Driving tests

5: Changing gears

The aim of this lesson is to be in the appropriate gear for the speed and manoeuvre you are doing, and to use the clutch and accelerator in a coordinated manner. In a manual car, you must change the gears smoothly while maintaining steering control and without taking your eyes off the road to look at the gear level.

In an automatic car you must demonstrate how to slow the car down using the gears. Some cars will only have a gear stick. Others might have a gearstick with sequential option, and others might also have paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel.

As examples, a car like a later model Toyota Hilux SR5 automatic will have P R N D4 D3 D2 L; a car like a Hyundai Sonata from the mid-2000s will have P R N D and +/- sequential; a car like a 2014 WRX will have P R N D and sequential mode, but using paddle shifter only; a Volkswagen Golf GTI from the mid-2000s will have P R N D and S (for sport mode) with paddle shifters.

Some sequential gearboxes work by pushing the gearstick forwards for up, and some work pushing forwards for down. Some Holdens have a button on the gearstick for changing gears. Some other cars (but not many) push side-to-side to change up and down. Some (older) sequential gearboxes have buttons on the steering wheel. Most modern paddle-shift gearboxes use the left paddle for down and the right for up (pulling the paddle towards you). Some older paddle-shift gearboxes have up and down duplicated on each side where you push for up and pull for down.

Whatever your gearbox is, you will need to be familiar with it.

For the first part of the test you will need the car in a safe area with the engine off. For the second part you’ll need to be on the road with the engine running.

Driver actions

When stationary with the engine turned off:

  • Accurately describe and explain the gear pattern
  • Select the appropriate gears when asked, with the clutch and accelerator used in a coordinated way, at least five times in a manual car. Remember that the gearstick is naturally spring loaded to be in the 3rd and 4th gear position in a car with five or six forward gears. With reverse gear you might have to lift a collar on the gearstick, or push it past a resistant notch.

With the engine started:

  • Move away smoothly in first gear if you are in a manual car, or D if you are in an automatic.
  • Change gears from first gear up to the highest appropriate gear for the speed if you are in a manual, without missing a gear, grinding the gears or jerking the car.
  • Change down through all the gears without jerking or choosing the wrong gear (in a manual car), or shift the automatic gearbox to a lower gear using either the gearstick or paddle-shift gears if appropriate (remember that paddle-shift gear selection is usually considered by a car’s computer to be a temporary decision unless the automatic is in a sequential manual mode, whereas moving the gearstick to a lower gear, e.g. L, 1 or 2 (if available) is permanent until you move the gearstick again.
  • In a manual car, select the appropriate gear for the road speed and situation. Your chosen gear should give you acceleration when you need it, but not be over-revving or labouring the engine.
  • Always keep your eyes on the road ahead rather than looking at the gearstick.

Perform the tasks at least 5 times.

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