Tips for driving an automatic vehicle

Whether you’re new to driving or have only driven a manual in the past, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the difference between automatic and manual vehicles so you can get straight on the road once you pick up your rental.

Below, we list a few things to keep in mind before you set off on your journey.

Taking your foot off the brake

Unlike in a manual vehicle, when you remove your foot from the brake pedal the car will slowly start to move forwards or backwards depending on the selected gear. Slowly lifting your foot off at traffic lights while dreaming about your weekend plans could result in you gently rolling in to the car in front, which won’t make you popular with other road users, or us for that matter! And hovering your left foot over the brake while parking can prevent any unwanted bumps.

Forget about the clutch

It might go against all your natural instincts if you’ve been driving a manual for years, but in an automatic, there is no clutch pedal as the gears automatically change. Be careful not to mistakenly slam down on the brake pedal as this will likely result in some uncomfortable emergency braking. If it is your first time driving an automatic, you might find it easier to tuck your left foot off to the side.

The paddles

Some more expensive models sometimes have paddle shifts behind the steering wheel, giving you the option of semi-manual driving if you feel like you need more control. This can be useful in snowy or icy conditions or if you find you’ve got your vehicle stuck in a muddy ditch (would not recommend), and you need to stop your wheels spinning.


For those who frequent tractor-ridden country roads, it’s wise to remember that automatic vehicles can have a slight delay when you put more pressure on the accelerator. If you’re overtaking, please always do so in a permitted and safe place where the vehicle will have plenty of time to get up to speed.

Familiarise yourself with the gearshift

It’s good to have a play about with the gearshift before taking the car on the road. Familiarise yourself with each of the options and what they do, as well as how to quickly change from drive to reverse in case you need to quickly manoeuvre yourself out of a situation.

Most automatic vehicles have four options on the gearshift:

D: Drive – as it sounds, drive should be selected when driving forwards and will automatically change gear depending on your speed and the situation.

R: Reverse – you’ve guessed it, this will move the car backwards. If you are in a van with limited rear-view visibility, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings especially with the ‘crawling’ feature of automatics.

N: Neutral – this offers the same function as removing the car from gear in a manual but is less frequently used in an automatic. It is commonly there as a bit of a safety measure, making it easier to push the car if it got stuck somewhere or if, worst case scenario, the brakes failed.

P: Park – this should be engaged before leaving and entering the vehicle to stop it from rolling. The park option must always be used in conjunction with the handbrake.

Back to Latest News