How to Drive an Automatic Car: A Guide (2023)

Jack Dreyer | Thursday 16th March 2023 1:00pm

In the UK, sales of automatic cars are on the rise. What was once a novel and unique option for drivers is quickly becoming the norm on the UK’s roads and forecourts.

In 2021, 62.4% of new cars sold were automatic, a staggering 24% increase from those sold in 2011. But why? Today, we’ll explore the reason behind the recent boost in the popularity of automatic cars as well as take you through how they differ from their manual cousins and how to drive them.

Read on for more.

Why do people drive automatic cars?

Automatic cars have been a bit of a novelty in the UK for, well, forever. Automatic transmissions have almost exclusively been reserved for lorries and buses. In other words – vehicles that require a lot of time behind the wheel. This is at complete odds with our cousins across the pond, 96% of Americans drive automatic.

Here, automatic cars have always been thought of as a ‘Plan B’ – a last resort for drivers struggling with manuals. The mechanical functions are simpler, so drivers are better able to just focus on driving, but it’s also just much more comfortable when doing a lot of driving. Not having to work a clutch in standstill traffic or at junctions makes for a much more pleasant driving experience.

(Video) How to drive an automatic car - includes hills

As such, the attitude towards automatic cars has drastically changed in recent years. Now, more and more people are driving automatics — and not necessarily because they can’t manage a manual, but because they prefer the driving experience that comes with automatics on the whole.

More and more models of cars come in automatics, and simply opting for a manual is no longer the default option.

How is an automatic different from a manual car?

There are a few crucial differences between manual and automatic cars:

1. Automatic cars don’t have ‘gears’ in the typical sense

In a manual car, there is a gear stick with gears 1-5 and an ‘R’ for reverse. You have to manually change these gears as you drive in order to provide the best torque for the engine at different speeds.

In an automatic, however, all you have to do is move the gear stick to the ‘D’ or ‘Drive’ position and go. You may find that, in some higher-performance autos, there is also an ‘S’ option for ‘Speed’. Aside from this, the automatic gearbox has a ‘P’ for ‘Park’ and an ‘R’ option just the same as the manual’s ‘Reverse’.

Some models of automatic car are known as ‘Semi-automatic’ and feature a larger gear stick area with a manual section to the side. This allows drivers to choose how best they’d like to drive the car — knocking the gear stick aside when they wish to change gears themselves manually.

There is a misconception that automatic gearboxes are slow and jerky. And, in the past, while this may have been true, modern automatics are smooth and pleasant to use, especially in traffic when there is plenty of stopping and starting. With autos, there is no risk of changing into the wrong gear or stalling, which we will come onto next.

How to Drive an Automatic Car: A Guide (2)

(Video) First Driving Lesson-Automatic Car

2. Manual cars have three pedals, automatic cars have two

In a manual car, you have three pedals which are (from left to right): The clutch, the brake, and the accelerator. In an automatic, the clutch isn’t there.

For learner drivers, the clutch can seem like a scary, unknown frontier. In a manual, you must fully press the clutch pedal down when you want to A) stop the car completely and B) change gear, a feat that confuses many since there are plenty of things happening at once.

On the other hand, all you have to do to drive an automatic is use the accelerator to speed up and the brake pedal to slow down, a bit like a go-kart. This dual ‘stop-and-go’ pedal action seems much more logical and is why plenty of drivers find automatics easier.

3. You can’t stall an automatic car

If you release the clutch too quickly in a manual car, the car can ‘stall’, causing it to stop in a sudden, jerking motion that frightens most learners. This can also happen if you are in the wrong gear.

Since automatics remove clutches and manual gear changes from the equation, it is very uncommon that you will stall in one. That being said, if the torque converter fails (this is the part that ensures the engine remains running while you’re driving), then you may still stall.

The benefits of driving an automatic car

There are a whole host of benefits to driving an automatic car, including (but not limited to):

  • They are very easy to drive and allow drivers to focus more on the road around them than the inside-car factors.
  • They are great for nervous or learner drivers who struggle to do more than one thing at once.
  • A smoother driving experience is made possible by autos as, when you get out on the road, all you have to do is steer and either speed up or brake.
  • Many people find autos much safer to drive because both hands can be kept on the wheel at almost all times and the driver’s focus is not diverted from the road by gear changes or clutch action.
  • In modern automatics, a greater fuel economy can be argued since the car will automatically select the best gear for your speed.
  • They make traffic jams and stop-start traffic much easier to navigate since there is no constant gear-changing element involved.
  • Parking an automatic is easier too since the clutch and gears are not a factor. All you have to do is control your speed with the brake and accelerator.
(Video) How To Drive An Automatic Car | Learn to drive: Car control skills

How to Drive an Automatic Car: A Guide (3)

How to drive an automatic car

So, when it comes down to it, how do you drive an automatic car? Follow these simple steps to get started.

  1. Belt up, and turn on the engine. This may take more than one twist of the key away from you.
  2. Press the brake pedal to ensure the car does not suddenly lurch forward and release the handbrake. (Note: not all automatics have a handbrake, especially in modern models where this becomes a button).
  3. Move the gear stick into the ‘D’ or ‘Drive’ position.
  4. After checking your mirrors, gently release the brake pedal to start rolling and you’re away.
  5. Apart from the pedals and gear stick, everything else in the car is the same. So, once you’re out on the open road, to go faster, keep the gear stick in the ‘D’ position and simply apply more pressure to the accelerator pedal. To go slower, do the same but with the brake.
  6. To park, all you need to do is move the gear stick to the ‘P’ (or ‘Park’) position once the vehicle has stopped and put on the handbrake.

Look after your car with Kwik Fit

Whether you drive a manual or an automatic, keep your car roadworthy and safe year-round with Kwik Fit. Whether you require a new set of tyres, brake checks, or an MOT and Service, get in touch with your local Kwik Fit centre today.

In the meantime, for more free motoring advice, be sure to keep up with the Kwik Fit blog.

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(Video) How to Drive an Automatic Car - A Complete Guide

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How can I get better at automatic driving? ›

5 Useful Tips For Driving an Automatic Car For The First Time Drivers
  1. Make Yourself Comfortable in The Car.
  2. Be Well-Versed With The Manual Car.
  3. Use Park, Drive, and Neutral Gears.
  4. Use Reverse Afterward.
  5. Drive Slowly and Look Around For Turns.

Is it hard to learn how do you drive automatic? ›

Which is easier to learn in? An automatic is usually easier to learn in – all you need to do is put your car in 'D' for 'drive' and off you go. Manual cars will usually have up to seven gears and you'll need to make sure you're in the right gear for the speed and road conditions you are driving in.

What is the 1 2 3 in automatic cars? ›

N – Neutral. D – Drive. 3 – Third gear 2 – Second gear 1 – First gear. O – Overdrive (if equipped)

How to car step by step? ›

Follow these steps if you are looking for how to drive a manual car for beginners:
  1. Step 1: Start a Car in Neutral. ...
  2. Step 2: Shift into First Gear. ...
  3. Step 3: Get the Car in Motion. ...
  4. Step 4: Upshift into Higher Gears. ...
  5. Step 5: Downshift to Lower Gears. ...
  6. Step 6: Stop a Manual Car. ...
  7. Step 7: Reversing a Manual Car.

What is D+ and D in automatic cars? ›

Drive. Some cars have D+ and D- instead of D1 and D2 to indicate lower and higher gear. D in an automatic gear shift lever means Drive. It engages the forward gears in the transmission. The transmission will automatically shift between the gears as the vehicle accelerates and decelerates.

What does B mean in automatic gear? ›

In an automated vehicle, the "B" stands for "Brake." Not all automatic vehicles have this mode, but in some models, it is used to provide additional engine braking. The transmission will change to a lower gear when you put the car in "B," allowing you to utilize the engine to slow it down rather than simply the brakes.

What does M mean on drive shift? ›

The "M" or Manual shift lever position can be used to step the transmission up or down through 7 pre-programmed gears manually. When you shift from "D" (Drive) to "M" (Manual), the shift indicator in the instrument panel will indicate the current gear.

What is the N on an automatic car? ›

N – Neutral: If you want to take a break from driving or need to coast downhill, you can put your car into neutral. Just be sure to shift back into "D" before you start accelerating again.

Which foot do you use to break in an automatic? ›

Whether you drive manual or automatic, the right foot is typically used for braking.

Why is automatic easier? ›

Ease of driving

The most obvious and common benefit of driving an automatic car is that they are typically easier to driver than manual cars. Not having to shift gears or use a clutch pedal make city-driving much less stressful and remove any risks of pains to your left leg/ankle from creeping up streets on the clutch.

How long does it take to learn auto? ›

Just 18.5% manage it in under six months. However, everyone is different. Older drivers tend to pass more quickly, while those under 34 take a little longer. Some people find it easier and quicker to learn to drive on an automatic vehicle, rather than one with a manual transmission.

What is M in automatic car? ›

M (Manual) With the gearshift lever in manual (M), the driver can change gears up or down as desired. By moving the gearshift lever from drive position drive (D) to manual (M) you now have control of selecting the gear you desire using buttons on the shift lever.

How long does it take to learn how do you drive? ›

Generally, learning to drive takes around 45 hours of professional lessons and 20 hours of practice. That could be spread out over three or four months. It depends on the person's ability to perceive information and other personal characteristics.

What does S mean in an automatic car? ›

As mentioned, the S refers to the Sports configuration or mode. It's worth noting that not every vehicle will have a Sports mode, so many people don't know about it. When you shift the gear selector to S mode, the transmission will be locked to the two lowest gear settings.

What is D and S in automatic car? ›

D stands for regular Drive mode. This is similar to drive mode in other vehicles. The S stands for Sports mode and will engage a few extra features when driving in that specific mode. Simply move the gearshift to either the D or the S depending on which mode you would like your vehicle to drive in.

What is gear L for in automatic? ›

The “L” on the gear shift stands for “Low.” What is the “L” gear used for? Low gear is used when you want the engine power high and the vehicle speed low. This limits stress on your brakes while allowing you to take advantage of your car's full power in situations like towing and hilly driving.

What are the basics of driving? ›

Pre-Drive Checklist
  • Before getting in visually inspect the car.
  • Adjust the driver's seat for a safe driving position and good view.
  • Check to make sure you can reach each pedal.
  • Put on your seatbelt.
  • Adjust all the mirrors.
  • Set the AC controls for comfort.
  • Make sure you can clearly read the gauges on the dash.

What are the 7 steps before you start your car? ›

Experienced drivers have developed habits that keep them safe when driving a car.
  • Walk Around the Car. ...
  • Adjust your Seat. ...
  • Adjust Your Mirrors. ...
  • Adjust Your Headrest. ...
  • Adjust the steering wheel. ...
  • Do your “Seatbelt Check!”
  • Lock the doors.
Aug 9, 2010

What gear should I drive in automatic? ›

There are four basic gears:
  • P – Park. Park is just Neutral with the gears locked so the wheels can't turn. ...
  • R – Reverse. For going backwards, of course.
  • N – Neutral. Stopping at lights or in traffic (for more than a couple of seconds)? ...
  • D – Drive. For going forwards.

What gear do you use to go uphill automatic? ›

Uphill: Approach uphill situations with an appropriate amount of momentum, a higher gear (3rd in an automatic transmission) and less throttle to reduce torque, which also reduces wheel spin. The last thing you want to do is get halfway up the hill, lose traction and begin to spin your wheels.

Should I drive my car in D or D3? ›

Under normal driving conditions, it is usually best to use the “D” gear selection rather than D3. D3 is not ideal for normal highway driving, as the engine will have a higher RPM at the lower gears and consume more fuel.

Is it better to drive in D or B? ›

Put simply, the 'D' mode is for normal driving, and 'B' mode should be used when you are going downhill.

What is the S on the gear shift? ›

"S" is for sport. If you're driving on twisty country roads and want to keep the RPM up as you wind through corners, the "S" position is where you want to be. In "S", the transmission holds lower gears longer for more power as you come out of the curves.

Can you change from B to D while driving? ›

You should be able to shift B->D while driving with the correct input on the shifter. Tip: The shifter positions and valid options based on the current state of the vehicle are shown on the dash. Simply shifting to D should do it.

What is D1 and D2 in automatic cars? ›

Make Sure of The Selector Lever Position:

Make sure the selector lever is in the desired position. "D", "1 (D1)", "2 (D2)" are used to move forward and "R" to back-up. Then release the parking brake lever and foot brake pedal. Depress the accelerator pedal to start the vehicle.

What is the P on the gearshift? ›

The “P” on an automatic transmission stands for the PARK setting. When the gear shifter is in park, the transmission 'gears' are locked, which restricts the wheels from being able to spin forward or backward. Many people use the park setting as a brake, which is a primary purpose for this transmission setting.

What does D1 D2 D3 mean in automatic cars? ›

In other words, each has a maximum speed at which it can safely be used, perhaps something like this: D1–20mph(30kph), D2–35mph(50kph), D3–50mph(70kph), D4-everything above 50mph(70kph).

What happens if you accelerate in neutral? ›

This subsequently means that the engine is getting less cooling, which can lead to bearing failure due to heat and friction. Secondly, since your car is in neutral, you can no longer accelerate. This means you have lesser control over your car as you can only slow down and not speed up.

What happens if you drive in neutral? ›

Neutral allows your car to coast. The neutral gear isn't used often, but it's always a great idea to know the best times to engage it. The neutral gear should primarily be used during emergencies and mechanical failure. If you find your vehicle stuck or pedals not working, neutral would be a safe decision.

What gear do you use at traffic lights? ›

When at traffic lights, there are usually some traffic lights that take a long time to turn green. If you like to use gear D when at traffic lights, please stop from now on. It is best when at a traffic light for all drivers to use the N gear which is Neutral to reduce the pressure on the car engine.

Do you press down on the brake when starting a car? ›

Dear Kat: The brake pedal must be depressed to complete the starting circuit. It is a built-in safety feature. There is an adjustment on the brake pedal position switch that can be adjusted so you do not have to press the pedal down so far and hard.

What is one disadvantage of using automatic? ›

One of the disadvantages of using automated machines in production processes is that they can lead to increased costs. Automated machines can be expensive to purchase and maintain, and they may require operators to be trained in their use.

Can you go faster in an automatic? ›

Can automatic cars be upgraded to go fast? Yes, you can make basic upgrades to make your car faster with better response from the the engine and transmission.

Are automatic cars safer? ›

Though many believe automatic cars to be safer than manuals, both transmission types each have their own advantages when it comes to safety. Automatic vehicles allow drivers to keep both hands on the wheel at all times, as well as to react more quickly and maneuver more effectively in stop-and-go traffic.

How many lessons do you need for automatic? ›

In most cases, that would be approximately 22 or 23 driving lessons (taken in 2 hour intervals).

What is the best time to learn driving? ›

Between 11am and 1pm could be seen as the perfect time to go out on the roads, or 7am (in the lighter summer months), if you are trying to slot in a lesson before work. Such times will allow you to get to grips with driving, without too much traffic or pressure from other drivers.

How long does it take to fully automate a car? ›

Getting to the point where driverless technology is ready for you to order a driverless car via your smartphone and it drives you to your destination autonomously (level 5) won't likely become a reality until 2040 or later.

What does D3 mean in a car? ›

The D3 in an automatic gearbox stands for Drive 3. This mode initiates and fixes the 3rd gear, automatically preventing it from shifting to different driving gears. Auto companies did not set up the D3 just to offer car owners a multi-functional running experience.

Can you change gears in an automatic car while driving? ›

Avoid changing gears while the car is moving

The car will actually stop but you will end up wearing out your automatic transmission band. The transmission band is hard to access making its repair and replacement expensive and time-consuming.

Which gear position locks the transmission? ›

Park (P) — This position mechani- cally locks the transmission. Use Park whenever you are turning off or starting the engine.

What's the quickest way to learn to drive? ›

Learn to Drive Quickly: 5 Ways to Speed Up Learning to Drive
  1. Apply for your provisional licence ASAP. ...
  2. Take an intensive driving course. ...
  3. Book your tests early and stay organised. ...
  4. Take practice lessons to supplement your regular lessons. ...
  5. Make sure you really are test-ready.

How many lessons until you learn to drive? ›

The average amount of driving lessons should be 40-45 hours before taking your driving test. Some people decide that 20-30 hours or maybe even less is enough – but remember that the more lessons you take, the better you will become at driving.

How hard is learning to drive? ›

Most learners find it difficult with some exceptions. A small percentage find it incredibly easy and at the other end of the scale, some learners will require significantly more lessons than average. But the good news, is that for the vast majority of learners, as you progress through your lessons, it does get easier.

How do automatics know when to shift? ›

The governor is inside the transmission housing, attached to the output shaft, which means it turns along with the drive train. So as the wheels turn, so does the governor, and its input signals the shift valve to shift or delay a shift at a certain RPM.

Should you put automatic in neutral when stopped? ›

Avoid Using Neutral while the car is at a stop light/traffic. Automatic vehicles that are on neutral while on neutral doesn't save on fuel, use hand break instead so that you don't wear out your transmission. Damage happens when if the gear is in N when the light turns green.

When should I use neutral gear in automatic car? ›

The neutral gear should primarily be used during emergencies and mechanical failure. If you find your vehicle stuck or pedals not working, neutral would be a safe decision.

Can I shift my automatic transmission from D to 3 2 or 1 without stopping the car? ›

Can i shift my automatic transmission from D to 3, 2 or 1 without stopping the car? Yes you can. It's handy for towing and steep hills. Assuming you're talking about an automatic/standard, all it does is limit the highest gear it'll use.

How do you know what gear to shift in? ›

The basic rule is that you change up through the gears as the speed of the car increases and down when you need more power from the engine. For example, you would change down to a lower gear when climbing a hill or pulling away at low speed.

What gear should you be in at 30 mph? ›

Third gear is a very flexible gear in modern cars, including diesel cars, and it's the ideal gear when you need to keep your speed to 30mph or under.

What happens if you shift to neutral while driving? ›

Shifting a manual to neutral while driving won't hurt the car. However, it will hurt your fuel economy as most modern engines turn off the fuel injectors while coasting. If you are in neutral then your engine must idle instead of using 0 fuel.

Can you change from D to N while driving? ›

Is it safe to shift the gear lever to “N” from “D” while the car is moving? If your car has an automatic transmission, you should not shift the gear selector from D to N (Neutral) while the car is moving. The automatic transmission has a built-in hydraulic pump that is driven when transmission is engaged.

Should you go into neutral at traffic lights on a automatic car? ›

Never put your vehicle in neutral at traffic lights

You will be shifting gears every time to meet a stop light, subjecting them to unnecessary wear. You may have to replace them sooner than you thought. Avoid all this by letting the brakes do their job: leave the engine in drive and step on the brakes at the stoplight.

Should I start my car in neutral or first gear? ›

Start the Car

Ensure that the gear shifter is in the neutral position then turn the ignition with the key. If you are certain that the car is in neutral, you can remove your foot from the clutch. Ensure that the parking or emergency brake is not in use.

What gear is best for driving downhill? ›

Use lower gears to go downhill

If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, use "L" or "2." However, if you do need to brake frequently, pull over if you start to smell the brakes burning. (According to the National Park Service, this will be a pungent burning smell.)


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