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Managing your speed, gear, engine, and direction

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Controls for foot, hand, and eye

Working upwards from the floor of your car, there are three types of control:

  • operated by foot (accelerator • brake • clutch)
  • operated by hand (gear stick • parking brake • steering wheel • indicators)
  • monitored by eye (mirrors • revcounter • temperature gauge • fuel gauge • speedometer)
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Foot controls

The foot controls or pedals are easily remembered by their initials A-B-C. Reading from right to left, they are: Accelerator • Brake • Clutch – An automatic car has no clutch.


The accelerator feeds petrol into the engine; it alters the speed of the car.

Use your right foot only.

  • Press the accelerator: the car goes faster
  • Ease your foot off the accelerator: the car slows down

Maintain a light touch. Press down or ease off in gentle stages. Imagine each movement up or down being just the thickness of a £1 coin.

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The brake operates pads that press on all four wheels of the car; they slow the car down.

Use your right foot only.
Since your right foot operates the accelerator and the brake, you can never use both pedals at once. At any one time you will be pressing the accelerator or the brake, never both.

  • Press the brake: the car slows down
  • Ease your foot off the brake: the slowing action eases off

Red lights come on at the rear when you press the brake. Drivers of following vehicles can see that you are slowing down or stopping.

Unless it’s an emergency, maintain a gentle and finely controlled touch. Use progressive braking. That means light pressure at first, followed by firmer pressure in the middle part of the braking, followed by a gentle easing off as the car comes to a smooth, jerk-free stop.

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The clutch connects and disconnects the driving wheels from the engine. The car can only drive when the clutch is connected (also known as engaged). Use the clutch when moving off, when changing gear, and when coming to a stop.

Use your left foot only.
The clutch is the only pedal operated by your left foot.

  • Press the clutch: the engine disconnects (disengages)
  • Raise the clutch gently: the engine reconnects (engages)

You can press your foot down soft or hard, but the technique for raising it must be precise. Lift your foot in gentle steps. Imagine each movement being about the thickness of a £1 coin.

The movement starts with the clutch disengaged. Raise your foot slowly till you reach what’s known as the bite point – the point where the two clutch plates begin to make contact. Bring the plates together extremely gently. Too fast and the car stalls. Once they’re engaged, lift your foot slowly off the pedal.

Clutch faults

  • Holding the clutch pedal partly down while driving is known as slipping the clutch. When you slip the clutch, the plates are not fully engaged, which leads to excessive wear.
  • Holding the clutch pedal fully down while driving is known as coasting. When you coast, the plates are not engaged at all; the engine is disconnected from the driving wheels. (1) Your control of the car is reduced. (2) You could gather speed on a downhill slope. (3) If you have to, you might find it hard to engage a gear suddenly.
  • Letting the car roll while the gears are in neutral is also known as coasting. It causes the same problems as the other form of coasting.
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Gears and gear stick

To make sense of the gear stick, you need to know what the gears do.

Gears control the way the engine interacts with the driving wheels. Your choice of gear depends on the speed at which you are travelling and what you want the car to do.

Gear and speed range guide
(novice drivers only – experienced drivers know the right gear by the engine sound)
1st gear: 0–10 mph
2nd gear: 10–20 mph
3rd gear: 20–30 mph
4th gear: 30–40 mph
5th gear: 40+ mph

Use of the gears
You can only do certain things in certain gears. You cannot use 5th gear to move off, and you cannot drive at 60mph in 1st gear.

  • Lower gears (1 and 2) are powerful gears for starting off
  • Higher gears (3 and above) are cruise gears for higher speeds
  • Reverse gear is for moving backwards

Moving off from a standing start takes a lot of power. That’s when you use the lower gears. As your car gathers speed, you change, step-by-step, into progressively higher gears for:

  • improved fuel efficiency
  • less wear on the engine
  • putting less pollution into the air

But if you move to a higher gear too early (i.e. to a gear that’s too high for the speed you’re doing), your car becomes less responsive. It feels slow to react when you press the accelerator. You should always feel some instant acceleration when you press your right foot.

The lower gears are also useful when you need a quick burst of speed for overtaking, and for climbing hills. Remember, the lower gears are more powerful.

Number and location of gears
Your car could have four, five, or six forward gears as well as neutral and reverse.

  • Forward gears: The pattern of gears depends on how many gears you have. Look at the diagram to see which gear stick matches your car. Whatever car you have, the layout of gears 1 to 4 is always the same.
  • Reverse gear could be at top left or bottom right.
  • Neutral is always in the cross-piece between gears 3 and 4.



Get to know the layout of the gears in your car. You should never look down at the gear stick to hunt for your chosen gear.

You cannot move the gear stick when the clutch is engaged. Before you move it, press the clutch pedal all the way down. Then move the gear stick towards your chosen gear.

The gear stick is spring-loaded to return to the neutral in the centre of the cross-piece. You can judge the location of all other gears in relation to this central position.

Changing gear – the palming technique
To ease you into the right gear, use the ‘palming technique’. Wrap your hand around the knob of the gear stick as shown in the diagrams.

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For gears 1 and 2, palm away from you Parking brake

The parking brake locks the back wheels when the car is standing still. Because it locks the wheels tight, you should never use the parking brake when the car is moving. If you do, the car will skid.

Apply the parking brake when:

  • your car is parked
  • your car stops in traffic long enough for you to be waiting, not pausing
  • your car is the first one waiting at a railway or pedestrian crossing

Use your left hand for the parking brake.

  • To apply the brake, press the button fully in with your thumb, then raise the lever until it feels tight. Release the button. The (!) symbol on the dashboard lights up when the parking brake is on.
  • To release the brake, raise the lever slightly, then press the button fully in with your thumb before lowering the lever as far as it will go. Release the button. If the light doesn’t go out on the (!) symbol, you have not lowered the lever all the way.

Parking brake faults

  • Not raising the parking brake lever high enough. Your car can still roll if the parking brake is not fully applied.
  • Not lowering the parking brake all the way. You can still drive with the parking brake partly applied, but it wears the brakes and the engine.
  • Not pressing in the button when you raise or lower the lever wears the metal of the ratchet mechanism. The clicking sound you hear is the teeth of a ratchet.

When turning right

  1.  Pull down with your right hand while sliding down with your left.
  2. Then push upwards with your left hand while sliding upwards with your right.
  3. Now pull down with your right again while sliding down with your left.
  4. Continue the sequence, or reverse it to come out of the turn.

When turning left

  1. Pull down with your left hand while sliding down with your right.
  2. Then push upwards with your right hand while sliding upwards with your left.
  3. Now pull down with your left again while sliding down with your right.
  4. Continue the sequence, or reverse it to come out of the turn.

In each case the movements alternate in an easy rhythm. Before your hands go too far, switch from push to pull (or pull to push) to return them to the starting point.

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