How To Change Gears In A Car Efficiently

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How you change gears in a car can massively affect how fuel-efficient you are while driving. Discover tips for smooth gear shifting in this blog.

If you have an automatic car then you won’t have to worry about manually changing gears. However, more sophisticated vehicles can use dual-clutch transmissions (DCT) that allow you to override the automatic setup for when you want a sportier experience.

Do you drive a manual or DCT car and want to find out how to adapt your gear changing to save money at the pumps? Read on for tips on how to change gears efficiently.

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3 tips for changing gear in a manual car

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1. Change gear as early as possible

Knowing when to change gear while you’re driving a car with a manual transmission is key to ensuring your engine isn’t overworked. This happens when you’ve selected a low a gear and the engine speed (indicated by the Revolutions Per Minute, or RPM counter on your dashboard) is high.

Different cars have different gear ratios that respond better to upshifts and downshifts across contrasting speeds and rev range. Also, the gear you need to be in at any given moment will depend on external resistance factors, including wind, gravity (i.e. when you’re driving uphill), rolling resistance from the tyres and mechanical resistance from the drivetrain.

As a rule of thumb, you should aim to keep the rev counter between 1,500-2,000rpm while you’re driving at a constant speed. Of course, you’ll need to go way beyond this if you’re driving up a steep hill because a higher RPM is needed for acceleration against resistance.

A test conducted by Engineering Explained shows that selecting the right gear can save as much as an extra 20.5mpg – that kind of difference is what could dictate whether you choose one model of car over another.

2. If you have it, make use of a gear change indicator

Gear change indicators became mandatory in passenger cars from 2012 onwards, so the chances that you have one fitted to your car is quite likely.

These handy driver assistance features let you know when it’s the right time to change up or down a gear in your car. It’s ideal if you’re not entirely confident in checking your RPM dial and speedometer simultaneously to gauge when it’s right to change.

Most gear change indicators are positioned in your line of sight too for convenient use, such as on your steering wheel controls or in your driver instrument display.

3. Skip gears when overtaking

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Nothing’s more frustrating then when you’re cruising down a high-speed road and approach a slow-moving car that you need to overtake. At first, the right thing to do is to slow down, but then you’ll need to work down through the gears (e.g. from fifth to fourth, then third etc.) before being able to generate enough power to get past in a timely and safe manner.

But what if you could avoid this hassle with a bit of foresight and gear skipping? Well, the good news is you can.

If you can see that you’re approaching a slow-moving vehicle and know that you need to overtake, you can afford to shift from fifth to third, for example. As long as you apply enough revs to match the operating range of the gear (i.e. you don’t put enough revs on the car and it’s sluggish to build up speed) you’ll accelerate efficiently.

‘Flooring it’ in too high a gear, when there’s not enough revs, puts a lot of strain on the motor and means the engine is being worked harder than necessary. Over time, this can prove to be detrimental to your engine’s health.

A case for modern automatic cars being more efficient than previous?

how to change gears in a car efficiently

There’s a stigma around automatic cars that they’re terrible when it comes to fuel economy. However, you first have to consider the fact that this blemishing first came about when manufacturers were developing three and four-speed automatic gearboxes. So, you can see how staying within an optimum range of revs was very difficult to do.

Additional components within automatic gearboxes such as the torque converter tend to make them much heavier than manual alternatives too. This essentially replaces the clutch in transferring power from the engine to the gearbox and wheels, using a hydraulic process instead.

Porsche‘s revolutionised the automatic setup in 2007 with its dual-clutch PDK transmission, used on most its models barring the Cayenne.

Today the DCT is used by most major manufacturers, albeit in more premium models, and has improved automatic car efficiency in a variety of ways.

  1. Reduced weight – there are around 190 less components in these newer automatic gearboxes, meaning an average 13% reduction in weight. Efficiency improves massively as a result due to less mechanical resistance while driving.
  2. Increased number of gears – modern automatic gearboxes, including the CVT, have upwards of eight gears. Unlike older automatic cars that have half this many gears, it’s easier to get that ‘sweet spot’ in the rev range in these up-to-date transmissions because the higher gears allow for more efficient performance at higher speeds.
  3. Smoother shifting – the advanced technology used in modern automatic gearboxes means that shifts up and down the gears are much smoother, especially in sports cars that need this sort of responsiveness in order to provide a thrilling driving experience.

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