(Scroll down for automatic)

The starting position of the gearstick is in the centre of the gearbox and is called neutral. In neutral, no gear is selected and the engine is completely disengaged from the wheels.


The driver selects an appropriate gear for the current speed and conditions. Situations which require more power, such as moving off or climbing a hill, require lower gears. At higher speeds, with more momentum, higher gears are used as less power is needed to maintain forward motion.

Wiggle the gearstick from side to side to check neutral is selected. The gearstick will not wiggle if it is not in neutral.

To select first, second or fifth gear, move the gear stick first to the side, then forwards or backwards. Follow the lines. Third and fourth gear are straight forward and back from the neutral position. If changing to third or fourth from first, second or fifth, let the gearstick find its own way back to the neutral position before moving it forward or back into the new gear.

Be very gentle with the gearstick when changing gear. Subtle movements in the right direction will result in smooth and easy gear changes.

The clutch should always be pressed to the floor when changing gear.

Modern cars can have many variations of automatic transmission control. This shows the standard layout that has been in use for many years. Most modern variations are adapted from this basic design.


P = Park

R = Reverse

N = Neutral

D = Drive

Park is, unsurprisingly, used when the vehicle is parked.

Reverse is the same as selecting reverse gear in a manual car.

Neutral is also the same as it is in a manual car: when neutral is selected, no gear is engaged and the wheels can turn freely.

Drive enables the car to drive with the automatic transmission engaged; the car will automatically select the appropriate gear for the situation.

The 2 and 1 are there to enable manual selection of these gears. This could be useful when descending a steep hill, for example, to help maintain control of the speed.

In most situations, the driver will only require the Park, Drive and Reverse settings. Park to park, Drive to drive (forward), and Reverse to reverse. It's as simple as that!

Neutral is required only when the car needs to roll freely. For example, if the car needs to be towed it is necessary to first select neutral.

Get animated examples with the interactive Controls app for iPad