Driver's guide to automatic cars

Wondering whether to buy an automatic car? Once you’ve read our guide, we can guarantee that you won’t want to go back to a manual.

Before you start

Did you know that automatic cars used to be only popular with elderly drivers and those who were unable to drive a manual? Crazy, isn’t it? These days, they’re not only easier and more relaxing to drive than a manual but in some cases, they can even be cheaper to run too.

If you’ve never got behind the wheel of an automatic before though, it can be quite daunting and a lot to take in with the lack of clutch and more options than you could imagine on the gear stick. There’s not much to it if truth be told. If you were to get in one tomorrow without any practice and you were to learn the basics here in this guide beforehand, you’ll be well away.

Here's how to get going quickly.

Get to grips with your gears

If you’re easily confused by letters and numbers then no doubt your brain will go to mush when you see an automatic gearbox for the first time.

In the world of automatics, the letters on the gearbox are PRNDL (pronounced as ‘prindle’) and this is what they stand for:

  • Park should only be used when you’re stopped and getting out of the car. It does what it says on the tin really, and don’t forget to apply the handbrake as normal too.
  • Reverse the same with this one too. If you’ve driven a manual then the reverse is the same as an automatic and you can select this one when going backwards.
  • Neutral this is the same as knocking a manual gearbox out of gear and into the middle if you like. It's not a good idea to select this when you’re moving as this is known as ‘coasting’ but it can be used if you're parked for a little while.
  • Drive it’s like magic this one! When you’re driving this will select gears automatically and allow you to keep moving.
gear shifter

Types of automatic

You probably don’t need to know this but we’re going to put it out there anyway for a bit of background.

These are the different types of automatic gearboxes on the market:

Conventional: This is anything from three to ten ratios, you’ll find that this is the most common type of gearbox out there.

Automated manual: the automated manual is a manual gearbox, but its operation is automated, make sense? Basically, an onboard computer changes gear and controls the clutch. It’s the sort of system that you would find a bit jerky, which is probably one of the reasons why it doesn’t tend to be very popular these days.

Continuously variable transmission or CVT: with no set ratios, this one requires a belt, which has a press-and-go experience. You can watch your car accelerate, listen to the noise it makes, which is connected to its speed and off you go.

Dual-clutch: this one also has two clutches instead of a torque convertor, fancy that ay? One clutch operates the gear you’re in and the other prepares the one you want to change to.

How to put your foot down

At its simplest, driving an automatic car is pretty easy, the confusion comes when we start talking about stopping and starting. Sounds silly, doesn’t it but it's true.

The basics of it are, put your right foot on the left-hand pedal (the brake) and put your foot down.

Start the car with your foot still on the brake, move the gear shifter to ‘D’ or ‘R’, depending on which way you want to go.

When you take your foot off the brake, you’ll find that you’ll creep forwards, which helps if you’re parking or in low-speed traffic. If you’re on a hill though or want to move a bit quicker, then of course you’ll need a bit more of an oomph.

Once you get moving, there’s not much more you need to do, except for placing your foot on the floor on the accelerate and forgetting all about it.

Your gearbox will select the correct gears for you, while you sit back and relax. All the hard work will be done for you and when you’ve finished your travels, if you keep your foot on the brake and shift it to ‘P’, and turn the engine off, jobs a gooden.

And that’s it! Congrats! You’ve had a whistle-stop run down on how to drive an automatic gearbox, (assuming you didn’t know how already).

If you've been a manual driver throughout your life so far and you're thinking of a change, an automatic could be a good idea for you. You might even want to take a look at electric cars too, they're lovely and quick and by 2030 manufacturers are going to stop the production of petrol and diesel cars anyway!

Whatever you decide, we're always here to help. So, if you have a manual and you'd like to sell your car so that you can get an automatic, enter your reg number below... It's quick and easy, best of all, it's free.

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