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.

Gear lever

Car gear lever
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 onward. 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 Find Neutral

1st gear

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 Find 1st Gear

2nd 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 accidentally selecting 4th gear.

How to Find 2nd Gear

3rd 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 Find 3rd Gear

4th 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 Find 4th Gear

5th 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 Find 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.

Selecting wrong gear on driving test

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.

Gear changing tutorials continued

Once you have correctly mastered the technique for changing gears, the following tutorials will aid you further:

16 thoughts on “How to Change Gear”

  1. Mimunatu Savage

    Thanks. This has help me so much on my driving exercise

  2. jonny o

    Been driving for 25 years, and I find this tutorial very useful even now

  3. srinivas babu

    very easy to understand and to keep it in mind good job keep it up

  4. suresh wadaka...

    its make me so easy to improve my driving skill…and so helpful for me…and I hope you will add more easy process for us.. thanks…

  5. Daniel

    Why twist your palm round for 1st and 2nd gears? Seems uncomfortable…

  6. Hello Daniel,
    It’s just for right at the start of learning gears as it helps to prevent accidentally selecting 3rd instead of 1st or 4th instead of 2nd – which is quite easy for learners to do initially. Using the palm to push away makes for more of a pronounced direction and less chance of mistake. After they get the hang of the gears, they can relax the hand position.

  7. Matt

    Is it a good idea to keep your car parked in gear rather than neutral even when not on a hill?

  8. Ian

    Learn in an automatic and all these gear shifting problems are solved!!

  9. I think that argument is becoming more valid now, especially with electric cars (no gears) gaining popularity.

  10. Neuman

    Automatic vs Manual which one is better?

  11. If you’re really into having complete control of the car, I’d say manual. But if you just want to get from A to B, then I’d say automatic.
    Automatic cars are widely available in the UK now, are much easier to drive and with electric cars soon becoming common place, it’s the future.

  12. Kudakwashe

    Educative indeed

  13. Pauline

    Im learning to drive at 62 .do you think thats to old to learn .I practise with a friend .but im getting gears mixed up .driving along changing gears is a night mare .my friend keeps his hand on gears to guide me .ist gear ok then second but third goes wrong .so frustrating

  14. Hi Pauline,
    No, it’s never too late to learn. Use the correct technique by making a point of cupping the hand around the gear lever and pushing and pulling the gear lever into place. For 3rd gear, you need to momentarily let the gear lever go into neutral and let go, it should then sit directly between 3rd and 4th gear, you then simply need to push the gear lever up into 3rd.

    I wouldn’t let your friend keep their hand on the gears to guide you because you need to feel the gears yourself. What I would do is to sit in the car, engine off, clutch down and repetitively run through the gears. Work your way from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th up to 5th, then from 5th down to 1st. You can look at the gear lever to start with, then when you get the hang of it, do it all over again but look ahead and not at the gears.

    Keep practicing this over and over again and you’ll start to get a feel of where the gears are. You can then move onto block gear changing; 3rd directly into 1st, 4th directly into 2nd gear etc.

Leave a Reply