Orientation to the Car: You're in the Driver's Seat

This article is intended for general information about driving. You should never get behind the wheel and attempt to drive without proper training. Many states offer driving for the visually impaired, check with your state rehabilitation office for more information.

Have you ever been curious about driving? How do they do it? Is it difficult? Where are the gas and break petals actually located? Let's take a closer look.

Manual Transmissions

In a manual car, there are four or more forward gears which are used for speed control. The most common arrangement is in the shape of an H with 1st being in the upper left; 2nd is lower left, 3rd upper right, 4th lower right, and reverse is far far right and down. New cars may have up to 6 forward gears, look at the knob on the shifter to find the proper shift pattern for that car.

First gear is used to start the car from a dead stop (for example, at a signal), neutral (usually in the center of the shift pattern) is used when you need to have the motor on but don't need to be moving and second gear is used to slow down to make a turn. The last gear is reverse, which is for backing down a driveway or parking spot.

There are three foot pedals. They are, in order from left to right, the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator. The clutch is used when changing gears and is managed by your left foot. Your right foot alternates between the accelerator and the brake.

To make the car move, the driver will press the clutch down and place the shifter into the first gear position. They will lift their foot off the clutch, apply very gentle pressure to the gas pedal and at the same time, continue to raise the clutch until the car starts to move. They say this is the hardest part of driving a manual car. Master this and the rest is easy.

Automatic Transmissions

Simply put, an automatic transmission shifts gears automatically, whereas a manual transmission requires the driver to shift the gears. In an automatic, the driver will select the gear they want and the transmission will shift into higher and lower gears by itself.

Manual transmission vehicles come with a tachometer (located next to the speedometer) which allows the driver to see how hard the engine is working, so to speak. When the engine is pushing harder, the driver will up shift by pushing down on the clutch pedal with their left foot and move the gear selecter to the next gear up. Then they will let off of the clutch. When the engine is working less, the driver will do the same except move the gear selecter handle to the lower gear.

The gear selecter, or shifter, comes up from the floor to the right of the driver. It looks like a stick, which is why manual cars are often known as "stick shifts".


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