The clutch pedal and gear stick is a classic combination used in cars with a manual transmission. Some automakers however have moved away from this tried and tested formula with so-called flappy paddle gearboxes. Designed for more precision in gear changes, the system allows the driver to shift gear without moving their hands from their steering wheels. It’s said that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it but paddle shifting represents a new type of driving for both racing and the school run. Here’s the lowdown.
How it works
A car with paddle shifters built in has a different looking steering wheel. Two short stalks, one on either side of the wheel, control the gears with the left paddle taking the gears down and the right paddle nudging the gears up. The corresponding number will flash up on the dashboard to indicate the selected gear. Once the signal is given, a system of pneumatics and actuators change gear. The driver can also pull the shifter twice to work up or down the gears quickly.
The transmission is semi-automatic and the computer will kick-in and stop the driver from changing gear incorrectly. For example, the action will be blocked if the driver upshifts or downshifts too early or if both paddle shifters are mistakenly pressed at the same time. Some drivers have complained that this gives them a lack of control but if used properly, quicker speeds can be reached than when using a manual gearbox as the changes are seamless and smooth as human error is overridden by the onboard computer. Additionally, semi-automatic systems are better for the environment as higher gears are achieved quicker with no loss of energy or fuel when in a lower gear for too long. Below is a rough guide on what sort of speed you should be changing gear with when using semi-automatic transmission.
Essentially the system is a hybrid between manual and automatic. Some racing cars go one step further though with what’s called Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT). With separate clutches for odd and even gears, gear changes are extremely quick, which can make all the difference in a race.
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