Lesson 2a – Hand Controls

If you have followed lesson 1 correctly, you should be sitting comfortably, be able to reach all of the controls and see all of the dials in front of you. So now the fun begins. We need to know what all the levers and pedals are for, what they actually do and how to use them. Unless it is freezing cold, raining or dark, you won’t be asked to remember how to use the heater, the wipers or the lights on your first lesson. You will have enough to contend with, however, I am mentioning them here, because you will need to learn how to use them at some point.

Indicator Switch

Indicator Switch


Hand Controls – Indicators

The indicators, as I am sure you know, are the orange flashing lights that tell everyone where you are going. These are usually on a stalk type lever, situated just behind the steering wheel on the left hand side. However, in some older British or Japanese cars the indicator stalk may be on the right hand side. To turn on the indicator lights, you click the lever either up or down in the direction that you will be turning the steering wheel. If you are going right, you will be turning the steering wheel in a clockwise direction, therefore you would click up for right. If you are going to be turning left, then you will be steering in an anti-clockwise direction and you will click down for left. (If your indicator is on the right. It is up for left and down for right. )Usually, the indicators will turn themselves off after you have turned the corner, unless the corner isn’t very sharp. In which case, you will just need to click it off yourself.
Some cars have an annoying extra motorway feature, whereby if you just nudge the lever up or down, rather than clicking it fully, the lights will flash three times and then turn themselves off. It is used for changing lanes on a motorway. It is designed in such a way as to make sure you have at least three clicks and because it turns itself off after those three clicks, there is no possibility of forgetting to turn them off. (It is easy to forget, if you have the radio on and can’t hear the clicking noise. This is great for motorways, however, to my mind, if you need to use the indicators, then you probably need more clicks than three. If the person behind you is checking his mirrors ready to change lanes himself or perhaps not paying enough attention, then only displaying three light flashes may not be enough and could be missed altogether.
When learning to start with, it is easy to be a bit over zealous if you have to click the indicator off manually and you may accidentally trigger the motorway function. You can’t turn it off before it has finished it’s three clicks, if you try, it just starts clicking in the opposite direction for another three clicks.

Poor Visibility

Poor Visibility


Hand Controls – Lights

The light switch on my car is activated by twisting the end of the indicator lever. In your car, it may be somewhere else, your car’s hand book will tell you how to switch them on. There are three settings, off, side lights and main lights. When you turn your lights on, you will see small green and/or blue light symbols showing on your dashboard. The small green one is your side lights and the other one is your main headlights. If it is green it shows that your headlights are dipped. If it is blue it shows that your headlights are on full beam.
Apart from when it is dark, you also need to turn your lights on, if visibility is dull. For instance when it is raining or there are dark heavy clouds and at twilight. Although, your lights won’t help you see any better, it helps other people to see you. Even if you have a white car or a bright yellow one, it will gather road dirt and dust and take on a greyish look and in dull weather, most cars can sort of merge with their surroundings, by putting the lights on, you will stand ut and be seen.
Side lights or parking lights as they are sometimes known, are used if you park on a highway that has a speed limit that is higher than 30mph. Normally, these roads don’t have street lights. It is also important to make sure your vehicle is pointing in the same direction as the traffic when you park at night. It can be really confusing for someone driving along a road if they don’t know it well and if they come round a dark corner and spot headlights reflecting towards them, their natural instinct is to pass on the left.

Full Beam

Full Beam

Most of the time you will use your headlights on the dipped setting, unless you are out on a dark country lane without street lights. If it is dark you can activate the full beam setting. This is usually done by clicking the indicator lever either towards you or away from you. Different vehicles have different methods, so you need to check how they work before you need them. (I once had an old Mini Cooper, that had the dip switch located on the floor, just to the left of the clutch.)

Driver Dazzled by on-coming Lights

Driver Dazzled by on-coming Lights

When you are using your full beam lights, remember to switch them back to dipped if you see anything driving towards you, especially as some of the newer cars have very bright lights indeed. You don’t wan to dazzle anyone. Also, if you are following another vehicle, look at where the light shines on the road. If the vehicle in front is inside where your lights are shining you need to dip them. Your centre mirror should be angled in such a way as to give a good view of the road and vehicles directly behind. If your lights are shining on the back of the vehicle in front, they will also be shining into the centre mirror of that vehicle and in turn it will reflect right into the eyes of the driver. The centre mirror has a switch or a lever, to be able to tilt it so that the image is slightly dimmed. Although it takes the dazzle of the headlights away it also dims all the rest of the image too so it isn’t ideal. If you have your lights on full beam think about it and be considerate.

Ooops! That is worse than a dirty windscreen. It is illegal!

Ooops! That is worse than a dirty windscreen. It is illegal!


Hand Controls – Wipers

The wiper control lever is usually situated on the opposite side of the steering wheel from the indicators. Most newer cars have four settings, intermittent, normal, fast and off. In some vehicles, you can change the interval timing of the intermittent setting but on most this is fixed. Some even have automatic wipers that come on by themselves when it rains or the windscreen gets splashed. Periodically, you will notice that your windscreen is really dirty and you need to clean it. Usually, it is just a question of pulling the wiper lever towards you to activate the wash/wipe feature but if this isn’t the case on your car, you will need to check your hand book. The worst weather for this is when it isn’t raining very much, so that when you put the wipers on it just gets all smeary. Also a bad time is if it has been raining hard previously, the roads are wet and the sun has come out. You will get a lot of dirty water from the road sprayed on the windscreen that the sun will dry out nicely for you, leaving your windscreen all grey and blotchy. In these sort of conditions it is really important to keep your washer bottle topped up. Although plain water will do if you have nothing else to hand, it is best to use a good quality windscreen washer liquid. It will break down greasy residue from road spray and keep your windscreen clear and sparkling. It will also stop your washer liquid from freezing in the winter. Check the label on the washer liquid container for different concentration levels to use for summer and winter conditions.

Frosty

Frosty


Hand Controls – Heater

It is important for you as the driver to be comfortable, not just the seat adjustment and things but also temperature-wise as well. If you are too hot, it will be difficult to concentrate and if you are too cold, your fingers and toes will feel stiff and won’t respond very well.
Your heater will have at least three heater controls; one directs the air flow to the windscreen, your body or your feet, one controls the speed of the fan and the third one controls the temperature. These three controls regulate the temperature for the car interior and windscreen. There is another button which you will see that turns on the rear window heater. There are some lines that you will see across the back window and when you turn on the heater these lines heat up and clear the back window of condensation and frost. Some cars have this function on the front windscreen also but it isn’t usually found on the cheaper small cars. If you are lucky you may also have air conditioning but you need to remember that the motor that drives the air conditioning is powered by your engine and therefore due to the extra load, you will use a little bit more fuel.
One of the “show me, tell me” questions that you may be asked at the beginning of your practical test is; How would you clear both the windscreen and the back window of frost? The answer is; turn the air-flow control to windscreen, max fan and max heat for the front and then press the rear heater button for the back window.

Steering Adjustment

Steering Adjustment


Hand Controls – Steering Wheel

We all know what the steering wheel is and what it does, but did you know you can adjust it’s position? You will usually find a lever somewhere on the steering column between the wheel and the dashboard, normally it is underneath, but not always. You should be able to move the steering wheel up and down and in and out. To make sure that the steering wheel is in the correct place for you, place your hands, one on either side of the steering wheel at the halfway point or just above so that they feel comfortable and you should have a slight bend at your elbows. If the steering wheel is too close, not only will it be uncomfortable but if it is closer than 10 inches away from your chest then it is also dangerous. There is an air-bag in the centre of the steering wheel and in the event of an accident, the air-bag will be activated. The air-bag explodes out of the centre at approximately 100mph and can break your ribs, chin or nose if it is too close. On the other hand if the steering wheel is too far away, you will find it difficult to control. It also needs to be at the right height otherwise you won’t be able to see the dials properly. ( the speedometer, fuel gauge and rev counter etc.)

Pull Push Diagram

Pull Push Diagram

In the last few years, the rules on the way you steer on your test have been relaxed somewhat. However, it is still advisable to learn to steer using the old pull/push technique as this is still a much safer way to steer. You won’t be penalised for steering differently, but some of the older examiners don’t like the change, so will watch you like a hawk for the slightest steering wobble, if you are not using the pull/push technique.
If you need to turn the wheel as far as it will go one way or the other, that is more than one whole complete turn ( on some vehicles that is about one and a half revolutions and some are more, especially if you will be driving an older car that doesn’t have power steering. ), so at some point you need to move your hands round the wheel otherwise your arms will get all twisted up and you won’t be able to turn the wheel round far enough. The safest method to use is to feed the wheel through your hands bit by bit. So to turn left, you will pull down with your left hand and then push up with the right and keep repeating this until you have turned the wheel enough, to go back the other way pull down with the right and push up with the left. Taking care not to let your hand go past the 12 o’clock postion or the 6 o’clock position. Try practising with a plate.
If you use this method of steering, not only will you keep very good control, but it will also help protect you in the case of an accident. Most accidents happen when you are changing direction. The first thing to happen when a collision occurs, is the air bag will inflate. It comes out of the centre of the steering wheel at lightening speed. It actually comes out at about a 100mph. If your hand is across the steering wheel when the air bag is deployed, your hand will be flung up towards your face. If you are lucky, you will only suffer a few bruises to your hand and face, but you could break your wrist or your nose or maybe stick your thumb in your eye and damage your sight. With the pull/push method, your hands will always be at the side of the steering wheel, so your face will be protected.

Gear Lever

Gear Lever


Hand Controls – Gear Lever

The gear lever works in conjunction with the clutch to connect the cogs in the gearbox in various combinations, so that the engine can be directly connected to the wheels.
So what goes on in the gearbox when I select different gears and use my clutch? Do I really need to know?
If you have a rough idea of what is going on, then you will have a better understanding of how to use the clutch and gears smoothly.
Don’t look up on google about gears and clutches because it is soooo complicated it will give you a headache…. but here is a simplified explanation that will give you an idea of what is happening.

Gearbox and Clutch Diagram

Gearbox and Clutch Diagram

Look at the diagram to see the main parts of the drive mechanism. The wheels are connected to the gearbox. The gear lever either connects the gears up or disengages them. In neutral (no gears connected) the engine is not connected all the way through to the wheels, so your vehicle cannot be driven. It will roll if it is on a hill though. The bit that joins the gearbox to the engine is called the clutch plate this is in line with a plate on the side of the engine called the fly wheel. When the clutch pedal is fully up both the clutch plate and the flywheel are forced together by a big spring. When you press the clutch pedal down it squishes the spring and allows the two plates to separate.
So now you have an idea of the different parts and how they connect it makes it easier to understand that the engine needs to be disconnected from the wheels in some way before you can start it. The best way is to make sure that the gearbox is in neutral.

Ooops! Do you think he forgot to engage the hand brake?

Ooops! Do you think he forgot to engage the hand brake?


Hand Controls – Hand or Parking Brake

The hand brake or parking brake, as it is sometimes known, is used to secure the vehicle when it is stationary. The most usual type of handbrake is normally situated between the two front seats. To release the hand brake, you lift it slightly and press in the button on the end. Keeping the button pressed you move the handbrake down as far as it will go,then let go of the button. To apply the hand brake press in the button and keeping it pressed, raise the hand brake up as high as it will go, then keeping the tension, let go of the button before loosening your hold of the hand brake.

Handbrake

Handbrake

( Some vehicles have a self-tensioning feature and need to be raised without pressing the button in. Your hand book will tell you if this is the case. ) Your hand brake only works on the back wheels and also it is not designed to have any real control feedback. It is either on or off and therefore you must never use the hand brake while you are moving. The back wheels will lock and slide and you could end up spinning in a complete circle if the steering wheel is turned even slightly.

There are several other sorts of brake for the securing the vehicle when in a stationary positon. These range from buttons on the dashboard to completely automatic ones. These are the sort that are generally described as parking brakes. If you don’t have a manual type hand brake between the front seats, check your hand book to see what type you have and how to use it.


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