Most automatic cars these days have a manual mode, which allows you to change gears on demand instead of waiting for the gearbox to do its own thing.
Depending on the car, manual shifting can be done via the gearlever and/or racing-car style paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
No clutch is required because there’s no mechanical link between gearlever or paddle shifters, which simply work as a switch to send an electronic signal to the transmission to change gears.
Why have a manual mode?
Apart from giving you a more hands-on driving experience and express your inner racer, manual shifters have practical applications such as allowing you to select a lower gear when more power is required to perform an overtake or climb a hill, towing heavy loads or engine braking is need when coming down an incline or negotiating bends.
Automatic transmissions can’t anticipate upcoming hills or bends in the route, so by having control of your gearing, you can gear up or down a little earlier, which makes for smoother driving.
Manual mode is also handy for driving in slippery conditions such as snow, where you want to stay in first gear a little longer when you are moving off from a standstill. This is to ease torque to drive wheels and prevent wheelspin (if your car has a Snow driving mode it will do that automatically when selected).
You can easily engage manual shift while the transmission is in Drive (D), regardless of what gear the car is in. This is good when you just want to be hands on for a short time, such as when overtaking.
The car will automatically revert to Drive if you rev too high, too low or come to a stop.
Some cars have a Sequential (S) or Manual mode (M) which you generally choose by flicking the gearlever to S or M. This allows for more driver control, with the transmission electronics stepping in should you rev too low or high. If you want to return to full automatic mode, simply flick the gearlever back to Drive.
Whichever mode you select the car’s computer won’t let you stall and has rev-limiters to prevent engine damage.
Using paddle shifters
Simply pull the left shifter (marked ‘-’) to gear down, and right shifter (+) to gear up. When you pull on a shifter an indicator on the dashboard will display what gear you’re in.
Similar to driving a manual car, you can shift gears between 1500 to 2500 RPMs for normal driving, though if you want to deploy its full power, take it up to the redline, rev-limiter permitting.
When gearing up or down don’t expect an instant response from the engine, give it about the same time to respond as it would take to when selecting gears in a full manual car.
Using the gearlever
Same rules apply with gearlevers that allow for manual shifting. Like the paddles that are marked with ‘-’ and ‘+’ on the side, shift the gearlever toward ‘+’ to go up a gear, and ‘-’ to downshift.
A lot of cars have a forward upshift, the thinking being that you would push the gearlever forward to go faster. But some car manufacturers, and most purists, prefer the opposite with a forward downshift that’s in keeping with the forward force felt when braking.