How to Drive a Car - Manual & Automatic

Team CARS24
Team CARS24

Updated on: 1st February, 2024 IST

How to drive a car

Congratulations! You're 18 and of age to drive, and the open road beckons! However, there's the small matter of learning how to drive a car before you can hit the road. But don't sweat it; driving isn't difficult; all it needs is a little understanding and practice. We've listed some basic instructions below to help you on your journey – both literally and figuratively!

How to Drive an Automatic Car

How to Drive an Automatic Car

Did you know that an automatic car is short for a ‘car with an automatic gearbox’? The use of this automatic gearbox is as simple as shifting the gear to ‘D’ and letting the car take care of the rest.

Let's look at how to use automatic car gears:

● ‘P’ stands for ‘Park’. This is what you shift the gear to once you’re done driving. It locks the transmission so that the wheels cannot move.

● ‘R’ stands for ‘Reverse’.

● ‘N’ stands for ‘Neutral’. This disconnects the engine from the wheels, just like the neutral option in a manual gearbox.

● 'D’ stands for ‘Drive’. This is the mode you select when you want to go forward. The car will select the appropriate gear while driving on its own.

Read More - Automatic vs Manual Transmission Car

A few details may differ with the gear shifter in different car models; some AMTs (Automated Manual Transmissions, which we talk about later in this article) do not have a Park mode. Other automatic gearboxes will allow you to manually control the gear while driving, so there might be ‘M’ and/or ‘+’ and ‘-‘ signs either on the gear lever itself, at the base, on the buttons on the lever, or on the paddles behind the steering wheel.

Some automatic cars will have numbers counting down from ‘D’, like ‘3’, ‘2’, and ‘1’. Others will have ‘S’ (Sport) and ‘L’ (Low) modes. Some gear levers will have a single button on the top. Remember to always engage the parking brake when you park if your car’s automatic gearbox doesn’t have a 'Park' option!

Automatic gearboxes select gears themselves, thus freeing up your left arm and leg, as well as letting you focus your attention on the road. Attention is at a premium when you’re a beginner driver, which means driving an automatic car will definitely be helpful for you.

Different Types of Automatic Gearboxes

Conventional automatic gearboxes

Also known as torque converters, conventional automatic gearboxeshave technology that has been around for as long as there have been automatic transmissions in cars. Toyota’s Innova has a conventional torque converter automatic, whereas the Kia Sonet diesel has a more modern version of the technology called a lockup torque converter.

Pros: Extremely reliable

Cons: Might not be as responsive or fuel-efficient as other kinds of gearboxes

Continuously variable transmission (CVT)

This is the same kind of gearbox that is present in the Honda Activa and Suzuki Access scooters. The CVT gearbox is light, simple and has very few moving parts, as a result of which it is reliable. It is extremely fuel-efficient as well. Because it doesn’t need to change gears as other gearboxes do, there are no interruptions while accelerating with cars fitted with a CVT. The Honda City features a CVT automatic gearbox.

Pros: Reliable, extremely fuel-efficient, no interruptions in acceleration

Cons: 'Rubber band effect' where the car doesn't seem to accelerate proportionally to the engine revs

Dual-clutch automatics

Built originally for performance cars, dual-clutch automatic gearboxes ensure completely uninterrupted power to the wheels and some of the fastest shift times possible. They are extremely smooth but can be unreliable under extreme conditions. Volkswagen’s DSG gearbox is the most well-known dual-clutch automatic gearbox currently, while Hyundai and Kia also offer dual-clutch automatics in their products, labelled ‘DCT’.

Pros: The smoothest, quickest gear shifts on the planet

Cons: Might fail in extreme conditions; expensive to repair.

Automated manual gearboxes (AMT)

This is the most popular automatic gearbox in the Indian market because of its low cost of production. Unlike the other gearboxes mentioned here, AMTs are manual gearboxes with a robotised clutch. They were originally built for applications where a conventional automatic wouldn’t be able to take the load, like in mining trucks or tractor-trailers. However, their low cost has endeared them to the public despite their lack of refinement (and sometimes a lack of a ‘Park’ mode) compared to the other gearboxes on this list. All the most affordable automatics are AMTs, like the Maruti Suzuki Alto and the Renault Kwid.

Pros: Low cost

Cons: Limited sense of control

Read More - AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) Explained

How to start an automatic car

How to start an automatic car

Starting an automatic car is not complicated. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Make sure the gear lever is in ‘P’, or ‘N’ if 'P' isn’t available, and place your foot on the brake pedal.
  2. If the lever isn’t in either of these modes, you will have to press down the brake pedal and then move the lever to one of these modes.
  3. Twist the ignition key in the slot or push the button if the car has a push-start engine.
  4. With the brake pedal depressed, move the gear lever or rotate the dial to ‘D’.
  5. Move your foot from the brake to the accelerator and wait. Most automatic cars will start crawling forward without any input. In case it doesn’t, give the accelerator a tiny poke.

If you do it right, the car will move forward smoothly. It is very important to get the amount of throttle right or else the car will leap forward, making you panic. Practice giving the car the right amount of throttle it needs while it is at a standstill and the gear lever in neutral or park before you try driving.

Also, practice getting your right foot back to the brake in a hurry; you will need this reflex in case of an emergency when driving an automatic car.

Read More - Things you should NOT do while driving an automatic car

How to stop an automatic car

Stopping an automatic car is much the same as starting it:

  1. Get your foot off the accelerator and on the brake pedal.
  2. Depress the brake pedal gradually. A common mistake most beginners make is to let the momentum of the slowing car drive their leg weight forward, depressing the brake pedal more and more. Fight the car’s slowing momentum by trusting the seatbelt across your lap and increasing the brake pressure gradually.
  3. Once the car is at a standstill, you can move the gear lever or rotate the dial to ‘P’ or ‘N’.
  4. Engage the parking brake.
  5. Turn the ignition key to ‘off’, or press the engine start/stop button if the car has one.

How to drive a manual car (for beginners)

How to drive a manual car (for beginners)

Manual gearboxes give you full control of the car. Automatic gearboxes today are programmed very well but they will be only as good as their engineering. In India, over 90% of cars sold are equipped with manual gearboxes, so manual car driving is a necessary skill to have in the country.

How many gears do manual cars have?

The minimum number of forward gears you will encounter when driving manual cars is four, as seen in the Tata Nano. Most cars have five forward gears and, depending on how modern and premium you get, you may see up to six forward speeds.

How to avoid damaging the clutch

There’s a very simple rule you need to follow when driving manual cars to avoid damaging your clutch – use the clutch only in three situations:

1. When starting off from rest,

2. When changing gears, and

3. When coming to a rest.

The rest of the time, your left foot should be off the clutch pedal. Well-designed manual cars will have a ‘dead pedal’, which is a dummy pedal to the left of the clutch pedal; this is meant to rest your left foot on and keep your left ankle from stiffening up.

Modern clutches are operated hydraulically (an exception being the Tata Nano, again) so resting your foot on the clutch pedal can engage it only halfway, leading to excessive wear and tear, and consuming excessive fuel. If your manual car starts feeling like a CVT gearbox, you’ve got a worn clutch!

Keep the revs to a minimum

This is a common piece of advice handed out to beginners because it helps them keep a manual car from responding too aggressively to throttle input. It also helps save fuel, which is never a bad thing. However, if the car struggles to accelerate when you give it throttle, you’re in too high a gear and you should downshift.

Keep it smooth

The key to driving manual cars is to keep all your inputs smooth, whether you're accelerating, braking, or steering. Some people learn how to do this through dedicated practice, others acquire it with experience. As a beginner, you can improve by focusing on this aspect of driving from the very beginning.

Your vision of the road is key to being smooth – the further ahead you look, the more time you will have to plan for any changes in conditions. We do this unconsciously as well, which is why we get uncomfortable when stuck behind a large vehicle like a bus. It's because we can’t see ahead.

Finally, train yourself to pay attention to objects in your peripheral vision; it will prove to be a lifesaver while driving manual cars.

Starting off on upward slopes

The bane of a beginner driver's existence — starting on an upward slope from rest, can be handled easily with a little practice. Use your parking brake to prevent the car from rolling backward, then focus on the pedals as you would on level ground. When you feel the rear of the car start to squat, release the parking brake and voila! Your car will move ahead.

You will need a little extra throttle input and clutch work to prevent your car from stalling. You should practice this on level ground first and aim to move smartly away from rest. Once you can do this consistently on level ground, try it out on a slope.

Once you are confident, train for this manoeuvre without using the parking brake by moving your feet quickly. This is necessary because you never know when you might be driving a car whose parking brake doesn’t function well.

Read More - 10 Cheapest Automatic Cars in India


Learning to drive may seem difficult, but we promise you, it's not. Once you get behind the wheel of a car and get a feel of the road, there will be no stopping you. Look confidently ahead and drive on to the horizon!

If you're looking for more information on how to drive a car, check out these essential driving tips for beginners.


Q. How much time does it take to learn how to drive a car?

Like we learned in school, the more you practise something, the better you get at it. Learning how to drive an automatic car could take as little as a day while learning how to drive a manual car could take up to two days. Of course, we're only talking about basic knowledge here and you will have to attend a few more classes and practise some more to properly get a feel of the road.

Q. How do I use the handbrake when driving an automatic car?

Engaging the handbrake or parking brake involves pulling on it. Your automatic car might have it between the seats, near the bottom of the steering column where it meets the dashboard, or it might be a button with the parking brake sign on it. In any case, pull on it to engage it.

The release is different based on the type: if the handbrake is located between the seats, push the button at the top, then pull up a little and then push down. If the handbrake is located under the dashboard, you pull it a little, twist the handle and it will spring back into its original disengaged position. For a button handbrake, you push down on the button and it will turn the parking brake off.

Q. Is manual car driving easy?

Driving a manual car isn’t difficult, but it is harder when compared to driving an automatic car. This is because automatic cars have gearboxes that shift gears automatically while driving without the driver having to make manual inputs. In contrast, manual car gearboxes require lots of manual inputs from the driver to shift gears. But don't worry; with practice, you can learn the basics of driving a manual car in no time.

Q. How can you tell if someone is good at driving?

A good way to tell if a person is good at driving is to see if any of their passengers are screaming or throwing up! Jokes apart, if the driver seems relaxed and drives smoothly during normal road conditions, and nothing seems to surprise them into driving rashly, these are significant indicators that they are good behind the wheel.

Q. Can I drive a manual car with an automatic licence?

You can drive both automatic and manual cars with a light motor vehicle (LMV) licence as long as it is registered as a private or non-tourist vehicle.

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