As you develop your skills during your driving lessons in Basingstoke, you will find that the gearbox contains the gears, which control the relationship between the engine speed and wheel speed.
First gear provides the greatest force for the driving wheels and is normally the one you use to get the vehicle moving from a complete stop. As you speed up, you change up to the higher gears, each one giving you less engine power, but more speed for your wheels. Using the highest gear possible for speed and road traffic conditions saves fuel - as long as your speed (and engine revs) isn't too low for that gear.
Which gear do we need?
Most vehicles have 5 gears, some have 6 gears, and all have a reverse gear. When neutral is selected, no gear is engaged - this is known as coasting.
We start by moving off in 1st gear as this gear gives us the most power/force. As we build up our speed, we listen to our engine. When we reach the correct number of engine revolutions (revs on the rev counter - usually around 2,000/2,500 revs) for the engine, we change up a gear.
We then work our way up through the gears. It's perfectly ok to 'skip' a gear if we have built up enough speed.
For example, you could be in 3rd gear building your speed up on a dual carriageway, and then be doing around 55-60mph in 3rd gear, and it would be perfectly ok to go straight from 3rd to 5th gear.
Skipping gears at the appropriate time will give you more time to concentrate on the road ahead and allow you to keep both hands on the steering wheel for longer.
As you become more confident and experienced, you'll be able to judge which gear you need for the speed you're doing and the situation you are in.
How to change up a gear:
Place your left hand upon the gear stick.
Press the clutch pedal down, at the same time as you ease off your gas pedal.
Select the next gear required and which is suited to the road and traffic conditions.
Let the clutch pedal come up smoothly, and at the same time press the gas pedal back down gently. (I relate to this as a see-saw! As the clutch pedal comes up, the gas pedal goes down at the same time).
Put your left hand back on the steering wheel.
How to change down a gear:
You will already be braking as required for the junction/roundabout/hazard/situation ahead. We should brake to the desired speed for the gear we want to select.
Place your left hand on the gear stick.
Press the clutch pedal down, keeping your foot on your foot brake.
Select the most appropriate gear for the lower speed that you are doing. Being able to judge which gear is the most appropriate comes with practice, experience and good judgement.
Bring the clutch pedal up smoothly, continuing to brake if still appropriate.
Put your left hand back on the steering wheel
You are able to stop in any gear if you know you are coming to a complete stop. However, remember to be in the correct gear when you move off again - usually 1st gear.
Coasting is where we have the vehicle in neutral, or have the clutch down unnecessarily whilst driving (such as turning into a junction, driving down a road, going round a roundabout). Coasting means that although the vehicle is still moving, it's not being driven by the engine.
Coasting for any distance is wrong, because;
It reduces the driver's control of the vehicle.
You might have difficulty engaging a gear if something unexpected happens.
It almost certainly leads to the vehicle gathering speed when travelling downhill, resulting in it being harder to brake, and removes the assistance of engine braking which you would get in a lower gear.
Each time you change gear you coast a little bit - this is unavoidable, but as long as you bring your clutch back up as soon as you've changed gear, this isn't a problem.
Also when you come to a stop, the clutch must go down to disengage the engine from the wheels, to prevent you from stalling before going into neutral.
*Sections reproduced with the kind permission of Mercury Driving School