How to Drive an Automatic Car

14th Dec 2021

By Kenny Longdon

Times Have Changed

Automatic cars were once slow, awkward to drive, sluggish and generally not very desirable. How times change, eh?

Today, you'll find an automatic transmission in almost every new car, with very few manufacturers offering a manual transmission as an alternative. And let's not forget supercars, with the latest versions all coming with a slick automatic/semi-automatic to ensure all their immense power can be transferred to the road.

The automatic transmission has gone from being dull and rare, to exciting and popular. But not everyone may know about the different automatic choices available, or how they differ from a manual. Below, we hope to clear a few things up regarding how to drive an automatic car, along with expressing other useful pieces of information regarding all things automatic.

Automatic Car Gears

Automatic Shifter

Most automatic gearboxes follow the same basic modes, which are as follows:

  • Park (P) - This locks the transmission and prevents the car rolling away if on an incline.
  • Drive (D) - This engages the car's drive, allowing the car to move.
  • Neutral (N) - This disengages drive, but will not stop the car from rolling away. Can be used when in traffic along with the handbrake.
  • Reverse (R) - This engages the car's reverse gear.
  • Manual (+/-) - This allows the car's gears to be changed manually via the use of paddles located on the back of the steering wheel or steering wheel column or levers on the shifter. It's sometimes a setting in (D) where by you shift the selector over, rather than up or down to enable manual shifting.

Some cars may also feature more options in addition to the universal P, D, N and R. City cars may feature a '1' and '2' option, which are essentially slower D (Drive) gears for use in town or within off-road vehicles to be able to climb or descend terrain easier.

Different types of automatic cars

Blue Volkswagen Golf R32, rear shot

Any car without a clutch pedal is considered an automatic. There are a number of different types of automatic car, so understanding them can be useful in selecting which automatic vehicle is right for you.

Conventional Automatic - Tend to be found in luxury SUVs where a 'torque-converter' is used instead of a clutch to smoothly change gear depending on speed and how vigorous the driver is with the throttle pedal.

Dual-Clutch Automatic - By far the most popular in modern cars. Uses two clutches to line up multiple gear options, allowing for seamless, ultra-fast changes. These types of automatic gearbox are found in many premium sports cars, and usually come with 'flappy paddle' shifters on the steering wheel so you can change gear 'manually' if preferred.

CVT Automatic - Uses a belt instead of a clutch for a smooth and economical experience. Used in hybrid cars making them even more efficient. Not ideal for performance cars as these CVT automatic transmissions don't sound great when pushed.

Automated manual - These work via a computer operating the clutch rather than a human, and are rare in new cars due to being rather jerky.

How to drive an automatic car step by step

BMW Auto

  • Before you start: You will usually have two pedals in an automatic car. An accelerator (on the right of the pedal box) and a brake pedal (on the left of the pedal box). You will not have a clutch pedal, like you do in a manual car.
  • Brake: Before you can drive an automatic, the brake pedal will have to be pressed in order to change the position of the gear shifter. This will also usually have to be pressed to allow you to start the car's ignition. This essentially confirms to the car's ECU (the car's brain) that you are in control of the car.
  • Drive: To drive the car, apply the brake and shift the selector to D (Drive), reduce pressure on the brake pedal to start the car moving forward, and apply for pressure on the accelerator for increasing speed.
  • Reverse: If you need to reverse, press the brake pedal gradually, until coming to a complete stop and select R (Reverse) to enable rear drive.
  • Manual Operation: For keen drivers, selecting (+/-) when in D (Drive) will usually allow for manual operation via paddles on the steering wheel.
  • Park: Finally, putting the car in P (Park) will ensure the car cannot roll away.

Are all electric cars automatic?

Hyundai IONIQ 5

Due to electric cars having no clutch, essentially all electric cars are automatic and again have a two-pedal set-up (IONIQ 5 pictured) of an accelerator and brake pedal. Some electric cars even brake if you simply lift-off the accelerator, which also in some cases can regenerate charge in the car's battery.

As with anything though, a test drive is always a great idea in getting to grips with any new technology and can have you feeling more comfortable with electric and automatic vehicles. Contact your local Evans Halshaw to arrange a test drive of any automatic vehicle.

General FAQs

Ford Kuga Hybrid

  • What are the advantages of automatic cars? Automatic cars are usually easier to drive due to not having to engage a clutch. They tend to be better on fuel too and from a performance standpoint, they are also quicker than their manual counterparts, as the car's brain can change gear quicker than that of a human. Automatics are also smooth, and cope a lot better in traffic, as some manual cars clutches become heavy in stop-start traffic.
  • What are the disadvantages of automatic cars? On the face of it, automatics have few cons, but enthusiasts argue that a manual transmission is more involving and fun to drive.
  • Are automatics more expensive to buy? This is usually the case, as an automatic transmission is more complex, so when buying new, if there is a manual and automatic choice, the latter is usually a tad more expensive. However, because manual cars are associated with sports and performance cars, when buying used, manual gearbox cars can sometimes command more than their automatic counterparts.
  • Are automatics more economical? Generally, yes, as autos tend to have more gears, some of which are set up to save fuel when motorway driving etc.
  • Can I legally drive an automatic? If you have a manual driving licence you can drive both manual and automatic cars. If you have an automatic-only licence, then you can only drive auto and not manual.

Find your perfect auto with Evans Halshaw

Automatic cars have become more and more popular over time due to their technology, ease of use, smoothness and performance capabilities. At Evans Halshaw, we have a range of new automatic vehicles, along with a large selection of used automatic vehicles, too.

If you require any further help regarding automatics, contact your local Evans Halshaw to discuss.