The Hand Brake (Parking Brake)
The handbrake, also known as the parking brake, is used to secure the car in place after you come to a stop. It is not used to slow the car down. To release the handbrake you should lift it slightly, and then press in the button. Keep the button pressed and lower the lever all the way down and let go.
To apply the handbrake, press the button in, raise the handbrake until it resists, then release the button and then let go of the lever. Not pressing the button in fully when putting on the handbrake may result in wearing of the ratchet mechanism and it makes an awful noise.
You should apply the hand brake if you are waiting at a junction, you have stopped on a hill, or you are leaving your car parked. If you are just pausing at a junction, it may not be necessary to apply the hand brake. If the pause becomes a wait, put the handbrake on. If the pause is up hill, you should use the handbrake to ensure you do not roll backwards when setting off.
The Gear Stick
The gear stick, also known as the gear selector, is used to select the gear on a vehicle. You should ensure the gear stick is in the neutral position (not in gear) before you start the engine. Neutral is usually in the middle position and the gear stick will freely move from left to right when it is in neutral.
When the car is in neutral there is no gear selected so the engine can spin without moving the car forward, even when the clutch is up.
The majority of modern cars will have five forward gears and one reverse gear. There are a few typical layouts of the gears, as seen below. The one in the middle is the most common layout and that is the type I will refer to when talking about changing gears.
Use of the gear stick is covered in the “Changing Gear” section of this course.
The Steering Wheel
You should hold your steering wheel in the “ten to two” or “quarter to three” position. This refers to the hands on a clock, and is the best positions for your hands should you need to steer quickly. You should never put your hands through the spokes of the steering wheel, as this could make it very difficult to steer in an emergency.
You should steer with both hands, using the pull push technique. The pull push technique is a way of steering whilst maintaining maximum control of the steering wheel. You pass the steering wheel from one hand to another, pulling and pushing the wheel up or down both to turn the wheels, and to return them to the straight position.
To turn left, pull down the steering wheel, gripping with the left hand, push up the steering wheel, gripping with the right hand. Your hands should meet at the top and the bottom as you pass the steering wheel from one hand to the other. You should avoid crossing your arms when steering as crossing your arms could result in a loss of steering control. The pull push steering technique is the best way to steer to ensure you have maximum control, without crossing your arms.
To turn right you should pull down the steering wheel with your right hand, and push up with your left hand. Again you should pass the steering wheel from one hand to the other, without crossing your arms.
This technique is tricky initially, but after practicing you will feel comfortable with pull push steering. You could try using a plate or a Frisbee (if you have one) to practice at home. Or you could go to a quiet car park to practice in a friend or parents car. Make sure you are insured to drive the car you are practicing in.
Most modern cars have power assisted steering (PAS). Power steering makes it easier to turn the steering wheel. Some cars have a feature that allows you to select the amount of assistance the power steering gives you. My car has 2 settings, a “normal” and a “City” mode. When city mode is selected, the steering feels extra light. This may help when manoeuvring into tight parking spaces.
You should avoid steering when your car is stationary. This is known as “dry steering” and can damage your steering mechanism or your tyres. Even if your car has power steering, make sure you are moving slightly before turning the wheels.
The Direction Indicators
The indicators on most cars are controlled by a stick and are usually to the left of the steering wheel on the majority of cars. This stick is sometimes on the right of the steering wheel on a small number of cars.
If the stick is on the left you would move the stick down for a left signal, and up for a right signal. If the stick is on the right you would move the up for a left signals, and down to indicate right.
When you have finished your turn and no longer need the signal it will often cancel automatically. Make sure it has cancelled and if it hasn’t cancel the signal yourself once your manoeuvre is complete.
We will go into more details about the use of signals later on in this course. You should always check your mirrors before signalling. This is so you know whether it is safe to say, change lanes, before you tell people you are going to change lanes.