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Get The Best out of Driving an Automatic

Passing your driving test in a manual vehicle, means you can then drive automatics. But for some, they never drive an automatic and just continue to drive a manual. In this guide we hope we can answer some questions and help you make the change from manual to automatic.


One of the biggest differences you will notice is that automatic vehicles have two pedals. You may also notice how the brake pedal is much bigger than it is in a manual. The other is that they have a mode selector instead of a gear stick. The way in which you select a gear could also be in different locations.

Gear modes

Automatic CarNot all automatic vehicles are the same with some being automatic and others being semi-automatic. Here is a list of the controls you may find


(N) Neutral

(P) Park

(R) Reverse

(D) Drive

(S) Sport

(+ or -) Gear 1 or 2 for steep hills


(1) gear 1

(2) gear 2

(3) gear 3



A semi-automatic enables the driver to drive the vehicle like a manual but without the need for a clutch. Once the car has reached the highest gear number you then place it in drive and drive it like a normal automatic. semi-automatic vehicles may also have gear changing paddles located behind the steering wheel. These are used with one side to go up a gear and the other side to lower the gears.


Turning the vehicle on / off

The other big difference with automatic is that when you park the vehicle it must be placed in (P) mode to switch on / turn off the engine. Unlike a manual vehicle that can be left in gear and the engine turned off with the clutch pressed down. Automatic vehicles will not allow the engine to be turned off unless in (P) or (N).

Gear selector positions

Generally, the gear selector is in the usual place as a manual, but many modern cars are different. Manufacturers are now utilising other positions and ways to select a gear. You may find the gear selector as a little wheel in the centre or where the right stalk usually is positioned. Always familiarise yourself with the vehicle controls before driving.

Foot positioning

If you are planning to continue to drive a manual at some point, then it is better to not use your left foot for braking. Automatic vehicles tend to have a footrest to the left of the brake. If this does not stop you from going for the brake pedal with your left foot, try tucking your left foot behind your right leg.  

Moving the vehicle

Once the vehicle is in drive or reverse, you may find that once you release the footbrake the vehicle starts to move. But this not always the case as some vehicles require you to press the accelerator before the vehicle moves. This is could be down to engine size and if the vehicle is petrol or diesel.

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Electric vehicles

The future of automatic vehicles is heading towards everything being electric. With advancement in technology battery range is increasing, but a better charging network is vital for it to work to full capacity. With an electric vehicle, unless you press the go pedal the vehicle will not move like in a petrol or diesel when in drive or reverse.

Do you need refresher lessons?

Generally, after passing your driving test in a manual, you will not need driving lessons to learn how to drive an automatic. Following our guidance above should have you driving confidently within a couple of minutes of getting in an automatic. Manual and automatic vehicles are similar with the only difference being that you have no clutch and no need to change gear whilst driving.

Fuel economy

The big thing many years ago was that manual vehicles were better on fuel efficiency than their automatic counterparts. Times have changed and technology has come along way, it is now possible to find automatic vehicles that boast 75+ MPG. With automatic vehicles available in petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric its quite easy to find an automatic vehicle to suit your budget.

Driving an automatic is much more relaxing and stress free compared to driving a manual. Without the need to change gear it is simply a case of speeding up or slowing down. With a close resemblance to driving a go-kart driving in an automatic is a lot easier.

for an in-depth guide from the RAC