Common Mistakes When Changing Gear
- Holding your knob too tight when cornering. Too much sideways pressure and you’ll stick it into the wrong gear.
- Impatience with the gear shift means you’ll get snagged on the lever’s gate. Chill out: less haste means more speed.
- Accelerating between shifts. The engine shrieks, the clutch sizzles, pedestrians crane their necks and stare. Only use a hint of accelerator.
- Most people release the gas altogether when they depress the clutch pedal. The revs drop, then when the clutch is released and you accelerate again, the car jolts forward, or there’s a thud as the engine speed suddenly catches up with the road speed.
- Rushing the transition. If you whip your foot off the gas prior to the gear change the resulting kangaroo hop will have your passengers headbutting the dashboard. After taking a gear, if you then dump the clutch by suddenly taking your foot off the clutch pedal, everyone gets a second bounce off the dash as the engine abruptly reconnects with the gear. You finally pound your audience into their seatbacks by reapplying the loud pedal. It’s like Tarzan’s first driving lesson. Slow it down: release the accelerator pressure gently at first, but not all the way, ease the clutch, then gently reapply the power.
Changing Up a Gear
The hardest change is from first to second while accelerating. You have the most power under your right foot and the engine responds aggressively. It gets easier as you go up the gears, but the same technique applies.
You have to guide the gearstick through three phases: pulling out of first, crossing neutral and then taking second.
When you’re about to change gear, release some pressure on the throttle pedal first, to reduce the rate of acceleration. Then, as you come off the accelerator you start to depress the clutch, but for those seeking the smoothest change, leave a tiny touch of accelerator on to keep the revs hovering above idle and cushion the flow.
Float the gearstick from first through neutral and, as you move towards second, don’t rush it: allow half a second to pass as the next gear engages and gradually release the clutch pedal. It makes all the difference because this fraction of time allows the new gear to start jogging and synchronize with the engine speed. Once the clutch is fully released, you can accelerate away as swiftly as you like.
If you’re having trouble you can ‘short-shift’ by changing to second gear early at lower rpm to avoid kissing the dashboard.
A little patience as you change gear goes a long way towards achieving a smooth ride and will save a lot of explaining to your local mechanic as to why the gearbox contains so much shrapnel. Once you’re slick with the basics, your changes will speed up by themselves.
Slowing Down, Braking and Changing Down the Gears
On a good road trip when you’re cruising around traffic you should hardly need the foot brake at all. When you lift off the throttle, it cuts propulsion to the engine and the friction of these moving parts causes drag known as engine braking. It’s a superb tool for controlled deceleration.
Engine braking by itself will not stop the car as quickly as pressing the brake pedal, but by looking ahead and reading the traffic flow you can just roll off the gas and let engine braking do the work. When you do have to brake, the idea is to operate the pedal once with a consistent pressure, rather than a sequence of kangaroo jumps.
Where engine braking really comes into play is for slowing on hills and in slippery conditions.
If you’re driving up a hill, for example, you might need to change down from fourth to third gear to maintain momentum. With a speed of 60 mph in fourth gear, the engine might be running at 2,500rpm, but the corresponding revs in third at that speed might be 4,000.
You already have your right foot on the gas pedal, so all you need to do is leave it there as you depress the clutch. The revs will naturally rise from, say, 2,500 to 4,000 rpm. Slide the gear into third, release the clutch and then continue accelerating. There shouldn’t be a jerk, because you’ve matched the revs.
Conversely if you’re driving towards a corner or a downhill section where you don’t need to brake, you can control your speed by selecting a lower gear. Depress the clutch, raise the revs with the throttle, engage the gear, gently release the clutch and you will feel the drag of the engine help reduce your speed.