How To Master Changing Gears

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

For learner drivers, the prospect of changing gears can be quite an intimidating one.

You may well be thinking that you already have so much to do and so much to concentrate on with steering, indicating, using mirrors and looking where you’re going, how could you possibly operate the gears as well?

Thankfully, there is some good news.

Once you have mastered changing gears and operating your clutch, it almost becomes second nature to you.

The bad news is that you will probably need to pick the technique up fairly quickly as you will need to have it to pass your test.

Changing gears in a car is vital for many reasons.

Firstly, it reduces the strain on your car engine – by selecting the right gear, the engine can operate at a level which does not strain it.

This also gives you more control over the fuel efficiency of your car.

In addition to these reasons, changing gears also make controlling the car a lot easier.

It can help to slow the car down, to make acceleration more effective and allow you to cruise on motorways, for example, at a pace that is comfortable for you and your car’s engine.

Most manual transmission cars today will have at least five gears to move the car forward, and one reverse gear.

Some newer, or more powerful cars, may have six gears.

Knowing how to use these gears and shift between them is really important.

What You Will Learn

Our guide on how to master changing gears and using your clutch will help you to understand the process of changing gears, when to do it and how to use your clutch.

Specifically, we will go in to detail about:

  • Smooth Gears: How to change gears smoothly
  • Correct Gear: How to reduce the chances of selecting the wrong gear
  • Clutch Control: When clutch control is important
  • Gear Selection: Which gear should you be in and when?

As usual, we’re breaking this guide down in to section to make things as simple as possible.

Our step-by-step guide will take you through changing gear smoothly but after that we will give you some hints and tips about changing gear and summarise everything for you.

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

Step-By-Step Guide

Before we dive straight in to the step-by-step guide to changing gears, let’s quickly establish what each of the gears in your car are best used for and how to select them.

Here’s a brief overview:

First Gear:

First gear is almost always the gear to use when moving off from a stationery position, as well as when moving slowly in stop-start traffic (i.e. traffic jam).

To select first gear, the gear lever will need to be pushed all the way to the left and then upwards.

Second Gear:

Second gear is used when you need to move a little faster in slow traffic or when you’re gradually accelerating up through the gears.

To select it, you’ll likely be in first gear, so you’re aiming to go straight downwards.

When doing so, keep the lever pushed away from you to the left as far as it will go – this will ensure you move to second gear and not fourth.

Third Gear:

Third is a good gear to select when moving around towns, for example, at around 20-30 mph.

It’s also a useful way of controlling and reducing your speed as you slowdown from 30mph.

To select third gear, put the lever back in the neutral position and then simply push it upwards so that it’s central.

Fourth Gear:

This is a more economical gear for driving at around 30-40mph.

It’s also good to use to accelerate when you’re travelling on a quick road if you need to increase your speed for any reason.

It’s located directly below third, so simply pull the gear lever down from third and in to fourth.

Fifth Gear:

This is the gear to use at anything above 40mph and especially for cruising on roads which carry the national speed limit.

Step-By-Step Guide: Mastering Smooth Gear Changes & Clutch Control

From Stationery:

  • Assuming you are stationery, press the clutch pedal in with your left foot. While it is pressed, use your left hand to select first gear, as described above (push all the way left an then all the way up).
  • When it is clear to do so and the brake is released, slowly increase acceleration and gradually and smoothly release your pressure on the clutch pedal as you begin to feel the accelerator engage.

In Motion:

  • Once you’re moving, you need to master the process of changing gears while in motion.
  • Gently release the accelerator pedal with your right foot and then press the clutch with you left foot.
  • Once the clutch is pressed, use your left hand to move to move the gear lever to the position/gear you wish to change in to.
  • Move your left hand back to the steering wheel.
  • Simultaneously begin to release the clutch pedal with your left foot while gently applying pressure to the accelerator pedal with your right.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

Changing gear can be quite a challenging skill to master when you’re learning to drive.

Thankfully, we have a few tips and hints which can help make the process easier and also build your confidence in doing so.

They are as follows:

Practice With The Engine Off:

Gear changes are one of the few things in driving that you can practice while the car is stationery and the engine is off.

Sit in the driver’s seat and practice shifting through the gears while using the clutch pedal as well.

It’s a great way to get familiar with the changing of gears.

Reducing Chances Of Selecting Wrong Gear:

A sure-fire way to increase pressure on yourself while driving, or worse still, taking your driving test, is to select the wrong gear.

This is actually really common with learner drivers.

One way to guard against it is simply to know where each gear is.

For example, first is often selected by novice drivers rather than third – this is not good for your gear box or engine, let alone your own nerves!

To find first gear every time, simply push the gear lever as far left as it will go and then go upwards.

The Same For Finding Third Gear:

Briefly take the gear lever back to neutral, then push it straight up.

Knowing your way around the gear lever is going to make life so much easier.

Never Allow Your Eyes To Leave The Road:

Whatever you’re doing with your left hand on the gear stick, one hugely important tip is to never allow your eyes to leave the road.

If you look down at your gear level, your examiner will pull you up on it.

Useful Information

When you’re trying to master changing gear and using the clutch, it’s important to understand what your gears do, broadly speaking.

If you know this, even when you’re unsure of exactly which gear you need while you’re inexperienced, you can at least be heading in the right direction.

Two great rules of thumb are:

Lower Gears:

These are best used for acceleration.

They’re great at acceleration but they’ll run out of power when you reach higher speeds and also place strain on the engine if you go too fast in a low gear.

By low gears, we’re talking first to third.

Higher Gears:

Fourth, fifth and sixth (if applicable) are good gears for travelling at high speeds – think motorways, for example.

They’re not great for accelerating through.

Also, let’s talk clutch control.

The main times that you will need to have excellent clutch control are when you are in first gear, or you’re reversing.

These are scenarios when you will be moving at slow speeds and need to master finding the biting point.

Otherwise, changing gear is going to come down to the smoothness of the process more than anything else.

Final Thoughts

As ever, it’s good to focus our final thoughts on what your examiner is going to be looking for from your gear changes when you take you’re driving test.

It won’t surprise you that it mainly comes down to safety and your control of the car.

Focus on these areas:


Don’t let your eyes leave the road.

Your instructor will not want to see you looking down at the gear stick.


Always return your hand back to the steering wheel after changing gear

Don’t Coast:

Never ‘coast’ with no gear selected (neutral) as this means you’re out of control of the vehicle.

Gear Selection:

Your examiner will assess your gear choice based on the speed at which you, and those vehicles around you, are travelling and also the weather conditions.

Stay Safe & In Control:

Make sure your gear changes are safe, smooth and under control.

Further Resources