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2.3 – Shifting Gears

Correct shifting of gears is important. If you cannot get your vehicle into the right gear while driving, you will have less control.

2.3.1 – Manual Transmissions

Basic Method for Shifting Up. Most heavy vehicles with manual transmissions require double clutching to change gears. Below is the basic method:

  • Release accelerator, push in clutch and shift to neutral at the same time.
  • Release clutch.
  • Let engine and gears slow down to the rpm required for the next gear (this takes practice).
  • Push in clutch and shift to the higher gear at the same time.
  • Release clutch and press accelerator at the same time.

Shifting gears using double clutching requires practice. If you remain too long in neutral, you may have difficulty putting the vehicle into the next gear. If so, do not try to force it. Return to neutral, release clutch, increase engine speed to match road speed and try again.

Knowing When to Shift Up.

There are two ways of knowing when to shift:

  • Use Engine Speed (rpm). Study the driver's manual for your vehicle and learn the operating rpm range. Watch your tachometer and shift up when your engine reaches the top of the range. (Some newer vehicles use “progressive” shifting: the rpm at which you shift becomes higher as you move up in the gears. Find out what's right for the vehicle you will operate.)
  • Use Road Speed (mph). Learn what speeds each gear is good for. Then, by using the speedometer, you will know when to shift up. With either method, you may learn to use engine sounds to know when to shift.

Basic Procedures for Shifting Down. Below is the basic procedure:

  • Release accelerator, push in clutch and shift to neutral at the same time.
  • Release clutch.
  • Press accelerator, increase engine and gear speed to the rpm required in the lower gear.
  • Push in clutch and shift to lower gear at the same time.
  • Release clutch and press accelerator at the same time.

Downshifting, like upshifting, requires knowing when to shift. Use either the tachometer or the speedometer and down-shift at the right rpm or road speed.

Special conditions where you should downshift are:

  • Before Starting Down a Hill. Slow down and shift down to a speed that you can control without using the brakes hard. Otherwise the brakes can overheat and lose their braking power. Downshift before starting down the hill. Make sure you are in a low enough gear, usually lower than the gear required to climb the same hill.
  • Before Entering a Curve. Slow down to a safe speed and downshift to the right gear before entering the curve. This lets you use some power through the curve to help the vehicle be more stable while turning. It also allows you to speed up as soon as you are out of the curve.

2.3.2 – Multi-speed Rear Axles and Auxiliary Transmissions

Multi-speed rear axles and auxiliary transmissions are used on many vehicles to provide extra gears. You usually control them by a selector knob or switch on the gearshift lever of the main transmission. There are many different shift patterns. Learn the right way to shift gears in the vehicle you will drive.

2.3.3 – Automatic Transmissions

Some vehicles have automatic transmissions. You can select a low range to get greater engine braking when going downgrades. The lower ranges prevent the transmission from shifting up beyond the selected gear (unless the governor rpm is exceeded). It is important to use this braking effect when going downgrades.

2.3.4 – Retarders

Some vehicles have “retarders,” which help slow a vehicle and reduce the need for using the brakes. They reduce brake wear and give you another way to slow down. There are four basic types of retarders (exhaust, engine, hydraulic and electric). All retarders can be turned on or off by the driver. On some vehicles the retarding power can be adjusted. When turned “on,” retarders apply their braking power (to the drive wheels only) whenever you let up on the accelerator pedal all the way.

Because these devices can be noisy, be sure you know where their use is permitted.

Caution: When your drive wheels have poor traction, the retarder may cause them to skid. Therefore, you should turn the retarder off whenever the road is wet, icy or snow covered.

Multiple-Choice Questions:

Question #59 (1 of 4)

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What happens if you cannot get your vehicle into the right gear while driving?

  • You must pull over and let the engine cool before continuing
  • You will come to a stop too soon
  • You will have less control
  • You will have no brakes
Correct shifting of gears is important. If you cannot get your vehicle into the right gear while driving, you will have less control.
You will rarely use a helper once you get the hang of backing. It's often more confusing when people are shouting orders at you or waving their hands around, but a helper can be great when you're new to truck driving.
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When should you turn the engine "retarder" off (Commonly known as the "Jake Brake")

  • When your gross weight exceeds the braking pressure
  • At night or on narrow roads
  • Whenever the road is wet, icy, or snow-covered.
  • If two or more cylinders indicate overheating
Caution: When your drive wheels have poor traction, the retarder may cause them to skid. Therefore, you should turn the retarder off whenever the road is wet, icy, or snow-covered.
Engine braking only applies the braking force to the drive tires of the tractor, which can be dangerous on slick roads. Use the foot brake on slick roads.
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Special conditions where you should downshift are:

  • Before entering a curve and after leaving a traffic light
  • After you've come to a complete stop or after you've entered a curve
  • Before starting downhill or before slick spots on the road
  • Before entering a curve and before starting downhill

Special conditions where you should downshift are:

  • Before Starting Down a Hill. Slow down and shift down to a speed that you can control without using the brakes hard. Otherwise the brakes can overheat and lose their braking power. Downshift before starting down the hill. Make sure you are in a low enough gear, usually lower than the gear required to climb the same hill.
  • Before Entering a Curve. Slow down to a safe speed and downshift to the right gear before entering the curve. This lets you use some power through the curve to help the vehicle be more stable while turning. It also allows you to speed up as soon as you are out of the curve.
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What are two ways of knowing when to shift?

  • Vehicle weight and length of trailer
  • Transmission type and engine type
  • Engine speed and road speed
  • Road conditions and oil pressure

There are two ways of knowing when to shift:

  • Use Engine Speed (rpm). Study the driver's manual for your vehicle and learn the operating rpm range. Watch your tachometer and shift up when your engine reaches the top of the range. (Some newer vehicles use “progressive” shifting: the rpm at which you shift becomes higher as you move up in the gears. Find out what's right for the vehicle you will operate.)
  • Use Road Speed (mph). Learn what speeds each gear is good for. Then, by using the speedometer, you will know when to shift up. With either method, you may learn to use engine sounds to know when to shift.
There are many factors that determine when to shift. Engine speed and road speed are two of those factors, but other factors will come into play like vehicle weight, stopping distance, and the slope of the highway you're on. All this takes time and experience.
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