First time driving an automatic? 5 useful tips

First time driving an automatic? 5 useful tips

When you come to choose your vehicles for daily car hire, daily van hire, or even Flexi Hire, you’ve got a couple of decisions to make right off the bat. One of these will be the choice between an automatic or a manual. Now, if you or your staff have been driving manuals for most of your driving career, making the switch to an automatic might seem like a bit of challenge at first. Happily, there’s not an awful lot of extra stuff to learn, and experienced drivers will pick it up in no time. Here are a couple of top tips to get you off to a flying start. 

A different gearstick 

First things first, an automatic’s gearstick differs from that of a manual, and obviously you’ll spend far less time changing the gearstick when in an automatic. Usually, these cars will have at least 4 basic settings, so here’s a quick rundown of what they are and what they are used for:

Drive and Reverse - Self-explanatory. The main difference here is that unlike a manual, once your car is moving, the gears will be selected automati­cally, from second gear and beyond.

Neutral – reserved for stopping, be that at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Neutral disconnects the engine and transmission and therefore, shouldn’t be used when moving (i.e. coasting). Coasting is a particularly bad habit that some drivers can get into, especially given the prevalent but incorrect belief that it somehow saves fuel. Not only does it affect the driver’s reaction times, but can also wear out the brakes more quickly.­ 

Park – essentially neutral but with the gears locked, stopping the wheels from turning. This should only be used when you’re stopped, and you should also leave your car in Park so that you’re in this mode when starting the car. It’s particularly important on hills and steep inclines, to prevent potentially devastating ‘rollaway incidents’, which are exactly what they sound like. 

It’s worth noting that some automatics also have other gears, such as the option to select first or second gear, which can be used for travelling downhill. Some may also have a 'Sport' gear that can be used for greater acceleration as well as a 'Snow' or 'Winter' gear which starts up the car in second, making it useful for weathering wet and muddy terrain.

No clutch pedal

You’ll have probably guessed this one already - without the need for gear changes, there’s also no need for a clutch pedal. This is why automatics only have a brake and an accelerator. This may take some getting used to, as you no longer have to use your left foot to change gears. If you’re finding it takes a bit of practice it’s generally a good idea for you tuck your left foot behind your right just to get used to things. You don’t want to be hitting the brake and accelerate at the same time!

Be careful about ‘creeping’

Engine creep is basically the term used to describe the very slow crawl forwards or backwards that the vehicle will begin when you first start up the engine. Essentially this comes down to the lack of a clutch in an automatic transmis­sion, which means it never fully disengages. Thankfully, it’s a simple matter to keep on top of - all you have to do is make sure you have your foot on the brake. If you want to take extra caution, you may also shift in Neutral and the brake to make sure the car remains stationary.

Brake with your right foot

It can be tempting for some drivers to use their left foot for braking. With two pedals it makes sense to use two feet, right? But if you get into the habit of using both feet, what might eventually happen is that you end up using both to try and make an emergency stop, slamming down on the brake and the accelerator simul­ta­ne­ously. (It’s surprisingly easy to do if you’ve been used to using the brake and clutch in tandem until now.) That means that in the best case scenario, you stop successfully but cause some serious damage to the internal components of the car. In the worst case scenario, it might stop you from braking in time for the hazard in question. The consequences don’t bear thinking about. 

Take your time

Whilst we’re not suggesting that you have to relearn driving if you’re planning on hiring an automatic, it’s not a bad idea to take a bit of time on quieter roads to become acquainted with your car. The biggest differences from a manual come from the lack of interaction you’ll have with your gearstick and avoiding using your left foot in general, but these shouldn’t take too long to get used to.

Whether you’re looking for an automatic or a manual, you can count on us right here at Intack Self Drive to have the very best prices when you come to hire a car or van. If you’re considering something more long-term on the other hand, our Flexi Hire services are designed to give you the very best value on long-term hire. If you’ve got any questions or need anything clarified, you need only give our friendly team a quick phone call on 01254 57811!

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