Contact Information

Make proper use of gears

Knowing which gear to use and how to change the gears is a fundamental part of learning to drive a manual car. Each and every pupil is taught from a very early stage, not only what the gears are for, but how to change them and make proper use of them. So how could anyone possibly get something so basic wrong on the test?

Answer: Gears are not basic. They can be very complicated, especially when there are other distractions or unexpected happenings. It is in fact very easy to make errors involving gears. 68338 candidates got something wrong with their gears and failed the UK driving test last year!

If you have this problem, my advice is to force yourself out of the habit. Deliberately stare at something in front of you when you reach for the gear stick. To begin with, your observation may not be very constructive, but you will get out of the habit of looking down. Once you kick the habit, you will be able to look anywhere – to the junction, the lights, the cyclist, etc. You will also appear to have much more time to assess the situation and make your decision.

Having dealt with a repeated minor error, what could cause a serious fault in its own right?

Others gear faults might include: Picking the wrong gear for the situation, too high or too low. Changing gears too early or too late. Not making use of the gear once you have picked it, by not accelerating onto a roundabout for example. Failing to change gear at all, when a new gear was needed.

Whether any of these faults would be upgraded to a serious fault or not, depends on the road and traffic situation and the outcome of the error. Much of the test result will depend on how the test examiner saw it. It is his (or her) experience and judgement that will decide the severity of the fault.

I mentioned accelerating onto a roundabout a moment ago. This is an example from personal experience.

In my local area there are many multiple lane roundabouts with fairly quick moving traffic. My pupil had waited for a sufficient gap to pull out into, but then eased away and didn’t get up much speed. As a result, other vehicles soon caught up and started overtaking. This caused some confusion and a little panic. What he should have done was to make proper use of his gears, and use the higher powered lower gears to create a little more acceleration. With extra ‘pick-up’ he would no longer have been causing a hazard on that roundabout.

So here is my advice, and it is very simple advice.

Firstly. Use the full MSM (Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre) PSL (Position-Speed-Look) routine before every junction. This will set you up for an easy gear choice at the vast majority of junctions.

Secondly. Whenever you need to change gear, take your time. A good gear change should take about three seconds. If you try any quicker, you may get the wrong one and have to start again. Get it right first time and there is no mistake.

And thirdly. Always match the gear to the speed of the car, not to the junction that you see ahead. The junction may be clear, but if your speed is less that 5 mph then second gear will probably cause you to stall. Use the gear that matches the actual speed (5mph = first gear).