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For every 327 cars you come across, 286 are likely to be automatic. Gone are the days when driving an automatic car was a preserve for the elderly. People have realized automatic cars are more comfortable to drive and economical to own.
Switching to an automatic car from a manual can feel “weird” at first. The absence of a clutch pedal and the array of options on the shifter creates this awkwardness. You’ll marvel at how easy it is to master an automatic car once you try.
Here’s how to drive an automatic car if you plan on owning one soon.
The Automatic Car Guide
Before driving, you should have a rough idea of what to expect in an automatic car. Most gearboxes give you four options to select from. These are D (drive), P (Park), N (Neutral), and R (Reverse).
Selecting D engages the gears automatically, which makes the car move frontwards. R does the opposite of drive; it lets you go backward. You should select P only when you stop and plan to leave the car.
The P option prevents the car from rolling away by locking the transmission. N comes in handy when you stop for shorter periods. Think of it as knocking the gearbox out of gear in a manual car.
Some car models have gearboxes with two options – the first and second gear. Having both gears is advantageous in certain situations, such as riding in snowy conditions or down a steep hill.
The gears reduce the car’s revs as it goes downslope, thus keeping the car’s speed low. Engaging the second gear option on a snowy surface prevents the wheels from slipping. This way, you can keep the car steady and safe from crashes.
How to Drive an Automatic Car
Automatic gearboxes are pretty easy to use once you understand the function of each option. The confusion arises in starting and stopping the car, especially if you are used to driving manual cars.
Manual cars have three pedals, unlike automatic ones, which come with two. When starting a manual car, you’d need to press down the clutch pedal. So what happens when you want to drive an automatic car lacking this pedal?
You must start by pressing down the brake pedal with your right foot. Then power on the car using the start button or your car keys. Make sure your foot pushes down the brake pedal all this time.
With the foot still on the brake, shift the gear to the option you want. These usually are either the D or the R options. Note that the gear may feel stiff when you first try to shift it.
Make it easy to move by pressing the side button to unlock the lever if the gearbox is on the car’s floor. You’ll have to pull the lever towards your direction for the same effect if it is on the steering section. Slowly release pressure from the brake for the car to start moving.
Driving Using the Alternative Gears
After the “drive gear,” the reverse gear is the other alternative you’ll use. You must bring the car to a complete standstill before engaging this gear in case you are driving forward. Once the car stops, press on the brake pedal and shift the lever into the R gear.
Check your surrounding for any people or obstructions behind you before you set the car in motion. Remove your foot from the brake pedal gently if the coast is clear. Steering while reversing is the same as driving going forward.
Your car will turn in the direction that you steer the wheel. This is a useful tip, especially if you’re a novice or want to go for a driving test. This online resource has additional useful tips that’ll help better your driving skills.
Use the N gear only if it’s safe for you not to control your speed. Of course, this can only happen when you are idle in a traffic jam. Or when you have to tow your car when it breaks down.
The best automatic car should have other additional lower gears. You’ll identify these gears with the markings 1, 2, and 3. In essence, lower gears are the secondary in-engine braking system in the car.
You don’t have to slow down or stop shifting from D to the lower gears. Use gear one only when you anticipate moving at a snail’s pace. Lower gears save your brake pads from wearing out too soon.
Once you reach your destination, bring the car to a stop by applying gradual pressure. Then slide the lever into the P option. Switch off the car’s engine and every light that’s on.
The Parking Brake
Most manual car models have the parking brake at a common location. Don’t expect the same for automatic cars. Yes, some of them have the parking brake at the exact spot as manual cars; others, you’ll have to look for the brake.
Don’t freak out when you come across an automatic car with three pedals. This is because the left pedal (clutch), in this case, will be the car’s parking brake. Take extra care when driving these models not to press the parking brake while moving, thinking it’s the clutch.
Also, expect the car to move either frontwards or backward a little when you start it. You’ll experience this motion despite not pressing the accelerator pedal. This motion is known as creep and aims to give the car a little momentum to move once you release the brakes.
Driving an Automatic Car Is Easy
Automatic cars are no longer symbolic of people who can’t drive manual ones or people who are too old to drive. On the contrary, their popularity suggests they are the epitome of progress.
Learning how to drive an automatic car is easy and enjoyable. Once you learn the basics, frequent practice will turn you into an expert driver in no time.
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