How To Drive An Automatic Vehicle

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

Thousands of new drivers and experienced drivers in the UK opt to drive automatic vehicles rather than ones with manual transmission.

While they were relatively rare a couple of decades ago, they’re now increasingly common and favoured by drivers with all sorts of different driving requirements.

Due to having an automatic transmission, they’re considered to be simpler to drive than the manual counter-parts while also offering greater comfort while driving long distances or in heavy stop-start traffic.

If you’re driving a vehicle with automatic transmission, you’re also going to have more time to focus on the road ahead rather than on changing gears.

Manual transmission cars require the driver to change gear using the clutch and gear lever as they drive, while automatic transmission vehicles largely take care of this themselves.

With the automatic vehicle, the car senses when it is time to change up or down a gear itself and performs the change without any input required from the driver.

If you’ve made the decision to start learning to drive in an automatic vehicle, or perhaps you want to switch to an automatic, you’ll need to learn what the differences are and what the key things are that you need to know once you get behind the wheel.

Allow us to walk you through the process of mastering automatic vehicles with our in-depth guide.

What You Will Learn

There is no doubting that automatic vehicles are easier to drive, however, it’s still important to know what the differences are.

It’s not just the driving itself that is different between automatic and manual transmission cars but from the moment you sit behind the wheel you will notice aesthetic differences within the cockpit.

There is more to learn than you may initially think, so our guide is going to take you through some of the key things.

They include:

Gear Lever:

The gear lever in an automatic vehicle has different markings to one you would find in a manual transmission car.

What do the different markings mean?

How To Drive An Automatic Vehicle:

It’s the point of the whole guide, but how do you actually drive the car once you are behind the wheel and aware of the differences?

Which Foot To Use:

There is no clutch pedal in an automatic, so which feet should work the remaining two pedals?

What Is ‘Creep’:

It can be really useful, or really annoying, but what is it?

As is usual with our driving guides, we set out our guide to mastering automatic vehicles in the following tried and tested format.

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

So, you’ve just climbed in to an automatic car for the first time.

Let’s begin by explaining what those letters mean on the gear lever.

They could be in a different order to what you see below but essentially they will all be there and do the same thing.

P – Park: This setting is to be used when the vehicle is parked.

R – Reverse: As the name suggest, just like on a manual vehicle, reverse is for reversing.

N – Neutral: Again, the same as with a manual transmission, this is to be used when you temporarily want to remain in neutral gear.

D – Drive: This is your ‘forward gear’. When you pull away, you will use D as a starting point.

1 – 1st Gear: While the car will take care of most of the gear changes, first and second give you the option to override this slightly in certain situations, such as going downhill.

2 – 2nd Gear: The second gear in the automatic gearbox system.

Okay, let’s move on to a guide on how we get the car moving.

There’s a really important note at this point before we go any further; now that there is only two pedals rather than the three you’d find in a manual transmission car, you should use the two pedals with the same foot (right).

This makes it so much easier and the ride will be smoother as a result.

  • Once you’re in the car and have your seat-belt safely fastened, press down on the brake pedal. With the brake on, turn the engine on. You will not be able to start the car of the brake pedal is not pressed in.
  • With your foot still on the break, select the ‘D’ gear. To do this, you will need to press in the button on the gear lever and move it to the correct position. Often, the letters on the gear level will light up as and when each is selected.
  • Release the hand brake/parking brake.
  • Check your mirrors and blind spot, begin to signal with your indicator that you are going to pull out, and check your mirrors once again.
  • When it is safe to do so, you can begin to release your foot off the brake and then apply it to the accelerator. Once your foot is off the brake pedal, you will notice that the car begins to move slowly. This is what is known as ‘creep’.
  • Pull away as you usually would and gradually speed up. The car will change gear for you and no action is required from you in respect to the gears.

This same process can be repeated when you wish to reverse, only you would select R at step 2 rather than D.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

There are a few little quirks and bits of terminology that are unique to automatic cars.

Here are a few of those with explanations for what they are.

Kick-Down:

One of the things you will soon notice about driving an automatic is that you cannot change gears down quickly when you need to accelerate, as you would with a manual car.

Thankfully, there is a quick solution to this.

When you need to drop a gear or two and increase speed, simply press down on the accelerator with a short sharp press.

You’ll hear the engine revs change and the car will be much quicker to accelerate.

This is a great tip but it does take some getting used to.

Creep:

In step five of our guide above, we refer to ‘creep’.

This is the term given to the moment when you release the brake in an automatic vehicle when the it is in drive.

You need to be aware of it as it can catch you out at first but it’s actually something that becomes really useful when you’re in traffic jams, for example.

It means you can very slowly creep the car forward without using the accelerator.

Travelling Downhill:

If you’re travelling downhill in the car and it’s going too quickly, it isn’t best practice to keep hitting the breaks.

Instead, this is where the 1 and 2 (and maybe 3) come in useful on your gear lever.

You can override the transmission when required and move the car in to first, second and possibly third gear.

Useful Information

Every automatic car is different and may have different settings available to it.

It will take a little time for you to get used to driving an automatic.

Two scenarios in which it can be quite different depending on what is available within the car are as follows.

Hill Starts:

The ‘creep’ functionality is a great help when it comes to hill starts.

Depending on how steep the hill is and how powerful your car is, you may be able to perform a hill start without using a hand brake, however, when creep isn’t enough to keep the car still on a steep hill, then you will need to use the handbrake to perform a hill start.

You may also need to use those gear overrides again (1) if D doesn’t do the job.

Driving In Ice & Snow:

Automatics can be a little tricky to get used to in snowy and icy weather conditions.

With the car in drive, you may not be able to get the grip required to move off safely.

This is when your car set-up will help you.

Some will carry a particular setting for driving in ice and snow – if so, al you need to do is select that.

If it doesn’t, then you’ll need to select a higher gear rather than attempt to move off in drive.

Most automatics should at least have second gear available whilst some will have that third gear which could make life easier (and safer!) in such scenarios.

Final Thoughts

Driving an automatic can be a great experience.

Once you’re comfortable with it, some people claim it makes driving more fun, relaxing and enjoyable, however, if there was one final point to make here, it’s that you should take nothing for granted.

It’s vital that you take the time to get to know your car and what settings/gears it has.

Further Resources