How to Drive an Automatic Car

How to drive an automatic car

In the past, manual cars were often the go-to option for new drivers. However, in recent times, the trend has shifted towards automatic cars. Many drivers are now choosing automatics, attracted by the convenience of not managing a clutch.

While automatic cars are generally considered easier to handle, they can still pose a challenge for those accustomed to manual transmissions. Our guide aims to ease this transition, providing a comprehensive overview of how to drive an automatic car.

We’ll explore the key differences between automatic and manual cars. Our guide will walk you through the steps of operating an automatic car and practical tips to enhance your driving skills in this domain.

This guide is essential for anyone making the switch. Whether you’re a beginner starting with an automatic, or an experienced manual driver exploring new territory, understanding the nuances of automatic vehicles is crucial.

Despite their relative simplicity, automatic cars have unique features that drivers need to be familiar with.

So, take your time as you delve into our guide and prepare to master the art of driving an automatic car.

Learn how Automatic Gearboxes Work

Before diving into how to drive an automatic car, it’s important to understand what sets it apart from a manual vehicle. The key difference lies in the gearbox. For those who have learned to drive with a manual car, the constant use of the clutch pedal and gearbox might be a familiar struggle.

In a manual car, you’re typically dealing with 5 to 6 forward gears, plus a reverse gear, requiring frequent gear changes while driving. This is a skill that often takes new learners weeks to get the hang of. On the other hand, when you take a seat in an automatic car, you’ll encounter a different set of gear labels.

Understanding these differences is crucial for a smooth transition from manual to automatic driving. Our guide will help you grasp the essentials of an automatic gearbox, laying a solid foundation for your journey into automatic driving.

Understanding Automatic Gearbox Labels

Automatic gearbox labels are crucial for anyone transitioning to or starting with an automatic car. Let’s break down what each label means and how it functions:

Automatic gearbox labels

  • P – Park: As the name implies, use this gear when you’ve parked your car and are about to exit. It locks the transmission, ensuring the car doesn’t roll away. It’s important never to switch to Park while the car is in motion.
  • R – Reverse: This works the same as in a manual car. Use it when you need to back up.
  • N – Neutral: Similar to neutral in a manual, this disengages the engine from the wheels, useful when stationary, such as in heavy traffic or at a red light.
  • D – Drive: This is your primary driving mode. When the gear stick is in Drive, the car automatically selects the appropriate gear based on your speed and driving conditions.

In an automatic car, the transmission adjusts gears on its own based on your speed and driving style. For example, when you accelerate, the car will shift to a higher gear. Conversely, it downshifts to a lower gear when you reduce your speed.

Some automatic cars come with additional gear options:

  • 1 – First Gear: Allows you to manually select first gear, useful for steep inclines or when you need more power at low speeds.
  • 2 – Second Gear: Similar to first gear, it restricts the transmission to the second gear, which can be helpful in snowy or icy conditions to maintain control.
  • S – Sport Mode: This mode provides a more dynamic driving experience, with increased engine revs and sharper acceleration, ideal for high-speed driving.

You may wonder why these manual override options exist in an automatic car. They offer drivers more control in specific driving scenarios, such as descending steep hills or navigating slippery roads, where maintaining a low gear is beneficial.

Some modern automatic cars also feature paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel. These allow for manual gear changes, giving drivers an enhanced feeling of control and a more engaging driving experience.

For a deeper understanding of the differences between automatic and manual transmissions and to decide which is right for you, check out our comprehensive comparison of automatic vs. manual cars.

Master the Pedals

Understanding the pedal setup in an automatic car is a fundamental part of adjusting to this type of vehicle. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Two-Pedal System: Unlike manual cars, automatic vehicles come with just two pedals – the brake pedal on the left and the accelerator pedal on the right. This setup is a significant change for those accustomed to manual cars, where the left foot is always engaged in operating the clutch.

  • No Clutch Pedal: The absence of a clutch pedal in automatic cars means you’ll be using only your right foot for both braking and accelerating. This is a departure from manual driving, where the left foot is actively used for the clutch.

  • Adjusting to Right-Foot Driving: Transitioning to using only your right foot for both pedals can initially be challenging. Drivers often find their left foot instinctively moving towards where the clutch pedal would normally be, particularly in situations requiring sudden braking or gear changes.

  • Avoid Left-Foot Braking: It might be tempting to use your left foot for braking, but this is generally not recommended, especially for beginners. The reason is that your left foot is not accustomed to the sensitivity required for the brake pedal, which can lead to either too gentle or too forceful braking. Until you become more familiar with the automatic setup, it’s best to stick to using your right foot for all pedal operations.

  • Building New Muscle Memory: The key to mastering pedal control in an automatic car is practice and patience. Over time, you will develop new muscle memory that aligns with the automatic car’s pedal arrangement. Start by practicing in safe, low-traffic areas until you feel confident with your pedal control.

Remember, the goal is smooth and safe driving, so give yourself time to adapt to this new way of operating a car. As you gain more experience, you’ll find the two-pedal system becoming second nature.

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Use the Gearstick

Operating the gearstick in an automatic car is an integral part of the driving experience. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  • Starting the Engine: When you first get into your automatic car, you’ll find the gearstick in the Park (P) position, and the handbrake will typically be engaged. To start the engine, you need to press the brake pedal firmly. It’s important to apply sufficient pressure, as being too gentle may prevent the car from starting.

  • Shifting to Drive: To begin moving, shift the gearstick to Drive (D). This is the primary mode for moving forward in an automatic car. Before doing this, make sure you’re still pressing the brake pedal to ensure the car doesn’t move unexpectedly.

  • Controlling Speed: With the car in Drive, you can start moving by gently pressing the accelerator pedal. Control your speed by varying the pressure on the accelerator. To slow down or stop, smoothly transition to the brake pedal. Remember, in an automatic car, you’ll be using your right foot for both the accelerator and brake pedals.

  • Manual Override: Although automatic cars are designed to select the best gear for any driving situation automatically, there might be times when you want to manually override the gearbox. This could be when driving in hilly terrain, towing, or during adverse weather conditions. In such scenarios, you can use additional gear options like 1 (First Gear), 2 (Second Gear), or S (Sport Mode) for more control.

  • Letting the Car Do the Work: For most driving situations, you won’t need to manually override the gearbox. The automatic transmission is designed to handle gear changes for you, adapting to your driving speed and style. This feature simplifies driving and allows you to focus more on steering, navigating, and observing road conditions.

Remember, getting used to the gearstick in an automatic car might take a bit of practice, especially if you’re transitioning from a manual car. With time, the process will become more intuitive and seamless.

What You Need to Be Aware of in an Automatic Car

Driving an automatic car does have its unique aspects and scenarios that require your attention. Let’s explore some of these:

The Creep Method

In a manual car, the biting point helps you move forward gently, useful in stop-start traffic or manoeuvres. Automatic cars don’t use a biting point, but they have the creep method.

This involves slowly releasing the brake pedal while disengaging the handbrake, causing the car to move forward slightly or ‘creep’. This technique is especially handy for careful manoeuvring in parking spaces or tight spots. When you’re ready to move more significantly, gently press the accelerator.

Heavy Braking, Corners and Bends

Switching to an automatic car requires adapting your braking style. Automatic vehicles typically lack the engine braking effect seen in manuals, meaning they don’t slow down as quickly once you lift your foot off the accelerator.

Therefore, you may need to apply the brakes more firmly and progressively, especially when approaching corners, bends, or preparing to stop. Planning is key: anticipate your need to slow down well in advance to avoid taking turns too quickly.

Hill Starts

Hill starts are generally more straightforward in automatic cars. You don’t have to find the biting point or worry about rolling back. To start on a hill, switch to Drive (D), lift your foot off the brake, and gently press the accelerator. Release the handbrake as you feel the car start to move. 

Downhill Driving

When driving downhill in an automatic car, the vehicle may naturally accelerate due to gravity and attempt to shift into a higher gear. However, in downhill situations, a lower gear is often more appropriate for control and safety. If your car allows manual gear selection, it’s advisable to switch to a lower gear.

If not, regulate your speed by easing off the accelerator and applying the brakes progressively. It’s important to reduce your speed in advance to maintain control.


On dual carriageways or motorways, you might find that your automatic car doesn’t accelerate as quickly as needed for overtaking. In such cases, the kick-down technique can be used. This involves firmly pressing down on the accelerator pedal, which signals the car to stay in lower gears longer, providing greater acceleration.

Maintain this pressure until you achieve the desired speed. Once you complete the overtaking manoeuvre, ease off the accelerator, and the car will return to a normal driving speed and select the appropriate gear.

Remember, while automatic cars are often easier to drive, they still require practice and understanding of their specific characteristics and controls. With time and experience, handling these different aspects becomes second nature.

The Benefits of Driving an Automatic Car

Driving an automatic car comes with several advantages that can make your driving experience more enjoyable and less stressful. Let’s delve into these benefits:

No More Gear Changes

The most apparent benefit of driving an automatic is the absence of the clutch pedal and the need for constant gear changes. This is particularly advantageous for those who find multitasking or coordinating clutch and gear changes challenging while focusing on the road.

An automatic car simplifies this process significantly, allowing you to concentrate more on your driving and less on the mechanics of the vehicle.

Reduced Wear and Tear

In manual cars, the clutch pedal experiences significant wear and tear due to frequent use. Over time, this can lead to costly replacements and maintenance issues. Driving instructors who teach manual driving often find themselves needing to replace their cars more frequently because of this.

Automatic cars, on the other hand, don’t have a clutch pedal, resulting in potentially lower maintenance costs and longer vehicle life.

Easier in Stop-Start Traffic

Dealing with stop-start traffic in a manual car can be quite tiresome and repetitive – shifting from neutral to first gear, managing the handbrake, and cautiously moving forward. However, in an automatic car, you can remain in Drive (D) throughout.

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This simplifies the process – you only need to lift your foot off the brake to creep forward. This ease can transform your experience in traffic jams, making them less frustrating and more manageable.

More Focus on the Road

While driving an automatic car still requires vigilance and attention to your surroundings, it does relieve you of the constant need to change gears and worry about stalling.

This means you can dedicate more focus to observing the road, planning your route, and reacting to traffic conditions. The reduced mental load can lead to a safer and more relaxed driving experience.

Additional Convenience Features

Many automatic cars come equipped with advanced features that enhance the driving experience. These can include cruise control for maintaining steady speeds over long distances, hill-start assist to prevent rolling back on inclines, and advanced safety features like automatic emergency braking. These technologies not only make driving more comfortable but also add an extra layer of safety.

Ideal for Urban Driving

Automatic cars are particularly well-suited for urban environments, where frequent stopping and starting, along with navigating through traffic, are common. The ease of handling an automatic in these conditions can reduce driver fatigue and make city driving more enjoyable.


For drivers with physical limitations that make operating a clutch difficult, automatic cars offer greater accessibility. This inclusivity allows more people to enjoy the freedom and independence that comes with driving.

In summary, automatic cars provide a range of benefits that cater to modern driving needs, offering convenience, reduced maintenance, and a more focused driving experience. Whether you’re navigating busy city streets or cruising on the motorway, an automatic car can make your journey smoother and more enjoyable.

Practice Makes Perfect

Mastering the skill of driving, whether it’s navigating junctions, mastering roundabouts, or excelling at parallel parking, relies heavily on practice. This principle is just as important when transitioning from a manual to an automatic car.

Adjusting to an Automatic

For qualified drivers who are used to manual transmissions, switching to an automatic requires some adaptation time. The absence of a clutch pedal and the different approach to gear shifting are the most notable changes.

It’s normal to take a while to adjust to these differences. During this transition, it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with the vehicle’s features and controls.

Learner Drivers in Automatic Cars

For learner drivers opting to learn in an automatic car, the journey might seem a bit different compared to learning in a manual. We recommend considering an intensive driving course with an instructor who specialises in automatic vehicles.

These courses are designed to cover all aspects of driving an automatic car, including specific techniques and strategies that are unique to automatic transmissions.

Benefits of Learning in an Automatic

Learning to drive an automatic can often be less daunting for beginners. The simpler controls allow learners to focus more on road awareness, steering techniques, and understanding traffic rules without the added complexity of gear changes and clutch control.

Developing Confidence and Safety

Regardless of your starting point, the goal is to become a safe, confident, and competent driver. Instructors can provide tailored guidance and support, helping you understand the nuances of automatic driving and how to respond to different road situations.

Practice in Varied Conditions

It’s also beneficial to practice driving in various conditions and settings. Try driving in different weather conditions, at different times of day, and on various types of roads. This will build your experience and confidence, preparing you for a wide range of driving scenarios.

Continuous Learning

Remember, learning doesn’t stop once you pass your driving test. The more you drive, the more skilled and comfortable you become behind the wheel. Keep an open mind to learning new techniques, and don’t hesitate to seek further instruction or refresher courses if needed.

Learner Drivers in Automatic Cars

Whether you’re a seasoned manual driver switching to automatic or a beginner starting directly with an automatic car, practice is key. Through consistent practice and the right guidance, you’ll not only pass your driving test but also become a proficient and responsible driver.

To take the first step in your driving journey, contact Rated Driving today on 0330 0439896, or book online!

Frequently asked questions

No, automatic cars do not have a clutch pedal.

The reason for this is that all gear changes in an automatic car are handled automatically, without the need for driver intervention. In contrast, manual cars require the driver to manually operate the clutch pedal when changing gears.

The absence of a clutch pedal in automatic vehicles simplifies the driving process. It removes the need for the driver to concentrate on clutch control, gear changes, and the risk of stalling the vehicle. This makes driving an automatic car generally easier, especially for beginners or those who prefer a more straightforward driving experience.

In essence, the automatic transmission system takes over the role of the clutch, seamlessly shifting gears based on the car’s speed and driving conditions. This allows the driver to focus more on steering, navigating, and responding to road situations, making for a more relaxed and potentially safer driving experience.

Starting an automatic car can feel a bit different if you’re accustomed to manual vehicles, but it’s quite straightforward. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Press the Brake Pedal: Before starting the engine, make sure to press down on the brake pedal with your right foot. This is a safety measure to ensure the car doesn’t move unexpectedly when it starts.

  2. Start the Engine: Turn on the engine using your key or the start button, depending on your car’s ignition system. Keep your foot firmly on the brake pedal while doing this.

  3. Select the Gear: With the brake pedal still pressed, move the gear lever to Drive (D) if you intend to move forward, or Reverse (R) if you need to back up. In automatic cars, these are the main gears used for moving the car.

  4. Release the Brake and Accelerate: Gently lift your foot off the brake pedal. The car will start to ‘creep’ forward or backward, depending on the gear you’ve selected. To increase your speed, gently press down on the accelerator with your right foot.

  5. Automatic Gear Selection: Once you’re on the move, the automatic gearbox will take over and select the appropriate gears for you based on your speed and driving conditions. There’s no need for you to manually change gears as you would in a manual car.

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Remember, in an automatic car, you typically use only your right foot to operate both the brake and accelerator pedals. It’s advisable to avoid using your left foot to brake, as this can lead to confusion and potentially unsafe driving habits.

These steps make starting and driving an automatic car a smooth and straightforward process, especially after you’ve had a bit of practice.

Yes, you can certainly jump-start an automatic car just as you would with a manual car.

If your car battery has run flat, perhaps from leaving the lights on, jump starting is a viable solution.

Here’s a general guide on how to do it, although it’s always best to refer to your car’s owner’s manual for specific instructions:

  1. Prepare Two Cars: You’ll need a car with a working battery and a set of jump leads.

  2. Safety First: Ensure both cars are turned off, with engines stopped and keys removed from the ignitions. Open the bonnets of both cars.

  3. Connect the Jump Leads: Start by attaching one end of the red jump lead to the positive (red) terminal of the working car’s battery. Then, connect the other end of the red lead to the positive terminal of the flat battery.

  4. Attach the Black Lead: Next, attach one end of the black jump lead to the negative (black) terminal of the working car’s battery. Connect the other end to a metal ground on the car with the flat battery, such as a bolt or bracket away from the battery. This helps to safely complete the circuit.

  5. Start the Working Car: Turn on the engine of the working car and let it run for a few minutes. This allows the battery to build up some charge.

  6. Try to Start Your Car: Attempt to start the automatic car with a flat battery. It may take a few tries. If it doesn’t start after several attempts, there might be another issue, and it’s advisable to seek professional help.

  7. Remove the Leads: Once your car starts, let it run for 5–10 minutes to build up the battery charge. Remove the jump leads in reverse order – black lead first, then the red lead. Ensure that the leads don’t touch each other or either car while still connected to one battery.

  8. Drive Your Car: After removing the leads, it’s a good idea to take your car for a drive to allow the alternator to charge the battery further.

It’s important to follow these steps carefully to avoid any electrical issues or damage. If you’re uncertain or uncomfortable with the process, it’s always a good idea to get assistance from someone experienced or call for professional help.

Driving an automatic car is generally considered easier compared to a manual one, especially for those new to driving or who prefer a more straightforward driving experience. The key difference lies in the transmission system.

In an automatic car, the gearbox automatically changes gears for you. This means you don’t have to worry about choosing the right gear or managing a clutch pedal as you would in a manual car. With these elements taken care of automatically, you can focus more on steering, observing road conditions, and navigating.

This reduced level of complexity makes automatic cars particularly appealing to many drivers. They can be a great choice in busy urban environments or for those who find manual gear changes challenging.

However, it’s important to note that if you pass your driving test in an automatic car, your licence will only be valid for automatic vehicles. To drive a manual car legally, you would need to take an additional test to upgrade your licence. This limitation is something to consider if you think you might want or need to drive a manual car in the future.

No, there is no clutch pedal in an automatic car.

This is one of the main distinctions between automatic and manual vehicles. In a manual car, the driver must use the clutch pedal to change gears manually. However, in an automatic car, the gearbox takes care of gear changes for you.

As a result, automatic cars only have two pedals – the brake and the accelerator. Typically, drivers use their right foot to operate both of these pedals. This setup can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have disabilities or limited control in their left foot, as it simplifies driving and makes it more accessible.

The absence of a clutch pedal in automatic cars not only makes them more inclusive but also generally easier to handle, especially for those new to driving or who prefer not to manage gear changes manually. This simplicity allows drivers to focus more on other aspects of driving, like road awareness and navigation.

There’s no difference in the practical driving test whether you take it in an automatic or a manual car.

The structure and requirements of the test remain the same regardless of the transmission type of the vehicle you use.

When booking your test, there’s no need to specify the transmission of the car you’ll be using. Simply turn up for your appointment with the car you’ve chosen to take the test in, be it automatic or manual.

The important thing to remember, though, is that if you pass your test in an automatic car, your driving licence will only be valid for driving automatic vehicles.

If you wish to drive a manual car in the future, you would need to take and pass the practical test again in a manual vehicle. This is something to consider when deciding on which type of car to use for your test.