Tips for Driving an Automatic Car

21st August, 2021, in Car Hire Help

Automatic cars are much more common than they used to be and if you’re hiring a car it’s possible you’ll end up with an automatic. Whilst it is legal to rent and drive an automatic car if you have a manual licence, it can be a bit of a shock to get used to a new way of driving.

However, driving an automatic can actually be easier than driving a manual once you know what you’re doing. Below are some tips to help you get to grips with driving an automatic car.

Understand the Gearbox

Unlike a manual car, you won’t need to use the gearstick very often in an automatic car. This is because automatic cars will change the gears for you depending on how fast the car is moving.

However, there are usually at least four options on an automatic gearbox:

  • Park – this is used for when you’ve stopped and are going to exit the car. You should always be in Park before you start the car and put it back in Park before you switch the engine off. Park keeps the transmission locked so the wheels can’t turn, but you should always apply your handbrake too.
  • Reverse – this is used for when you need to go backwards. It’s the same as a reverse gear in a manual car.
  • Neutral – this is similar to Park but it doesn’t lock the transmission. You’ll likely use Neutral if you’re stopped for a short period of time, like in traffic or at a red light. It works the same as putting a manual gearbox out of gear.
  • Drive – this is for anytime you’re driving forwards. When you’re in Drive, the car will automatically go up through the gears the faster you go.

Some automatic cars have more gearbox options for staying in a low gear, which can be helpful in certain conditions like driving down hills. Some also have a ‘Sport’ mode for better acceleration.

Know How to Start and Stop an Automatic Car

To start the automatic car, it first should have been left in Park. Put your right foot on the left-hand pedal (which is the brake), push down and start the car with the key or start button. Whilst still pushing on the brake, you can then move the gearstick to Drive or Reverse depending on what direction you need.

When stopping, you should keep your foot on the brake as you move the gearstick to Park. You can then turn off the ignition and leave the car.

Tuck Your Left Foot

Automatic cars do not have a clutch pedal because the car will change gear itself. So, all you need to worry about is the brake and the accelerator.

However, if you’re used to driving a manual car, you might find that your left foot instinctively presses down on the left-hand pedal. Obviously hitting the brake and the accelerator at the same time will result in an emergency stop which could cause an accident if you do it at the wrong time. A top tip from automatic drivers used to manual cars is to ‘tuck’ the left foot behind the right foot, or back near your chair, to make sure it’s nowhere near the pedals.

Learn How to Creep

In most automatic cars, if you lift your foot off the brake you will move forwards very slowly (or backwards, if you’re in Reverse). This is known as ‘creeping’. It’s used by automatic drivers when parking or in slow moving traffic. You just need to keep your right foot over the brake so you can stop when you need to, but you don’t need to touch the accelerator until you need more speed.

Be Prepared for Different Conditions

Automatic cars drive similar to manual cars in a lot of conditions, just without the need to manually change gear. For example, driving on the motorway in an automatic car is just the same as driving in top gear in a manual. You might find traffic jams are easier as you won’t have to continually shift through the low gears.

Driving an automatic in snowy or icy conditions can be a bit trickier. Pulling away in second gear can be helpful as this reduces wheel spin and keeps the revs down. However, unless your automatic car has a low gear option on the gearbox, you might not be able to do this. Some automatic cars do have a ‘winter mode’ for driving in snow though, which alters the gear pattern to allow you to pull away in second.

If you’re overtaking or going up a steep hill, you might find that not having the usual control over the gears makes it more difficult. Some automatic cars have an Overdrive button which can give you more power if you need it. Newer automatic cars are usually smart enough to judge when more power is needed and you won’t need the Overdrive button.


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