Are you planning to learn driving? Welcome to the ABC of Driving! As with all articles on Wheels Wisdom, we use the simplest of words – to make complex topics easy to understand. Often new drivers are forced to learn driving with an instructor without first getting a chance to understand the steps to be followed in simple terms. We recommend that you read Know Your Car for Dummies first, before reading this article. It introduces you to the main components of a car from a driver’s perspective. Now let’s get straight to business. We promise, after you finish, you wouldn’t believe how easy it was to learn driving!
The process of starting the engine is known as Ignition (to ‘burn’ – and in this context, petrol or diesel). In the olden days, one had to rotate a rod attached to the engine twice or thrice over to start it! But now, all you have to do is to slide in the key, turn it, and presto, your engine revs up. If you bought a car with the Engine Start / Stop button, you don’t even have to turn the key! Just walk in to the car with the smart key fob, hold down the clutch, and press the Start / Stop button to start the engine.
The commonly found system though is the one with a key. There are four positions you can set the key in – Lock, ACC, IGN, and Start.
Lock: This is the position in which you insert the key in, and take the key out (you will not be able to pull out the key in other positions). The position is called Lock because it locks the steering wheel in place. Yes, a thief will not be able to turn the steering wheel left or right from this position in the event of a break in.
ACC: This is the next key position, in which Accessories are powered on. This mainly includes the infotainment / music system, and the charging sockets.
IGN: In the IGN position, all warning lamps are activated, and must illuminate. The fuel and temperature gauges are also activated. A/C blowers (of course without the compressor operating since the engine is not yet running), and all other electrical systems are also available for use in this position.
Let’s get going!
Make sure the hand brake is engaged, and that the area ahead of you is clear of people (toddlers right in front of the car cannot be seen from your drivers’ seat) or large objects. Ensure that all occupants in the car are wearing a seat belt or are restrained using a child / booster seat. Make sure the Outside Rear View Mirrors are opened and correctly adjusted. Check tires for air pressure.
Starting the engine: When trying to turn the key from IGN to Start, you will notice resistance from a spring trying to bring the key back to the IGN position. This is because the key must stay in the Start position for not more than 2 to 5 seconds. In this position, your car activates a powerful motor called the starter. The starter is powerful enough to crank the engine so that it gets an initial momentum before it can run on its own. Therefore, it drains a lot of energy from the car battery. You must release the key as soon as you hear the engine running on its own.
With diesel engines, you will notice that an amber colour coil lights up for a second or two (among the warning lamps) when you turn the key to the IGN position. You must wait until this lamp goes off before turning the key to Start. This is because the ECU activates a heater to heat up the engine prior to ignition.
Manual Transmission (MT)
Keeping the hand brake engaged, press the clutch completely (to disconnect the engine from the drive), and move the gear lever into the first gear position. Now release the hand brake, slightly press the accelerator and gradually release the clutch (to gradually connect the engine back to the drive). Read that line again to clearly understand what it asks you to do. The car will move forward. Yes, it will! Remember to neatly register that feeling you will experience, in your mind. It is a moment you will love to recall for the rest of your life!
Increase your speed now by keeping the accelerator slightly pressed. Now observe the increase in engine noise. When the noise reaches a moderate level (roughly 2000 rpm on the tachometer, if you have one), you must shift to the second gear. To do this, you again must press the clutch completely, put the gear lever into second gear, slightly press the accelerator and gradually release the clutch.
Now, as you did for the second gear, continue keeping your foot on the accelerator till the engine noise reaches the moderate level again. Follow the same procedure to shift into the third gear now, and similarly to the fourth and fifth gears.
Now you know how to acquire speed. What if you need to slow down? Let’s say you’re driving in the third gear, at roughly 30 km/h.You are approaching a traffic signal. If you thought that you have to come back to the first gear in the same order in which you went up, you don’t have to! What you need to simply do is to gradually press the brake until the car slows down to say 5-10 km/h, press the clutch completely at that point, and continue braking until the car comes to a halt. Now read that line again! Why on earth do you have to press the clutch? This is because in any gear, there’s a minimum speed below which the engine cannot pull the car. You’ll know this point has reached when you hear the engine struggling. At that point, you have to hold down the clutch – else the engine will stall (turn off). What you’re doing by holding down the clutch is that you’re simply disconnecting the drive from the engine to relieve it of any load. Now how will you know which is the minimum speed for each gear? Out of experience. This is because, even if you look at the speed / gear chart provided in the owner’s manual, can you be looking at the speedometer each time you slow down? That’s not practical!
Automatic Transmission (AT)
With an AT, the responsibility of shifting gears up or down is with the transmission. The driver only has the Accelerator and a Brake pedals – no Clutch. To move your car, here’s all that you need to do:
Hold down the brake pedal, release the hand brake, and move the gear lever to the D position. You may have to press the shift button on the gear lever to be able to move it, in many AT cars. In others, there’s a certain pattern in which the lever can be moved to get to D – just follow that, and you’re good.
Once in D, take your foot off the brake. The car should start moving forward (in some AT’s). This motion is called Creep. Certain other AT’s will not creep, and you must press the Accelerator gently to start moving ahead.
That’s it, the AT will take care of upshifting gears. When you need to slow down, gradually press the brake pedal. The AT will manage downshifting of gears, and will ensure that the transmission is slotted in the right gear the next time you press the Accelerator.
The N position is for Neural. You don’t need it during regular drives.
The R position is for reversing.
The P position (not available in some AT’s) must be selected when the car is parked. P keeps the engine in neutral, and also locks the wheels in place. Remember to engage the hand brake as well after parking the car.
Note that we’re not discussing different types of AT’s like Hydraulic, AMT, DSG, or CVT in this article to keep it simple.
Steering the car
Hold the steering wheel with both hands for better control, at the same time taking care to position your fingers appropriately so as to be able to easily use the horn buttons when necessary.
You must note that taking care of the front half of the car is not enough. The rear half is behind you, and must be taken care of! This is to be specially noted while negotiating turns. When you turn, in addition to manoeuvring the front of the car, you have to watch where the rear wheels are going. Similarly, while trying to turn while reversing, you must remember to watch the front corners of your car.
Let’s keep moving
Now that you know how to move and to stop, you are ready to learn how to turn. As you approach a turn, switch on the right or left indicator and slow down well in advance to avoid a sudden braking later. When you reach the turn, turn the steering wheel in such a way that the car turns into the left hand side of the road you’re taking (in India). Once you are in there, accelerate again and work up the gears. That’s it! Didn’t think it was this simple, did you?
Note that turning involves a reduction in speed. Therefore, you will need to come down to a lower gear before accelerating after the turn.
There are occasions when you need to move the car backward. The prerequisite for gaining expertise in the reversing department is that you must be in total control of the car as far as the accelerator, brake and clutch are concerned. Once that’s there, you need to get the steering right. And that, is no big deal.
To move backward, first press the clutch completely and slot the gear into reverse (MT) or move your gear selector to R holding down the brake (AT). Now, turn back and look over your shoulders to make sure the area behind the car is clear. Release the clutch gradually while gently pressing the Accelerator (MT) or let go of the brake, and gently press the Accelerator (AT), all this while looking where the car is heading and adjusting the steering. The important thing here is, you must be able to easily work with the pedals even when you are looking back. Once you have them in control, it’s easy to steer the car as you move backward. Well, that’s it! You must be able to do a fine job reversing now.
Conquering a bridge
When you approach a bridge, you may either be approaching at a high speed or you could be part of a queue of vehicles, inching forward to the bridge; the latter being more probable in a city. If you think you have enough momentum to keep going without shifting to a lower gear, keep going as you are. On the way up, if you feel that the gear you are in, say fourth, is not able to pull the load, you must shift to the next lower gear, third, in this case. Lower the gear, more the power, remember? Stay in gear when going down the bridge as well. Never slot the gear in neutral or switch off the engine to save fuel, while going down any slope. Let’s just say you run the risk of losing control over the car if you do that. I came, I saw and I conquered (the bridge), eh?
When going down a hill or any slope, you may need to keep the car from picking up too much speed. This is especially true if you’re also dealing with turns as you go down the hill. In such situations, keep your car in lower gears (typically 1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and let go off all floor pedals. Gravity will pull the car downward, but the engine (yes, the engine!) will hold the car at a lower speed (the lower the gear, the lesser this speed). This is known as engine braking. With engine braking, you only need to use additional braking using the brake pedals occasionally. This greatly enhances brake life, especially if you drive in hilly areas frequently. Never go down a hill in Neutral. The car will pick up too much speed, and continued use of brakes will cause the brake pads to overheat, and lockup.
Remember to always leave home early so that you don’t have to hurry on the road. When you do hurry on the road, you’re putting your own, and others’ lives in danger.
All the best and happy driving!