The gears of a car ensure that the engine isn’t strained and runs properly when the speed increases or decreases. Cars generally have six gears – five of which are for going forwards and the 6th for reverse. As cars get significantly smarter there are some contemporary vehicles with an additional forward gear which enables enhanced fuel economy over long journeys at high speeds (such as long motorway drives). It is vital to master altering gears to ensure you are driving safely and effectively.

As you progress through the gears this implies you will be driving faster, so there are other factors to consider alongside changing gear such as knowing the speed limitation you are implied to be at, keeping a safe range from cars in front of you, and making sure your positioning provides yourself and others enough space to manoeuvre. In this short article, we will run through how to change gears successfully so that you are fully prepared for when you handle this driving ability. 

How to change gears smoothly

The first thing you need to understand prior to changing gear is that everything starts with the clutch. Make sure you press your clutch pedal down fully prior to you attempting to change gear so that the clutch plates are separated, lowering the strain on the gearbox. At the same time, you must ensure that you take the pressure off the gas. Once the gear change has been made, you can slowly launch the pressure on the clutch pedal to re-engage the clutch while, at the same time, use pressure once more on the gas. The gear stick should be moved by your left hand and follow a different movement depending upon the gear.

When should I change gears?

Prior to putting these suggestions into practice it is important that you get your head around what the various gears are for, and how you ought to use them. If you have already started learning to drive you will understand that first gear is the gear that normally gets the vehicle in motion, as this has the most power. As you begin to move the basic guideline is the higher the speed, the greater the gear (there are a few exceptions to the rule which we discuss listed below) and you use the higher gears to help you increase the speed of the car.

This is a guide of the different speed ranges for each gear:

First gear: To get the car moving and up to a speed of around 10 miles per hour

Second gear: A speed of around 20 mph

Third Gear: A speed of around 30 miles per hour

Fourth Gear: To use if you are staying at 30 mph, or wish to increase the speed to around 40 miles per hour

Fifth Gear: For increasing the speed above 40 miles per hour and for when you no longer want to increase the speed of the car.

Exceptions to the Rule

While these are the basic guidelines for gear changing you must remember that there are some distinctions when it comes to specific driving scenarios. If you are starting the car down a steep hill you need to use second gear rather of first gear right away.

When driving up or down hills, in general, you need to utilise your lower gears more, so when going up a hill you might need to keep the car in each gear for longer than usual so that it has more power to get up the hill (the same rule uses if you are carrying more weight than usual, such as towing a caravan). When going downhill you might need to change into a lower gear than regular for the speed – this is so the car doesn’t run down the hill too rapidly as the engine braking is more effective in this scenario.


Step-by-step guide to changing gears

Changing from first to second gear

Add a little pressure to the gear stick to the left and then move the gear stick straight downwards into second gear (adding this pressure to the left helps prevent the gear from accidentally slipping into fourth gear).

Changing from second to third gear

Bring the gear stick back into the middle (neutral) position, making sure it is securely back in neutral before pushing the gear stick up into third gear. Making sure the gear stick is in neutral before moving into third gear makes sure that it doesn’t slip into first or fifth gear.

Changing from third to fourth gear

As you are in third gear the gear stick is already in the right position to simply bring down the gear stick directly into fourth gear.

Changing from fourth to fifth gear

Bring the gear stick back into neutral and then pull the gear stick towards you and then push up into fifth gear.

On your driving test the examiner will expect you to:

  • Pick the right gear for the speed you need to travel at, and for the road conditions you deal with.
  • Change gear smoothly, securely and under control.
  • Return your hand to the steering wheel once you have changed gear.
  • Don’t look at the gear lever while changing gear.
  • Don’t coast with the clutch pedal down or the equipment lever in neutral.


Once you have actually mastered changing gears it will end up being second nature, however when starting it can seem a little tricky. Ensure you have a mutual understanding of when you need each type of gear and how to get those gears into position before having a go in your driving lesson. The key is to keep practicing!