Block Gear Changing

Once you have learnt the basics of how to change gears and when to change gear, the more advanced technique of block gear changing enables easier gear changing and is often required for the driving test.

Years ago due to the mechanical limitations of certain cars, block gear changing was either performed infrequently or not at all if the vehicle in question struggled. These days with modern electrical and mechanical developments, cars are capable of withstanding a wide range of driving techniques.

Whilst some are regarded as bad techniques and others good, block gear changing is a modern driving technique that has many benefits.

Whilst learning to drive, you should learn and be taught block gear changing by your instructor. Whilst some instructors may teach this to a greater extent than others, the most frequent use of block changing should be employed in driving lessons and the driving test.

What is block gear changing

The speed at which your car is travelling is relative to the gear your vehicle is currently in. Essentially there is little point changing into a gear that is not relative to the speed of your car, so you would basically miss out that gear altogether. or miss out multiple gears depending on your current or intended speed. As you increase speed, you will go up through the gears and as you decrease speed you will go down through the gears. Block gear changing can be made up and down through the gears.

Block gear changing up

Block gear changing up is not often used simply because it’s often easier on the engine to go through the gears in ascending numerical order. An example however could be that you’re traveling down a dual carriageway or motorway slip road and accelerating hard in 3rd gear. Reaching a speed of around 40 to 45 mph, you notice that the first lane on the carriageway is perfectly clear. At this speed there is little point in changing into 4th and makes better sense changing directly into 5th gear. Generally speaking, if your speed accelerates past the speed in which you would normally change gear, use the next one up instead.

Block gear changing down

Block gear changing down is frequently used, it should be taught during driving lessons and is expected during the driving test. A frequently used example of block gear changing down is whilst driving around towns and cities. You’re driving in 4th gear at 30 mph and intend on taking the next left turn.

Instead of using the gears to slow down as you would have many years ago, modern driving techniques suggest that you should use a combination of engine braking (letting the car naturally slow down) and physically pressing the foot brake to reach a suitable speed of around 10 to 15 mph to make the left turn. You will have no need for 3rd gear and can simply shift from 4th gear directly into 2nd gear.

Block gear changing
Most modern vehicles are capable of block gear changing down from 5th directly into 1st gear

Benefits of block gear changing

The benefits of block gear changing, especially changing up, is better fuel economy. Missing a gear when changing up if necessary will allow the engine to work easier and will use less fuel. Frequent use of block gear changing down will reduce wear on the clutch and gearbox, both being rather expensive to repair or replace. Block gear changing also allows for greater time for both hands to remain on the steering wheel and greater concentration on the road ahead.

Block gear changing and the driving test

Is block gear changing required on a driving test? To a certain degree it is although it’s not a rigid rule that must be implemented at any given chance. An example of when you would be expected to block gear change could be that you are traveling along an outer city or town road at 40 mph in 5th gear. A little up ahead traffic lights turn red and you will have a certain stop. You will be expected to keep the gear in 5th and to use a combination of engine brake and foot brake to slow the car down to around 5 to 10 mph and change directly into 1st gear from 5th in a modern car. Using all the gears in descending order to slow the vehicle is a great deal of work for the vehicle, for you, will detract from your concentration of the road ahead and is basically unnecessary.

Failure to incorporate block gear changing during a driving test won’t necessarily fail you although it depends on the frequency and necessity. So essentially if the examiner feels that a lack of correct use of block gear changing or an absence of it affected the ability for you to drive safely, then it could likely result in 3 or more minors being accrued for ‘control – use of gears’ on the driving test report sheet and result in a test failure. See driving test report explained for further information.

How to block gear change

How to block gear change depends on the vehicle being used, its capabilities, the road conditions and the speed at which you are traveling. These however are the most frequently used block gear change:

Making left or right turns
Town and city roads 30 to 40 mph can be driven in 4th or 5th gear and left or right turns are often taken in 2nd gear. From which ever current gear, slowdown in plenty of time to around 10 mph and change directly into 2nd gear. Very narrow or closed junctions may require a direct change into 1st gear where the car speed will need to be reduced to 2 to 5 mph.

T junctions
This depends on the type of junction whether it is open or closed (if you can see enough to continue or need to stop). See junctions for further information. Approaching a closed junction in 3rd or 4th gear will require that you block gear change directly from your current gear into 1st at 5 mph and under.

Coming to a stop
Regardless of the current gear, most modern cars allow you to continuously slow the vehicle naturally and using the foot brake from whatever speed originally to then be slow enough to engage 1st gear. There are other forms of block gear changing although those are the most commonly used and is recommended to use during a driving test. As you progress in your driving skills you may at some point wish to overtake another vehicle.

A common block gear change although unlikely to be used in driving lessons or the driving test is to change down from 5th gear into 3rd. If driving at around 40 mph, this will provide a significant amount of power to the engine and allow you to accelerate quicker past a vehicle. It also significantly decreases fuel consumption however. Block gear changing requires that you have a good understanding of how to change gear and when to change gear. To become proficient you will also need to become adept at anticipation and planning; involving judging the road ahead and dealing with it in advance.


Below are further gear related tutorials that may be of benefit for learning to drive.

13 thoughts on “Block Gear Changing”

  1. Mark

    When Block Changing gears ‘directly’ from 4th to 2nd etc., you don’t mention whether to engage the clutch or not. Is it assumed that the clutch is always involved in gear skipping? Thanks

  2. If “skip shifting” you should be double clutching and rev matching to prevent locking up drive wheels.

  3. I think unless you drive on a race track or drive like you’re on a race track, there’s little need to teach learner drivers about double clutching and rev matching.

  4. CGG

    Unfortunately I respectfully disagree. The examiner cannot fail a student simply because they prefer not to use block gear changing. Indeed, a student is better placed to explain why NOT using the block changing method is more suitable to their driving style. Absolutely, modern cars are more than capable of coping with such techniques, but not every new driver will have access to a new modern car, indeed many venture towards older classics such as a Mini or Beetle. It is important that students learn to drive and appreciate what the vehicle is telling them. The tune of the engine notifies the driver when to change gear and ensures a smoother controlled slowing down/stopping. Indeed, the vast majority of newly passed drivers approach junctions and roundabouts simply too fast and needlessly rely on hard and heavy breaking, often resulting in approaching traffic having to dampen their brakes. More importantly, statistically, look at how frequent break pads are needing to be changed. One of the most important things I teach students, is to use their bottoms and interpret the vehicle feedback, don’t always rely on your eyes and hands. In my opinion, new drivers should all be tough to progress up/down through the gears and understand what is happening. Certainly in the UK, the driving syllabus is very good, but not all of it. I will always endeavour to teach students how to be effective (safe) drivers, NOT to simply pass an examination. An additional talking point – Is it a good idea to record the practical driving test? I’m not sure, whilst I appreciate there are those who feel they have been wrongly assessed for whatever reason and would welcome the opportunity to appeal a decision on video evidence. But is this a good thing? I value the experience and opinion of an examiner and firmly believe that they almost always make the correct decision based on what they observe in the bigger picture. A video recording does not always afford this opportunity. I do believe a GoPro is a good thing in a car however to ensure no inappropriateness takes place.

    To all new students/drivers, remember: You are in control of the car, the car is NOT in control of you and it is not going to do anything you don’t tell it too. Be confident, thoughtful and anticipate. The most important thing is; you a safe and sensible driver – Best of luck!!!’

  5. Hello CGG,
    Thanks for your opinion, but the article doesn’t state that the examiner will fail you if you do not block gear change. Indeed if you were to have a good, clean test and continually changed down all through the gears (not block gear changing), you would still pass. Additionally, if you were to take a test in an old classic car, the examiner would understand that the car will be driven differently when compared to a modern car.

    However, if anyone is learning to drive in a car that’s 20 years of age or less (that’s the vast majority), they should be able to block gear change – at least to some degree. Block gear changing is encouraged simply because it’s safer. Think how often you slow down or stop in traffic, it’s never ending. If you’re changing down through the gears each time, this is a lot more time spent with only one hand on the steering wheel while having to think about changing gear. It’s just not necessary. Use the brakes to slow down (that’s what they’re for) and concentrate on the road ahead.

    Block gear changing is far easier and simpler. You could argue that those that pointlessly change down through every gear offer up the potential for more gear related faults on a driving test, simply because you’re using the gears so much more.

    There’s absolutely no need for ‘hard and heavy’ braking. Those that do are simply not anticipating and planning ahead properly – nothing to do with block gear changing.

    I’d also highlight your point on brake pad wear. Yes, you may wear the brakes a little more, but each time you change gear, it wears the clutch – which is more expensive to replace than brake pads.

  6. David Foale

    I have to agree with CGG. Block changing was a thing they did in the old days with double clutching. I have been driving vehicles – cars, vans, bikes etc all my life since I was 17 and now I am 62. I have never used block changing and have owned 10 cars with between 100,00 and 130,000 miles on the speedo and never had to change or have a gearbox or clutch mended through over -use but I have had to change brake disc pads many times. My current VW Beetle has done over 150,000 miles without any gearbox or clutch issues. They are made to be used The sequential way of going through the gears makes much more sense as cars are designed to have the gears used at certain speeds. That’s why its called a gearbox. Learner’s need to get accustomed to changing gear without looking at the gear lever, and that’s a matter of practice as is any new task. I have tried block changing and it doesn’t feel right at all. If in 5th gear and you wish to slow down by taking your foot off the accelerator, the car continues at a given speed. You have to use the brakes heavily to slow it down rather than using the gears to slow down. One last thing is I have found it difficult to select the gear – ie 5th to 3rd or 5th to 2nd and had to look down to make sure I was selecting the right gear, taking my eyes off the road. Just wanted to give my point of view. As with any car issues Its always about careful driving, being sensible and kind to the car and other road users.

  7. Hi David,
    In terms of the practical driving test, the candidate can choose to change gears purely sequentially or by block changing. Provided either method is safe, then there will be no issues. Personally, I find block gear changing far easier. When changing down from say 5th to 2nd gear, why go through all the gears when you can use a combination of engine braking and foot brake to slow the vehicle, then simply go from 5th directly to 2nd. It’s less work for the driver and less work for the left leg.

    Additionally it’s less wear on the clutch, which often costs more to replace than brake pads. Each to their own of course, but the modern manual gearbox is perfectly capable of block gear changing.

  8. Andy

    Hello there I’m a fellow instructor and I used to change down through needless gears….until I started instructor training. I totally agree with the block changing method as its efficient has less wear and tear on the gear box and the clutch. Alot of pupils parents often question the block changing technique as they were taught a certain way when they learned and often question your teaching of this subject. I also agree that pupils should understand both methods as mentioned before they could be driving an older car. I for one think there is no definite right or wrong answer for this subject but unfortunately people get set in their ways.

  9. Hi Andy,
    Yes you’re right, there is no right or wrong way, but understanding the benefits of both methods is ideal. I do think however, that if your car is capable (most modern cars are), then if nothing else, block gear changing is simply a much easier way of driving. Why spend so much time pressing the clutch and shifting gears if there’s no need?

  10. Lee

    There are parts that I both agree and disagree with in this article and comments. I’m at an age when my driving instructor taught block changing when I learned to drive 26 years ago. I also learned with my dad, who didn’t like it in his car and taught me to go through the gears. I preferred the latter as I felt in control! I have a colleague who is learning to drive (block changing) and is often feeling the car is “getting away from them” or it is struggling.

    As mentioned, a gearbox is meant to be a sequential thing and I really don’t see how block changing up is more economical as there is an optimal load and revs in each gear to change up. You’re either over-revving or putting the engine under undue load at low revs (not to mention the pattern of a manual gearbox is designed with a natural flow). Changing down is similar. There are situations where you need to jump straight to a gear, but if you’re driving in a gear that’s too high, you’ll effectively be coasting and having to use the brakes excessively.

    As mentioned in one of the other comments, people approaching junctions too quickly and not in proper control is all too common, mainly from being in too high a gear. Do you even get taught to change down on a steep hill anymore or just put excessive heat into the brakes?

    As a seasoned driver, you can gauge the feel of the car, engine etc. But as a new driver, you can’t. Expecting someone to be able to intuitively select a gear from the speed of the car as a new driver is crazy. Poor gear selection is probably the reason I see so many people unable to stay in their own lane on a roundabout. They’re not in proper control of the car regardless of having 2 hands on the wheel.

  11. Hi Lee,
    You wouldn’t block change up gear too often. Perhaps if you were entering a dual carriageway via the slip road, you may need to accelerate quickly by keeping the car in a lower gear for longer, once on the carriageway, you could change directly into the highest gear. The same may apply for overtaking. But this varies on the vehicle you’re driving.

    Being able to effectively block gear change is good control. It saves time, particularly in busy situations, rather than having to go through each and every gear.

    Brakes are for slowing down, but it’s far more beneficial to use a combination of engine braking, along with the brakes to slow down. This takes the load off the gearbox and clutch. Brakes are cheaper and easier to replace. Plus when using engine braking effectively, it tends to make you slow down earlier and a little more steadier which helps to save fuel. Approaching a junction too quickly isn’t about the gear you’re in, it’s because you’re coming off the gas too late. In modern cars, you can slow down early on, keeping it in 5th gear, then directly into 2nd, or even 1st. Coming off the gas a little earlier on is the key. Each car is of course a little different and we need to listen and feel what the car is capable of.

    In a driving test you can change up and down gear sequentially if you wish, you wont fail for not block gear changing.

  12. Martin

    Hi, interesting discussion. As a former police class 1, including royal family and bullion duties, block changing is a key requirement for advanced driving, for all of the reasons stated above – cost of maintenance, fuel economy, maximising time the hands are on the wheel, and smoothness. Modern gearboxes generally now have more gears, so the ratios are closer together. This means the gain from sequential is now less, and is uncomfortable for passengers. I am teaching my son to drive and it’s block change, or ‘looping’, all the way!

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