Accelerating and using the gears

Before you start

Make sure you adjust the driving seat before you start the engine. This will help you check that you can reach the pedals easily and comfortably. If you're too far from the pedals, you will not be able to operate them safely and smoothly.

Manual vehicles

Moving off

Most manual cars have 5 or 6 forward gears; older cars may have fewer gears.

You should always travel in the highest suitable gear.

Always use the accelerator smoothly and steadily as you move off. This will

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

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

Using the gears

The speed at which you’re travelling when you 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 car accelerate too slowly or too quickly
  • make it difficult to control the car effectively
  • increase fuel consumption and wear and tear on the car
  • increase your carbon footprint.

You should always travel in the highest suitable gear. This will help you save fuel and reduce wear on the engine and the vehicle will produce fewer exhaust gases, reducing the impact on the environment.

Block changing

You do not always need to use all the 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 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.

Driving on hills

Use the gears to help your car travel efficiently when you’re going up or down hills, especially if your car 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 and leave the car unattended, especially when parking on a hill. If the parking brake fails, the engine should stop the wheels turning. (This only applies to a car with manual gears.)

Automatic vehicles

Automatic vehicles change gears for the driver. They usually allow you to select between park, reverse, neutral and drive. Unlike manual vehicles they do not have a clutch which means that there are only two pedals - brake and accelerator.

Some - though not all - manufacturers make automatic vehicles that allow the driver to select a first or second gear. This can help reduce the number of revs when pulling away and avoid wheel spins in adverse weather conditions and on loose surfaces such as gravel.

You should avoid heavy acceleration as it can

  • cause the vehicle to surge forward (or backwards) out of control
  • delay upward gear changes
  • waste fuel and increase exhaust emissions.

Drivers should be mindful that the brake pedal is often close to where the clutch is in a manual vehicle. Pressing down firmly on the brake will result in an emergency stop.

For more information visit the page Driving an automatic vehicle.

Electric vehicles

Most electric vehicles have a single gear but they often have different driving modes. The basic modes are:

  • eco
  • normal
  • sport.

Some manufacturers may name them differently or add other modes.

Just like automatic cars, electric vehicles usually give you the choice of park, reverse, neutral and drive.

Electric vehicles use regenerative braking so it's important to be aware that taking your foot off the accelerator pedal will result in the car slowing down much faster than a manual or automatic car.

Remember: just because electric vehicles have a single gear does not mean that they accelerate slowly. You should avoid pressing down hard on the accelerator, as this will help you to control the vehicle and increase speed smoothly.

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