When to change gears

In this episode of the Masterclass series - we're taking a look at everything you need to know about gears when starting out your driving journey!


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By Chloe Martell

Updated on Dec 21st, 2020

Changing Gears

In this episode of the Driving Instructor Masterclass, we’re taking a look at gears – everything from how to change gears smoothly, understanding gears and what gears are used in different situations. We’ll also be looking at how an automatic gearbox works too – even if you drive an automatic car, it’s still important that you understand how they work! You can see the full masterclass video below!

What are gears 

Gears in a car are used for transmitting the power from the crankshaft (the rotating axle that takes all the power from the engine) to the driveshaft running under the car – this basically powers the wheels. The gears are a key skill in driving – without them, you won’t be getting far in a manual car. You’ll likely learn about gears in one of your very first, if not, your first driving lesson.

Understanding gears

When you first start out, you’ll be using first and second gear – these are the ones that’ll get you going and keep you going along at a slower speed. Gears are all about control and the lower gears give you more control and power to get you going to start with. Think of 1st gear as a Sumo Wrestler – lots of power, but not a lot of speed. 2nd gear is like a shot putter – a bit less power than a sumo wrestler, but a bit quicker. The higher up you go in the gears, the less power you get but the more speed – up until gear 5 or 6 which will keep you travelling at high speeds when driving on motorways and parkways etc.

How to change gears in a car

So you’re moving along in 1st gear, you take your foot off the gas, clutch goes in and you move the gear lever into second gear. Your foot them comes off the clutch and you put your foot back on the gas. This is the same for any gear change you wish you make – you need to ensure that your foot is off the gas and on the clutch before attempting to change gear. Once you get the hang of where the gears are and what gear you need depending on your driving situation – its then all about getting in driving practice.

What gears to use in different situations

Every car is different but as a rule of thumb, if you imagine there is a 0 in front of your gear number, this is the speed you’ll get before you need to go up to the next gear. For example, if you’re in gear 2 you’ll get the speed of between 20-29mph, until you switch to gear 3 where you’ll start in the 30s. Of course this is quite general, the more you get to know your car, the more you’ll know what gears to use so picking up car insurance for learners and getting in as much practice as you can when changing gears will really help. A lot of modern cars will even tell you when you should change up or down a gear, so this can be really helpful to ensure you’re driving in the correct gear for your speed.

What is the difference between cars with 5 gears and cars with 6?

The gear ratios are usually closer together in a 6-speed gear box over a 5-speed gearbox. The idea for this is to improve fuel economy by making the engine run closer to the ideal Revs Per Minute (the lowest RPM an engine can run and still be smooth is usually the best in terms of fuel economy – aka making your fuel last longer!)

Visualise those gear patterns

When you change gear on the gearstick you will notice the odd numbers are at the top, and the even numbers on the bottom – and the gears work in a top to bottom format (1 top, 2 bottom, 3 top and so on). It’s worth getting used to these gear patterns before even turning the car on. Eventually, you’ll be changing gear without even really thinking about it but for now, getting used to going from 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd etc will be really beneficial when you’re on the roads.

What is your examiner looking for in your test?

In your driving test your examiner will be expecting to see you confidently use gears and keep control of the car with your gear selections, as well as selecting the appropriate gears for your speed. You need to show that you understand how gears work by using them effectively and safely.

Practice makes Perfect

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Chloe Profile Picture

By Chloe Martell

As a new driver, I'm so eager to share my driving journey with you all - from when I was a learner, going through my test and all the aspects of my driving life now, including my love of cars!


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