Cars have advanced rapidly over the last decade and your driving technique needs too as well… Here are the 13 driving techniques you need to unlearn.

1. Learn the car

Older cars didn’t require any special learning, just get in and move those controls. Modern cars have hidden features. Special modes for the throttle and automatic gearbox, hidden gadgets like blind spot monitoring, aids like hill-start assist, and much more. They’re not unlike your new smartphone or Microsoft Excel or Word – lots of features you don’t realise exist but once you do then you’ll love them. Take the time to read the owners manual, and keep up to date so you get the most from your modern car.

2. Mind the bags

Ah, summer days, crusing along with bare feet on the dash. Dumb idea now, because there are airbags in the way. And there are airbags to the side. Airbags in the seat. Airbags just about everywhere. And in the event of a crash airbags save your life, so it’s a wise idea not to put anything in their way – feet, mobile phone mounts or anything else. Remember that airbags don’t really inflate, they explode open as they have only fractions of a second to deploy to save your noggin slamming against something hard and unforgiving. Treat them with respect.

3. Leave stability control ON

Stability control is there to stop your car skidding and spinning out of control. So leave it tuned on all the time, which it will be by default unless you press the button to switch it off. If you drive in a way so that it activates on public roads you’re either not being very smooth or your driving like an idiot. It is possible to drive quickly with it enabled if you use the right techniques. If you must drift, speed or otherwise hoon then get involved in grassroots motorsports and do it legally and safely. Stability control is a bit different to most other car controls as the dash light (example shown here) only illuminates when it’s off.

4. Skip gears

Those old cars again with weak engines and four speeds? You’d always go 1, 2, 3, 4 to accelerate. But today you can pull away in first, and maybe go straight to third-gear. Certainly you can do a gearchange from 2 – 4, and a 3 -5 or even 3 -6. Many cars can do over 80km/h in second-gear, so if you really give it some beans then a 2-6 is on the cards. Saves time, fuel and an extra gearchange. And, on the way down feel free to do a 6-2 if you’re braking.

5. Third not second

Old cars had four and five speed gearboxes, and power like a big boat with a small outboard motor. Every suburban corner had to be second gear. Today’s cars have much, much more powerful engines and manuals are typically six speed, so you can comfortably take many low-speed corners and roundabouts in third. This is less stress on you, the car and uses less fuel. Don’t labour the engine, but if you can gently accelerate and the care readily responds, the gear is right. Try higher gears!

6. No need for revs when parking

Modern cars have anti-stall systems, so on flat ground all you need to do is lift the clutch to biting point to move the car, and you need not touch the accelerator at all. In fact, you can get many cars into second- or even third-gear without touching the loud pedal, give it a try in a deserted carpark. Why do you care? It’s much smoother and safer control if you simply lift the clutch with your left foot and cover the brake with your right – less clutch wear, quieter, and you’re instantly ready to stop without a foot movement from accelerator to brake.

7. Use the engine to brake

Modern brakes are much better than old brakes, so, in general engine for go, brakes for slow. But when you’re going downhill for a long, long time use lower gears. It helps hugely with control and does save the brakes and/or brake fluid from overheating.

8. Brake while turning in

“Brake in a straight line, then turn”. I remember my instructor saying that. It’s not bad advice, it’s just not great advice. The reason it’s given is because tyres can only generate a certain amount of grip, and that grip is best used for either turning, or braking/acclerating, and what you don’t want to do is barrel into a corner and try and brake hard while turning hard.

However, jumping off the brakes and then trying to turn is also bad news. When you brake you compress the suspension, and when you come off the brakes the suspension rebounds, shifting weight from the front to the rear. The less weight there is on the front the worse the grip, so you’re actually reducing the ability of the front wheels to grip and thus turn.

What you want to do is get all the heavy braking out of the way before the turn, and just before you turn in start to smoothly ease off on the brakes, and as the turn tightens gently come right off the brakes with a nice gradual transition to equally gentle application of power. This is safe and offers quick progress.

9. Stamp those brakes for an emergency

Were you ever taught to brake just hard enough to lock the wheels, then back off? That was sound advice for yesterday with cars that lack ABS, but with today’s ABS (anti-lock braking) systems the emergency stop process is simple – mash that brake pedal to the floor and keep it there, even if it vibrates. Let the electronics do the work for you, and don’t let up on the brakes. You can steer too, and the ABS system will release enough brake pressure to let you change direction albeit with an increase in overall stopping distance.

10. Remember the run-in?

For new cars the run-in process is simpler and less critical – more here.

11. Forget the shuffle!

The shuffling steering technique is where you use the quarter to three hold and pretty much keep your hands in that position as you turn the wheel, making small movements. It is a technique still useful today, for example in low-speed offroad situations. But for higher speed work, say country roads or freeways, just hold the wheel at a quarter to three and fix your hands in place as you turn, even if your hands cross over a little. Your old instructor will rotate in his grave, but it’s the way to control modern cars as you can be much smoother and only a small turn of the steering wheel is needed to turn the front wheels a long way.

For really low-speed work like parking it really doesn’t matter what you do with the wheel. But there’s a couple of techniques never to use – firstly, hooking your hand up under the steering wheel. You just don’t need that leverage, there’s little control over the car and if the airbag goes off it’ll be the last face-palm you ever do. And guys, leave the gearshift alone, put that hand back on the steering wheel.

12. Quarter to three

Forget holding the steering wheel at ten-to-two, that’s a throwback to the 1920s, believe it or not. The modern steering wheel is designed to be gripped at quarter to three. This is because you get maximum leverage, it’s the best way to get feedback from the car, and your hands are at least risk of being in the way should the airbag go off.


13. A new way to hill-start

Many cars have hill start assist – they detect they’re on a hill in drive, and will momentarily hold you on the hill using the brakes while your foot moves from brake to accelerator. This means you don’t need the park-brake for a hill-start. And if you own an auto, here’s an even better way that doesn’t require hill start assist – put your left foot on the brakes, right foot on accelerator, release the brakes till you’re only just holding on the hill, increase the revs so you move off and at the same time smoothly release that last bit of brake pressure with your left foot. Easy after a little practice, as well as smoother and quicker than the park-brake technique.

Agree, or disagree with the above, let us know in the comments below.


Ford Focus RS documentary to launch on September 30


Buying your new car - Head or Heart?

1 comment

  1. Howabout changing gears in a manual without the clutch?
    And when parking a manual put it in second so if its accidentially started its more likely to stall and not drive through whatever is in its way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also