What are paddle shifters?

Ask the Mechanic

Paddle shifters are transmission shifter designs usually in the shape of a paddle located within easy reach of your fingers when your hands are on the steering wheel.

They aren’t always paddle-shaped but are typically made of plastic or metal.

Regardless of shape, the function is the same: to provide quick and easy access to gear changes without lifting a hand off the steering wheel.

A traditional automatic gear selector displays “PRND12,” listing the available gears, while a manual transmission lets you stuff the shifter into the notch for whichever gear you need.

Both of those gear selectors are rapidly disappearing in today’s market, replaced by electronic gear selector wheels in the centre console, or on a touch screen in the dash.

While both are attractive designs, it can be difficult to select the correct gear when you are busy with the steering wheel.

Paddle shifters solve this problem by being attached to the steering wheel, so they move as the wheel turns. This means a gearshift mid-corner is as easy as a flick of your fingers.


How to use paddle shifters

Learning how to use paddle shifters is surprisingly easy.

First, some vehicles require you to shift to manual mode. This lets the vehicle know you are going to use the paddle shifters instead of leaving the standard shifter in D for the best gas mileage.

From a stop, accelerate like normal, and when you want to change gears (based on vehicle and engine speed), pull the paddle with the “+” toward you.

The shift happens quickly, the RPMs drop, and you’ll keep accelerating in the next gear. When you are slowing down, brake like you normally would, but also pull the “-” paddle towards you.

Watch the road but also watch your speed and RPMs, and downshift as you slow.


Can I damage my car by shifting wrong?

While paddle shifter tech seems complicated and expensive, it is reliable and fool proof in daily use. Vehicle engineers accounted for new and inexperienced drivers, and eliminated any possible way to damage the transmission, including:

  • Pressing both paddles at the same time.
  • Holding one paddle and tapping the other.
  • Waiting too long to shift.
  • Upshifting too early and stalling the engine.
  • Downshifting too early and bouncing off the rev limiter.
  • Using paddles in reverse.
  • Attempting to start from a stop in sixth gear.
  • Starting the engine with a paddle pulled.


Nelson Xavier Ssenyange

Team Leader

Germax Autos, Spares & Garage Ltd

Lukade Road, Naalya



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