When to Change Gear

Changing gears is one of the largest challenges faced by many learner drivers. Controlling the car, dealing with what’s on the road whilst using the clutch and changing gear represents multi-tasking on the highest level.

Once a learner has gotten a good idea of where to place the gear lever for any given gear without looking at them, they then need to know when the appropriate time is to do it. Although challenging initially, this task that many of us do without a second thought becomes considerably easier the more you try. Let’s look at some tips for making it easier for when to change gear.

The majority of learner drivers need aids or reference points to help them understand when or where they should do something. Knowing when to change gear is no different.

As you become proficient in knowing when to change gear however, you will depend on reference aids far less and know when to change gear simply by listening to the engine. When you have become proficient on the correct technique on how to change gear, the next challenge is knowing when to change gear.

When to change gear
When to change gears in a car

When to change gear from 1st

Other than on the occasional downhill start, 1st gear is always the gear we use when moving forward from a stationary position. We also us 1st gear when moving along in traffic queues at very slow speeds, which is usually combined with clutch control. In normal driving, as you begin moving off in 1st gear, you will need to change into 2nd gear almost instantly. Remember when moving off from a stationary position, you will need to release the clutch slowly else you may stall the car. See how to stop stalling a car for a further help.

When to change gear from 2nd

To give an indication on when to change into 3rd from 2nd gear, keep an eye on the speedometer. When you reach between 15 to 20 mph, change into 3rd gear. 2nd gear is often used for driving at slow speeds and is usually the preferred gear for making left or right turns.

When to change gear from 3rd

3rd gear is an intermediate often only used for increasing speed. Whilst accelerating in 3rd gear, when a speed of 30mph is reached change into 4th gear. Certain vehicles drive around town at 30mph in 3rd gear quite happily although it is recommended to use 4th to increase fuel economy.

When to change gear from 4th

4th gear is ideal for driving in cities and towns at 30mph as it is the most economical gear for these speeds. In most cars, reaching a speed of 40mph should allow you to change into 5th gear.

5th gear

5th gear is suited to open roads and dual carriageways. Using these reference points on when to change gear is an ideal aid for learning to drive. It does however involve taking your attention away from the road and onto the speedometer to establish when to change gear. This is perfectly acceptable for a novice driver over the guidance of a driving instructor. Ultimately however it is of course safer to change gear without these reference points and listening to the engine will in fact provide you with all the information on when to change gear.

When to change gear to gain higher speeds

There will be occasions during the course of normal driving, driving lessons and the driving test when you may need to reach a certain speed in a faster time than usual. A typical situation can be joining a dual carriageway where it is often essential to accelerate along the slip road to match the speed of the traffic on the carriageway.

This can be achieved by providing greater power to the engine by pressing harder on the accelerator and by reaching a higher speed in each gear before changing. By the time you are ready to join a dual carriageway however, it’s certainly not recommended that you keep a check on the speedometer to see when to change gear.

Listening to the engine is key here but avoid pushing the engine too hard before changing gear. In such situations the rev counter can be beneficial by ensuring the needle does not get to close or go into the red line.

When to change gear whilst slowing down

Whilst slowing down it may be necessary to change down a gear else the car may lose the ability to accelerate further due to an inappropriate gear or even possibly, you could stall the car. Whilst slowing remember the speeds at which you changed up in the first place, for example slowing down from 30mph to 20mph would be an ideal time to change from 4th gear to 3rd.

Remember however, if coming to a complete stop at a red traffic light for example, in modern cars you do not need and are not expected to change down through the gears. Regardless of the speed or gear you are in, you simply need to gently slow down using the brake and a few metres before you stop, depress the clutch and select 1st gear.


What gear for which speed

Each car has an optimal speed for each gear. The table below provides a general guide for what gear for which speed.

GearSpeed
1st GearFrom 0mph to 5mph
2nd GearFrom 5mph to 15mph
3rd GearFrom 15mph to 30mph
4th GearFrom 30mph to 40mph
5th Gear40mph upwards

Other tutorials related to car gears

60 thoughts on “When to Change Gear”

  1. Alicia

    What gear should you always start off in my dads always started in 1st gear, but my uncle came round and told him to start in 2nd gear, that 1st is very rarely used and is for going uphill, what gear should my dad start in

  2. Hello Alicia,
    You should always start moving off in 1st gear. You can move off in 2nd, but you would need to slip the clutch much more to prevent stalling. Slipping the clutch to excess means it’ll wear out sooner, so always start off in 1st gear.

    The only exception is if you’re moving off on a steep downhill slope, where you might start off in 2nd gear.

  3. Alicia

    Ok, thanks

  4. Alicia

    It’s just also with my father he’s quite heavy handed on the clutch when he starts the car, when he starts he kangaroo jumps that’s why we thought about the 2nd gear being easier

  5. You can try 2nd gear to see if it helps. But with 2nd gear, you’ll need to release it slower to prevent stalling and by doing this it’ll wear the clutch quicker.
    Is he ok in other cars or just this car he kangaroo jumps? If it’s just this car, then the clutch might need replacing or adjusting.

  6. portia

    When is the exact time to change gears especially when driving in town

  7. There’s not an exact time to change gear as each and every car is different and requires a different driving style. Generally, to get a good idea of when to change up, listen to the engine. As the engine begins to work harder and you can hear it revving, change up a gear. If driving in town and the car is unresponsive when you put your foot on the accelerator, you’re probably in too higher gear so change down.

    If going down hill, select a lower gear to allow the car to slow down using engine braking – this will save wear on the brakes.

    Keeping the car in as higher gear as possible, but allowing the car to also be responsive with the accelerator will give you more control and save fuel. So listen to the engine – this will tell you when to change up.

  8. sheetal

    WHAT GEAR FOR WHICH SPEED chart is applicable to all company cars? i drive Swift(petrol) by maruti suzuki in India. I usually use 4th gear till speed 60mph. Is this okay?

  9. Hi Sheetal,
    The chart is a rough estimate for learner drivers in the UK to know when to change gear. Each car is a little different, but generally for economy, change up a gear as soon as you can and when the engine is capable of doing so.

  10. Catherine

    My husband takes ages between gear changes and the revs are mounting to 4 but when I tell him he says he’s changing in time??

  11. If he is taking a long time, then he is also using more fuel as the car will slow down during gear changes.

  12. Alex

    can you redline gears and pass so long as you don’t pass speed limit?

  13. Hello Alex,
    They do take eco-driving into account on the driving test. If you red line it due to necessity; for example you required high acceleration to reach a high speed for joining a dual carriageway, that would be acceptable. But consistently doing so unnecessarily might result in some issues.

  14. Lydia

    Hi
    Which gear do I use when climbing hills

  15. Hi Lydia,
    It’s relative to speed and how steep the hill is, but generally you would use a lower gear because the engine has to work harder than usual. Using a lower gear (say 3rd instead of 4th for example) means you will have better control of your vehicle and the engine will struggle less to get uphill.

  16. Jen

    Hi.. Is it necessary to lower the gear in turns or slowing down by using brake is ok too?

  17. Hi Jen,
    Primarily you need to use the brake to slow down rather than the gears, but you also need to change to the appropriate gear based on your speed for making turns.

  18. Twice

    Hi, What,s the technique of moving off a traffic light or stop sign

  19. Hello Twice,
    They’re very different situations really. For stop signs it’s law that you must stop, so you’ll need to get the car ready in first gear. Stop signs are usually placed at ‘closed’ or blind junctions, so you’ll have to have a good level of clutch control and then creep and peep very slowly forward. See stop signs and lines.

    In terms of gears at traffic lights, generally keep first gear selected and ready to go with foot on brake if you think you’re in for a short wait. If the wait is a little longer and you’re still waiting after 15 – 20 seconds or so, apply the handbrake and remove your foot from the brake. Any longer than that you can select neutral (though generally avoid doing this if you’re right at the front). Always observe in your mirrors before moving off as cyclists and motorcycles can come from nowhere and always check the road is clear of other vehicles making a last second dash and pedestrians crossing before moving off. See traffic lights.

  20. Raf

    Hello,
    I drive Ford Fiesta 2017 (my instructor’s car) and when I am turning at junctions in the 2nd gear I quite often have to lower the speed from 12 mph to let’s say 7 mph, but the car then start to shudder as the speed drops below 10 mph and it’s very tricky to change the gear into 1st while turning at the junction. Is it because it’s Ford Fiesta? Thanks

  21. Hello Raf,
    All modern and popular cars are good at handling various speeds in all gears these days. Much better than they used to be. If the car is getting a little old or is very high mileage, it might be starting to struggle a little. 7 mph is a little slow for second gear, so if they are particularity difficult and narrow junctions you are turning into, you’ll just have to persevere with trying to get it into 1st gear.

  22. Raf

    Thank you. I failed my driving test because I struggled with changing gears. In normal driving I know what to do, but in the test environment I was very nervous and kept changing to 5th instead of 3rd, to 1st instead of 2nd etc which led to shudders and horrible noises and the examiner was not impressed. I was thinking because the car I was driving does not have any indicators in front of you showing which gear your car is in, maybe I should have my next test in another car, for example Mini, where there are not only indicators of the gears on the dashboard, but also arrows prompting to change gears. It would massively help me in my test I would think as I am always under a big pressure during those tests. What would you suggest? Thanks

  23. Hi Raf,
    Another car wont help you at all – you’ll still use the incorrect gear regardless of whether the dashboard indicates what gear to use. I would recommend a driving lesson or two where gear changing is priority – over varied road types. How you hold the gear stick also makes a big difference. Getting into the habit of cupping your hand and pushing the lever away for 1st and 2nd, pulling the lever towards you for 5th and letting the lever sit naturally in the middle for 3rd and 4th and simply cup under the lever to push up and above the lever to pull down. It’s quite robotic movements but practice it as it ensures you select the correct gear – don’t grab the gear stick at the top, cup your hand to the sides and push and pull it.

  24. Raf

    Thank you. I knew about this method, but did not pay attention to how to cup my hand as I did not really make mistakes with changing gears when I was learning to drive, but in the test my gear changes suddenly became erratic and I could not believe myself that I kept choosing wrong gears. I should defo learn how to correctly move my hand in while changing gears as in stressful situations like tests when nerves are putting lots of pressure on me at least the gear change would not cause me a trouble!

  25. Yes it will help in the test. Takes a bit of practice, but you’ll get used to it. Use this technique until you do it without thinking and after a while you’ll start to change gear more naturally and you’ll be selecting the correct gear. You can always sit in a friends or families car (with the engine off) and practice.

  26. Miriam

    How do you know when to change from one gear to another

  27. Hi Miriam,
    It’s all about engine speed. When changing up a gear, you listen to the engine and as it starts to rev higher, you change up. An instructor will tell you when to change at the beginning, but as you get used to it, you will know yourself.

  28. Comfort

    Please…I want to know the direction of de gears..as in which direction to change or go for 1st gear..(maybe left up)…2nd….3rd….
    Please help me out…
    Thankx

  29. Alesandro

    Hi how do I skip gears( from the 6th to 2nd when coming off from a motorway to a roundabout) without coasting and stalling the car? Thank you!

  30. Hello Alesandro,
    When coming off a motorway (let’s say at 70 mph), you would cover the clutch (place your foot over the clutch but not press it) and cover the brake. Apply pressure to the brake relative to how much you need to slow down before the roundabout. Just before the roundabout at around 20 metres / 15 mph or so, you will depress the clutch and go directly from 6th gear into 2nd gear. Then decide, based on what you see (on the roundabout) whether you need to keep applying pressure to the brake or continue onto the the roundabout.

    You would be using engine braking to help you slow down and would only depress the clutch just before the roundabout. Modern cars can handle this perfectly well, whereas with old cars, you would need to go down through the gears to prevent stalling.

  31. ian

    i googled and googled but your article is the only one who made me understand cause i didnt get what speed to change gears and why. what happens if you ride in like gear 4 at 20kmph for the whole ride?

  32. ian

    if you slow down to 10kmph in gear 5 and the speed back up what happens?

  33. Hi Ian,
    You will need to move from a stationary position and wouldn’t be able to do that in 4th gear, so it wouldn’t be possible as the car would stall. In terms of the driving test, you would need to drive at the speed limit providing it’s safe to do so. Going too slow will fail you.

  34. At that speed and in 5th gear, it will speed up very very slowly. You’d really need to put it in 2nd gear. Some cars might even stall.

  35. Nick

    Always start in first gear as it rides the clutch if you start in 2nd and eventually burn it out. Maybe on a downhill start you can but be careful

  36. Ali

    When downshifting, can you go from 2nd gear to neutral while braking instead of 2nd to 1st gear when slowing or stopping the vehicle?

    Does this cause damage to the engine or clutch?

  37. Hi Ali,
    In general, if you’re slowing down to a stop in traffic, you can usually slow down in whatever gear you’re currently in and then go directly into 1st gear. If you’re slowing down to park up, slow down in whatever gear you’re in and stop in that gear (with the clutch depressed just before you stop), secure the car (parking brake) then put it in neutral. You can block shift from most gears like this. The only reason you might need to downshift is if you’re coming to a stop and you’re in a high gear such as 5th or 6th. Modern car clutches and engines are very flexible these days so it doesn’t cause any damage. On may cars you can even block shift directly from 5th directly into 1st, but you need to listen to the car engine to ensure it’s not struggling.

  38. Gem

    1st gear as starting in 2nd can burn out the clutch

  39. John

    If your on 6th gear is it possible to go road speed like 20-30 mph

  40. Hi John,
    All cars are different and have different gear ratios that affect how they’re driven, but I think most cars would struggle at such low speeds in 6th gear. For speeds between 20 to 30 mph, I would think 4th gear would be appropriate.

  41. Asma

    When driving at around 40mph in 5th gear and you come up to a roundabout where you don’t need to stop and carry on slowly due to it being a roundabout can you go down from 5th gear to 2nd as my instructor has always advised me to have 2nd gear at roundabout and how you should go about with the brakes and clutch

  42. Hi Asma,

    Depends on the roundabout. If the roundabout is quite large and you are absolutely certain that it’s safe to carry on without stopping, you can go round the roundabout in 3rd gear. Most town sized roundabouts, you’d select 2nd gear as your instructor said. So yes, you can go directly from 5th into 2nd gear. Ensure you slow down using the foot brake to the appropriate speed for 2nd gear (around 10 mph or so), then just before the roundabout, select 2nd gear. The only point in which you need to use the clutch is when changing gear. Once you have changed gear, bring the clutch back up again. Ideally bring the clutch up just before entering the roundabout.

  43. John

    Best to start in 1st gear, that’s what it’s there for. Only use 2nd gear starting going downhill

  44. Mikko

    I just want to know if im driving on a long long way without any traffic and i am on my 5th gear (manual transmission) and i want to accelerate more do i need to change my gear to lower gear? And what gear is it?

  45. Hello Mikko,
    For overtaking, you would change down into 4th gear or for better acceleration change into 3rd gear (provided you’re not too much faster than 40 mph). If you don’t need to overtake and simply accelerate, leave it in 5th gear and press the gas pedal. Leaving it in 5th while accelerating wont make you accelerate as quickly as changing down, but it would be more fuel efficient.

  46. Varen

    Hi
    Can you do a sharp turn on gear 1?
    Thnks

  47. Hi Varen,
    Yes. First gear is an ideal choice for a very sharp turn as you’ll need to be moving slowly and first gear will provide better control.

  48. K HARISH RAMACHANDRAN

    Hi,

    Which gear is used during U-turn?

  49. Hello K HARISH RAMACHANDRAN,
    You would normally make a U-turn very slowly, so I would suggest 1st gear would be appropriate.

  50. K HARISH RAMACHANDRAN

    Thank you very much

  51. K HARISH RAMACHANDRAN

    Hi,

    During U-turn, should we gently release the clutch or push the accelerator in 1st gear. I found that car moves forward slightly while releasing the clutch especially during turnings.

  52. Depends on how slowly you want to go. To go very slowly, gently bring the clutch up to the bite point area with a little accelerator. By keeping the clutch in this bite point, or ‘friction’ point area means you moderate your speed by using your clutch and not the accelerator. On some cars you can get the car in motion just by operating the clutch only (there’s enough power in the engine simply by engine idle).

    So for going very slowly, it’s all about the clutch (slipping the clutch). If you want to go a little faster, you can fully release the clutch and moderate your speed using the accelerator.

  53. sus

    While i change down a gear in this case i don´t brake for the speed to match my gear? i know this sound stupid but i can gear down without braking? How do i down gear without using the brake or is always necessary to use the brake?

    my comment was in relation to this
    Hello Mikko,
    For overtaking, you would change down into 4th gear or for better acceleration change into 3rd gear (provided you’re not too much faster than 40 mph). If you don’t need to overtake and simply accelerate, leave it in 5th gear and press the gas pedal. Leaving it in 5th while accelerating wont make you accelerate as quickly as changing down, but it would be more fuel efficient.

  54. Hello sus,
    If you’re changing down a gear for the purpose of greater acceleration, you wouldn’t want to brake as it would slow you down more. I’m not too sure if you’re referring to ‘rev matching’ where you match the engine speed with the transmission speed? Rev-matching isn’t a technique that instructors teach learners, it’s a bit advanced.

  55. Hardik

    In reply to Alicia.

    You should start in 1st gear and then immediately after the car start moving change to 2nd gear.

  56. Gerald

    In reply to Alicia.

    You mean actually starting the engine or starting to shift from a stand still position?

  57. Ahsan

    In reply to Alicia.

    Your dad must start from 1st gear. As second in the start is not good for smooth running.

  58. Kalpan Chaudhury

    In reply to Alicia.

    1st gear is best for steep uphill because at first gear the car can use it’s full power. 1st gear is referred to as law of inertia. That is change in motion of a stationary object.
    Everybody should start any geared vehicle in 1st gear and then advance further.

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