Accelerating and using the gears

Always try to use the accelerator smoothly and steadily: this will

  • reduce fuel consumption
  • reduce wear and tear on the vehicle
  • make your driving safer
  • reduce the amount of damage your vehicle does to the environment.

Accelerating suddenly can cause you to lose control of the vehicle, make the journey uncomfortable for your passengers or even put them in danger, especially if they are standing or moving on the vehicle.

Make sure the driving seat is adjusted so you can use the pedals easily and comfortably. If you’re too far from the pedals, you will not be able to press the accelerator pedal smoothly.

Be careful not to over-rev your engine when moving away (do not press the accelerator more than is needed to make the vehicle move) or when your vehicle is stationary because it will waste fuel and make it harder to stay in control.

Using cruise control, if it’s fitted on your vehicle, can help to save fuel because it keeps your speed steady. Only use cruise control if you can travel at a steady speed for a long period, eg on a clear motorway. Check your vehicle handbook for details on how to use cruise control.

Speed limiters are fitted to passenger-carrying vehicles (PCVs) with a maximum authorised mass of more than 7.5 tonnes to prevent them going faster than 62 mph. They’re also fitted to vehicles with more than 8 passenger seats, first used on or after 1 January 2005. If you’re driving a vehicle with a speed limiter, you’ll need to plan well ahead before overtaking and be aware of the effects of the limiter on your vehicle.

Using the gears

The number of gears in a PCV will vary depending on the type of vehicle (eg single-deck service buses may have only 4 or 5 gears) and the type of transmission (eg manual, semi-automatic, pneumo-cyclic or pre-select gearbox).

The layout of the gearbox varies from one make of vehicle to another: use the vehicle handbook for guidance if necessary.

If you’re driving a manual or semi-automatic vehicle, the speed at which you’ll be travelling when you’ll need to change from one gear to another will vary depending on the number of gears in the vehicle and how they’re configured.

Choosing the wrong gear can

  • make the vehicle accelerate too slowly or too quickly
  • make it difficult to control the vehicle effectively
  • increase fuel consumption and wear and tear on the vehicle.

Travelling in the highest suitable gear will help you save fuel and reduce wear on the engine.

You do not always need to use all gears when you’re changing up or down. Missing out gears – sometimes called selective changing or block changing – can give you more time to concentrate on the road and allows you to keep your hands on the steering wheel for longer.

When you’re braking and changing down gears, it’s best to brake to the speed you need to go and then change down into the appropriate gear so you may be able to miss one or more gears.

You can also use selective changing when you’re changing up gears, but be careful not to accelerate too fiercely or for too long in the lower gears.

Avoid coasting (ie driving with the vehicle in neutral) because you’ll have less control over the vehicle than when it’s in gear. It’s particularly dangerous to coast if you’re driving a PCV with air brakes because the compressor will not replace air being used as the brakes are applied when the engine is not in gear.

Driving on hills

Use the gears to help your vehicle drive efficiently when you’re going up or down hills, especially if the vehicle is loaded.

When you’re driving uphill, change down to a lower gear to avoid the engine struggling to give enough power.

Driving downhill, you can use a lower gear to increase the effect of engine braking and reduce the risk of overheating the brakes.

It’s a good idea to leave your vehicle in gear when you park, especially when parking on a hill. If the parking brake fails, the engine should stop the wheels turning. (This only applies to a vehicle with manual gears.)

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