Automatic car driving guidance for manual drivers
Introduction This document acts like a primer for drivers who recently moved from manual to automatic cars (and not vice versa)! It does not try to prove whether one type of transmission is superior to another (like most other manual vs automatic debate found on internet). It does not try to teach learners how to drive cars! Abbreviation used in this document: AT = Automatic Transmission MT = Manual Transmission TCS = Transaxle Control Module This document only discusses conventional hydraulic torque converter automatics. Operation in other AT (e.g. DSG/TipTronic/GearTronic/iShift etc.) may be slightly different.

Basic AT driving technique In AT, you will have only accelerator and brake pedals (no clutch). The gear selector will have P R N D 3 2 1 positions. P = Use when parked (apply hand brake along with) R = Use when reversing N = Use when in neutral D = Use for all forward normal driving. The car will select appropriate gear by itself. 3/2/1 = use when required (discussed later) Not all AT cars will have 3-2-1 mode. Some older models will just have 2 and L (=1) instead. Some might have + & - mode alongside. Remember, your left leg has no function while driving AT! Always keep it planted on left foot rest. Most AT cars will not start unless it is in N or P mode and/or you press brake during start.



You may hear about left foot braking on internet, but ignore it for the time being as it can be a dangerous manoeuvre unless you are experienced in AT for long time. Usually you need to press brake when moving selector between P and R. For other modes, you can move selector without pressing brake. When the car is in D (or other gears except P or N), it will move forward (or backward for R) at very slow speed (~10 km/h) even without pressing accelerator. This is known as creep. It is a typical characteristics of AT. In general, AT cars are more relaxing to drive than MT cars. That is why most luxury cars come with AT only. Modern AT cars offer same flexibility like their MT counterparts. A common problem drivers face when migrating from MT to AT is that during stopping/slowing down, their left foot reaches for non-existing clutch and they end up pressing brake pedal (as brake in AT is wider than MT) fully. This makes the car make an emergency stop! Be careful. Comparing AT with MT

Serial No


Manual (5 speed)

Automatic (4 speed hydraulic torque converter with planetary gearset)


Maintaining a steady speed - be it 20/30/40/50/60/70 MPH

Just control throttle via accelerator in appropriate gear for road speed.

Just control throttle via accelerator.


Uphill driving

Use lower gears.

Use 2nd or 3rd depending on steepness or slope Use 3rd gear and do not ride on brakes to prevent overheating of brakes With slight incline, car should creep in D so just press accelerator. Otherwise, use 2nd gear to move uphill from standstill and then gradually move to 3 (and/or D).


Downhill driving

Use lower gears.


Hill Start

Use clutch, accelerator and hand brake in sync.




Winding country road

Use lower gears.

Leave in D. If lots of uphill/downhill use 3rd instead. If surface is very poor, just allow the car to creep. Shift into N and then apply handbrake if required. P mode not recommended because if shunted from behind in P, transmission can get damaged. Shift down to lower gear but take caution that lower gear does not red line engine RPM. Usually TCM will prevent that anyway. Otherwise, just floor the accelerator which signals TCM to downshift. Press brake firmly if ABS activated. Use 2nd gear to start and move slowly on snow. You may just allow the car to creep.


Bad/rough surface driving

Use 2nd gear with gentle throttle (just over idle RPM).


Waiting at traffic light

Put into N and then apply handbrake if required.


Extra acceleration during overtaking

Shift to lower gear (without red lining engine).


Driving on snow & ABS activation

Press brake firmly if ABS activated. Use 2nd gear to move slowly on snow.


Slow speed manoeuvre during reversing and parking

Use 1st/2nd gear and clutch control.


Roundabout maneuver

Slow down, then speed up in 2nd gear if not stopping.

Just press brake to reduce speed. Speed up if not stopping. TCM will always select best gear depending on load and speed. So you can not override this. However, in cars with +/- option, you can


Prevention of unintentional downshift

Not applicable.



select relevant gears. AT does not downshift immediately when car speed is reduced. It down shifts, if necessary, when driver picks up speed again following momentary braking.


Driving in rain

Drive slowly in appropriate gear.

Drive in D but drive slowly.


When to put 1 2 3 mode manually?

Not applicable

Use 2nd to move from rest in snow. See other situations discussed here.


Stop start traffic

Shuffle between 1st/2nd gear and neutral.

Put selector in D to creep. Move to N when standing still (apply parking brake if necessary). You do not have to press brake while moving selector between N and D.

Use 3 but shift to 2nd even in slight slopes. 16 Towing a trailer/caravan See user's manual. ATF can overheat during towing. Avoid towing altogether if possible.


Stalling of engine

Happens when engine is labouring.

Should never happen in AT.


Stopping momentarily.

Depress clutch, keep in 1st gear ready to move on.

Just press brake while in D. Release brake and press accelerator when moving.




Parking permanently

Switch off engine. Put in gear. Apply handbrake.

Put in P mode. Apply handbrake. Switch off engine.


Being towed by recovery truck.

Put in neutral.

See user's manual for recommendation. FWD AT cars should not be towed with front wheels on ground.


Cancellation of Cruise Control (if fitted)

Pressing either clutch or brake overrides cruise control.

Only brake pedal overrides it.

Depress brake fully. 22 Making emergency stop Depress clutch and brake fully. This is a special case when you may use both feet on brake to apply higher than normal pressure on brake!


Skipping a gear

Often it is possible to skip a gear (eg. 4th to 2nd, 5th to 3rd etc.) while downshifting in MT.

In D mode, car will do it sequentially by itself. In override mode, you must do all gear changes sequentially (either up shift or downshift)


Jerky gear change

Can happen with improper clutch/accelerator control

Should never happen. If happens, it often indicates fault with transmission.

Redlining engine 25

Possible but it may cause damage to engine.

TCM will prevent redlining. But you can still reach high RPM by manually downshifting.


Operation of gears when engine switched off

Gears can be moved/operated when engine is off.

Ignition must be switched on to operate gear selector.



Extra maintenance for AT AT requires auto transmission fluid (ATF) be checked frequently (along with engine oil checking). But unlike engine oil, which should be checked when engine is cold, ATF should be checked when engine is warm (temperature gauge is between H and C mark). Also, AT is very sensitive to the transmission fluid quality and condition. Improper fluid type can damage the transmission. So it is mandatory that ATF changed at specific interval as per manufactuer's recommendation. ATF needs to manufacturer. be replaced at recommended interval as recommended by

Myths and facts about AT AT consumes more fuel. Modern AT is as much fuel efficient as MT (with same engine). AT will not have precise control over car. False - AT cars are as controllable as MT cars. AT will always shift gears at predefined speeds. Depends as in modern AT, TCM continuously learns driver's driving style. So, it can choose shift points accordingly. AT is more expensive to buy than MT True in Asia, Europe etc. Not true in North America. AT is much easier for learners. Absolutely true! There is no driving pleasure in AT cars! It is very much subjective opinion. I personally think AT cars can be as enjoyable (if not more) to drive than MT cars. One can also select gears manually in AT just in MT. There is no engine braking in AT cars. False - you can achive engine braking in AT by shifting to lower gear. AT shifts to higher gear at high RPM to avoid engine stalling.



False - modern AT with TCM shifts to higher gear often below 1500 RPM. When driver brakes from high speed, TCM does not shift down immediately. It shifts down, if necessary, again when driver picks up speed. So, it does offer engine braking like MT. AT's torque converter saps power. True that is why AT cars with small engines (1-1.4 L) is not good combination. AT is better with diesel engines than petrol engines. Since diesel engines produce more torque than same capacity petrol engine, the former will be better combination with AT gearbox. Though AT with petrol engines of at least 1.5 L should have comfortable driving experience. MT is more reliable than AT As AT is more complex than MT, there are more things to go wrong in AT. However, a well maintained AT should last lifetime of the car. Semi automatic (dual clutch/automated clutch) AT are generally less reliable than conventional AT. MT is always the best for any situation. Not really – there are some cases only an AT is suitable. In off road 4WD vehicles, there are some situations (e.g. hill descent) when car drives of its own without any user input for brake/acceleration. I think a manual would be handful in that case as it is very easy to stall the car.

www.enselsoftware.com Why AT is more comfortable to drive?


Please note, if you are doing fewer miles (< 10,000 miles/year) or 3+ hours of driving occasionally then you do not really need all these research. However, if you do around 15,000+ miles a year and spend at least 3 hours on driving seat every day, then understanding how human body behaves in longer journey helps save the body in longer run. To appreciate findings discussed here, you must be spending a lot of time on road driving a car. When you press brake or accelerator, your right foot does not need to travel much as you will rarely press brake and accelerator to the floor (unless it is an emergency braking or you are doing a drag race). On other hand, to change gear, you need to depress clutch fully to the floor (otherwise cogs will scream). So, your left foot needs to travel more than right foot. For long motorway driving, it makes sense to position seat so that your legs are properly stretched and you do not seat too close to steering (if you do, you will feel pain in legs within an hour). However, every time you depress clutch, your left leg travels further than right leg and it twists your body. For this reason, sometimes I need to reposition my posture in seat for best comfort. Also, throwing gear lever by left hand continuously (in stop-start traffic) twists body slightly on left. All these actions for a continuous period day after day put strain on back! An automatic saves this problem! There should be a foot rest besides clutch for left foot (most ATs have it and even many MTs have it too). But many cars do not have it. This is essential for longer journeys (both in manual & autos). This footrest allows the left lower extremity to exert effective counter-pressure for preventing the forward migration of the pelvis on the seat. This is one of the most important features to look for in a car if you do frequent long journeys! A Cruise Control helps even more on long motorway journey.

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