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Do Manual Cars Have Paddle Shifters?

Paddle shift shifter on an Aston Martin sports car with black interior close up

You usually see paddle shifters in manual drive cars and high-end race cars. They allow the driver to change the gears with just a flip of your digits and can deliver speed and power when needed. So do manual cars have paddle shifters?

Yes, manual cars can have paddle shifters on the steering column however, paddle shifters are mostly found on automatic or semi-automatic transmission cars. If a car is fully manual and has paddle shifters, then it’ll still have a manual shift knob as well as a clutch pedal. On a fully manual car with paddle shifters, the clutch pedal will still need to be used regardless if you’re shifting with the shift knob or paddle shifters.

Cars with manual transmissions are becoming like telephones with cords—things of the past. Knowing the difference between a car with paddle shifters and a manual transmission could be daunting for some folks, but that shouldn’t stop you. Read on to learn all you can about manual cars that have paddle shifters.

How to Tell if you Have Paddle Shifters?

Most people drive automatic cars these days. In the past, people drove cars that only had a manual transmission and learned to work the clutch and shift gears. But, as driving became more widespread, people needed a way to drive the car without the constant shuffling of feet and moving of the arms.

A few ways to recognize paddle shifters in your car are:

  • Location – One of the easiest ways to determine if you have paddle shifters is to check a few spots where they are usually installed. Check the areas behind the 10 and 2 on your steering wheel. If long, flat pieces of plastic are attached to the backside of the wheel, then you have paddle shifters.
  • Steering Column – The next place to check for paddle shifters is the steering column. The big brains at the auto company decided that having the standard H shifting lever on the floor chose the steering column as the next best place for the ability to shift gears.

There aren’t many production cars on the road today that have paddle shifting and a clutch. So chances are, if the vehicle you drive has them, it is either an expensive race car built for the street or a high-performance race car.

Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder interior close up of the steering wheel and paddle shifters
Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder

How do Paddle Shifters Work?

Paddle shifters work as a way to shift gears in the transmission without removing your hands from the wheel. Some cars with paddle shifters could be powerful, and taking your hands off the wheel periodically to shift gears could be dangerous to the driver and those around them. Knowing how the shifters work is an excellent way to keep your car running efficiently.

Here are the two most common paddle shifters:

  • Conventional – If a conventional paddle shifter is found on a manual-transmission vehicle, the clutch pedal will still need to be used to shift into the next gear.

    A paddle shifter on the left-hand side of the steering wheel is used for downshifts, and all upshifts occur on the right shifter paddle.
  • Dual-Clutch – is a semi-automatic transmission hybrid gearbox that has certain characteristics of both a manual and automatic transmission.

    It works differently than conventional paddle shifters in that it has hydraulic valves to help shift gears, and two clutches but no clutch pedal. These are very popular with high-end sports cars.

Paddle shifters work just like the lever of the old models. By pressing the paddle, you shift the transmission up or down. These paddles work mainly for speed and safety. However, there is also the added benefit of reducing harm to the transmission.

Ford GT 2022 Supercar interior view of the interior with a close up of the steering wheel and shifter paddles
Ford GT – Interior

How to Know When to Use Paddle Shifters

Now that you know where your paddle shifters are and what they do, you should know the best time to use them. In addition, they create a few advantages you might not expect and can be better for your automobile.

A few times when you should use the paddle shifters on your car are:

  • High RPM – When the RPM levels reach a certain number on the tach, you should use the shifters. This changes the transmission to a higher gear that can support the speed and power heading to the wheels.
  • Warning Light – Some newer model cars will have an electronic light that flashes when it is time to shift gears. By following these lights, you protect the engine against overheating and potential catastrophic breakdown.
  • By Ear – Another way to know when it is time to shift with the paddle shifters is by listening to the engine. The RPMs in an engine get louder as they increase. Often, drivers familiar with their car will know when to change gears by how loud the engine whines.

Paddle shifting could sometimes take a combination of two of the above choices to make it work correctly. However, by paying attention to your car and the driving situations you encounter, you make significant headway towards saving the life of the car’s engine and transmission.

Porsche Carrera Interior close up of the steering wheel with paddle shifters illustration
Porsche Carrera

Auto Shifters and What They Do

You may have seen the option to shift your automatic transmission car on the center console shift knob. These shouldn’t be confused with paddle shifters. While they share the same job, a paddle shifter is designed to work on the steering wheel or the steering column.

Saving time and energy from the driver. If there is an ‘Up/Down’ or ‘+/-‘ on the center console shift knob it essentially has the same function and is usually called a ‘Sport Mode Shifter.’

Auto shifters are a fantastic way to help haul things or to get traction in a slick area. However, be careful as using them could require you to move the handle in different motions than you are used to. Listen for the RPMs winding up to know when to change out gears, or you could be in for some expensive repairs.

Person driving the car changing the gears via the paddle shifters on the steering column down shifting

Conclusion

Paddle shifters aren’t standard on manual cars. The most common application is for race cars that have enormous amounts of horsepower and travel at high speeds. It saves wear and tear on the transmission and keeps the drivers safe by not using any movements that could jeopardize the car.

Using paddle shifters is easy, and the cars with them are lots of fun to drive. Adding a bit of pressure to the pads, the transmission shifts without grabbing a lever down by the console. Automatic cars have a hybrid version that allows users to shift through the gears similarly.

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References:

Kelley Blue Book

https://www.kbb.com/car-advice/how-to-use-paddle-shifters/

The Drive

https://www.thedrive.com/cars-101/37239/paddle-shifters

Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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