How To Effectively Use Paddle Shifters—Easy Step-By-Step

The term Paddle shifters has gained popularity in recent days following a decrease in production of manual vehicles. Located at the back of a car’s steering wheel, paddle shifters are not designed to make your car look cool but are instead designed to transform your automatic vehicle into a “semi-automatic” transmission. If you look at statistics, you will find out that in 2018, only 2% of cars produced in the U.S. had manual transmission. With such statistics, it’s evident that car manufacturers are eliminating manual options to only deal with automatic transmissions. So, if you’re a car enthusiast looking to gain total control of your vehicle by shifting gears at will, worry no more as this article will give you a comprehensive review on how to use paddle shifters.

What are paddle shifters?

If you’re a newcomer in the automotive world, I believe you must be wondering what the heck is paddle shifters. Now, here, there’s the question of what these are and the question of what they do. To start off, let me mention that paddle shifters are two paddles located just behind the steering wheel on both sides.

What are paddle shifters

For ease of usage, each paddle is calibrated differently with one bearing the plus (+) sign and the other bearing the negative sign (-). When it comes to the question of what they can do, these shifters are designed to shift gears up or down depending on your driving preference.

Getting back to history, paddle shifters were first used by Ferrari in the 80s on their Formula One racing cars. Today, this technology is being used by most sporty and exotic vehicles as it allows faster gear shifting without having to remove your hands from the wheels.

Unlike the traditional manual vehicles that use clutch, semi-automatic vehicles are designed to use paddle shifters which act as the clutch. When a gear is shifted up or down, an electronic signal is sent to your car’s computer which in return notifies the clutch to engage or disengage. This technology has therefore gained tremendous popularity as it acts as a viable middle ground between manual and automatic transmissions.

Benefits of paddle shifters

Now that you know what paddle shifters are, where they’re located on your car and what they do, I think it’s a good idea if we can look at some benefits of installing paddle shifters on your vehicle. Since most people are still not familiar with this technology, touching something about its benefits will help to clear the air to most people who are curious to learn more about it.

Benefits of paddle shifters

Better performance

One of the major benefits of using paddle shifters on your automatic vehicle is to increase the overall power and performance. Automatic transmissions usually do a great job of shifting gears for you. They do this by using the internal computer which monitors the revs and demands of the car’s engine.

But, when shifting gears, these transmissions usually don’t have performance in mind. So, to cover this loophole, paddle shifters are required as they convert your car into a semi-automatic transmission giving you total control of the car and the gearshifts.

Greater safety

Another benefit of paddle shifters that’s of paramount importance is road safety. Although automatic vehicles are getting smarter and smarter, they’re still unable to adapt to abrupt driving conditions such as heavy downpour or when overtaking.

Taking downpour as an example, you’ll notice that with paddle shifters, you can easily lower the gear to drive slower and avoid using the brakes. Such an approach is considered to be safe as it prevents your car from skidding and sliding on wet slippery roads.

If we take overtaking as another example, you’ll discover that paddle shifters aid in accelerating a vehicle making overtaking safe and easier as compared to if you’re driving an automatic transmission.

Reduced wear and tear

The reason why most drivers gravitate towards manual vehicles is faster acceleration especially when the car is at a standing start. You see, with most automatic transmissions, the vehicle doesn’t gear shift perfectly from a standing start thus resulting to unnecessary strain on the engine. On the other hand, a manual transmission requires skill to gear shift it smoothly which if not done perfectly will also result to unnecessary strain on the engine.

But, with paddle shifters, your car will always start in first gear leading to a smooth start and perfect shifting of gears as the car accelerates. With such a transmission, there’s better gas mileage, increased fuel efficiency, reduced wear and tear and prolonged engine life.

How to properly use paddle shifters

So, we’ve already learned what paddle shifters are and what they can do right? So, the next step is to learn how to properly use them. First and foremost, paddle shifters are easy to differentiate as they’re marked with signs. The right paddle shift is marked with a plus (+) while the left paddle shift is marked with a negative (-) sign.

How to properly use paddle shifters

When using paddle shifters, your car will always start at first gear—just like using a manual transmission. As the car accelerates, you’ll have the chance to switch between the gears to meet your driving demands. This means that paddle shifters will hand you full control of the car as opposed to automatic transmission.

Paddle shifters also eliminate the need to depend on the gearbox and the clutch to shift gears. They also notify you on the gear you’re driving on through flashing an indicator on the dashboard.

How to use BMW paddle shifters

Step I

So, if you’re driving a BMW car, the first step is to move the gear lever to the left while in “D” mode. You can do this while driving or when the car is stopped. Moving the shift lever to the left will activate the Sport Mode which is displayed to the dashboard as “DS”.

Step II

When you’re done, wait for a few seconds then activate the paddle shifters by upshifting or downshifting. In sport mode, your car will maintain the gear you select until you change it to another gear. However, if you fail to change the gear and the car’s engine RPM gets too high or too low, the car’s computer will be forced to regain control of the car and change the gear for you to prevent damaging the engine.

Another cool thing about paddle shifters here is that unlike manual transmission, you cannot damage your car’s engine by selecting a wrong gear as the car’s computer will restrict it and only activate gears that will be tolerable to your car’s engine.

How to use paddle shifters Subaru

Most of the fourth and fifth generation Subaru come with paddle shifters which you can use to change gears manually. However, if you’re new to paddle shifters, it will obviously be difficult for you to use them. For that reason, this section will highlight a step-by-step procedure on how to use paddle shifters on the Subaru to avoid wear and tear.

Step I

The first step is to understand how the CVT transmission operates. You see, with automatic transmission, a car shifts gears as it accelerates meaning you don’t have to change the gears yourself. Note that; most automatic transmissions have a defined set of gear ratios. But with CVT automatic transmission, your car drives through an infinite number of gear ratios.

Step II

So, to use the paddle shifters in a Subaru, you can move the lever to “M” to activate manual transmission or you can simply use the paddle shifters while the car is in automatic transmission (though this is considered to be temporary).

Note that: according to Subaru technical representatives, using the downshift lever of the paddle shifters comes with long-term effects. Therefore, to prevent damaging the CVT over time, it’s recommended that you use paddle shifters in situations where safety is critical.

For instance, you can use the downshift lever when driving down hill to take advantage of engine braking and prevent your car’s wheel brakes from overheating. You can also use the downshift lever when driving on snowy or icy conditions as it will be easier to control the car when moving in a slower pace.

You can also use the downshift lever when climbing up a hill or when overtaking another vehicle. Here, downshifting raises the car’s RPMs giving it added speed and power when you step on the accelerator. This makes overtaking much easier while still maintaining your car’s fuel efficiency.

Step III

The third and final step is to know how to get out of manual mode. Since the lever is at “M” mode, you can simply get back to automatic transmission by moving the gear lever back to “D”. If you’re using the paddle shifters while the car is in “D” position, you can simply move the gear lever to “M” then to “D” again to activate automatic transmission.

How to use paddle shifters Camaro

With the Camaro, you can either go into manual mode (sport mode) or you can simply keep the car in drive mode then use the paddle shifters automatically. The best thing about the manual mode is that the car will hold on to a gear until you shift to the next gear. This is different to drive mode where the car gets back to full automatic after 15 seconds.

With the Camaro, if you downshift, the car automatically gets to the lowest safe gear. Using paddle shifters on the Camaro is easy as they offer a much quicker response in safety situations such as when driving uphill, down a steep hill or when overtaking.


So, that’s it for now folks. As you can see, paddle shifters come with lots of benefits making them a perfect choice for your car. They can aid in safety or tense situations and they really help to control gas mileage, improve performance and reduce wear and tear on your car’s engine.

The only thing we would request you to observe is regular maintenance of this semi-automatic transmission alongside its components to ensure that they’re in perfect working order. So, the next time this question hits your head—how to use paddle shifters, please don’t hesitate to read through this guide once more. 

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