Essential Driving Skills

Changing Gears


It is important when driving that you do not look down at the gear stick when changing gear, although some drivers find this difficult at first it doesn’t take long to achieve. You can practice gear changes sitting in the car with the engine switched off and the clutch pressed down. If you do have difficulty mastering the gears there is always the option of driving an automatic car, the downside of this is of course that after passing your test you will be restricted to using automatic cars only

In most vehicles the first 4 gears form an 'H' appearance on the gear lever. Neutral is the middle line in the 'H' formation on the gear stick. The gears run from left to right of the ‘H’, top left being first gear through to bottom right being 4th gear. Most cars now have a fifth gear which is located on the far top-right of the gear lever (to the right of the ‘H’)

To engage reverse gear you sometimes have to either push the gear lever down or lift it up towards you. Different vehicles have different setups. So always check were reverse is on a new vehicle.

1st Gear is used for moving off, manoeuvring and for creeping slowly in traffic and at junctions.

2nd Gear is used for moving off down very steep hills, building up speed after moving away and driving at low speeds.

3rd Gear is used to build up speed and when you need more power for climbing hills. It also increases your control when going down steep hills and dealing with some bends.

4th Gear is used for driving at speeds generally higher than 30 mph, where there are no hazards to confront.

5th Gear not all vehicles have a 5th gear. which gives better fuel economy. This is normally only used on open roads when travelling constantly at higher speeds.

Practice Gear Changes

To practice changing up through the gears on the road, first find a fairly straight, wide road where there is little or no other traffic. Move off in first gear and change into 2nd gear as soon as you can. Accelerate to about 15-20 mph, then change into 3rd gear. Accelerate in 3rd to 25-30 mph and then change into 4th. You will only need to practise using the 5th gear when you are competent using the first 4 gears.

To Practise - change down through the gears When you have built up your speed to 30 mph and you are in 4th gear, Check the mirror to make sure it is safe. Brake gently to slow the car down to about 20 mph. Release the brake and change into 3rd gear. Check the mirror again and, if safe, reapply the brake gently and slow down to about 10 mph. Release the brake and change into 2nd gear. Check the mirror, if safe, build up your speed, changing up the gears, until you reach 30 mph again. Keep practising until you feel confident.

Block Gear Changes

Some drivers have a habit of always changing through the gears one-by-one, from 1st through to 5th and from 5th through to 1st. This habit has stuck with some older drivers from when they originally learned to drive many years ago. Today, in a normal car and for everyday on-road driving, it is not generally good practice to use the gears in this way. We can change down the gears in blocks ( 5th to 2nd or 4th to 2nd. etc), we can equally change up in blocks (2nd to 4th or 3rd to 5th). The block change from 3rd to 5th is particularly useful when accessing a dual carriageway from the slip road to build sufficient speed up.

It is not necessary to change gears in sequence. For example: If you are driving along at 50 mph in 5th gear, and you want to turn left into a side road, you may be able to do so without having to stop. As you approach the junction you need to reduce your speed ( using your brake) until you are going slowly enough to take the junction safely. When you have slowed down to a safe speed using the brakes, you have to select a gear that will drive the car comfortably at that speed. In most cars the best gear for the job will be 2nd. So, move the gear lever directly to the second gear position skipping the other gears. The benefits of this style of driving include better fuel economy, less overall wear and tear, less driver fatigue on long journeys and more steering control in emergencies.

The Driving Test

On your driving test the examiner will expect you to:

1. Use the controls smoothly and correctly
2. Balance the accelerator and clutch to move away smoothly
3. Accelerate evenly
4. Avoid stalling the car
5. Not to 'ride' the clutch (keeping your left foot slightly depressed on the clutch pedal)

6 . Choose the right gear and change in good time before a hazard
7 . Brake gently and in good time
8 . Know how and when to apply the hand brake