How to and when to change gear

The purpose  of gear changing is to match the speed of your car to the engine power. For example, when moving off, you would normally select 1st gear which provides the maximum power to get your road wheels moving, once the car is moving you would then normally select 2nd gear, and so on as your road speed increases. Using the highest gear gives you speed but little power to keep the car moving. Conversely, when slowing down it’s not necessary to change down one-by-one, you can miss out gears and selecting an appropriate gear to provide more power to pick-up speed again. In other words, we use the brakes to slow down, and the gears to pick up speed.

To change up the gears:

  • At the same time, put the clutch pedal down and take your foot off the accelerator completely;
  • Move the gear lever to the next position;
  • Smoothly bring the clutch pedal up;
  • Smoothly press on the accelerator pedal

You would normally change up at these speeds.

  • When you want to move off, you should select 1st gear;
  • At around 10 mph, you should select 2nd gear;
  • At around 20 mph, you should select 3rd gear
  • At around 25 mph, you should select 4th gear
  • At around 35 mph, you should select 5th gear.
 Please note: The table above, assumes that your driving a petrol engine, diesel engines may have slightly different speeds when you need to change gear.

Changing down

When it comes to changing down, you can be more selective, meaning you don’t have to change down in sequence.  We call it ‘Block changing’. For example:

  • Your approaching traffic lights which have changed to red and slowing down and you are in say 4th gear, once you’ve stopped you can then select 1st gear so your ready to move off again once the lights have changed
  • You are approaching an ‘open ‘T’  junction’ in 4th or 5th gear after slowing down to around 10 mph you see that the road is clear  you can then select 2nd gear to carry on.

The most important part to block changing, is that you must slow down before you change gear, otherwise you will risk causing serious damage to the engine (and expense!). Remember: GEARS TO GO – BRAKES TO SLOW.


Automatic gears

Cars fitted with an automatic ‘gearbox’ use a completely different system of mechanics to change gear. There  are various ways in which the car changes gear – too many types to describe here (as well as being complicated!)

Some cars with an automatic gearbox may have additional gears which allow you to use the car as if it had a manual gearbox, but without a clutch pedal. Selecting a lower gear would give you more control when going down a steep hill, and your braking system will be less likely to overheat. Some automatic gearboxes also have an addition feature called ‘kickdown’. When the accelerator is pressed down firmly, the gearbox will automatically select a lower gear. This is useful if you want more power for example when overtaking, or climbing a hill.

To move off, select drive carry out the POM routine (Preparation, Observation Manoeuvre) – by selecting Drive;  carry out effective all round observation; and when safe, release the handbrake and press the accelerator (gas).