Driving a modern Automatic Car?

NOTE – This article was written for our Observers on the best way to assist the driver preparing for the IAM Test (i.e.  an Associate) and references IPSGA which is the nmeonic for the ‘System’ at the core of safe and advanced driving where each  step is considerd in turn, on the approach to a hazard.   Namely:
I – Information
P – Position
S – Speed
G – Gear
A – Acceleration

CORRECT USE OF AN AUTOMATIC GEARBOX

There still seems to be a degree of confusion as to what the Examiner is looking for from a driver on test who is driving a car with an automatic gearbox.   Now, the IAM RoadSmart Associate’s Handbook states:-

  • Be aware how to correctly select gears using either the paddles or gear selector
  • Be aware of additional functions and modes
  • Be able to describe circumstances in which a manual selection of a gear may assist
  • Be able to operate the gearbox correctly to maintain the stop/start function (the vehicle handbook will detail whether neutral or park needs to be selected when stationary for any period of time)
  • Be aware of additional driver selectable modes that may affect performance of the vehicle not necessarily only the gearbox.

So, what does all this actually mean??

If the Associate is not sure about the functions available on their automatic gearbox, they should be encouraged to read their car handbook or, if not available, use Google.

The first thing to consider is keep everything as simple as possible for the Associate.

With this in mind, consider when moving out of the standard “Drive” mode might be beneficial to the drive and balance of the car.    Circumstances include, but not limited to:-

  1.   Going around bends when a more responsive gear is required
  2.   Going down a STEEP hill, when a lower gear will reduce your reliance on the brakes
  3.   Overtaking a slower moving vehicle.

So, let’s consider each one in turn:

1.    Going around a bend when a more responsive gear is required

When travelling around country lanes in a car with a manual gearbox, as you approach the bend, you’ll use the system of car control to safely negotiate the bend or series of bends.    So, using IPSGA, once you’ve reached the required speed to safely negotiate the bend, you’ll then consider selecting the appropriate responsive gear to keep the car balanced throughout the bend, and then once selected, you’ll drive around the bend using the appropriate degree of acceleration.

Now consider travelling around the same bend/series of bends in a car with an automatic gearbox.    It is exactly the same approach.  So, using IPSGA, once you’ve reached the required speed to safely negotiate the bend, you’ll then consider selecting the appropriate gear to keep the car balanced throughout the bend.    In this case, simply slip the car into “Sport” mode (this will drop the car down one or two gears) and then drive around the bend using the appropriate degree of acceleration.    Don’t be tempted to encourage the Associate to use the paddles or gear selector to select a lower gear, as this can lead to dropping too many gears or maybe not enough gears, and why risk this if we don’t have to.    Remember what we said above?

The first thing to consider is keep everything as simple as possible for the Associate.

Let’s not over complicate things – keep it nice and simple so the Associate can quickly understand and master the art.

2.    Going down a STEEP hill, when a lower gear will reduce your reliance on the brakes

In reality, there won’t be many roads that we travel on during our Observed Drives and actual test when this will be necessary.  However, in accordance with the Associate’s Handbook requirements above (Be able to describe circumstances in which a manual selection of a gear may assist) it is important that we at least discuss this option with our Associates.    Again, this doesn’t differ from driving down a steep hill using a car with a manual gearbox.    By using a lower gear, either selected on a manual gearbox of automatic gearbox (using paddles or the gear selector) the approach is exactly the same.    A lower gear will help control the speed of the car without so much reliance on the brakes (and potentially prevent brake fade).    Remember what the Highway Code tells us about this – generally speaking, whatever gear you’ll use to drive up a hill, you’ll use the same gear to drive down the hill.

3.    Overtaking a slower moving vehicle

Before we delve into this, we need to understand the workings of an automatic gearbox.    Most will have a “kick down” function when fast acceleration is called upon.    Simply put, if you “floor” the gas pedal, the automatic gearbox will select a lower gear and accelerate away quickly.    However, herein also lies the problem.  When you apply the “kick down”, the gearbox “hunts” for the appropriate gear to select, so there is a delay before the gear is selected and you have take-off.    This isn’t very smooth, as you can lurch forward with very little actual control over the level of acceleration applied because in effect you’ll be accelerating at maximum capacity.    So, how do we eliminate this and still manage to select a responsive gear that gives us control of what degree of acceleration we apply to the manoeuvre?

Once again, the answer is very simple.

Consider executing an overtake in a manual car.    Once again, as with everything we do, we use IPSGA.    So, once we anticipate the overtake might be on, we select a responsive gear so that we can apply the correct amount of acceleration to execute the overtake safely and efficiently.    We do exactly the same when driving a car with an automatic gearbox.    We select the gear using either the paddles or gear selector, and once passed the slower moving vehicle, simply slip the car back into the “drive” mode.

Hopefully, this will provide everyone with a very simple guide as to how and when we might consider using the automatic gearbox out of the standard “drive” mode.

 

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