How to Drive a Car With an Auto Transmission

Updated November 22, 2016

Whether you've always driven a manual vehicle and are switching to an automatic or are just learning to drive, an automatic requires very little shifting interaction. You'll only need to change gears if parking, reversing or driving. Automatic transmissions also allow for low-gear driving, which is a benefit of driving a manual transmission in the snow. Otherwise, your automatic vehicle will shift as it was designed to from the manufacturer.

Find the features you are going to use. Where your right foot sits is the accelerator that accelerates the vehicle on the right, and the brake to stop the vehicle on the left. Use only your right foot to operate either control.

Look to your shifter, which is either a stem to the right of the steering wheel or a handle next to your leg by the middle console. Locate the P (for park), D (for drive) and R (for reverse)--these are the only controls you'll need for operating your vehicle.

Put your foot on the brake, an action you'll always have to do before parking, driving or reversing. Once the brake is fully pressed with your foot, change your shifter into "D" to begin driving, or "R" to reverse. For middle console shifting you'll have to press in the shifter release button to move the shifter down, while with a steering wheel shifter you'll have to pull the stem towards you and move it to the proper letter.

Release your foot slowly from the brake pedal. Your vehicle will start to move slowly forward if you put the gear in "D" or backward for "R." If using reverse to get out of a spot, you'll have to engage the brake again, hold it and move the shifter to "D" to move forward.

Accelerate by moving your foot to the accelerator and pressing it in gently--some vehicles accelerate powerfully, while some do not. Continue pressing the accelerator until you are at a comfortable speed, and lighten the pressure to maintain a speed or slow down.

Stop or slow when necessary by removing your foot from the accelerator and gently applying pressure to the brake pedal--again, some vehicles are more powerful than others, even when braking. After doing this several times, you'll learn the proper pressure the vehicle needs to stop and accelerate efficiently.

Drive in the snow while in a low gear, which decreases tire spin, by shifting your vehicle into "1" or "2," numbers that signify the lowest gears, with one being the lowest. Although you can shift your vehicle into a low gear without having to stop it completely, do not drive over 15mph in first gear or 30mph in second gear. Do not shift into these gears unless you are going the specified miles per hour, otherwise you will damage the transmission.

Park your vehicle when you are through. Engage the brake pedal until you come to a complete stop. Once you have, shift the car into "P" and turn the car off--the vehicle must always be in "park" before you turn it off.


For those who are used to driving a manual, you can no longer control the RPMs. Do not be alarmed, all automatic vehicles shift differently. As long as you are not driving in a low gear, the vehicle is driving as it was meant to.


Never shift into "reverse," "drive" or "park" without fully stopping the vehicle. This can significantly damage your transmission.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Shanan Miller covers automotive and insurance topics for various websites, blogs and dealerships. She has extensive automotive experience, including auction, insurance, finance, service and management positions. Miller has worked for dealer sales events around the United States and now stays local as a sales and leasing consultant for a dealership.