How to Shift Gears of a Light Motor Vehicle

Learning how to shift gears on a light vehicle after starting the engine is an essential skill for all drivers as it helps them in observing safe and efficient driving. For manual transmission motor vehicles, it involves mastering the coordination of the clutch pedal, gear stick, and accelerator. This coordination helps the driver control the vehicle’s speed and power smoothly, especially in varied driving conditions like city traffic or steep hills.

For automatic transmission vehicles, the learning curve is less steep since the car handles most of the gear shifting automatically. Drivers primarily need to understand the different gear positions and their appropriate uses. Familiarity with these controls allows for better handling, improved fuel efficiency, and a more comfortable driving experience. With this guide, we will walk you through the essential steps and tips when shifting gears on light vehicles, regardless of clutch type.

Table of Contents

how to shift gears of light motor vehicle

Procedure: Shifting Gears on Light Vehicles

Shifting gears on a light vehicle involves changing the gear ratio between the engine and the wheels, which adjusts the vehicle’s speed and power. In manual transmissions, this requires the driver to manually engage and disengage gears using the clutch and gear stick. In automatic transmissions, the vehicle automatically selects the appropriate gear based on speed and load.

Shifting gears is crucial for optimizing the vehicle’s performance and fuel efficiency. Proper gear selection ensures that the engine operates within its optimal power range, providing the necessary torque for acceleration and maintaining speed. It also prevents engine strain and potential damage by avoiding operating at excessively high or low RPMs.

Manual Transmission

Shifting gears is a basic driving skill involved in many driving processes. Hence, it is important that drivers learn how to do it properly. Check this guide for tips on how to do so properly when driving cars with manual transmission:

Starting the Vehicle

Step 1. Ensure Neutral Position

Make sure the gear stick is in the neutral position and the parking brake is engaged.

Step 2. Depress the Clutch

Use your left foot to press the clutch pedal all the way down.

Step 3. Start the Engine

Turn the key in the ignition while keeping the clutch pedal depressed.

Step 4. Shift to First Gear

Move the gear stick to the first gear position (usually top-left on the gear pattern).

Step 5. Release Parking Brake

Disengage the parking brake while keeping your foot on the brake pedal.

Step 6. Rev the Engine

Gently press the accelerator to raise the RPM to around 1,500-2,000.

Step 7. Release the Clutch

Slowly lift your left foot off the clutch pedal while simultaneously pressing the accelerator with your right foot to start moving.

Upshifting (Increasing Gears)

Step 1. Monitor RPM

Watch the tachometer and prepare to shift when the RPM reaches 2,500-3,000.

Step 2. Lift Off the Accelerator

Take your right foot off the accelerator pedal.

Step 3. Depress the Clutch

Press the clutch pedal fully with your left foot.

Step 4. Shift to the Next Gear

Move the gear stick to the next higher gear (e.g., from first to second).

Step 5. Release the Clutch and Accelerate

Slowly release the clutch pedal while gradually pressing the accelerator to continue driving smoothly.

Downshifting (Decreasing Gears)

Step 1. Lift Off the Accelerator

Remove your foot from the gas pedal to let the RPM drop.

Step 2. Depress the Clutch

Press the clutch pedal all the way down.

Step 3. Shift to a Lower Gear 

Move the gear stick to the next lower gear (e.g., from third to second).

Step 4. Release the Clutch and Accelerate

Slowly release the clutch pedal while pressing the accelerator to match the engine speed to the lower gear.

Stopping the Vehicle

Step 1. Depress the Clutch

Press the clutch pedal fully with your left foot as you begin to slow down.

Step 2. Shift to Neutral

Move the gear stick to the neutral position.

Step 3. Brake to a Stop

Use the brake pedal to bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

Step 4. Engage the Parking Brake

Once stopped, engage the parking brake to secure the vehicle.

Parking the Vehicle

Step 1. Shift to Neutral

Ensure the gear stick is in the neutral position.

Step 2. Engage the Parking Brake

Pull up the parking brake lever to prevent the vehicle from rolling.

Step 3. Turn Off the Engine

Turn the ignition key to the off position to stop the engine.

Automatic Transmission

For cars with automatic transmission, here are the steps to follow:

Starting the Vehicle

Step 1. Enter the Vehicle and Secure Yourself

Fasten your seatbelt and ensure all passengers do the same.

Step 2. Press and Hold the Brake Pedal

Use your right foot to press the brake pedal firmly.

Step 3. Start the Engine

Insert the key into the ignition and turn it to start the engine, or press the start button if your vehicle is equipped with one.

Shifting from Park (P) to Drive (D) or Reverse (R)

Step 1. Move the Gearshift Lever

While holding the brake pedal, move the gearshift lever from ‘P’ (Park) to ‘D’ (Drive) for forward movement or ‘R’ (Reverse) for backing up.

Step 2. Release the Parking Brake

Ensure the parking brake is disengaged.

Driving Forward

Step 1. Release the Brake Pedal

Slowly release the brake pedal. The car will start to move forward if in ‘D’ (Drive).

Step 2. Press the Accelerator Pedal

Gradually press the accelerator pedal to increase speed. The vehicle will automatically shift gears as you accelerate.

Changing Gears While Driving

Step 1. Use Manual Mode (if available)

Some automatic transmissions have a manual mode (indicated by ‘+’ and ‘-‘ signs or paddle shifters). To upshift, press the ‘+’ sign, and to downshift, press the ‘-‘ sign.

Step 2. Monitor the Dashboard

Check the dashboard indicators to ensure you are in the correct gear.

Slowing Down and Stopping

Step 1. Gradually Press the Brake Pedal

To slow down, gently press the brake pedal with your right foot.

Step 2. Shift to Neutral (N) if Stopped for Long Periods

If you anticipate a long stop, shift to ‘N’ (Neutral) to avoid strain on the transmission.

Parking the Vehicle

Step 1. Bring the Vehicle to a Complete Stop

Press the brake pedal fully to stop the car.

Step 2. Shift to Park (P)

Move the gearshift lever to ‘P’ (Park).

Step 3. Engage the Parking Brake

Apply the parking brake to secure the vehicle.

Step 4. Turn Off the Engine

Turn the ignition key to the off position or press the stop button to turn off the engine.

By following these steps, you can efficiently and safely shift gears in a light vehicle, regardless of clutch type, ensuring smooth and controlled driving.

Understanding Gear Symbols

Manual Transmission

Manual transmission vehicles typically use an H-pattern to indicate the positions of the gears. Each gear position is represented by a specific symbol or number, which helps the driver know which gear they are engaging. Here’s a rundown of the manual gear symbols and their meanings:

Gear Positions

  • 1 (First Gear): First gear is typically at the top left of the H-pattern. This gear provides the most torque and is used to start the vehicle from a complete stop.
  • 2 (Second Gear): Directly below first gear in the H-pattern, second gear is used for slightly higher speeds after starting.
  • 3 (Third Gear): Located to the right of first gear and directly above fourth gear, third gear is used for moderate speeds and provides a balance between power and speed.
  • 4 (Fourth Gear): Found directly below third gear in the H-pattern, fourth gear is used for higher speeds and cruising on flat roads.
  • 5 (Fifth Gear): To the right of third gear and above reverse, fifth gear is often used for highway driving and fuel efficiency at higher speeds.
  • R (Reverse): The position for reverse gear varies by vehicle but is usually at the bottom right of the H-pattern. It is used for backing up the vehicle.

Neutral Position

  • N (Neutral): Neutral is indicated with an ‘N’ and is located in the center of the H-pattern. When in neutral, the vehicle is not in any gear and can roll freely if not braked.

Automatic Transmission

Automatic transmissions use a set of standard gear symbols to indicate different driving modes. These symbols help drivers choose the correct gear for various driving conditions. Here’s what they mean:

Common Gear Symbols

  • P (Park): This mode locks the transmission, preventing the vehicle from rolling. Use this gear when the car is stationary and you need to turn off the engine or leave the vehicle. Always engage the parking brake when in ‘P’.
  • R (Reverse): This gear is used for backing up. The car will move backward when you press the accelerator. Use ‘R’ only when the vehicle is completely stopped to avoid damaging the transmission.
  • N (Neutral): In this mode, the transmission is disengaged, and the car can roll freely if not held by the brakes. Use ‘N’ if you need to keep the engine running while the car is stationary for a long period, such as during a long wait at a railroad crossing.
  • D (Drive): This is the primary driving mode for moving forward. The transmission will automatically shift through the gears as you accelerate and decelerate. Use ‘D’ for most of your driving needs, including city and highway driving.
  • L (Low Gear): This mode keeps the car in lower gears, providing more power and engine braking. It’s useful for driving down steep hills or towing heavy loads. 

Additional Gear Positions (If Available)

  • 1 (First Gear): This setting provides maximum power and torque, useful for very slow speeds, steep inclines, or heavy towing.
  • 2 (Second Gear): This setting is used for slightly higher speeds than first gear but still provides extra power for moderate inclines or towing.
  • 3 (Third Gear): This setting allows for higher speeds than second gear while still providing more control and engine braking than ‘D’.
  • M (Manual Mode): Some automatic transmissions offer a manual mode, allowing the driver to shift gears manually using ‘+’ and ‘-‘ controls or paddle shifters. This gives more control over the gear selection for situations that require precise driving.

Understanding these symbols helps ensure you select the appropriate gear for various driving conditions, contributing to a safer and more efficient driving experience.

Tips for Shifting Gears 

For your reference, here are some safety tips to remember when shifting gears on a light vehicle

Manual Gear Shifting Tips

  • Familiarize yourself with the specific H-pattern of your vehicle by checking the gear knob or the vehicle manual.
  • Always press the clutch pedal fully before shifting gears to ensure smooth transitions.
  • Shift sequentially without skipping to avoid mechanical stress on the transmission.
  • Consider road conditions and speed when selecting the appropriate gear. Lower gears for lower speeds and higher gears as you accelerate.
  • Increase the gear gradually when accelerating to avoid jerking.
  • Downshift to keep the engine within a safe speed range when slowing down or stopping.
  • Disengage the clutch slowly and smoothly to prevent unnecessary wear on the clutch system.
  • Lightly handle the pedals and gear stick to ensure smoother gear changes

Shifting Gears on Automatic Car

  • Each gearshift letter and number has a specific function so make sure you know what they mean to be able to select the appropriate gear.
  • Always press the brake pedal when shifting gears to ensure smooth transitions.
  • Automatic transmissions will shift gears for you, but be mindful of your speed to maintain better control.

Video: How to Change or Shift Gears

For a visual walkthrough on how to shift gears when driving a manual car properly, you may check out this video from World Driving:

For shifting gears on automatic cars, this video from Driving with Archie should help guide you in doing it properly:


Whether driving a manual or automatic transmission light vehicle in the Philippines, understanding how to properly shift gears is crucial for a smooth and safe driving experience. Practice these steps and tips to become more confident and proficient behind the wheel and to avoid unnecessary troubles on the road.

error: Content is protected !!