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How to Change Gears in an Automatic Car


Although an automatic car handles almost everything related to the gears, there are times when you need to change gears manually even in an automatic transmission. These circumstances are such as when you need to overtake a car at a speed very close to you or when you need extra power to go uphill. Compared to manual transmission cars, an automatic car is much more popular because it shifts gears robotically for the driver. Many new drivers who are learning to drive a car prefer to buy automatic cars over manual cars because it’s easier to drive uphill without rolling back. In addition, it’s easier to drive because you don’t have to worry about the gearbox.

Automatic Car Gear Pattern

In the late 80s and 90s, almost all states in the U.S. requires everyone to learn to drive a manual car before they are able to get a valid driving licensed. In recent years, people in certain states are able to get a valid driving license as long as they know how to drive an automatic car. This happens not just in the U.S. but also some other countries such as Canada, Japan, Mexico, South America, China, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore and others. However, it’s vital to know the difference between automatic and manual cars even if you don’t plan to drive a stick shift forever.

change gear automatic car transmissions
Gear selector on different automatic cars

A standard automatic gear selector is usually come with four basic markings, they are P  for Parking, R for Reverse, N for Neutral, and D for Drive. Some automatic cars come with a small overdrive button located on the gear selector. For luxury automatic cars, it usually comes with extra markings other than the basic four mentioned. Normally you will see D3 (third gear), 2 (2nd gear), S (Second gear), 1 (first gear), L (Low gear) or other similar markings. You can change gears in an automatic transmission as long as you understand all meanings on the marking. Also, you can even make an automatic car tires spin once you have captured the idea.

Three Ways to Change Gears in An Automatic Car

There are three easy ways to shift gears in an automatic car. The first method applies to all automatic cars while second only applicable to a car that comes with overdrive features. The last method works on automatic cars with extra markings on the gear selector, for example, D3, D2, 1, D, and + or – signs.

Method 1: Step on the gas pedal

Step on the gas pedal as hard as you can to downshift for more power if you are going uphill or overtaking another car. Many new cars are designed to downshift for more power when a driver step on the gas pedal all the way to the floor. You will feel your car accelerates quickly once the gear is changed. On the other hand, you can also downshift a car by easing off the gas pedal. To upshift, simply give more gas to your vehicle.

Method 2: Use the Overdrive

The overdrive method is one of the easiest way to downshift an automatic cars. Activate the overdrive feature to downshift when you are driving at sustained speed. The car will give you more power with higher Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) to overtake any vehicle in front.

overdrive automatic cars

Method 3: Use the Extra Markings

Using the extra markings on your gear selector is one of the best way to change gears in an automatic car. First of all, you will need to study the number of gears you have in your car. There are 7 speed, 6 speed, 5 speed as well as 4 speed automatic transmission. Normally your gear selector will be at D (Drive) while cruising at a constant speed. To downshift, simply shift the gear selector to one speed lower than D, normally it will be S, D3, 2 or L. This is very helpful when you are going uphill or need extra power. Remember to shift the gear selector back to D otherwise your car will be maintained at low gear.

Last but not least, check out our step-by-step driving guide: How to parallel park a car, How to turn on car headlights, How to do a burnout. Alternatively, you can also read our complete car buying guide that you won’t find it elsewhere.

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