How to Drive an Automatic Car

For the avid petrolhead, the thought of getting into a car and only finding two pedals and a central column that more closely resembles an aeroplane joystick than a traditional gearstick fills them with dread. However, as technology advances and powertrains become more and more electrified, the manual gearbox is somewhat of an endangered species. In fact, data produced by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) in 2021 showed that out of 298 cars available for sale in the UK, only 98 had the option for a manual gearbox. 

With over two thirds of cars on the market now automatics, and a growing number of manufacturers offering only auto-boxes, it’s time to get used to your left foot doing nothing. So, how do you drive an automatic car as opposed to a manual? Let Scrap Car Comparison guide you through all you need to know.

Has your gearbox or clutch caused you a headache recently and you’re desperate to get something where you don’t have to think about what your left foot does anymore? Well, with Scrap Car Comparison you can guarantee yourself the very best price for your old car, no matter its condition and no matter where you call home. We have collection agents operating in all four corners of the country, so you’re never too far away from our service. All it takes is one quick phone call, or even quicker, using our online quote generator, and you can see just how much your car could be worth in as little as 60 seconds.

Close up of automatic car accelerator and brake pedals

What’s the difference between an automatic and a manual car?

If you were to park an automatic and manual example of a car next to each other in a car park then it is nigh-on impossible to tell the difference without looking through the windows. Your only clues when having a look will be the different looking gearstick and, if you can make them out without opening the doors, the lack of a clutch pedal.

Simply put, a manual car requires the driver to change gear as the car moves along, whilst an automatic gearbox will do this all on its own. It’s not a new invention, either, with the first automatic transmission being traced back to 1904, and the first mass-produced automatic ‘box being available from General Motors from 1940 as an option on the Cadillac Sixty Special or Oldsmobile Series 60. 

You may find your car has a slightly worse fuel economy, but this is only due to the fact that automatic gearboxes weigh considerably more than their manual counterparts – and the heavier your car is, the more fuel it will be using.

How to drive an automatic car – hints and tips

You may think it’s simply a case of pressing the right pedal to go and the left pedal to stop, but there’s actually a few nuances to driving automatic cars that you might not be aware of if you’ve never got behind the wheel of one before. Here’s a few things to be aware of:

What the gearstick means

You’ll probably be used to seeing five or six numbers and the letter R on your gear stick if you’re used to a manual box, but what do all these new letters mean? Let’s break it down:

  • P – Park. For use when you’re parked and leaving the car. This option will lock the transmission to stop the car from rolling away, but you’ll also need to make sure the handbrake is secure.
  • R – Reverse. You should be used to this one already, as it’s identical to its manual counterpart. Engage this option when needing to go backwards.
  • N – Neutral. Acting the same as knocking a manual gearbox out of gear, you should never select this option while driving along, otherwise known as coasting. Neutral should be used in conjunction with the handbrake when stopped for short periods of time, such as in traffic jams or a short drop-off.
  • D – Drive. This, unsurprisingly, is the option you need to drive. It will begin automatically selecting gears for you and will allow you to drive away with no problems. Beware, however, if your car is in Drive and you don’t have your foot on the brake pedal, it will begin to crawl away on its own even without any input from the accelerator.

Don’t confuse your brake for a clutch

Many first-time auto-drivers do it, but you need to remember that the leftmost pedal is now the brake and not a clutch, and as a result should only be used by your right foot. Ever since our first driving lesson, our left and right feet are taught to be used in very different ways, and if you use your left foot to brake, you’re likely to find yourself pressing the pedal far too hard, and causing you to have an impromptu emergency stop.

Close up shot of a manual gear changing paddle on a car's steering wheel.

My car has flappy paddles, what does this mean?

Some automatic gearboxes will give you the option to manually control the gears if you wish. Unlike changing gears in a traditional manual gearbox, you won’t need to use a clutch for these to engage. Often, these semi-automatic gearboxes will either need you to push the gear stick to the side to engage this system, which can either be used by pushing the gear stick up to change gears up, or down to change down, or by using ‘flappy paddles’ behind the steering wheel, with the left paddle changing down and the right paddle changing up. This is also known as a sequential gearbox and is most often found in racing gearboxes where you don’t need to use the clutch.

If you’re starting to feel like you’ve had enough of gear changes and want a calm, point-and-squirt attitude to your driving, then why not get rid of your tired old manual car and replace it with something new with a convenient auto box? With Scrap Car Comparison you can guarantee yourself the very best price in a quick and hassle-free manner, and with free collection, it couldn’t be simpler. We only work with certified Authorised Treatment Facilities, meaning your car will be disposed of and recycled in line with all the relevant rules and regulations, so give our knowledgeable and friendly team a call and find out just how much your old car could be worth today.

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