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  • Paddle shifters are small levers behind the steering wheel or column that let the driver shift gears in a vehicle with an automatic transmission.
  • Depending on vehicle specifications, paddle shifters are usually active unless the vehicle requires the driver to switch to manual mode.
  • Paddle shifters give the driver more control over the vehicle for an enhanced driving experience.

Over the years, automakers have come up with some pretty amazing tech that made daily drives even more enjoyable than before.

But aside from innovative infotainment setups and other driver assistance features, another invention that drivers have come to love is the paddle shifter.

What Are Paddle Shifters?

Paddle shifters are small levers found in some steering wheels or columns of automatic transmission vehicles.

These shifters mimic the way manual transmissions shift gears. However, instead of depressing the clutch pedal, you’ll only need to move the levers up and down.

Automakers like Ford and Honda manufacture vehicles that come with paddle shifters. This feature was first used in Formula One race cars so that drivers could keep both of their hands on the steering wheel while shifting gears.

How Do Paddle Shifters Work?

paddle shifter of a car
Paddle shifters are small levers found in some steering wheels or columns of automatic transmission vehicles.

Paddle shifter operation largely depends on the vehicle’s year, make, and model, but all variants generally serve the same purpose.

On most vehicles, the paddles are always active. However, there are some models that might require you to slide the shifter into manual mode before you can use the paddles.

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Most systems will return to automatic mode if the driver fails to pull a paddle in a certain amount of time. There are also some setups that revert to automatic mode if the driver holds down the “+” paddle for a few seconds.

How to Use Paddle Shifters

Using paddle shifters is fairly easy. If you hold the steering wheel at the three and nine o’clock positions, your fingertips should be able to touch the paddles.

Most paddle shifters move with the steering wheel, making it possible to shift gears without removing both of your hands from the wheel.

In most cases, the right paddle has the controls that will let you shift to a higher gear while the left paddle has the ones that will let you downshift.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, paddle shifters closely mimic the operation of a manual transmission. This means that revving the engine higher at a lower gear will result in faster acceleration. If the rpm gets high enough, you can shift to a lower gear.

Unlike most automatic vehicles that only have tachometers for aesthetic purposes, vehicles with paddle shifters rely on the tach readings to prevent redlining (using a gear above its max rpm).

You can also use the paddle shifters to help your vehicle slow down. By downshifting to the next lowest gear, the engine runs at a high rpm and creates resistance upon deceleration.

Advantages of Using Paddle Shifters

Using paddle shifters essentially gives you more control over your vehicle for an enhanced driving experience.

Most drivers also enjoy using paddle shifters because they bring out their inner racer without having to deal with tricky clutch pedals and shift timing.

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Unlike manual transmissions, vehicles with paddle shifters are less likely to get damaged when the wrong gear is engaged.

A lot of automatic transmissions that come with a manual shift capability have built-in safeguards that override poor shifting decisions.

These safety features can intervene during certain conditions. For example, if the first gear is engaged for too long, the system will automatically shift to the next gear to prevent damage.

The computer might also prevent the driver from shifting to a lower gear when there’s a risk of exceeding a safe engine speed.

Aside from these advantages, using paddle shifters shares a couple of benefits when driving a manual transmission vehicle. These include the following:

  • Downshifting helps generate more torque and speed when making a turn
  • Downshifting helps the vehicle slow down without using the brakes when traversing downhill
  • Shifting to a higher gear can get your vehicle out of a pile of snow

Popular Cars with Paddle Shifters

Paddle shifters have been around for quite some time. Here are some of the most popular cars that have them.

Jaguar F-Type

The Jaguar F-Type is a luxury sports car with a supercharged V8 under its hood. The F-Type is powerful enough on its own, but a variant that comes with a pair of paddle shifters is definitely capable of delivering a more exhilarating performance.

Other than the F-Type, other Jaguar models that come with paddle shifters include the F-PACE, E-PACE, XE, and XF.

Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz is a sporty hatchback that was introduced with a 1.5L i-DTEC diesel engine and a 1.2L petrol engine.

When the Honda Jazz was offered with a continuous variable transmission (CVT) gearbox, it also came with paddle shifters, a transmission lock, and cruise control.

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Ford Focus

The Ford Focus was one of the first few models offered with paddle shifters. The 2013 Focus already had paddle shifters as an optional feature, which was followed by other models like the Edge, Escape, Explorer, and Mustang.

Audi A3

The Audi A3 is a luxury sedan that doesn’t cut back on performance. This full-size sedan is best known for premium features like the 7-speed S tronic, MMI touch display, and adaptive cruise assist, among others.

Alfa Romeo 4C

The Alfa Romeo 4C was unveiled at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, and it’s safe to say that more than a few heads turned when they saw this mid-engine sports car.

Initially sold as a coupe, the 4C was later sold with a spider body style two years later (2015).

Key Takeaways

Paddle shifters are common in automatic vehicles with a manual shift capability. These paddles work the same way as a manual transmission when shifting gears minus the hassle of dealing with tricky clutch pedals and shift timing.

Using paddle shifters gives drivers more control over the vehicle, leading to an enhanced driving experience.

Paddle shifters are quite easy to use, but keep in mind that their proper operation will depend on your vehicle’s specifications.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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