How To Drive A Car With An Automatic Transmission

By Max Anthony •  Updated: 03/03/21 •  5 min read

Check out the different types of automatic transmissions, how they work, and the best way to take advantage of them.

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With the popularity and the growing range of options, many questions arise about how to drive a car with an automatic transmission and even about its features. What is the meaning of each letter? Can I use my left foot to brake? What are the differences between changes from one model to another?

Know The Meaning Of Each Bill Of Exchange

how to drive a car with an automatic transmission

Anyone who is accustomed to the manual transmission, finds it strange to enter automatic cars and find letters in place of the drawing with the numbers. To help, let’s explain what each of them means:

P – It is the position that must be used when the car is stopped. In it, the gearshift locks, and the vehicle does not move. However, it is important to warn that it is still necessary to use the handbrake when parking the vehicle, uphill, or in a straight line. In addition, it must only be engaged in this position with the car stationary and with the parking brake activated, so as not to force the transmission assembly.

N – The traditional Neutral. With the transmission in this position, the car is not in gear, as is the case with manual transmission vehicles. There is no need to put it on N when stopping at traffic lights or during heavy traffic.

R – Position to engage the vehicle’s reverse gear. Under no circumstances should it be activated while the vehicle is in motion.

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D – The most used position is where the gearshift will change gears automatically as the vehicle moves. The letter D comes from the word “drive” – which translated into Portuguese means “to drive”.

These are the standard positions, which you will find, regardless of the vehicle with automatic transmission. But it is still possible to have other options, determined by letters and numbers.

When there are numbers, it means that the transmission allows you to limit the transmission to a certain gear. That is, 1 allows you to walk only in the first gear, 2 until the second, and 3 limits until the third.

The other letters that can appear are: L or S. The first one means “low” and is usually used when the vehicle is overloaded, thus, with shortened ratios, the engine works harder. While the S refers to “sport” and is used to prioritize performance in sports mode, it generally stretches the ratios and makes changes at higher revs.

How To Drive A Car With Automatic Transmission:

To Use Or Not To Use Both Feet For Both Pedals?
how to drive a car with manual transmission

This is a very common question. There are those who prefer to use both feet, the right to accelerate and the left to brake and, most commonly, use only the right foot for the dual function. 

However, if you are a person used to manual cars, know that using only the right foot will be much more practical. Precisely for this reason, the automatic models provide a left footrest beside the pedals.

For those who choose to use both feet, know that an adaptation will be necessary. As our brain is used to pressing the pedal with the left foot until the end, due to the clutch, it will be common to have sudden brakes and even dangerous when using it in automatic cars to brake.

Automatic vs. Automated
How To Drive A Car With Automatic Transmission

A manual transmission model will always be the same, what can change is the number of gears. The car with automatic transmission has two options: automatic and automated. Check out how each one works.


In this option, the clutch ceases to exist and the gears are made naturally after the pressure in the hydraulic fluid, without the interference of the driver. Among its variations and the conventional automatic, there is the CVT type exchange (continuously variable), with infinite ratios, usually with gradual performance and without jerks.


Unlike the previous two, the most refined automated has a double clutch, one inside the other – but without a pedal, driven by a little robot. Thus, it works as a manual gearbox that performs gear shifts electronically, saving the driver’s work.

As it has two clutches, while one gear is engaged, the other is already pre-engaged. This makes the changes smooth and nimble.

There is also the common automation, present in initial versions of some of the more popular models. It works very similarly, but with a single clutch in the transmission. For this reason, it does not have the level of comfort and agility of the double clutch, and usually makes many leaps.

Manual Mode In Automatic Cars

Even with all the current popularity of models with automatic transmission, it is common to hear some people say that automatic cars take away the autonomy of drivers and, therefore, prefer vehicles with manual transmission.

However, it is worth mentioning that many automatic models come with an option to shift gears in sequential mode. However, instead of having a handle, the actuation is made by forward or backward movements on the lever itself. Or by button or butterflies on the steering wheel – it may vary according to the model.

Manual gear shifting in the automatic model is usually a good option when the driver needs a stronger pull or resumption of the vehicle. 

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Max Anthony

Max is a gizmo-savvy guy, who has a tendency to get pulled into the nitty gritty details of technology and cars. He attended UT Austin, where he studied Information Science. He’s married and has three kids, one dog and a GMC truck and a Porsche 911. With a large family, he still finds time to share tips and tricks on cars, trucks and more.