How to drive an automatic car


Automatic cars are a great option for beginners because all the hard work is done for you. Instead of having to manually change the gears, or use the clutch, an automatic car does this automatically (hence the name). All you have to do is concentrate on the driving part.

With more of us switching to electric, you may have to learn how to drive an automatic after exclusively driving manual cars because the majority of EVs are automatic. But have no fear, this simple step-by-step guide will tell you everything you need to know about automatic cars and how to drive them.


Learning the automatic gear stick

First things first, before you do anything else, you need to familiarise yourself with the gear stick. Unlike a manual car, the automatic gear stick does not require you to change gears, but instead has four driving modes:

P - Park: The name speaks for itself. You use this when parking the car. So once the vehicle has stopped, you would shift the gear stick into park. This locks the transmission, preventing it from rolling (You still need to apply the handbrake). It should not be used when you’re moving.

R - Reverse: This works exactly the same as the reverse gear in a manual car and should be used when you need to go backwards.

N - Neutral: This is the same as not selecting a gear in a manual car. If you’re stopped for a short period of time, stuck in traffic for instance, this gear can be used along with the handbrake.

D - Drive: The gear that needs to be selected when you want to move your automatic car forwards.


How to drive an automatic car step-by-step


  1. Conduct your safety checks - You need to complete all your checks before setting off. Make sure your mirrors are in the right position, you can safely reach the pedals, and everything is in working order.>


  1. Put your foot on the brake - To ensure you are secure, it's best to keep your foot on the brake pedal. This is the pedal on the left in an automatic car. This helps prevent any rolling.


  1. Start the car - With your foot still on the brake, start the car by inserting the key and twisting it away from you.


  1. Put your gear stick into drive or reverse - You will find the gear stick in between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat in the front of the vehicle. The car should be in park when you first get into the car. With your foot still firmly on the brake, move your gear stick into either D (drive) or R (reverse) depending on how you need to manoeuvre when setting off.


  1. Push the handbrake down - Once the car is in drive, you need to push your handbrake down in order to allow the car to move. You may feel the car slowly start to creep forward if your foot is not on the brake.


  1. Begin to accelerate - In order to build speed you need to take your foot off the brake pedal and press down on the accelerator pedal. You can find the accelerator pedal on the right. Gently build speed until you reach the right speed.


  1. Keep both hands on the steering wheel, and don’t worry about the gears - The best thing about driving an automatic car is that the gearbox changes automatically without you having to do a thing. You simply need to concentrate on keeping both hands on the wheel, and your foot on the pedals, and drive safely. The gearbox will select the correct gear itself to ensure you have a smooth drive.


How to park an automatic car

Once you have reached your destination it's time to park your automatic car. This is a very simple process, you just have to follow these key steps:

  1. Begin to decelerate - Once you’ve found your parking spot, or are coming up to your driveway, it’s time to start slowing down. Simply check your mirrors, take your foot off the accelerator, and begin to brake. Make sure this is a smooth process, not a sharp brake, and that you have enough space behind you to slow down.


  1. Brake until you come to a complete stop - Continue to brake gently until you have got into position and come to a complete stop. Then change your gear stick from R (reverse) into P (parking). This will help prevent your car from moving.


  1. Put your gear stick into reverse - Want to get into that parking bay? You may need to put your car into reverse. Simply hold the gear stick and move it from D (driving) to R (reverse). Your car will then begin to move backwards when you drive.


  1. Once your gear stick is in P, lift your handbrake up - To ensure your car doesn’t go anywhere you need to pull your handbrake up. Simply hold the handbrake firmly and lift up until you feel it's secure.


What’s the main difference between a manual and automatic car?

The main visual difference between a manual and automatic car is that manual cars have three pedals and automatic cars have two. In a manual car you need to manoeuvre the brake, the accelerator, and the clutch, whereas in an automatic you only have to worry about the first two. This can make automatic cars less daunting to drive, especially for beginners.

You also don’t need to worry about changing gears when driving an automatic car as the gearbox does this for you. That means you can keep two hands on the wheel at all times, compared to a manual car where you will need to change the gears yourself. This can also be more comforting for those new to driving who may feel more secure driving with two hands.

Overall, automatic cars are designed to be easier to drive than manual cars. Therefore, if you are new to driving an automatic, whether you just passed or have switched to an electric car, then you shouldn't worry as it is less difficult to drive than the manual car you are used to.

Instead, take comfort in the fact that automatic cars are easier to drive, it just takes a bit of getting used to. You have our simple guide to help you get there!  You should also book a test drive so that you get used to driving an automatic car before making a purchase.

Request a Test Drive

Still not sure if an automatic car is for you? Visit your local dealership today and book a test drive to experience driving an automatic car for yourself.