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How To Drive an Automatic Car

Though manual transmissions have typically been the popular choice around Europe, the number of automatic cars on the roads of Ireland has been growing considerably. And, with the growing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles, more vehicles are hitting the market without any manual transmission option! For a road user who has only ever driven a manual transmission, switching to an automatic can be a little daunting, but should it be? An automatic car removes the clutch pedal from the equation, taking care of gear shifting automatically and freeing up the driver's shifting hand.

Benefits of driving an automatic car

The reality is that automatic transmissions are designed to make the driving experience easier, and there is no reason why someone who has exclusively driven manual transmissions should be worried about getting into the driver's seat of an automatic car. Similarly, with the number of automatic cars on Irish roads growing, new drivers shouldn't worry about getting started with an auto.

It should be noted that there are different aspects to consider when discussing transmissions. A manual transmission requires the driver to depress a clutch pedal while shifting and changing the gears themselves, whereas an automatic transmission takes entirely care of the shifting process. There are also semi-automatic transmissions, which are essentially the same as an automatic from the driver's perspective, but they are manual transmissions under the hood. Most modern automatic transmissions will also provide the functionality to shift gears manually, which can further confuse matters. We will cover all of these differences in more detail in this article.

What does "automatic car" mean?

If you want to know what an "automatic car" means, it's important to know what a transmission (also known as a gearbox) does in your car. The transmission transmits the rotational energy from your engine to your wheels through a gearing system. The gearing allows your vehicle to set off from stationary without stalling the engine and achieve much faster speeds than what the engine could manage without a gearbox.

The way the transmission connects to the engine is an important part of how manual and automatic transmissions work. If the gearbox were directly coupled to the engine, gear changes would need to be perfectly timed to avoid smashing gears together, causing a lot of noise, damage, and uncomfortable driving.

These disturbances are avoided in manual transmissions by using a clutch, which allows the driver to temporarily disconnect the transmission from the engine so that the driver can safely change gears before releasing the clutch and re-engaging the engine. The gear shifting is handled by moving the gear lever, which operates various internal components in the gearbox to select different gears.

Automatic transmissions take care of gear changes themselves, requiring the driver to neither depress a clutch pedal nor shift a gear lever. The way this is achieved varies depending on the automatic transmission and would be too technical to cover here, but needless to say, it involves lots of ingenuity and complex machinery. The degree to which electronics are involved has also increased significantly over the years, as transmission manufacturers strive to make their products more comfortable to drive. What was once an almost entirely mechanical component is now a highly-engineered piece of machinery controlled by a dedicated computer. These new tech and advanced engineering features result in drivers having fewer things to think about while operating their vehicles. And, in many cases, they will deliver a much smoother driving experience than a vehicle fitted with a manual transmission.

Learn how to drive an automatic car

Everything about the operation of an automatic car is the same as a manual or semi-automatic car except for the gear shifting component. Indeed, if you were to compare two identical models—one being an automatic and the other a manual—you would find the only difference is the gear lever and the number of pedals. Depending on the car, there may still be a gear lever, though the operating of that lever will be different from a manual shifter. In other words, you drive an automatic car the same way as you would a manual, except you don't need to change gears.

When switching from a manual to an automatic, some drivers find themselves at a loss regarding their clutch pedal foot. Generally, it is best to put your clutch pedal foot to the side and avoid using it, as there is a real risk of accidentally hitting the brake pedal when you don't mean to. Of course, this is a minor problem that most people do not struggle with, and those who do are usually able to adapt very quickly.

Modern automatic cars are very safe when it comes to protecting the transmission from damage, so the driver should not need to drive in a specific way to protect their car. At least, no more so than they would with any other type of car. It is also common for modern automatics to feature a manual gear shifting capability, which could be part of a gear lever or as paddles on the steering column. Again, modern transmissions will be smart enough to protect the transmission from bad shifting, but the timing of when to shift is no different from a manual transmission. If you are unsure about manual shifting, it's best to leave it to the gearbox.

The different types of transmissions

Manual and automatic transmissions are not the only options on the market, and it can be a little confusing trying to understand the differences. We will look at the four main transmission options you are likely to face when choosing a car in this section.

Manual transmission

Manual transmissions feature a clutch that temporarily decouples the engine from the gearbox, allowing the driver to safely and comfortably shift gears without damaging anything. Manual transmissions require the most effort on the part of the driver but are also the least expensive in both initial cost and the cost of repairs should anything go wrong. Though the popularity of automatic transmissions is growing, this is still the most common type of transmission found on the roads of Ireland.

Fully automatic transmission

A fully automatic transmission is incredibly complex. The systems vary in how they work, but the result of that complexity is that the driver no longer has to initiate gear shifts themselves, regardless of the specific method used. The transmission will handle gear changes at appropriate times, including separating the drivetrain from the engine during the gear shift. Automatic transmissions are the most expensive kinds of gearboxes, both the initial cost and for maintenance and repair.

Semi-automatic transmission

As the name suggests, semi-automatic transmissions fall somewhere in between a manual and a fully automatic car. They are also kind of an odd one out and not too commonplace in the automotive world. These transmissions are essentially manual gearboxes that have various motors and solenoids attached to them to take the place of the clutch pedal and gear lever. In many cases, there is no difference between a semi-automatic transmission and its manual counterpart, save for these motors. Semi-automatic transmissions fall somewhere between their manual and automatic cousins in cost also. In terms of the driving experience, they offer more convenience than a manual transmission. But they almost always produce a rougher ride than a fully automatic car.

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles bring a new paradigm to the automotive world. Gearboxes are necessary because traditional internal combustion engines can only produce so much torque and stall when their RPM drops too low. Gearboxes allow for the moderation of forces so that a gradual transition of power from the engine to the wheels is possible. Electric vehicles do not have such constraints and often have motors directly on the wheels. In other words, electric vehicles usually do not have a transmission at all. In practical terms, this means it drives like an automatic car.

The benefits of owning an automatic car

There are several benefits to owning an automatic car. Here are some of the main ones:

  • Increased ride comfort due to smoother gear shifting

  • Added convenience by eliminating the need to shift gears

  • Reduced wear and tear on other components

  • Higher resale value

The downsides to owning an automatic car

The two main downsides of owning an automatic car are related to cost and maintenance. Automatic transmissions (and automatic cars) are more expensive than manual cars. They are also more complex and require more maintenance than vehicles with a manual transmission. In addition, the costs of repairing faults are usually much higher than they are with manuals.

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