Auto Gear Box, What is DSG, What is DCT?
When I was learning to drive I thought that it would be so much easier to drive an automatic. I’ve never been particularly good at multitasking so mastering gears while trying to ensure I steered in the right direction and kept my eyes on the road was taxing for me. I’m pleased to say that I persevered and passed my test with a manual transmission first time. There are some advantages to automatic gear boxes and how they work is very clever. When writing this article it became clear to me that driving an automatic might not be as easy as I first thought and there are some significant differences to how you should drive when using an automatic.
Automatic gearboxes change gear automatically depending on the speed and acceleration of the car. Each system is different and offers different features to another. You should always read up on how your vehicle’s automatic transmission works. This way you can accurately match the capabilities of the system to how you drive. For example, modern automatic gearboxes have the capability to change gear faster and more accurately than the actual driver.
What does DSG stand for?
DSG stands for direct-shift gearbox. It’s used to describe an electronically controlled dual-clutch manual gearbox without a conventional clutch pedal. It comes in either fully automatic or semi-manual control. Developed first by Porsche in the 1980’s for use in their racing cars. By using two independent clutches the DSG achieves faster shift times and eliminates torque on a standard automatic transmission.
What does DCT stand for?
DCT is the acronym used to describe dual-clutch transmission. Otherwise known as twin-clutch transmission or double-clutch transmission. DCT is a type of automatic transmission which uses two separate clutches for odd and even gear sets. Think of it like two manual transmissions and clutches working as one unit.
The Automatic Transmission Gears
The gears on an automatic vehicle are vastly different to a manual transmission. If you drive a manual vehicle you’ll be used to a gear stick sporting 1,2,3,4,5 sometimes 6 and reverse. On an automatic vehicle, there are 4 simple gears P (park) or B (brake), R (reverse), D (drive) and N (neutral). Some systems offer extra options like S (sport) which changes gears at higher revs. This improves the capabilities giving greater acceleration and braking increasing performance. This mode is less economical on fuel, however. Some auto transmissions also offer an Eco (economy) setting. The opposite of the sports option, the economy setting changes gear at lower revs. This gives maximum fuel economy. Some cars even allow you to choose between driving auto or manual with a Manual gear setting.
Other auto cars will have a paddle shift located on the steering wheel. You’ll notice a + and – which is used to switch the car from auto to manual. when you have finished in manual mode then just flick the auto box back to D for drive and you are back in auto mode.
Choose the mode that best suits your journey. On a long drive, you might want to choose a different mode to one for everyday tasks where fuel economy might be more important. Change mode if necessary but try not to switch too frequently. More sophisticated models require less human input. Switching to a different mode like Sport means the engine will behave differently so be prepared for a change in how the car drives and feels.
Some advanced systems learn as you drive so they adapt to how you drive the car. If you change how you drive part-way through a journey, or another driver takes over it will take some time for the gearbox to adjust.
How to use automatic gearboxes properly
When starting up and pulling away some systems vary in what they require of the driver before they engage the gearbox. Some can be started in park mode, others need to be in neutral. You may even need to place your foot on the brake pedal in order to even start the engine.
If you’re on a long journey you might want to lock in your automatic gear choice for a long duration. Some gearboxes will offer a shift-lock. Shift-lock is a security button on the transmission lever which allows you to lock in your chosen gear.
Need an extra bit of oomph from your automatic vehicle? It’s not like a manual where you are able to change down the gear and put your foot down to get moving a bit quicker. Automatic vehicles have something called ‘kick down’ which overrides the current gear selection and drops the car down a gear. To activate kick down you must accelerate firmly to the floor. Always use carefully and consider your environment before initiating kick-down.
When you need to do a short stop at traffic lights or junctions many manual car drivers will apply the handbrake. However, in an automatic vehicle, it is advised that the only time you engage the park gear is when you are going to be parking. Then select park before turning off the engine. Systems do vary so always check the manual.
Other tips to improve how you use automatic transmission
Always keep the foot brake depressed when changing gears. Most systems actually won’t allow you to change gears without depressing the foot brake. Car control is just as important in an automatic as it is in a manual. Many drivers become complacent when driving an automatic that the car will do the hard work for them. They might lose speed late such as while taking a bend when it would have been preferable to have speed reduced before taking the bend. Slight pressure changes to the accelerator can change entirely which gear the system uses. This helps control the balance of the car for a smoother drive.
Driving an automatic car in different weather conditions
There are some top tips you should read if you are going to be driving an automatic vehicle in adverse road conditions. Here we round up the must-knows.
Driving through water
Surface water on the road can dramatically reduce the grip of the tyres. Maintaining a steady pressure on the accelerator while gently braking with the left foot will maintain a good level of engine revs. This will prevent water from flowing up the exhaust pipe.
Driving down a steep hill
Modern automatic vehicles have a hold system which keeps a low road speed when descending down a long hill so you don’t need to use the brakes. If your vehicle doesn’t offer this then you can manually override it by pressing the brake occasionally to maintain a low speed.
Moving off on snow, ice or grass
To move away on slippery surfaces can be tricky in an automatic. So much so that some manufacturers have developed a special button to assist in pulling away while on a slip risk surface. If your vehicle doesn’t have this setting try selecting lock position 2 or 3 when pulling away. Travelling slowly and using gentle acceleration should give you more grip.