should first ensure the car is in park (P). With the brake pedal fully pressed down, start the engine.

With the engine running, you can now get moving. Shift into drive (D) or reverse (R), according to which direction you want to move in, and then slowly ease your foot off the brake pedal. You should now feel the car begin to move.

Pushing down on the accelerator will increase your speed. Remember, if this is your first time in an automatic car, take things slowly and, if you are in any way uncomfortable, stop and start again if it is safe to do so.

If you want to reverse, simply follow the above procedure, but instead of shifting into drive (D) from park(P), go straight into reverse (R).

Stopping and Parking

Stopping an automatic car is much the same as stopping a car with manual transmission. So, except in an emergency, slow to a gradual halt by pressing lightly down onto the brake pedal, though, of course, you will not have to shift down gears. If you have yet to finish your journey, then there is no need to shift out of drive or reverse once you have stopped, but do ensure you have the brake pedal fully pressed down.

However, if you are stationary at the end of a journey, then put the gear shift into park before you switch the engine off.

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