What is changing gears and when will I have to do this?
Changing gears is a fundamental part of driving a manual car, it basically
allows your car to keep up with the different speeds at which you travel. Changing
gears is one of the most basic skills required to drive a car in the UK, so you
should probably get introduced to changing gears within the first hour of your driving
tuition (depending on your driving instructor). It is one of those skills that you
will need to think about carefully when you first start driving however it will
become second nature after you have driven for a while.
When will I need to change gear?
Anytime you drive a manual vehicle on the road, you will need to change
gears at some stage. From the point you move your car off, come to a stop or join
a dual carriageway, these will all involve changing gears. For a learner driver
who may have seen another driver changing gears while being a passenger in car,
the skill might seem a bit complicated because it involves using the clutch at the
same time as operating the gear stick whilst having one hand on the wheel. It is
however quite simple once you’ve got the hang of the process and practised
it a number of times.
How to change gears
Lets start by looking at a typical gear level that you will find in
Figure 1: typical gear level
It should be noted that different vehicles might have the reverse gear in a different
position (to the left of gear 1 rather than under gear 5). For this tutorial, we
will be focusing on a gear stick like that seen in figure 1, dealing with a gear
lever with the reverse in another position won’t be too difficult to adjust
How to practise changing gears
The next section will teach you how to select the different gears,
you should practise them firstly while the car is stationary and then try to put
the techniques in use while you are driving. Remember that you shouldn’t look
at the gear lever when changing gear whilst driving because this will distract you
from what is going on ahead of you on the road, instead practise changing gear without
looking at the gear stick when the car is stationary. You will need to have the
clutch down when changing gear or practising changing gear, more information can
be found in our moving
off & stopping tutorial.
When the car is in neutral position, no gear is selected. The car should be in neutral
if it is parked up and turned off and not parked on a hill. You will need to make
sure that your vehicle is in neutral before you start your engine, and also just
before you turn your vehicle off. The video below shows the gear lever in neutral
and how to check it is in neutral.
Selecting 1st gear
Fineline Driving Academy has also provided a full
tutorial on how to move a vehicle off from a stationary position which you can check
out in our moving off &
stopping page. This tutorial will just be focusing on how
to smoothly select each individual gear and go up/down gears correctly. To select
1st gear when the car is currently in neutral, you should use two separate motions
which are left and up. Try and practise this motion
in a friend or relatives car with the engine off and the clutch down, the clutch
will need to be down if you are practising changing gear with the engine on and
remember not to bring up it up again because the car will stall.
When viewing the video you can see the two motions (left & up) are not mixed
to make a diagonal motion but instead it is two separate motions. This theme of
using separate motions should be used when changing gears for the first few times
to avoid selecting the wrong gear.
1st gear to 2nd gear
To change from gear 1 to gear 2, there is a really simple motion of
left and down to achieve this. You must push left to avoid the gear stick springing
back into the neutral position, and pushing down at the same time as pushing left
will ensure that your car can only go into 2nd gear.
If you need to change from 2nd gear back into 1st then it is simply the opposite
to this, pushing left and up. With most new cars, getting back into 1st while the
car is moving will require a bit more force, this is perfectly normal. You should
remember that when you bring the clutch up after selecting 1st then it should be
very slowly or the car will shudder and drop speed quite suddenly.
2nd gear into 3rd gear
The process of changing from 2nd gear into 3rd is probably the most
trickiest and where most learners have difficulty at first, the following method
should be practised many times to ensure this gear change becomes a breeze. You
firstly need to put the gear stick from 2nd gear into neutral, let go of the gear
lever and then push up. Take a look at the following video to clear up any confusion:
To get into neutral you should very lightly push the gear out of 2nd gear so it
springs into its resting position which is in between gear 3 and 4. This only requires
a very slight nudge, pushing more severely here will result in 1st gear being selected
which you don’t want. There are two motions involved with this gear change,
you have to let go of the gear lever to make sure the gear is in neutral position
and then push up. This will ensure that you don’t pull the gear stick towards
you and select gear 5 by mistake.
There will be many times when you need to go from 3rd gear to 2nd gear, this will
involve a process that is the opposite to go from 2nd gear to 3rd gear. The following
video shows how to select shift down into 2nd gear from 3rd gear.
You need to select neutral, let go of the gear stick and then push left then down.
Our instructors at Fineline Driving Academy notice that many of
our learners struggle with shifting from 3rd down into 2nd, with 4th gear being
selected by mistake on many occasions. This is usually due to changing gear too
fast or not focusing enough on the gear change, this can be quite a problem if you
are approaching a roundabout for example and end up shifting up a gear instead of
down. If you use the motions we have described in the videos and practise gear changing
extensively then you shouldn’t have this problem whilst driving.
3rd into 4th
This gear change is very straight forward, you simply need to pull the gear lever
down without adding any push to the right or the left. The following video shows
a demonstration of this:
4th into 5th
This gear change is similar to changing from 2nd to 3rd gear, however it is slightly
easier because there is less chance of selecting the wrong gear. You should first
select neutral by slightly nudging the gear stick up and then letting go to make
sure it is in neutral, then pull the gear stick towards you and finish by pushing
up whilst still maintaining the pull towards you. The following video shows what
The slight nudge into neutral allows you to ‘start from scratch’, then
it is simply a case of pulling the gear stick towards you and then up. Note the
different motions involved with this gear change, letting go of the gear stick after
selecting neutral is important to make sure it doesn’t mistakenly go back
into 3rd gear which is quite common when changing from 4th to 5th.
Selecting reverse gear
We will be focusing our attention on a vehicle where the reverse gear is in the
same position as that seen in figure 1 at the start of this tutorial, some vehicles
might have their reverse gear on the left of gear 1. You can select reverse gear
after being in any other gear so we recommend selecting neutral and then selecting
reverse from there, like we have shown in the video below:
It is not necessary to change gear in steps of 1, it is perfectly
acceptable to block change gears such as changing from 2nd gear straight into 4th
or 3rd gear straight into 5th. Using this method, you will accelerate once when
in 2nd gear and again in 4th gear instead of three times when you are in 2nd/3rd/4th
gears therefore reducing the amount you accelerate and reducing your carbon footprint.
This is considered as ‘eco-driving’ and although it will impress your
driving examiner in your driving test, it is not necessary or expected because it
requires some driving experience to pull it off successfully. You will most probably
have block changed gears when going down gears rather than up, this can be done
when approaching a roundabout (for example 4th down to 2nd), or emerging from a
junction (going from 3rd to 1st). This saves the time of going through each individual
gear and shows your driving test examiner that you are competent with the use of
the gears in your vehicle.
Block changing up gears
You should only block change up gears if the situation suits it, for
example if you have just joined a dual carriageway where the speed limit is a lot
higher than your current speed, or on a slip road where you need to accelerate quickly.
If you are not travelling fast enough for 4th gear when you block change from 2nd
to 4th then the car will struggle to travel in 4th gear, therefore you should use
2nd gear to accelerate more than usual before you block change into 4th to ensure
a smooth gear change. There would be no need to go from 2nd to 3rd to 4th because
you are already at a speed which is appropriate for 4th gear so therefore block
changing is a economically beneficial way of driving.
Block changing down gears
Lets say you have come to a stop at the end of a road where you were
travelling in 3rd gear and you’ve had to stop to have a look at traffic on
the road you are joining, while you are looking you should select 1st gear and continue
when it is clear. This is a typical example of block changing down gears and you
have probably already done this before if you are learning how to drive without
even realising it. You may have done something similar when approaching a roundabout
where you might have been travelling in 4th gear and have block changed down to
2nd or 1st depending on traffic at the roundabout. The video below shows an example
of block changing down gears whilst driving:
When shifting down gears, you will notice the car slow due to engine braking when
your clutch comes back up. You can make engine braking as smooth as possible by
slowing down your vehicle with the brake pedal to make sure that your car has slowed
to an appropriate speed for the gear you have shifted down to. After all, it wouldn’t
be too clever to shift from 5th to 3rd whilst still travelling at 60mph, you should
slow the vehicle down at the same time as shifting down.
FINELINES guide to changing gears
Our guide to changing gears has been put together by our team of experienced
driving instructors who have used their years of teaching learner drivers to be
able to provide you with a guide that will help you master this skill. As previously
mentioned, practise changing gears in a stationary car firstly by looking at the
gear stick and then looking ahead, you should then put these techniques into use
while your vehicle is moving. We recommend getting tuition from a professional driving
instructor, why not give Fineline Driving Academy a
call on 0800 689 9558 if you live in the West London area.
Use this end of tutorial guide for a recap of what we’ve gone over in this
- Use separate and defined motions when changing gears like we have shown you in this
tutorial. It is very easy to select the wrong gear if you use other methods, or
begin using diagonal motions
- Be gentle when changing gear, this will prevent going into the wrong gear
- When changing gears, make sure you know which gear you are going into and think
about which motions you’ll need to select the correct gear
- It is perfectly normal to block change gears when shifting up/down. This should
only be done if it is appropriate in the situation you are in, more experienced
drivers usually use block changing rather than novice drivers. Its benefits include
increasing fuel efficiency by reducing acceleration
- Some vehicles have their reverse gear in a different position which might require
you to push down on the gear stick or pull up
- A hazardous gear change would be changing from 2nd to 1st when you meant to select
3rd, this will cause severe engine braking which will suddenly slow the vehicle
down without any brake lights showing therefore causing an issue for tailing traffic.
- If you are block changing down gears (for example 4th to 2nd), you should brake
at the same time to slow the vehicle down and reduce the effect of engine braking.