Learning to drive in an automatic car

Lesson Type
Last updated: 12 Nov 2019

In 2012, 70,429 car driving tests in the UK were conducted in automatic vehicles. Compare this to the 1,569,069 manual car tests taken in the same time period, and you can see only a fraction of learner drivers opt for automatic transmission.

Although you can take your driving test in an automatic vehicle, you will only be able to drive automatic cars with your license. With a manual license, on the other hand, you are free to drive both manual and automatic vehicles, giving you much more freedom when it comes to buying a car.

How do automatic cars work?

In an automatic car, instead of the driver selecting the correct gear, the car changes up and down the gears automatically.

In place of the gear stick, there is a selector. This looks a little like a gear stick, but instead of having R,1,2,3,4,5 (and, on some cars, 6), it will usually have P, R, N, D, 1, 2, 3, although exact markings can sometimes differ.

P = Park This is the gear you should select when securing your vehicle.

R = Reverse This will lock your car into reverse gear.

N = Neutral When the car is in neutral you will not be able to move forwards or backwards, but the car won’t be secure unless you apply the handbrake too. You should select neutral when waiting at a standstill in traffic or at traffic lights in order to avoid unnecessary fuel consumption.

D = Drive You should select this gear for driving. When in drive, your gears will automatically change up and down depending on your speed and the incline of the road.

1,2,3 are, as you might expect, first second and third gear. Although you might not use these often, they allow the driver to lock the car into gear if needed. This can be useful when driving in adverse weather conditions like snow and ice, or when tackling a particularly steep hill!

So, why learn to drive in an automatic car?

Although the ratio of automatic to manual learners in the UK is relatively small, there is still a very large number of people choosing to take their driving lessons in automatic cars, and this could be for any number of reasons.

Automatic vehicles are much easier to drive for, for example, elderly and disabled people. Whilst getting used to the clutch is stress-free for some learners, many struggle to get to grips with the gears, and, in such cases, switching to an automatic car may well be the answer.

Automatic cars allow drivers to concentrate on aspects of driving other than clutch control and gear changes. It simplifies the learning process, making it much easier to get to grips with.

Things to consider before opting for automatic

Because an automatic license only allows you to drive automatic cars, you may end up having to pay more for your vehicle. As manual transmissions are currently the most popular choice amongst Brits, there may be less choice when it comes to second-hand cars, too.

Old automatic cars may also be less fuel efficient. New, modern models are fitted with the latest fuel saving technology, but older automatics may guzzle more fuel than manuals of the same age. This is partly due to the fact that you’re not able to select a gear yourself, meaning the gears might not change up as quickly as a person would do it manually. You also can’t perform block gear changes, as automatics will change, in order, up and down through the gears.

It’s up to you!

Every learner driver is different, and whether you want to learn to drive in a manual or automatic car is a decision which only you can make. Unless you’re 100% sure that automatic is the way to go, it might be worth trying out manual lessons first. After all, you might take to gear changing like a duck to water!

Image via Paulo Ordoveza.