What Are Paddle Shifters?

While manual transmissions are slowly (and sadly) making their way out of cars as time goes on, automatic transmissions are here to stay. However, the good news is that automatic transmission nowadays can shift faster than ever before and if you want to gain some control over that shift action, then most cars today come equipped with paddle shifters. But what are they and are they just a gimmick?

Those mysterious things behind the steering wheel

If you bought a new car in the past decade, there’s a good chance that it has paddle shifters and you have either never noticed, or you have but never really cared. Either way, the paddle shifters are those mysterious little flaps behind the steering wheel that are usually marked with a “+” and “-“ symbol. The one with the minus symbol will always be on the left, and the one with the plus symbol will be on the right side.

What these little icons indicate is that one paddle “upshifts” the transmission while the other “downshifts” it, much like you would normally do in a car with a manual transmission. In case you have ever seen an F1 car driver drive, or perhaps an exotic car like a Ferrari or Lamborghini driver drive one of those cars, then you have probably seen paddle shifters in action. It’s the same thing in your Nissan Sentra or Honda Civic, only those ones aren’t as responsive.

RELATED: The Automated Manual

Paddle shifter in a Toyota 86 | Wikimedia Commons

How do you use paddle shifters?

Now that you know what paddle shifters do, you can pretend that you’re F1 champion Lewis Hamilton and shift your car to heart’s content. But how exactly do you use them?

  • Your car most likely has a manual mode, so put the gear selector into the “M” position if so
  • You will then have full control over shifting the car using the paddle shifters. Just remember that the right one is to shift up and gear, while the left one is to shift down a gear
  • Fortunately, you won’t need to worry about over-revving the engine as the transmission will automatically shift for you if you get to the redline

While paddle shifters do give you a lot more control over the car’s shifting, just note that it most likely won’t let you accelerate from a stop in third gear. In fact, some transmissions won’t even let you “shift” into a gear higher than first or second from a stop. If anything, just treat it like you’re driving a manual transmission without needing to use your left foot.

RELATED: Does Anyone Regret Buying a Manual Transmission?

Advantages to using paddle shifters

According to U.S. News, one of the main advantages of using your car’s paddle shifters is that you can downshift it quickly and easily when you need to accelerate up a steep hill and for when you want to utilize engine braking when going down a hill. Being able to shift your car on the fly also works well when you’re towing a trailer and need down or upshift the transmission to adjust to different types of terrain.

In either case, using the car’s paddle shifters can be greatly superior to using a manual transmission in that they shift the car faster and there’s no learning curve to figure how to use them. Although, they just aren’t as fun, no matter what anyone says.