Automotive manufacturers are increasingly including paddle shifters as standard equipment on performance vehicles and luxury sedans.
However, potential customers sometimes do not know what they are, how they work, or whether they are beneficial.
In this article, we explain what paddle shifters are all about and provide you with an overview of how and why you might want them on your next car.
What are paddle shifters?
Paddle shifters are buttons or levers found on a car’s steering wheel, or just behind it. They’re used to change gears electronically, rather than by physically changing gears with a stick.
Paddle shifting lets you control the gearbox manually — but without having to use a clutch. Cars with this feature are sometimes called semi-automatic cars because they have some manual control over how gears are engaged.
Most cars don’t have paddle shifters. You’ll generally only find them on performance and luxury models like the Audi Q7 or BMW 3 Series
How do they work?
All paddle shifters work by changing the gear of the vehicle in response to the driver’s input.
Paddle shifters operate by moving an electric switch forward to shift up through the gears and backward to shift down through them.
When you select a new gear with the paddle shifter, an actuator will move the transmission selector lever into place, which activates the shifting of gears in the transmission.
Automatic vs Manual Paddle Shifters
The most common type of paddle shift is found on automatic vehicles.
Paddle shifters on automatic cars give their drivers an extra sense of control, but they make sure the driver doesn’t damage the car’s transmission during the shifting process.
Manual cars that feature paddle shifters will always be racing cars.
Because they are manual, these vehicles still feature a clutch pedal. However, this only needs to be used when starting or stopping, not when changing gear. Instead of a gear lever, the driver uses paddle shifters to change gear.
How do you use paddle shifters?
If you’ve never used the paddle shifters on your vehicle, they might be a bit confusing. But once you know how they work and what they do, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been using them all along.
When using paddle shifters, it’s important that you know which one shifts up a gear and which one shifts down a gear.
Most paddle shifters will have an arrow on them pointing either up or down, indicating which direction that particular paddle will shift the vehicle.
Generally, there is a paddle shifter on either side of the steering wheel.
To shift up, use the right paddle shifter. To shift down, use the left paddle shifter.
Be aware that the system may place limits on how fast you can move through the gears, particularly downshifting, to prevent you from damaging the transmission.
If you’re in a lower gear like 3rd or 4th, when you use the paddle shifter to downshift from those gears to 2nd gear, it will automatically rev match, which involves matching the speed of the engine and the transmission.
Rev matching lets you change gears smoothly, without impacting the car’s balance. It also helps to reduce wear on your engine.
Are paddle shifters better?
The driver can use the paddle shifters to change gear when in manual mode, which overrides the automatic system and gives you more control over the car’s operation. This can be useful when driving uphill, for example.
They also allow drivers to shift gears without taking their hands off the steering wheel, which can make them feel more in control, especially when navigating tight turns on winding roads.
They’re useful in any car that has an automatic gearbox, but they’re most popular in sports cars where they allow for quicker gear shifts – necessary when racing around a track.
In fact, most race cars don’t even have manual gearboxes anymore. The drivers shift gears themselves electronically with paddle shifters.
Paddle shifters in sports cars and performance vehicles let you get more out of your engine and reduce your lap times. The result? A more exciting, engaging driving experience for you.
However, paddle shifters are also popular in everyday cars because of the convenience and ease of use that comes with them.
When to use Paddle shift
As mentioned, paddle shifters are popular on sports cars as they mean both hands can stay on the wheel, which improves the driver’s control of the vehicle.
There are, however, many ways everyday drivers can take advantage of this technology:
You can downshift when driving downhill to help maintain control of speed. This saves on brake wear.
You can shift into a lower gear when accelerating from a stoplight or pulling out onto a busy highway. The car will feel more responsive.
In city traffic, downshift when you need to slow down quickly and upshift when it’s time to speed up. This is an alternative to using your brakes constantly.