It is common for learner drivers during driving lessons and even the driving test to select the wrong gear whilst driving. The most common gears that are incorrectly selected is 1st gear when the intention was 3rd and 4th gear when the intention was 2nd.
Selecting 1st when you intended to select 3rd can be damaging to the clutch and gear box. If you select 1st gear at this speed, as you start to raise the clutch, you will hear the engine revs increase significantly. If you hear this, do not raise the clutch any further and instead depress the clutch fully and check your gears.
If you select 4th instead of 2nd, you will hear the engine may make a deep rumbling sound and it will be extremely difficult to gain speed. Again, if you hear this, check the gears.
Selecting the wrong gears isn't necessarily a test failure providing it isn't done to excess. The driving examiner will be looking at how you resolve the issue. If the wrong gear is selected, try not to look at the gears as much as it is tempting. Your main focus should be looking where you are going. Keep the clutch pressed down and select neutral to establish where you are and from neutral, select the correct gear.
Slowing down the car using the gears
Several years ago, when slowing down from a high speed to either a slow speed or a stop, you would need to go down through the gears before stopping. With modern cars this is not necessary. You only need to select a lower gear if you intend on driving at a slower speed.
If for instance you are traveling at 60 mph and up ahead there is a red light and you need to stop, gently apply the foot brake and cover the clutch with your left foot (place your foot over the clutch but don't press it). Gently increase the pressure on the brake until you are around 4 to 5 metres from where you intend on stopping. Depress the clutch and either just before you have stopped or when you have stopped the car, select 1st gear. There is no need to go down through the gears.
Using this method allows you to keep both hands on the steering wheel and concentrate on the road ahead. It is also the method expected during the driving test.
How to change gear
Your first driving lesson will involve the instructor explaining briefly what the gears in a car do and how to change gear.
Changing gears can be a difficult process for many learner drivers as it requires operating the clutch, keeping control of the car and observations all at the same time.
Before learning to drive, ask a family member or friend if you can practice changing gear in their car.
Ensure the car is turned off and all you will need to do is keep the clutch pressed to the floor. When you become proficient in changing gears, practice without looking at the gear lever.
The first few driving lessons you take will without question be the most difficult. You need to learn everything all within the first lessons. As each lesson passes however, it soon becomes much easier. Practicing gears and becoming confident with them before you start driving lessons, will benefit you significantly when the time comes to actually drive a car.
Car gear lever
Modern cars usually have 5 forward gears and 1 reverse gear. Gears 1 to 5 are always in the same position as detailed in the picture of the gear lever. Reverse gear is occasionally located elsewhere and may require a button to press before selecting it.
When you are proficient in changing from 1st, through the gears to 5th without looking, practice 5th back down through the gears to 1st until you are confident without looking.
Then practice block changing. Change from 5th straight into 1st, 4th straight into 1st, and 3rd into 1st gear. Now we'll look at the correct method for changing gears. When moving off for the first time, this is the most challenging and is often when a learner stalls the car. Each time a different gear is selected, the clutch must be depressed. The clutch should be raised slowly for the first time when moving off but can be released much faster from gear 2 onwards. See moving off for the correct use of the clutch and how to stop stalling a car for a further advancement in clutch control.
Neutral is a position where no gear is selected. During driving lessons and the driving test, ensure the handbrake is applied and the gear lever is in neutral before starting the engine. At the end of the driving test, also ensure the handbrake is applied and the gear lever is in neutral. There are several occasions during a driving test that the examiner will ask you to park on the left. When you have finished parking, again apply the handbrake and select neutral.
How to change gear - neutral
1st gear should always be used for moving off from a stationary position unless on a downhill gradient where 2nd gear may be appropriate. 1st gear is also often used with a combination of clutch control in slow moving traffic and manoeuvres during the driving test.
From neutral, cup your hand, facing away from you around the gear lever. Push the lever as far left as it will go and push up till it stops. This way you ensure you have selected 1st gear.
How to change gear - 1st gear
2nd gear will allow you to move faster, or if moving slowly in traffic, will be more economical than 1st gear. Can also be an ideal gear to move off from a stationary position downhill.
Learners frequently select 4th gear when they intended 2nd. From 1st gear, cup your hand around the top of the lever facing away from you, pushing the gear lever to the left and pull down. This eliminates the possibility of accidently selecting 4th gear.
How to change gear - 2nd gear
3rd for some cars can be an appropriate gear for travelling around towns at 20 or 30 mph. Learners can select 1st gear by mistake whilst driving instead of 3rd. This is dangerous if you lift the clutch as it will quickly make your car decrease speed without any brake lights illuminated.
To ensure you select 3rd from 2nd, as you push the lever up from 2nd into neutral, the gear levers natural position is to sit between 3rd and 4th, so by releasing your hand from the lever briefly when in neutral, the lever will sit directly between 3rd and 4th. Then simply push the lever up into 3rd.
How to change gear - 3rd gear
Another ideal gear for travelling around towns and cities. If your car is happy to drive at 30 mph in 4th, it will be a far more economical choice than 3rd. If on a faster road driving in 5th gear, selecting 4th will provide more power and speed to the engine if you need to overtake another vehicle.
From 3rd, cup your hand round the lever palm facing you and simply pull straight down.
How to change gear - 4th gear
Many cars can use 5th gear when driving at 40 mph upwards. 5th gear is to be used on open roads of national speed limits and dual carriageways.
From 4th, cup your hand under the lever and push up into neutral. Once in neutral pull the lever as far right until it stops and then push up.
How to change gear - 5th gear
How to change gear smoothly
It's very common for learner drivers to force the gears. How smoothly the gears change depend on the driver, the make of car and the quality of the gearbox and clutch.
Whilst learning how to change gear, generally you will simply need to gently guide the lever into the correct direction of the gear you are selecting and try not to push too hard. The more gentle you are when changing gear, the easier it is.
Gears are obviously parallel to each other. Learners can often try to change gear using all sorts of different angles. Ensure you change gear using straight lines and 90 degree angles as this will also make gear changing easier and will require less effort.
Changing gears and the clutch
Clutch control is generally only needed for first gear and reverse. When moving off in first gear from a stationary position, it's important to be gentle with the clutch or else you may stall the car. When the car has momentum, you can bring the clutch up much quicker from 2nd gear up to 5th.
Block changing gears
Usually when moving off from a stationary position you will select 1st gear and make your way through all the gears until 5th gear is reached. Occasionally you may find the need to go from 1st gear directly into 3rd gear. This is perfectly acceptable.
Block changing down gears, from 5th to 3rd gear for example, is expected. When you become familiar with the correct technique on how to change gear, the next stage for any learner driver is to gain an understanding for the correct time on when to change gear.