How do I change gears in a car?

This is a topic that gets the better of many learners. If you don’t pick it up quickly enough, it can get more and more frustrating.

How to change gears in a car

We’ll take you through all of the necessary factors to consider when changing gears while driving. Each section will cover every eventuality, giving you specific information on how to safely change gears in every situation.

When should I go up a gear?

The reason why we go up a gear is to go faster. When the vehicle is stationary you need the most powerful gear to move away, which is gear one.

As the vehicle increases speed there comes a point when first gear can’t go any faster, you will be able to tell, because your foot will be to the floor and the engine noise will become louder and louder. The moment it starts to sound loud and like the engine is straining, you should usually go up to the next gear.

when to go up a gear

Other clues when to go up a gear

  • Most modern vehicles have an indicator arrow when to go up a gear, usually green. When this shows, go up to the next gear.
  • You can also use your rev counter on your car, (see image above). If you are driving a petrol car, you would usually go up a gear around 4-5,000 revs. If you are driving a diesel car you would normally go up a gear around 3-4,000 revs.
  • Listen to the noises of the engine as well, if it’s get louder and louder thats your indication to go up a gear as well.

What speed do I need to achieve to go up a gear?

Unfortunately, every vehicle is different, so there isn’t one given time to go up a gear in every car. Faster cars with large engines will allow you to go faster in each gear. For example a Porsche 911 Carrera will allow you to go up to 30 mph in first gear and up to 50-55mph in second gear. However, a little 1.4 Ford Fiesta is completely different. First gear will allow you up to around 10mph before it sounds noisy and up to 20mph in second gear.

Here’s a basic guideline of when to go up a gear for most 1.o-1.6 litre engine cars.
(Cars like Ford Fiesta, Citreon DS3, Vauxhall Corsa, Pegeout 208, Audi A1)

  • First Gear = 0 – 10mph
  • Second Gear = 10 – 20mph
  • Third Gear = 20 – 35 mph
  • Fourth = 35 – 50mph
  • Fifth = 45 – 5omph onwards
  • Sixth (If available) = Anything above 55 – 6omph

The above guidelines will vary slightly depending on the road surface, weather conditions (ice/snow) and whether it’s up or downhill.

When should I go down a gear?

This is a little trickier. Firstly you need to understand why we need to go down a gear.

Many learner drivers think you should go down a gear to slow down. The dangers of using the gears to slow down is that the engine will force the car to slow down suddenly without notice. This is called engine braking. The dangers of excessive engine braking is that vehicles  following  you may not realise you are slowing down with the engine, increasing the chances of getting hit from behind. So it’s imperative you use the brake pedal to slow down and only when the engine revs become lower should you go down a gear.

You should only go down a gear once you have slowed down and require a lower gear (which is more powerful) to pull away again.

Timing the gear change down

So now you know you have to go down a gear to enable more power to pull away again, lets go through some examples of when you would drop down gear using a 1.4 Ford Fiesta as an example.

Approaching a large roundabout = You would normally be in fifth gear on the approach. You should slow down to approximately 30mph then change gear from fifth to third.

If the roundabout is busy and you slow down to less than 20mph, then drop from fifth gear to second gear. You would normally put your clutch down at 30-35mph then continue to brake to 20mph before putting it into second gear.

Approaching an Open T- Junction/Closed  = Lets say you’re on a 30mph road, you will usually be in 3rd gear on the approach. You should slow down first, before pressing the clutch. Once your speed is down to approx 20mph then push the clutch down, continue to brake to around 10mph, then put it into second gear and bring the clutch back up. You will need to keep checking the junction, if more traffic arrives then you may need to keep the clutch down longer, brake to less than 5mph and then place it into first gear. (usually closed junctions)

Can I put the clutch down early to avoid stalling?

This is known as Coasting, which is considered dangerous. The vehicle will often take longer to slow down without engine braking (Engine braking – when the clutch is up and your foot is off the gas).

Tell-tale signs when to go down a gear

As you continue to brake there comes a point where ultimately you need to put the clutch down and decide to stop or drop down a gear. If you continue to brake with the clutch up, eventually you will stall.

Little clues that your engine is about to stall are the following:

  • The engine noises will go from sounding quite loud to quiet.
  • The rev counter will lower. If you see the revs approach 2,000 revs or less, then consider putting the clutch down and choosing a lower a gear.
  • The last tell-tale sign will be when the car begins to judder, also known as lagging. The moment you feel the car juddering, you will need to put the clutch down immediately and choose a lower gear.
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