The Essentials
Internal Features of Your Car

Learning The Interior of Your Car - Driving Test Essentials

Updated June 25, 2020

Learning about the internal features of your vehicle will help you get the most out of your driving experience. Over time, you will come to know your way around the inside of your car as effortlessly as you know your way around your own kitchen! At the start of your learning journey, getting familiar with the internal components of your vehicle will take some study. So, we have put together this article to get you started.

Steering column

Sit in the driver’s seat and take a look at the controls around the steering column. In modern vehicles, the most important and frequently accessed controls can be found here, either on the steering wheel itself or protruding from the column behind it. You will probably notice the horn, ignition switch, windshield wiper switch and a lever to control your indicator lights. We will talk you through these controls and their functions in more detail in our dedicated steering column article.

It is common in modern vehicles for the steering wheel to be adjustable to suit the height of the driver. You may be able to alter the height of the wheel, adjust the angle of the wheel, or both.

Instrument panel

The vehicle’s instrument panel is located underneath the windshield, on the dashboard. Here, you will see a variety of dials, gauges and lights which provide the driver with vital information about the status of the car and conditions outside the vehicle. Instrument panels are laid-out slightly differently in every model of vehicle, though they always include:

  • A speedometer that tells you how fast you are traveling
  • A fuel gauge, to tell you how much gas you have left
  • A mileage meter, which keeps track of how many miles the car has traveled
  • An engine temperature gauge
  • A rev-counter

Our full guide on vehicle instrument panels will walk you through common gauges and dials in more detail.

Gear selector

In most vehicles, the gear selector (also referred to as “gear stick” or “gear shift”) is positioned to your right, between the driver and front-passenger seats. The exact layout of the gear selector will depend on whether your vehicle has an automatic or manual transmission. Some vehicles have gear selector controls on the steering column behind the wheel, rather than a stick between the seats.

Automatic gear selector

In vehicles with an automatic transmission, the car automatically changes up and down gears for you. This means less work for the driver but also, less control. The gear selector in an automatic vehicle serves to switch between functions, rather than gears. In most automatics, these functions are:

  • P – park (to lock the transmission for parking)
  • R – reverse (to drive backward)
  • N – neutral (to cut power to the drive wheels while the engine is running)
  • D – drive (to drive forwards)

Usually, automatic gear shift functions are arranged vertically with “P” at the top and “D” at the bottom, though this may differ in your vehicle. To switch functions, the driver pushes the gear stick up or down to the desired position.

All automatic cars have a manual override option, where the driver can stop the vehicle automatically selecting certain gears. On your gear stick, you may see the numbers “1”, “2” and “3” representing the three lower gears. By shifting the stick to one of these settings you will limit the car to selecting gears at or below that number. In some cars, this feature may be marked with “Low” rather than individual numbers.

Manual gear selector

If your vehicle has a manual transmission, you will be fully responsible for shifting up and down gears to suit your speed and current roadway conditions. Most manual vehicles have five forward drive gears, a reverse drive function and a neutral function, all of which will be represented with letters and numbers on the gear stick. The precise layout of these seven gear stick positions will be marked on the shift with a pattern, which may vary slightly depending on the make and model of the vehicle.

In most modern manual cars, the gear shift layout will appear as a horizontal line, intersected by three vertical lines. Forward drive gears 1 to 5 are located at the top and bottom of each vertical line, in ascending order from right to left, or left to right. The “neutral” position is not always marked but is typically found in the center of the middle vertical line, between fourth and fifth gear. Reverse is usually marked with an “R” on one end of the horizontal line.

Your manual gear shift may have a mechanism that must be activated to move the vehicle into reverse, to prevent drivers sliding into reverse by accident. This may involve pushing the stick down as you move into reverse or pressing a button on the gear stick itself.

Pedals

Now, let’s check out the pedals in the driver’s footwell.  Depending on the type of transmission your vehicle is equipped with, you may see two to three pedals.  Some vehicles are also equipped with a pedal for the parking brake. 

Accelerator pedal

The accelerator pedal (also known as the “gas pedal” is located on the far right-hand side. Applying pressure to this pedal while the car is in "drive" will increase the amount of fuel being fed into the engine, causing the vehicle to pick up speed. While you’re driving the car, you should operate the accelerator with the front part of your right foot, leaving the heel of your foot on the floor of the vehicle.

Always apply pressure gradually and avoid being jerky with the accelerator, otherwise the car may lurch forward rather than picking up speed gradually. When switching up or down a gear, you should take your foot all the way off the accelerator pedal before depressing the clutch.

Brake pedal

The middle pedal to the left side of the accelerator operates the vehicle’s brakes. When you use the brake pedal, brake pads will press against the vehicle’s wheels with a pressure relative to the pressure you apply to the pedal. The friction caused by the brake pads connecting with the spinning wheel will slow the wheel and reduce the speed of the car.

Always apply pressure to the brake pedal gently and gradually, to avoid jerky stops and locked wheels. Like the accelerator, the brake pedal should always be operated with the right foot. You will never have to operate the brake and accelerator at the same time, so it makes sense to switch your right foot between the two, reserving your left foot for the clutch (if your vehicle has a manual transmission).

Clutch pedal

Manual transmission vehicles have three pedals. The pedal farthest to the left is the clutch. Pressing the clutch pedal down will disconnect the vehicle’s wheels from the engine. You will need to do this when putting the car in gear for the first time whenever you pull off, following these steps:

  1. 1

    When the engine is running, press the clutch down to the floor and shift the gear stick from neutral into first gear.

  2. 2

    Gently ease your foot off the clutch while applying pressure to the accelerator, until you feel the “biting point” where the engine rumbles slightly.

  3. 3

    Disengage the handbrake and continuing easing off the clutch while increasing pressure to the gas as the vehicle moves off. Do this gradually, otherwise the car may stall.

Every time you wish to change gear while the vehicle is in motion, you will need to fully depress the clutch, easing off it gently once the shift is complete.

Parking brake

All vehicles feature a parking brake (also known as the emergency brake, or hand brake) which operates separately from the brake pedal. The parking brake is operated by a lever situated between the driver and front-passenger seats. When the lever is pulled up, the parking brake is active, and the vehicle’s wheel will not be able to move. You should use the parking brake whenever the vehicle is stopped, to ensure it does not roll. To disengage the parking brake, press the release button on the top of the lever and push it down toward the floor of the car.

Some vehicles are equipped with a parking brake pedal, instead of the lever.  The parking brake pedal is usually located in the leftmost position and is labeled by the "push to release"sign.  Activating and disengaging the brake is performed by pressing the pedal.  A red dashboard light lets you know whether the parking brake is engaged.

Stereo system and navigation

The stereo system will be located on the vehicle’s dashboard. Familiarize yourself with the most important controls so that you do not have to search for them while you’re driving. You should know how to adjust the volume, change radio stations and switch the stereo off. Remember to keep music at a reasonable level while driving; low-level music can help you to stay focused but very loud music can be distracting and may annoy other road users.

If your car has a GPS system – as many modern vehicles do – this too will be located on the vehicle’s dashboard. The GPS will guide you to your destination with video and audio instructions. Always remember to set your destination on the GPS system before you set off, as adjusting it while driving will detract your attention from the road.

Hazard light button

The activation switch for the vehicle’s hazard lights is usually found on the dashboard, or above the gear stick. You should be able to spot it easily, as hazard light buttons are usually large, red and marked with a hazard light symbol. If your car breaks down or suffers serious mechanical problems while you’re driving, you must activate your hazard lights to warn other road users of your situation.

Aircon and heater

As non-essential controls, the air conditioning and heater buttons are usually found to the right of the driver, on the lower dashboard above the gear stick. In some vehicles, temperature controls may also be found on the driver’s door. The window defroster controls should be located with the main air-con and temperature controls. You will need to know where these controls are, in order to keep the temperature within the passenger compartment comfortable and prevent your windows from misting up during particularly cold weather.

Air vents

Most vehicles have several air vents in the dashboard, footwells and doors, which control the flow of air into the vehicle. Some cars also have air vents for the rear passengers in the back of the car. By moving the vent grills up or down, and side to side, you can manage the volume and direction of the air flowing into the passenger compartment.

Seats, headrests & latches

The driver’s seat is ergonomically designed to be comfortable and position the driver conveniently and safely in relation to the vehicle’s controls. Always ensure your chest is at least ten inches away from the steering wheel and that your shoulders are higher than the steering wheel. The headrest at the top of the driver’s seat is adjustable and should be adjacent with the back of your head, not the base of your skull.

Seat adjustment controls

In most modern vehicles, the driver’s seat can be adjusted using manual controls beneath the front or side of the seat, or electronic controls on the driver’s door. These controls usually allow you to move the seat forward or backward, so that you can comfortably reach the pedals. They can also move the seat up or down, so that you can see over the steering wheel. You may also find you can adjust the angle of the backrest. Always adjust your seat to a comfortable and safe position before setting off on your journey.

Seat belt latch

As you are sat in the driver’s seat, the seat belt should be retracted and secured to the frame of the vehicle close to your left shoulder. The latch which locks the seat belt into place will be next to your right hip, fixed to the edge of the seat. Always secure your seat belt and adjust the straps to a comfortable position before starting the car. When you wish to take off your seat belt later, do so by pressing the release button at the top of the latch.

Back seat

Look over your shoulder into the back seat. Most modern passenger cars have space for three passengers in the back, though smaller cars and sports cars may only have room for two people or may not have a back seat at all. Any children you transport should be seated in the back of the car, using an age-appropriate car seat. Never allow children to ride in the front if the vehicle has active dual frontal airbags.

Child seat safety latches

All modern vehicles have child seat safety latches in the back seat of the car, to which rear and front-facing car seats must be secured. Hop into the backseat and see if you can find these latches. Usually, there are metal hooks located in the crack between the seat cushions and behind the seat, or on the roof of the vehicle. Any child seat you use must be secured to these hooks, in accordance with the seat manufacturer’s guidelines.

Rear-view mirror

The rear-view mirror is attached to the roof of the car just above the windshield, to the right-hand side of the driver. This mirror is designed to let the driver view the roadway immediately behind the vehicle. It can be adjusted (usually by-hand, though some vehicles may have electronic controls near the mirror) to afford the best view from the driver’s seat. Adjust the vertical and horizontal tilt of the rear-view mirror, until you can see the entire rear-window in the reflection.

Door locks and window controls

Every door in the vehicle will have a door latch and a manual locking mechanism. To make sure the doors remain shut in the event of a collision, you should make sure they are all locked while the vehicle is in motion. Most modern vehicles feature additional door and window controls on the ledge of the driver’s door. From here, you can open and close any of the passenger windows and operate the door locks – which can be useful, if your passengers are messing around!

If your vehicle has electronically adjustable side-view mirrors, the buttons to change their angle and tilt should also be located on the inside of the driver’s door. Make sure you adjust your side-view mirrors before starting the vehicle.

Getting acquainted

Take some extra time to familiarize yourself with the internal features of your car prior to your first few journeys. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you will figure it out as you go along, as this will make your driving experience less convenient and ultimately, less safe. You do not want to have to pull over to find the air-con or stereo controls part way through your journey, and you certainly do not want to fumble around looking for them while you’re driving!

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