Planning to learn driving? Welcome to Know Your Car for Dummies!
Often new drivers are asked to carry out a series of actions purported to be ‘the way you must drive’ a car. However, no one explains ‘why’!
This article will introduce you to the key components of your car from a driver’s perspective. Once you understand the function of these components, you’ll notice that you’re able to appreciate the why’s behind the what’s, making it way easier to learn driving.
Note that we’ve used the simplest of English language to make it just that – simple!
Say Hello To Your Car
Congratulations on having procured one of the finest inventions of mankind, the automobile! Now it’s important to get to know your car well. That’s because when you understand your machine, you’re in better control of it. That makes you a more confident driver, and the roads much safer. Let’s get started!
Consider the accelerator as a tap. As you open it, you let more fuel into the engine. The accelerator is attached to a spring such that it returns to the ‘close’ position after you take your foot off it.
The brake is a mechanism using which you can reduce the speed of your car. When you press the brake pedal, a pair of arc shaped pads is pressed against the wheel disc (disc brakes), or the wheel drum (drum brakes). Due to the friction between the pads and the disc or drum, the car slows down. The mechanism works on all four wheels. The Parking Brake, on the other hand, usually holds only the rear wheels in position. The Parking Brake must not be used when the car is in motion. The only exception is in case of a brake failure, when it must be used gradually to bring the car to a safe stop.
The clutch is used to connect or disconnect the engine and the drive. Now, what’s a drive? The drive is the mechanism that transfers power to the wheels. So if the clutch is completely pressed, the engine runs independently without transmitting any power to the wheels. If you don’t press it at all, engine movement is entirely transmitted to the wheels.
So, what about the intermediary stages, when it is partially pressed you ask? When completely pressed, and then released gradually, you are allowing more and more, and finally the entire engine power to work on your wheels. However, all of this is true only when the car is ‘in gear’ (any gear other than Neutral).
To comprehend this fully, you need to understand the gear system. Yes, let’s demystify the gears now! Read on.
The Gear System
Manual Transmission (MT)
Most MT cars have a five speed gearbox. A five speed gearbox has seven gear lever positions. Five forward gears, a reverse gear, and a neutral position. Each one has its own characteristic:
Neutral – Engine disconnected from the drive (or wheels).
1st Gear – Maximum pulling power, Least speed.
2nd Gear – Lesser pulling power, more speed.
3rd Gear – Still lesser pulling power, still higher speed.
4th Gear – Even lesser pulling power, even higher speed.
5th Gear (also known as overdrive) – Least pulling power, maximum speed.
Reverse Gear – Maximum pulling power, Least speed – just like the 1st gear, but in the reverse direction.
So now you know! Why are you asked to engage a lower gear after slowing down from high speed? Because you need more pulling power to accelerate from a lesser speed. Similarly, why are you able to engage higher gears only after gaining some initial speed? Simple – because higher gears have lesser pulling power. In other words, if you want to start off from rest in the 5th gear, it is going to be very difficult for the engine to move the car ahead, almost not possible unless you’re doing it to show off your skills (it’s tricky, can be done, but will strain the engine – Not good)!
Automatic Transmission (AT)
With an AT, the fundamental difference one notices as a driver is the absence of a clutch – and that’s a good thing! The AT takes care of shifting gears up and down, and all the driver has to do is use the Accelerator and the Brake. Remember that you must use only one foot to drive an AT – and that foot operates either the Accelerator, or the Brake – never both at the same time. It is a wrong practice to drive an AT with the right foot on the Accelerator and the left foot on the Brake. An AT has four main gear lever positions:
P – Park: There is no equivalent of this mode in MT cars. When in P, the engine is disconnected from the drive (like in Neutral). However, in addition to that, the wheels are also locked in position – the car won’t move forward or backward.
R – Reverse: This position is used to reverse the car.
N – Neutral: Just like in MT cars, the engine is disconnected from the drive.
D – Drive: The regular forward driving mode. The transmission takes care of shifting gears up and down.
There are few other modes one may find in an AT car – like 1, 2, 3, etc. These are equivalent to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gears in MT cars. They’re used when climbing or going down a hill, when the driver might want to keep the vehicle in a particular gear without auto shifting up or down.
Front Wheel Drives (FWD), Rear Wheel Drives (RWD), and All Wheel Drives (AWD):
In cars where power from the engine is transferred to the two wheels in the front, it is said to be a Front Wheel Drive. In this case, the rear wheels are just tagging along!
Conversely, if the engine is working the rear wheels, the car is said to be a Rear Wheel Drive. The front wheels rotate because the car is being pushed forward by the rear wheels. Rear Wheel Drives also have a component called the Differential (the big spherical object you may have noticed between the two rear wheels of buses and trucks), that allows the inner rear wheel to rotate slower than the outer rear wheel, during a turn.
All Wheel Drives are complex systems where engine power is distributed to all four wheels. The vehicle’s mechatronics manages the complex task of determining how much power must be sent to each wheel, at any given time.
The Steering Wheel:
The steering wheel is the circular ‘ring like’ device, right in front of the driver’s seat. You would also find the horn buttons, light and wiper stalks, audio and phone controls, cruise control, and paddle shifters in and around the steering wheel. The steering wheel is rotated clockwise and anti-clockwise depending on whether you want to turn the car to your right or left respectively. The steering wheel is attached to a spring mechanism such that it returns to the ‘wheels straight’ position as soon as you leave it after a turn. This is called self centering action. The force of self centering action varies from car to car, and it is a good idea to only loosely let go off the steering when self centering, so that you can manually turn it back straight quickly if necessary.
Power Steering is an arrangement by which, as you start turning the steering wheel, you get hydraulic or electric assistance, due to which you only need to exert part of the force needed to actually turn the wheels left or right. Remember, more the weight of the car bearing down on the wheels, the more difficult it is to turn the steering left or right. So with power steering, driving fatigue is greatly reduced.
As you drive on the road, you need to communicate with other drivers. This is required since you must let others know what you plan to do the next instant, so that they manoeuvre their vehicles accordingly. The indicators, which are orange coloured lamps on either side of the car, flash on and off when put on. Putting on the right indicators indicate that you plan to turn right, and putting on the left indicators indicate that you plan to turn left. Simple!
Hazard Warning Lamps
You may have noticed a button at the centre of the dashboard with a red triangle on it. When switched on (and this doesn’t require the keys to be inserted or be in any position), all indicators – both left and right start blinking. Hazard Warning Lamps must be used when your car could potentially cause an accident, and you want to warn other road users about it.
The headlights are a pair of bright focussed lamps in the front of the car. They must be used in low visibility conditions during the day, and at night.
Headlights have two settings – the High Beam, and the Low Beam. The two settings are made possible by having two filaments within each bulb. In Projector Headlamps, this is achieved using a more complex arrangement.
The High beam is used while driving on dark open roads, like a national highway, where long distance visibility is essential. A disadvantage of using high beam is that it blinds drivers approaching from the opposite direction. Therefore, in such situations, the headlights must be temporarily set to low beam. It can be brought back to high beam once the other vehicle has passed. The low beam on the other hand focuses light on to the road, rather than straight ahead. In cities, where roads are well lit, only the low beam must be used to avoid blinding other drivers.
The Tail Lamps
The tail lamps are red coloured lamps at the rear end of the car. They turn on whenever the parking lights or the headlights are put on. The bulbs used in this case are also double filament type. The second, and brighter filament is used for the brake lamp. They turn on whenever the brake pedal is pressed. They help you warn the vehicle behind during braking.
The Reversing Lamps
Reversing lamps, as the name suggests, turn on whenever the reverse gear is engaged. The lamps are located at the rear of the car, and help the driver see behind the car in the night or during low visibility conditions.
The Parking Lamps
The parking lamps are located within or adjacent to the headlights. They must be turned on when the car is parked on a street at night, so that other drivers approaching from a distance can spot it. The tail lamps also turn on whenever the parking lamps are switched on. Do note that parking lamps are not very bright, and if the car is parked on the highway, the Hazard Warning Lamps must be used in addition to the parking lamps.
The Cabin or Courtesy Lamp
The cabin or courtesy lamp is located inside the car, and turns on whenever a door is opened. It can also be switched on using a switch, if all doors are closed. In some cars, only the front doors activate the courtesy lamp. In certain other cars, cabin lamps stay on for a few seconds after all doors are closed. They turn off after a set time, or when the ignition key is switched to the IGN position.
The wiper is used to wipe off water from the windscreen (the glass sheet in front of the car, through which you look out), when it rains. A pair of wipers is normally present on the windscreen.
The Instrument Panel
The instrument panel consists of a set of gauges or meters, which provide details about various car parameters. You will usually find the following in a typical car:
The Speedometer – tells you the speed.
The Odometer – tells you the distance covered.
The Temperature Gauge – tells you the coolant temperature.
The Fuel Gauge – indicates the fuel level in the tank.
Warning Lamps – Each warning lamp has a specific purpose that is illustrated in the owner’s manual. What’s important to keep in mind is that all warning lamps must be off when the engine is running and you’re driving the car. If even one of them is on, you must park the car at a safe location and contact the helpline number provided by the manufacturer.
ECU stands for Engine Control Unit. It is the electronic brain of your car, that controls everything from managing fuel injection to very advanced operations in high end cars.
Enjoy your car!