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What Does This Bit Do?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

What Does This Bit Do?

Tim HillerbyMorgan
23 December 2009

It is surprising how many learner drivers don't know what each of the car controls does. Your driving instructor will talk through the controls with you on your first driving lesson.

It is a balancing act. The more time you spend learning the contorls the more likely you are to learn to use them. The less time you spend learning what each control does the quicker you can get onto driving the car.

This article tells you all you need to know about the car controls.

The Instructors Controls

Your instructor has dual control pedals. They are the dual clutch and dual brake. He will use these to take control of the car and support your learning. Do not worry if your clutch suddenly goes to the floor - its the instructor.

Your controls

Hand Operated Controls

Parking Brake

This is also known as the handbrake. Press the button and move the lever up or down. It will secure the car when it is stopped. Use it when the car has come to halt for more than a few seconds. Do not use the parking brake when the car is moving.

Gear Stick

This allows you to match the speed of the engine to the speed of the car. Its use is explained in the section on changing gears.

Indicator Stalk

You will find this next to the steering wheel. This switches the indicators on or off. Flick it up with your fingers to signal right and down for left. You do not need to let go of the steering wheel to operate the indicators. This control will also operate the main beam. Ask your instructor how to do this.


This is on the other side of the steering wheel. You can switch the wipers to single, pulse(every now and then) , continuous or rapid. This control will also operate the windscreen washers. Ask your instructor how to do this.

Steering Wheel

The big wheel in front of you. Place your hands at a comfortable position between ten to two and quarter to three. This provides more control over sudden car movements. To turn the wheel one hand slides to the top of the wheel and pulls it down. At the same time the other hand slides down and pushes the wheel up. This is known as pull push steering. DO NOT CROSS YOUR HANDS WHEN STEERING.

Foot Controls


This is the pedal on the right. You use your right foot to operate the accelerator. Apply a gentle pressure to make the car go faster. Release the pressure to slow it down. Your instructor will call this the gas pedal because gas is quicker to say.


This is the middle pedal. You use your right foot to operate this pedal. Start with a gentle pressure, gradually increase it. Release the pressure just before the car comes to a halt.


The pedal on the left. This is the only pedal that the left foot operates. The clutch is two plates that connects the power part of the engine to the drive part of the engine. Press it down to separate the clutch to change gear. Let the pedal up to engage the clutch. The clutch makes the car go. If it is not in the right place the car will not go.

Instructor Commands.

Your instructor will use a series of standard commands. These will tell you what to do with your feet. The commands are:

Cover - place your foot over that pedal More - Push your foot down

Less - Lift your foot up

Set the gas - Enough pressure on the gas pedal to let you hear the engine.

Instruments These are located on the dashboard behind the steering wheel. The Speedo runs 10, 20 ... up to 140 on some cars. It tells you how fast the car is going. The other dial is the rev counter it tells you how hard the engine is working. Never let the rev needle hit the red part of the dial. You will also find the fuel gage - a needle above a picture of a petrol pump. The dashboard also has a number of warning lights. If a warning light comes on whilst you are on the move - check it out.


These are very important. Your mirrors tell you what is happening to the side and behind you.

Centre Mirror - The flat mirror hanging on the windscreen. You should be able to see most of the back windscreen whilst you are looking ahead of you. If not move it - but do not touch the glass.

Door mirrors - These are convex to allow you see a little further out. You should be able to see a little of the back of the car with just a slight turn of the head. If not change them - Ask your instructor how to do this.

Using them - Every time you are going to signal, change speed or direction you should check your mirrors. Check the centre mirror first and then the relevant door mirror. Your instructor might say centre and left or centre and right.

What do I look for? Any object. You need to know is it near or far. You need to know is it fast or slow.

Why check the mirrors? You need to know what is there before you make a manoeuvre.

The Drivers Ed Company manage the BTEC in Driving Skills. This combines the work of driving instructors, driving schools and learner drivers. The online course runs alongside driving lessons to form a powerful driver training aid. This course will improve pass rates and reduce deaths on the roads. www.driversedcompany.com

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