Before the practical lessons of how to drive, a pupil must first go through a car controls lesson. This is broken down into the foot controls and hand controls.
Car Controls Lesson – The Foot Controls
There are three pedals for you to control with your feet. They are from right to left, A, B, and C – accelerator, brake and clutch. We will start the car controls lesson with the accelerator.
Use your right foot to control the accelerator; it’s a very light and sensitive pedal which should always be used smoothly and evenly. You don’t need much pressure to move it.
The function of the accelerator is to control the amount of power going to the engine. When the engine is running, a mixture of air and fuel is fed to it, which is ignited by a spark to create a small explosion. From this little explosion comes a gas which drives a cylinder to power the engine. That’s why I’m going to refer to it as the gas pedal from now on. The further down you press the gas pedal the more power the engine has, and vice versa. Take your foot off the pedal to reduce the power and to allow the car to slow down.
The footbrake, the middle of the three pedals, is also operated by your right foot. When you press the brake, red lights show at the back of the car to warn other people that you’re slowing down or stopping.
The harder you press the pedal, the faster the car will lose speed; but the pressure you use should always be smooth and progressive. You should use light pressure at first and then gradually increase this until the car has almost stopped; at this point you can relax the pressure. The footbrake has a spongy feel. When taking your foot from the gas pedal to use the brake, you need not lift up your whole foot. The best way is to place your heel between both pedals and use that as a pivot if you can.
The left-hand pedal, the clutch, is quite different from the other two. You operate this with your left foot, and unlike the gas and brake pedals it doesn’t matter how quickly you press it down. But what is really important is how you bring the pedal back up. It works on a spring principle, so if you let it up too sharply it would bounce, causing the car to jerk or ‘kangaroo’. Always try to bring it up smoothly.
The clutch is basically a means of connecting and disconnecting the engine from the wheels of the car. Without going into too much detail, the clutch consists of two plates; one is connected to the engine and turns all the time it’s running. The second plate provides a link to the wheels. When the clutch pedal is fully up there’s the spring I mentioned which holds the two plates together. When you push it down the plates separate and the link between engine and wheels is broken.
But there is an intermediate stage. When preparing the car for moving off, you bring the clutch pedal up until the two plates just begin to touch. This is the ‘biting point’. When this point is reached you’ll hear a change in the sound of the engine, it becomes lower. You might also feel a slight pull forward which happens when the link is completed between the engine and the wheels.
The Main Hand Controls
When you’re not turning the steering wheel, keep your hands between the positions corresponding to ten-to-two, and a quarter-to-three on a clock face. Try to keep your hands relaxed, there’s no need to grip the wheel tightly.
When you need to steer, try to avoid crossing your hands, use a push and pull movement. When you want to turn to the left, for Instance, pull the wheel down with your left hand, and slide your right hand down the opposite side. Then push the wheel up with the right hand, and slide the left hand upward. Using this method rather than crossing your hands gives a better balance and a safer control over the steering. When you want to straighten up, use the same technique but in the opposite direction.
After turning, the wheel will feel like it wants to straighten itself up, but you mustn’t be tempted to let the wheel spin back through your hands. If the wheels hit a bump or pothole while doing this the steering could easily be thrown off course and you’re not fully in control.
Handbrake (Parking Brake)
The location and type of parking brake will differ from one vehicle to the next. Many cars now just have electronic switches or even a parking brake which comes on automatically. The following description is based on the most common type of good old-fashioned ratchet parking brake.
The parking brake should never be used while the car is moving. It should be applied once the vehicle has stopped to make sure it remains stationary, especially when there’s a slope. In most cases, it operates on just the two rear wheels of the car.
To release the brake, you must first lift the lever it a little, then press the button on the end so it can be lowered.
To re-apply it, you must first press in the button, then lift it until you feel some resistance and let go of the button. If you fail to press the button properly when applying the parking brake you’ll hear a grating noise. That’s the ratchet which holds the brake in place. Applying the brake without releasing the ratchet just causes unnecessary wear.
The Gear Lever
The third main hand control is the gear lever. Where the lever lies in the photo is the neutral position, the car isn’t in gear and the lever can be moved easily from side to side. Whenever the car is stationary for a length of time, neutral should be selected.
This car has five gears for driving forward and one for reversing. To move the lever you must first put the clutch pedal down and you can then move the lever to the position you want to select.
First gear is the most powerful and is the one we normally use to move the car from rest. Each gear works best within a certain speed range, you’ll find out more about this when we come to changing gears later.
When you move the gear lever, always use the open palm of your hand rather than gripping it. For first and second gear your palm should be facing away from your body. For the other gears, turn your palm towards yourself. This makes moving the lever easier and helps prevent you from getting into the wrong gear.
You can practise moving the gear lever while the engine is turned off. Put the clutch pedal down and go through all the positions of the gear lever. In neutral the lever will normally be in a central position; so for first gear you may need to push the lever to the left before moving it forward. Make sure your palm is always relaxed and open when moving the lever; and that your hand is facing the correct way. Never rush or use force as this can only make things more difficult.
Try this a few times. Once you have managed to go through all the gear positions, repeat the exercise while looking ahead through the windscreen. It is very important that when changing gear, you keep your eyes on the road and not to look down at the gear lever.
Other Hand Controls
The position and design of these will vary from one car to another.
Indicators are a way of warning other people of what you intend to. The lever that operates the indicators is normally on the left of the steering column, (Japanese cars are often on the right side). Move the lever up to signal right, and down for left. When the indicators are in use, there is a flashing green light on the dashboard and you will hear a ticking sound.
After completing a turn or changes of lanes the signal must be cancelled. The steering wheel triggers a self-cancelling device. After indicating and moving to the right, for instance, when you bring the wheel back to the left the signal will automatically cancel. When the steering movement has only been slight this may not work, so you must carry out the other option which is to cancel it yourself. Don’t try to cancel the signal though while you are doing any steering, wait until you’ve finished turning.
In the centre of the steering wheel in this photo is the horn, though you may sometimes find it on the end of a steering column stalk or some other position. It’s not there to attract the attention of your friends, or to avoid the need to get out of the car and knock on someone’s door when you call to pick them up! It’s a means of warning other people that you are around.
For instance, if you’re driving along and you notice the front of a car creeping out of a junction ahead and you’re not sure that the driver can see you, let them hear you. A tap on the horn will let them know you are there. Or if you spot children playing behind parked cars or in the road, don’t take chances with them. If they are intent on their games they may not notice you – a tap on the horn will make sure they know you are coming. Don’t be frightened to use it as sounding the horn at the right time can help prevent accidents.
You should read the manual supplied for the car you’re driving to familiarise yourself with all controls.
Driving Test Safety Questions
Part of the driving test includes two ‘safety questions’ one in the car park and one on the move. You need to either explain, or demonstrate the use of various controls to your examiner. You should also know how to check the tyres, fluid levels etc. A current list of these questions is available here. You should go through them regularly so that you are confident of your answers.
That’s the end of the car controls lesson. Now we move onto Moving off and Stopping >>