How to Use Paddle Shifters – Explained

There has been a great innovative shift in the automotive industry. Back in the 90s, we had either automatic or manual transmission vehicles. But these days, newer automatic vehicles have manual modes, which allow you to do the gear shifting on your automatic transmission instead of relying on the vehicle to do the shifting for you.

Since cars come with different designs, you can find the manual mode on the gear lever or the steering wheel. However, most cars have paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

These vehicles do not have manual clutches, as there is no mechanical link between the paddle shifters and the gear lever. They function as an electronic switch that sends signals to the tranny to upshift or downshift gears.

This article will explain how to use paddle shifters and what they do. But what are paddle shifters, anyway?

paddle shifters

What are paddle shifters?

Paddle shifters enable swift gear shifts, and that’s why they are mostly seen on sportier and high-performance cars. Paddle shifters are a car mechanism attached at the back of the steering wheel or on the steering column that enables the driver to upshift and downshift gears.

When you use a paddle, it signals the clutch to shift to upper or lower gear according to your demand. The paddle with ‘+’ inscription upshifts while the one with ‘-‘ inscription downshifts.

Some vehicles may not carry these inscriptions. If you don’t see these inscriptions in your vehicle, do not panic. The right paddle is for upshifting, while the left is for downshifting.

Paddle shifters give drivers more control on the road and confidence on the wheel. In fact, if you master how to use paddle shifters on Toyota Camry or any vehicle model, it’ll extend the life of your brake pads

How do paddle shifters work?

As alluded to above, paddle shifters are located at the back of the steering wheel or the steering column. They allow a driver to change gears while holding the steering wheel without touching the gear lever. This makes gear shifting safer and swift. By using the paddles, you’ll have confidence in the wheel when changing gears.

Auto manufacturers first install paddle shifters on sequential transmission for racing cars. That is to make gear shifting safely and as fast as possible by sending signals to the transmission via electronic device.

They are first installed on racing cars since speed is the primary thing. However, paddle shifters on all vehicles work like gearshifting on sports and racing cars.

Now, let’s look at how to use paddle shifters on Honda and other vehicles.

How to use paddle shifters

Automotive enthusiasts keep asking how to use paddle shifters on Reddit and other automotive forums. To use paddle shifters on your vehicle, follow the instructions below.

Locate Auto-shift

The first step on how to use paddle shifters on BMW or any vehicle is to engage your auto shift. Engaging auto shifts allows you to use paddle shifters. Locate auto-shift on your gear lever. It has a ‘+’ and ‘-‘ sign on it.

Vehicles with column shifters also have auto shifters noted with ‘+’ and ‘-‘ signs inscribed on them. It is used as a console shifter except with the button pressed instead of a shifter movement.

Engage the drive mode

Depress the brake pedal and shift your transmission on the drive mode. Then, slide your gear lever into the auto-shift.

Some cars like the 2015 Dodge Challenger RT allow you to activate the auto shift by pressing any of the paddle shifters. Remember, shift cautiously as if you’re driving a manual transmission.

After using the auto-shift, slide the gear lever back to drive, and your transmission will work as an automatic vehicle.

Upshifting using the paddle shifters

Once you have activated the auto-shift, upshifting gears is as easy as ABC. Here’s how to use it. When starting from a standing point, the auto-shift will start from the first gear. You’ll know which gear you’re driving with on the instrument cluster.

For instance, you’ll see 1 where you normally see D on the instrument cluster, indicating you’re traveling with the first gear. Suppose you see 2; it means you’re using the second gear.

From a standing point, rev the engine to about 2,500 to 3,000 revolutions per minutes RPM before taping the auto shift to switch to a higher gear.

If you want to drive aggressively, rev the engine as high as 4,000 to 5,000 RPMs. Don’t rev your engine to the red zone because it can lead to catastrophic internal engine damages.

Shift to the rest of the higher gears in the same fashion. You can shift to lower gears when you’re in the highest gears. The number of gears on vehicles with auto-shift varies. Your vehicle can have four, six, eight, or as high as ten gears.

If you don’t know how many gears your vehicle has, you can determine it by clicking the right-hand paddle shifter while cruising down the road. If it gets to a number where it can’t go again, that’s the number of gears you have.

There are many variations of auto shift on vehicles. Some variations will automatically shift to a higher gear if you wait too long to click the paddle when the RPM is going to the red zone.

Of course, this is a safeguard feature for vehicles that have it. In any case, don’t rely on it to avoid internal engine damages.

Downshifting using the paddle shifters

Like driving with the drive mode, you’ll eventually need to slow down when cruising with auto shifts. Here’s how to use paddle shifters on Nissan Altima or any vehicle made when decelerating.

While the auto shift is engaged, start decelerating. The process is the same whether you want to coast down to lower gears or depress the brake pedal.

The speed of the vehicle and the RPM should drop together. Once the RPM drops to 1,000 to 1,500, click the left-hand paddle shifter to lower the gear. Depending on your vehicle, you may feel a slight vibration or bump as the transmission shifts to a lower gear.

Most auto-shift variations on vehicles will not allow the transmission to shift to a lower gear if it feels it is not safe to do so. That said, it’ll not allow auto-shift to downshift when spiking the RPM to the danger zone.

Most drivers commonly use auto-shift when driving through valleys or mountains to reduce the strain on the engine and the transmission. Remember, when using auto shifts, the transmission is not operating at its peak efficiency. Though it has its place, providing sportier and fun driving.

How do paddle shifters work

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: How do beginners use paddle shifters?

The above guide is for both beginners and experts. When using paddle shifters as a beginner, drive with caution.

Here’s how beginners use auto shifts.

When upshifting from a standing point, slide the gear lever to auto-shift and accelerate the vehicle. Click the right-hand paddle on the steering column when the RPM gets up to 1,500.

Like a manual transmission, accelerate the vehicle and click the right-hand paddle when you want to shift gear. Upshift to the rest higher gears in the same fashion.

When downshifting, depress the brake pedal or coast down the vehicle to around 1,000 to 1,500 RPM and click the left-hand RPM. Follow this same step on other gears.

Q: Can using paddle shifters ruin transmission?

Paddle shifters will not damage your transmission. This is simply because the computer controlling the paddles will not allow you to select the wrong gears that’ll damage the transmission.

Now, do you have to use paddle shifters? Yes. Try cruising around town with your vehicle and intentionally downshift or upshift to the wrong gear with the paddle shifters. If the gear change is above or below the needed rev limit, the change will not take place.

Q: Do you have to let off the gas when paddle shifting?

It depends on whether you want to upshift or downshift. When upshifting, you have to accelerate the vehicle, so the RPM corresponds to the gear you are shifting to.

Similarly, when downshifting, you let off the gas pedal to coast down or apply the brakes. This lets the engine come down to a lower RPM before clicking the left-hand paddle shifter.

Q: When should you upshift and downshift with paddle shifters?

You can’t upshift while holding down the left-hand paddle. You need to hold the paddle shifters one at a time.

You should upshift when accelerating the engine to the higher RPM required for the current level. The same applies when downshifting.

Q: Is paddle shifting faster than automatic?

It is quite challenging to say the exact timing of the drive mode and paddle shifting. Auto manufacturers design paddle shifters to allow drivers to control the overall shifting experience on their automatic vehicles.

Paddle shifting is faster than automatic, and that’s why they were first seen on racing cars, where speed and fast shifting are the primary things. Everything else is secondary.

Q: What should you not do with paddle shifters?

While it is true that your transmission will not shift when you click the paddle shifters at the wrong time, there are things you should not do. Doing these things can cause severe damage to your transmission. I know you don’t want that to happen.

  • On no account should you pull both paddles at the same time
  • Do not cruise at low speed on high gears
  • Don’t use higher gears as passing gears
  • Do not short-shift under heavy loads
  • Do not downshift too early
  • Do not shift back and forth from gear to gear unnecessarily.

Q: Can you use paddle shifters all the time?

Paddle shifters are made for spirited driving situations. It is for rapid acceleration and deceleration.

While it is possible to use it at all times, I don’t recommend doing so. Only use it when you want to go into spirited driving mode.

Q: Is paddle shifting faster than manual?

Paddle shifter’s demand has skyrocketed since their invention in non-racing cars. But are they faster than manual transmissions?

With Paddle shifters, shifting time is faster compared to manual transmissions. Modern paddle shifters are quite responsive. The absence of a clutch pedal makes them faster.

Q: What is the point of paddle shifters?

Paddle shifters present the option of shifting gears while holding the steering wheel without touching the gear levers. It makes the gear shifting safer and faster. It gives you a manual transmission experience on your automatic vehicle.

Final words

At this juncture, you have learned how to use paddle shifters and everything you need to know about them. Paddle shifters are a welcome innovation in the auto industry.

It gives drivers more control over the wheel and presents a good ground for aggressive drivers.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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