Driving an Automatic Car | Driving Test Success

Driving an Automatic Car

Some vehicles have manual transmission which means that you change the gears by operating the clutch and gear stick, and others have an automatic transmission which has no clutch pedal. This means that the transmission system senses when it is necessary to change gear, and does it automatically without the need for you to use a clutch pedal, or a gear stick. Driving is much easier in an automatic vehicle, and it allows you more time to focus on the road ahead. But there are things you should know about driving an automatic car. You will notice a different gear lever layout. P – R – N – D – 2 – 1. Some have a slightly different layout, and maybe another gear, but essentially, this is what you should expect to see. P – Park (for parking, locks the transmission, only use it when stopped) R – Reverse N – Neutral (same as manual gearbox) D – Drive (this is your forward gear setting) 2 – 2nd gear 1 – 1st gear The automatic transmission will sense the road speed increase and change to a higher gear, then changes down gear when it senses a lower road speed. It will also change down when you are going uphill, because the load increases on the engine and a stronger gear is required. However, when going down hill the car will pick up speed, the transmission will sense the higher road speed and try to change up to a higher gear. This is not useful as a lower gear is required on downward gradients. The driver can override this feature by manually selecting a lower gear (1 or 2) to maintain speed control on the hill. This is useful when going down a steep hill, manoeuvring or in heavy traffic.


Sometimes you need quick acceleration, maybe to overtake another vehicle. In a manual vehicle, you can select a lower gear, for quick acceleration. However, in an automatic, to get this change down of gear, called 'kick-down', you need to sharply press the accelerator pedal right down. This causes the quick down change of gear and more power for accelerating. When the need is over, just ease off the accelerator and the car changes up gears again.


Always apply the handbrake when you are stationary in an automatic car. In P or N, the car will not drive, but the handbrake will keep it still. However, if in any other gear, the car will drive off under power if you touch the gas pedal, purposefully or by accident, unless you have the brakes on.


Creeping is when the car moves along very slowly, on tick-over speed. This can be stopped by braking, and use of handbrake. However, creep can be useful for slow traffic conditions, as you would use clutch and brake control, in a manual transmission vehicle. It is unwise to use creep to keep still on a hill, as it might let you down, literally. Use handbrake to prevent roll back.

Which foot?

Mostly, use the right foot only, for braking or accelerating, in normal driving conditions, as you would in a manual vehicle. If you need to do some manoeuvring, it is ok to use both feet lightly, left on brake and right on gas.


Driving an automatic can be strange to begin with, but study your vehicle, practise driving and learn to anticipate the need for early release of the gas pedal, and progressive braking. Remember, slowing down to take a turn of bend can trick the transmission into changing up as you approach. So, learn to slow down before you reach the corner, the accelerator gently as you turn. Remember that an automatic car, as with any other technological or computer aided wizardry, will not compensate for bad driving techniques on the part of the driver- it is a tool, and can greatly enhance the driving experience.

Back to top