If you're the sort of person who wears leather driving gloves and a pork-pie hat when driving, you probably know all the best methods of getting from A to B with added panache. But for the rest of us, there are valuable techniques which can be used to get the best out of your car. This is where the application of advanced driving techniques comes in.
Eliminating Blind Spots
Most people like to adjust the wing mirrors so that they can see along the side of the vehicle from the normal driving position. Unfortunately, there is a blind spot between the view you see in the mirror and the view you get out of the side window. A car may be lurking in this area and may surprise you when you go to change lanes. One method to overcome this is as follows:
Lean up against the driver door, put your head against the window, and adjust the driver wing mirror so that you can just see along the side of the vehicle.
Lean towards the centre of the car, so that your head is in the middle, between the driver seat and passenger seat. Adjust the mirror on the passenger door so that you can just see along the passenger side of the vehicle.
This reduces the amount of overlap between the rear view mirror and the wing mirror, but means that the wing mirrors see further out into the blind spot. As a vehicle moves from your rear view mirror, it appears in one of your wing mirrors. As it moves from the wing mirror, it becomes visible out of the corner of your eye.
Use this technique with caution! Because there is less overlap between the various mirrors, you will find that you have to check in both the rear view mirror and the wing mirror before changing lanes. One Researcher offers the following cautionary advice:
Then, of course, there's always the absolutely foolproof way... never, ever change lanes without checking over your shoulder first.
The only exception is when you've passed someone in the lane you intend to move into, and you've got them in your mirror. But even then it could lead to an accident, if some aggressive b*****d jumped into it behind you and floored it. So check then, too.
Modern cars have a type of gearbox called 'synchromesh', which allows you to change smoothly between gears. You can even 'skip a gear', for example changing down from 5th to 3rd without any negative side effects on the gearbox, although the situations in which you might need to do so are fairly limited.
Really old cars, from the 1970s or older, were not fitted with synchromesh or only had it between 2nd and 3rd gear, which meant there was much more of an art to changing gear. To prevent clashing of gears during changes with damage to the gearbox, a technique called double declutching1 was used.
In ordinary declutching you use the clutch to change from a higher to a lower gear. It's what you do all the time. Double declutching is a little more elaborate:
- Push the clutch to the floor
- Put the gear lever into neutral
- Lift the clutch off the floor
- Give the accelerator a little blip to rev the engine up
- Push the clutch to the floor
- Put the gear lever into the desired gear
- Lift the clutch off the floor
Why do it? It puts the gearbox into an intermediate state where it is better able to slip into the new gear, and matches the engine speed to the new speed required by the lower gear.
The same process in reverse, but without the extra blip of the accelerator, is used to go up to a higher gear.
For really ambitious drivers, you might try the 'heel and toe' technique. This involves braking with the toe of your right foot. When you get to the point in the double declutch where you need to rev the engine, you use the heel of your right foot to blip the accelerator, while continuing to brake with the toe. We've mentioned this technique here, but if you want to give it a go you should really get lessons on it from a qualified instructor first.
Driving in a Low Gear
Fifth gear is for cissies! Most drivers instinctively keep the engine ticking over at between 2000 and 3000 revs per minute (rpm). This ensures the engine is nice and quiet, but unfortunately gives the driver very little control.
For maximum control of the car, you should drive in a lower gear and pump the revs up to between 4000 and 5000 rpm. In this spectrum, the engine will let you know it is doing its job well by roaring. The racket that is produced is not for the sensitive, but don't worry, you won't hurt your engine at all. At high revs, you have more power for manoeuvring. The car will also slow down much quicker if you take your foot off the accelerator, for changes down in speed.
Of course, driving in a low gear will use more fuel, so you should only do it when you think you'll need the extra control, such as on a road with many bends or if there's a lot happening. For covering long distances at a constant speed, you should stay in a high gear, as you'll use less fuel and cause less wear and tear on the engine.
If you can drive at all, you obviously know how to steer, but there are a few points worth noting.
Where to Hold Your Hands on the Wheel
Traditionally, the recommended position for the hands on the steering wheel was 'ten to two', the position of the hands on a clock showing this time. This position was thought to give maximum control of the wheel and is comfortable.
In the last few years, however, many people have recommended that this practice should be changed. Airbags mounted in the steering wheel can injure the driver's arms as they explode outwards to cushion the driver in the event of a crash. Some think there is evidence that the 9-3 position, which keeps the arms as clear as possible of the path of the airbag, gives less risk of injury. Some car manufacturers even place indentations on the rear of the wheel at these points to encourage drivers to use this hand position.
The jury is still out on whether 9-3 actually decreases the risk of injury, and the best position for maximum control has been debated for decades. If you are just learning to drive you might benefit from not fighting with your instructor and if you've driven for years in that position, trying to change habits might pose more of a risk.
It is a good idea, though, to position the driver's seat well back from the steering wheel, and to drive with arms outstretched, because the driver is less likely to strike the steering wheel in a crash. Your should be far enough from the wheel to make a reasonable gap, but not so far that your elbows are straight, as this will reduce your control. Drive with your elbows slightly bent. For people with short legs, though, it may be necessary to remain close to the steering wheel.
Brake in, Drive Out
For maximum control on bends and corners, you should brake before the bend and then accelerate as you go around the bend. You are less likely to skid this way than if you are still braking as you come out of the bend.
Position Before Bends
To judge the speed at which you can go around a bend safely, it is necessary to know how sharp the bend is, as well as taking into account the camber2 of the road. The sharpness of the bend can be estimated by looking at trees or telegraph poles along the side of the road. To maximise the driver's view around the bend, you should position the car at the left of the lane before entering a bend to the right, or at the right of the lane before entering a bend to the left.
The best method of braking depends very much on whether you have ABS brakes or not. ABS is an electronic braking system which rapidly pulses your brakes on and off in the event of a skid. It is available as standard in many cars these days. You'll know when the ABS comes into operation because it produces a very loud rumbling noise and a strong vibration can be felt through the brake pedal. It is worth your while trying out your ABS brakes when you are not in the middle of an emergency, so that you know what they sound and feel like; many people are frightened by the sensation and take their foot off the brake.
If you need to stop very quickly and you have ABS brakes, the way to do it is to jam your foot on the brake and leave it there. Don't let up, don't pump the brakes. Keep your foot down hard until the car stops.
If you have not got ABS brakes and you want to stop suddenly, the best way is to pump the brakes: this involves pushing your foot onto the brake pedal, releasing it, pushing again, releasing and so on. This will stop your car in the shortest possible time.
Driving on Ice, Oil or Other Slippery Surfaces
Try and drive in as high a gear as possible. The wheels are less likely to skid. It is even possible to start your car in 3rd gear on ice.
Use the brakes as little as possible; use the engine to slow the car down.
Make sure that tyres are correctly inflated and have plenty of tread. It is a myth that you should lower the pressure in your tyres to drive on ice - this does increase the amount of tyre surface in contact with the road, but it also plays hell with the steering, so don't do it.
Driving for Maximum Fuel Economy
The principles of driving for maximum fuel economy are the opposite of those for control and manoeuvrability. You should:
- Drive in as high a gear as possible.
- Always use your brakes to slow you down, not your gears.
- Never vary your speed at all if possible.
What to Do When Your Heap of Junk Won't Behave Itself
Driving Without Using the Clutch
You may find yourself in the situation where your clutch cable has snapped or the fluid has drained out of your hydraulic clutch. You can't drive like that, can you? Well, actually, you can. All you need to know is described here:
To start the car, put it into second gear, take off the handbrake and turn the ignition key. The engine will start, the car will jump forward and the engine will stall. Immediately, while the car is still moving, turn the key again. This time the engine will start and will continue to run.
You can now drive. When you feel the car is going at the speed where you would normally change gear, rev it up slightly higher, then pull it out of gear. At the same time, ease off on the accelerator and push it into the new gear. With a bit of practice (and luck) you'll get a smooth gear change.
Changing down gear is similar except that you don't rev up beforehand and you leave the engine longer out of gear so that it can slow down and match to the lower speed.
When you want to bring the car to a complete stop, change down to a low gear, then brake heavily to cause the engine to stall.
Push-starting a Car
If your battery has run a bit low and doesn't have enough power to start the car, a push-start may be all that is needed. Put the car into second gear. Turn on the ignition, put the clutch pedal to the floor and get some willing volunteers to push you. When you are going at a reasonable speed, engage the clutch and hopefully the engine will fire. Immediately put the clutch to the floor and rev hard to keep the engine running.
Once the engine has started, leave it running for a good 20 minutes, otherwise you'll need another push-start the next time you want to drive.
Jump-starting a Car
If the battery is completely dead, a push-start may not be enough. You will need to jump-start it, using a pair of jump leads (normally red and black) and another car.
Open the bonnets of both cars.
Connect the red jump lead to the positive (+) terminal on both batteries3. Make sure the healthy car's engine is running.
Connect the black jump lead to the negative terminal (-) of the faulty car's battery.
Carefully connect the other end of the black lead to a piece of bare metal on the body of the healthy car. If this isn't possible, you can connect it directly to the negative terminal of the healthy car's battery, but this is not recommended.
Rev up the healthy car, then start the faulty car. When it is running steadily, remove the black jump lead at both ends. Then remove the red jump lead at both ends.
If the car doesn't start the first time, leave the jump leads attached for a minute or two to charge the dead battery, then try again.
Keep a close eye on the jump leads. If they start to smoke, it is likely that there is a dead short in the battery and it is drawing too much current through the leads. Stop immediately!