The paddle shift. It’s not just something that looks cool on rally cars, it is these days a more and more popular way to control the engine power in a car. The paddle shift system is a key component in a semi-auto vehicle control system. These can be one of the most fun ways to drive a car, but also have a number of benefits too.
In this article we are going to take a good look at the paddle shift control system. We’ll look at what it is, why it works so well – and how you too can use it to get the most from your car.
But before we get to all that, there is one basic question to tackle first:
What are Paddle Shifts?
Let’s get right into this then, just what the heck are paddle shifts? Well, first of all there is the question of what they physically are. Then there is the question of what they do.
First things first, if you have never seen a set of paddle shifts on a car then they can be found immediately behind the steering wheel. They will always come as a pair and they will always be mounted with one paddle on each side of the steering wheel. Many paddle shifts are installed in a mounting with some ability to reposition the shifts closer or further away from the steering wheel. That is because they are designed to be used with your fingers, with your hands never leaving the wheel.
What do they actually look like? Well these are very much a Ronseal style of product, in that they do exactly what they say on the tin. Or in this instance they look exactly like what they say on the tin! Paddle shifts look like… paddles.
Who could have seen that coming?
What Do Paddle Shifts Do?
So that is where the paddle shift is placed in the vehicle, and what it looks like. But what does it actually do?
Well as we mentioned a paddle shift is employed on a vehicle that uses a semi-automatic transmission. These types of transmissions are very cool little inventions that sit in a middle ground between automatic and manual transmissions.
Unlike an automatic transmission, a vehicle with a semi-auto transmission will not make gearshifts for you.
Unlike a manual transmission though, a semi-auto car still only has two pedals – there is no clutch pedal.
How the heck can you change gears without a clutch though? Well, with a set of paddle shifts, that’s how!
The Benefits of Paddle Shifts
So now you know what the paddle shift looks like, you know where it can be found on the vehicle and you know what it does. Next up it is probably a good idea to take a look at why you should use paddle shifts. These are after all not components or control methods that many people will be familiar with.
That, to us at least, is a real shame, because paddle shifts have a number of benefits and advantages.
- Better Performance
One of the key benefits of using paddle shifters is to ensure a better overall performance from your car, especially when compared to automatic transmissions. An automatic car or truck will make gear shift for you. It does this by monitoring revs and the demand on the vehicle engine.
It is not always deigned to change gear with performance in mind however, which is why most race cars from NASCAR to Formula One all have manual transmission. By using paddle shifts in your car, you are putting the control of gearshifts – literally – back into your hands.
That means you can ride the revs and change gear to enhance performance.
- Better Safety
This other benefit is along the same lines as the one above, by placing the control of gearshifts back into your hand. The truth is that even as cars get smarter and smarter there is no car yet made with the intelligence to adapt gearshifts to match external weather conditions. That is especially true during a rapid shift in weather – say, for example, if it suddenly starts pouring rain during a drive.
When you are in control you can adapt your driving style, including gearshifts, to match the road conditions as you find them. Take the example above, the sudden downpour of rain. When you control the gearshifts with your paddle shifters, you can gear down and lower vehicle speed without relying on the brakes. This can help to prevent skids and powered slides on wet road tops.
- Prolong Car Life
A great thing that paddle shifts allow is smooth acceleration. A semi-auto is better at getting away from a slow start than both a full auto and also a manual transmission.
It beats a full auto for the same reason that made the two benefits above – you control the gears so you control the power. Many automatic cars do not gear sift well from a standing start, placing unnecessary strain on the engine.
Pulling away with a manual transmission is, as any one who has driven stick will know, something of a skill. Again, when the driver does not do this well it can be exactly the same as a poorly tuned automatic transmission, placing strain on the engine.
A semi-auto is always in first gear. That means it starts smoothly every time, before you shift up as the speed increases. That helps to prolong vehicle and engine life, and it can also go a long way to increasing fuel efficiency.
Not bad for a coupe of little paddles, huh?
How to Use Paddle Shifts
Ok, ok, we hear you! You know where the paddle shifts are, you know what they do and you know why you should consider using both them and the semi-automatic transmission that they support.
Now you want to know how to use the things!
The truth is though that another of the big benefits of these devices is just how simple they are too use.
The paddle shifts themselves are easy to use. The paddle on the left will typically move the gears down, the paddle on the right will typically do the opposite and move you up a gear with every activation (i.e. squeeze with your fingers) of the paddle shift.
We say typically there because for the most part that is the layout of the paddles – down with the left, up with the right. But we have seen set-ups where this is reversed so always check before driving a paddle shift equipped car for the first time.
When to use the paddles is a different question entirely! Just as with a manual transmission, it is difficult to give hard and fast rules here. Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time driving stick will know that part of the appeal of this driving method is learning to read and understand your car.
Therefore you will know when is the best time to shift gears, and this will be based on a range of things too, like weather, road conditions and traffic density. It really is part of the fun of using a semi-auto system with gear paddles. It is a more organic driving experience where you are far more in tune with the car.
If you are new to using paddle shifts though there is a rule of thumb you can use in the early stages. Essentially, you should look to be shifting when the rev counter needle is between 1,500 to 2,500 RPM.
Now that is a pretty broad range in terms of revs, right? It is, but provided you stay within that range you won’t do any harm to the engine. By using this range as the building blocks for controlling the car gearshifts, as you gain experience you can begin to fine-tune your shifts.
Again though, learning to time the gearshifts with your paddle shifts really is part of the fun of using these handy little components.
How to Look After Paddle Shifts
So yeah, paddle shifts are pretty cool, right? Yes they are, but we bet you’re worrying that they may be difficult to maintain. Just like when an auto car transmission breaks down, it can be more expensive and difficult to fix than a simple manual, right?
Well not necessarily. If for example you keep an eye on the maintenance of the paddle shifts they are no more likely to cause issues than any other component on the vehicle. Check out the vehicle handbook for maintenance tips, but broadly speaking if you are changing the transmission fluid every 50,000 miles (and getting it checked over by a pro at the same time) there is no real need for any special measures.
That’s it folks, the end of our brief journey through paddle shifts. Hopefully, we’ve done a good job of explaining just why they are so useful (and cool!). We also hope you have a better idea of how and when to use them – but again, one of the key benefits of paddle shifts really is just how simple to use they are!
Happy shifting guys!