How to Drive an Automatic Car

automatic gearshift in car

Although learning to drive an automatic isn't as complicated as learning to drive a manual transmission car, it still offers plenty of challenge. By learning as much as possible about the process involved in driving, and the possible pitfalls you may encounter, you'll become a safer, more successful driver. The following handy printable instructions will help make the learning process a bit easier.

Before You Start Driving

Before you start the car, it's a good idea to get familiar with the equipment and controls. This will help you feel confident when it's time to get on the road.

Gas and Brake Pedals

In an automatic car, there are only two pedals. The pedal on the right is the gas, and the wider one on the left is the brake. Press on them a bit with your right foot to get an idea for how they feel.

Steering Column and Controls

Now look at your hands. The steering wheel is obviously right in front of you, but take a second to find the turn signal and the windshield wipers. They are often on the right of the steering wheel, but depending on the make of your car, they might be on the left.

Gear Shifter

In an automatic car, the gear shifter can be located on the floor between the seats or on the steering column. Either way, you will likely see several letters and numbers running down the side of the shifter. The one on the top is labeled 'P' for park. If the car is off, this is where the shifter will be. The next one down is 'R' for reverse, followed by 'N' for neutral and 'D' for drive. Depending on the car, there may be a few numbers (1, 2, and maybe 3) below the 'D'. These are there so you can manually put the car in a lower gear if you need to. 'P,' 'D,' and 'R' will suffice for nearly all of your driving needs.

How to Drive an Automatic Transmission

Now that you're familiar with the controls, you're ready to practice driving. Look for a place without much traffic, such as an empty parking lot or a dirt road. Then follow these simple steps.

If you need help downloading the printable instructions, check out these helpful tips.

automatic driving guide
Print this free automatic transmission driving guide.

Starting the Car

In order to start the car for the first time, two things need to happen: the car must be in park and you must have your foot on the brake. So, with your right foot on the brake and the car in park, turn the key and start the car.

You should get used to using only your right foot for both the brake and the gas. This is so you don't get in the habit of riding the brake, which means that you rest your foot on the brake pedal even when you are not stopping. Riding the brake is a great way to wear out your brakes early, and you shouldn't do it.

Driving Forward

With your foot still on the brake, move the car's shifter down to D for drive. There will be a button somewhere on the shifter that you will need to press in order to move the shifter out of park. Once the car is in drive, slowly release the brake. You will feel the car start to move even if you don't have your foot on the gas. This is because the car is in gear and is ready to go.

Go ahead and press down slowly on the gas to speed up. Your car will automatically shift through the gears as you increase your speed.

Slowing Down and Stopping

To slow down, you just need to press down on the brake with your right foot. Even though the car is in gear, you will have no trouble slowing it down. Getting used to how much pressure to apply with the brake comes with practice. You want to make sure you apply enough to slow the car down in time to stop where you need it to, but you want to avoid slamming on the brakes unless you're in a serious situation and need to stop suddenly.

Reversing the Car

To drive in reverse, simply bring the car to a complete stop. With your foot still on the brake, shift the car into R for reverse. Then lift your foot off the brake and place it on the gas pedal. The car will drive backwards.

Parking the Car

To park your car, bring it to a full stop by placing your foot on the brake. Then shift into P for park. Turn off the car and remove the key. You're done!

Understanding Your Automatic Transmission

automatic transmission

Although driving an automatic is fairly simple, it can help to understand a bit about how your transmission works and what you can do to extend its life.

How Your Automatic Transmission Works

An automatic transmission is an amazing piece of automotive technology. These devices interconnect the car's computer, hydraulics, and mechanical systems so that the gears are shifted as required. The transmission's job is to make sure that the engine maintains a safe level of revolutions per minute (RPM) while providing enough torque to the driveshaft so that the car can move as fast as you need it to.

  • In lower gears, the engine works harder while the wheels turn slower. Lower gears are required when the wheels need to turn under heavy load, such as when they are first accelerating, passing another car, or driving up a steep hill.
  • In higher gears, the engine is closer to idling speed while the wheels are turning fast with very little torque. This only works as long as the car is coasting easily along a highway or downhill and very little force is required to keep the car in motion.

The job of the transmission is to measure the required "load," such as whether you are going uphill or trying to accelerate quickly and compare it to the current speed of the wheels. If the difference in load and speed is great, the computer system makes the decision to shift to lower gears to deliver more power to the wheels in order to increase wheel speed.

Driving Tips for Prolonging the Life of Your Automatic Transmission

How you drive and care for your automatic vehicle can affect the life of your transmission. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Transmission maintenance is critical to ensuring a long life for your transmission. You should check your transmission fluid frequently or have your mechanic check it at every oil change.
  • In difficult conditions, such as sub-zero winter temperatures when fluids tend to freeze easily or extremely hot summer temperatures, always accelerate slowly so that the transmission has a chance to shift under less "strain" than if you're constantly pushing the gas pedal to the floor.
  • Avoid very slow driving or idling in place. If you're stuck in a traffic jam, switch the engine into neutral and keep your foot on the brakes. This will disengage the drive from the wheels and avoid transmission overheating.
  • If you get stuck in mud and the wheels can't turn, avoid pressing the gas, which can quickly damage the transmission. Find help to tow the car out of the hole; pressing the gas while the wheels are locked is one of the fastest routes to a destroyed automatic transmission.

On the Road in No Time

Driving an automatic is easy once you get used to it. Follow these steps and give yourself plenty of time to practice. You'll be on the road in no time.

How to Drive an Automatic Car