A Complete Guide: When to change gears

How to change gear according to engine type

The first thing you need to know is that, during the acceleration processes, the gear change must take place at different revolutions depending on whether we are talking about a diesel or gasoline engine.

  • In the first case, you have to shift up at the moment when 1,500 to 2,000 revolutions per minute are reached.
  • Whereas, in the second case, you must change gear once the engine reaches between 2,000 and 2,500 revolutions per minute.

Of course, this recommendation is of a general nature. The displacement and power of the specific engine fitted to the vehicle must be taken into account.

Gearshift at startup

As you probably already know, the first gear is the one that transmits the most force to the vehicle but it is also the shortest of all. Once the first gear is engaged, the acceleration process should be smooth or as progressive as possible.
However, in most cases, it is a very fast process, since you have to change to second gear after two seconds after starting the trip or, failing that, after having traveled a distance of approximately 6 meters.

How to change gears in a car: Acceleration

Once the vehicle is in motion and we have engaged the second gear, the subsequent changes will be made depending on the conditions of the road traffic.

  • When the road allows a high speed of movement and the traffic is fluid, it is necessary to change to the third gear and to continue the acceleration process to later change to the fifth gear. Indeed, there is no need to go through fourth gear. This will save fuel and minimize gearbox wear.
  • When the second gear has been engaged and, as long as the speed reached is similar to the driving conditions, the most appropriate thing is to change directly to fourth gear, which is usually the most appropriate for driving on roads with a relatively high speed. low.
  • When road conditions present high traffic congestion and excessively slow traffic, continue to drive in second gear, provided that the engine does not exceed 2,000 revolutions per minute, in which case it is most appropriate to engage third gear.

As you have seen, and when traffic conditions allow it, the ideal is to progress to the highest gears as soon as possible, without having to go through each of the intermediate gears.

Automatic gearshift

The particularity of automatic gear changes is that they are the ones who choose the appropriate gear ratio, according to the throttle position and the revolutions at which the engine is turning.
As a general rule, automatic gear changes use rules designed to ensure fuel efficiency. What’s more, they often include economy driving mode (ECO). However, if you want to optimize driving and gear shifting with these systems, you have 2 alternatives:

  • To go up to a gear higher than the one programmed taking into account the revolutions, you only have to slightly reduce the pressure on the accelerator and then accelerate again. This will shift the vehicle into a higher gear.


Avoid fully depressing the accelerator to perform this technique, since, in such cases, the “kickdown” function will be activated, designed to allow greater acceleration. This implies that gear changes are delayed and take place at high revs. This system is designed for special acceleration processes, such as emergencies or overtaking in less than optimal conditions.

  • Certain automatic gearboxes offer the possibility of manual transmission with fourth and fifth gear.

How to downshift a car: Using the engine brake

One of the most common questions in the driving world is whether it is appropriate to downshift to slow down the vehicle.

Traditionally, it has been recommended to use downshifting as a mechanism to support the braking process, using the technique known as “engine braking”.

This is because the lower the gear, the more power the engine develops but provides less top speed. Consequently, if we downshift and do not step on the accelerator, the vehicle tends to slow down, because the pressure exerted by the gearbox is greater than that of the inertia accumulated by the engine.

Advantages of the engine brake

The advantages of the “engine brake” are manifold, since it helps to reduce brake wear and, in an emergency, it also reduces braking distance. However, the following should be noted.

Although this technique is still valid, it should be noted that if used incorrectly, it can put unnecessary stress on the engine’s mechanics, contribute to overheating, cause the wheels to lock up and, in the worst case, make you lose control of the engine. vehicle. In general, the mechanics of the vehicle will be seriously damaged, which will result in considerable wear on the clutch, bearings, silent blocks or bearings.

It is very easy to notice that the engine brake is being used incorrectly because the car will jerk the moment we release the clutch after engaging a lower gear.
Never do this

Many drivers try to avoid these types of jerks by releasing the clutch slowly. Unfortunately, this supposes a greater slippage of the same and its consequent wear.

Instead, it is appropriate to use the techniques known as “toe-heel” or double-clutch. These are advanced driving techniques whose purpose is to equal the revolutions at which the engine should turn in the gear to which we are going to reduce.

The double clutch fell into disuse after the introduction of synchronized gearboxes, so we are not going to waste time explaining it. The toe-heel technique, however, can make a clear difference when it comes to safeguarding the integrity of the clutch and prolonging its useful life.

What is the “toe-heel”?

In order to avoid the jumps in revolution that take place when downshifting, a particular movement must be executed with the right foot, so that, with the toe, the brake is pressed and the accelerator is lightly pressed with the heel. It is executed as follows:

  • We start by braking the vehicle with the brake pedal and step on the clutch to then reduce gear.
  • With the clutch and brake still depressed, we move the heel of the right foot to the accelerator and press it gently. It is a slight touch of gas, whose objective is to increase the revolutions that the engine should have in the gear that we are about to engage.
  • We start by braking the vehicle with the brake pedal and step on the clutch to then reduce gear.
  • Finally, we release the clutch. If the number of revolutions to which we have previously raised the engine is adequate, no kind of jerk should take place since the speed of the primary and secondary axes of the gearbox will be equivalent.

As you will already suppose, it is necessary to practice this technique to become familiar with it. Due to its complexity, it is not included among the usual efficient driving techniques.

Is there an easier alternative?

If you don’t want to have to use the “toe-heel” technique to downshift, but don’t want to subject the clutch and other mechanics to unnecessary wear and tear, the main recommendation is to downshift as late as possible.

To do this, you need to anticipate as much as possible the start of the car’s deceleration. To do this, you must release the accelerator at a considerable distance from the braking point, so that the engine itself helps to slow down the vehicle little by little (effect of the “engine brake”).

As long as the engine does not sound “choked”, nothing prevents you from traveling at a reduced speed in a high gear and eventually braking the vehicle. In this way, you will achieve the lowest possible fuel consumption, as well as preserve the integrity of the brakes, gearbox and clutch for longer.

In short, and as you have seen, changing the gears of a vehicle can make a big difference in the driving experience, as well as preserving the mechanics and reducing fuel consumption.

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