What are gearshift paddles for?

What are the paddles: the device and principle of operation

The idea to place the gearshift levers on the steering wheel of a production car came from motorsport. In the late 80’s of last century race cars Formula 1 began to be equipped with electromechanical gear shift systems. Ferrari was the first formula team to release a paddock car with paddles. Since then, paddles fixed in the design of racing cars. Over time, they appeared on civilian cars.

The spread of paddles preceded the emergence of a system like Tiptronic.

This extra option for the automatic transmission allows the driver to change gear ratios as he or she wishes. The driver chooses the moment to shift, and Tiptronic handles the implementation. The selector of automatic transmissions equipped with Tiptronic has an additional track where the lever can be moved, thereby activating the manual gear shift. Such boxes appeared in 1990 on the 911-model Porsche.

Design and principle of operation

In essence, these paddles are two plastic levers, pushing on which you can change gears. They are located on the steering column, which is very convenient for both the driver and the passenger.

The advantages of paddles can be felt even at dynamic driving, for example, when it is necessary to accelerate for overtaking. In this case “automatic” will switch gears in the usual mode, and the use of paddles will spin the engine, changing gear at the peak of its power, which increase the intensity of acceleration.

Given how often accidents happen exactly when overtaking, paddles really seem like a breath of fresh air for the motorist.

Pushing the lever sends a signal to the control unit, which activates the automatic transmission’s solenoids and the transmission ratio changes. The driver selects only the moment to shift, and the gear change process itself is carried out by computer-controlled actuators. The absence of actuators directly to the paddles allows to place them anywhere, but the most convenient location is just the steering wheel.

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There are variations of such systems:

Mazda 6-series cars equip the steering wheel not only with two paddles, but also with downshift levers on each side. This is done so that the driver can both upshift and downshift using only one hand.

Activation of manual downshift mode in different designs can be done by pressing the paddles or selecting this mode on the main selector. If the paddles are not used for a certain amount of time, some systems can automatically put the transmission into automatic shifting mode.

Paddles for manual transmission

Until recently, when mentioning the paddles, you did not have to think about what type of gearbox we are talking about. However, the engineers of the American company Master Shift have changed the rules of the game. At the SEMA tuning show in Las Vegas, in 2012, the system, which allows you to replace the manual gearbox to the transmission with electronic paddles. The car remains with three pedals, but the usual transmission lever is not used. The essence of the invention is that the drive unit is connected to the box through adapters. A sensor is installed under the clutch pedal, which fixes the moment of release of the clutch discs. By clicking the paddle, the desired gear is selected, then the electronics waits for the clutch to be pressed and as soon as the disks are disengaged, the actuator brings the desired stage and the driver closes the disks by releasing the pedal.

The developers have provided special systems that block the electric drive when selecting the reverse gear when driving forward at speeds above 1.6 km/h.

It is possible that soon cars with such a system will go into production.

Shift paddles: what they are and how to use them

In some new vehicles, instead of the usual lever, you can see paddles which are used to change gear. They are small handles, conveniently located under the steering wheel.

What is the system and how to use it?


Most often such an innovation can be found in sports high-speed cars. Pioneer in the modernization of this system became a concern Ferrari – paddles under the steering wheel provided the racer an advantage, since he did not have to be distracted from the steering wheel to change speed.

How the paddles work

The paddles are designed for an electronics-powered transmission, so they can be placed wherever you like, but manufacturers default to putting them under the steering wheel, believing that’s the optimal location.

When you pull the crank, the electronics send a signal to the transmission’s inductance coil, and the speed shifts. This system is provided in cars with two clutches. You can refuse from the paddles, if you feel uncomfortable, and use the usual automatics – the machine itself disables them when they are not used in the management for a long time.


How to use paddles

Many drivers, who have changed the car to a more modern variant, do not know how to use paddles, and simply disable manual mode, returning to automatics. Each car has its own nuances of control, but the basic principles are the same.

How to use the standard paddles:

  1. Pulling the paddle down prepares the car for upshifts or braking on sharp descents. To increase speed, you need to press the “+” lever on the right, to decrease – “-” located on the left. Pay attention to the control panel screen, where the current gear is displayed.
  2. Move the paddle down or up – the gears will gradually change in full range.
  3. Press and hold “+” to switch from manual to automatic – in this case the paddles are not used.
  4. Press the accelerator pedal so that the automatic selects and sets the optimum speed.
  5. To switch to another gear, bypassing the previous ones (for example, from 2 to 4), press “+” or “-” twice, wait a few seconds and press the desired lever again.
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Using paddles

From second gear, you can select any speed without touching the clutch, but only by pressing the paddles. They may be unresponsive in several cases:

  1. Holding the steering wheel, you use two paddles at once with random strokes, and the speed does not change to the set speed.
  2. You are trying to decrease (increase) the speed before the motor reaches the desired threshold.
  3. You hold down the lever and simultaneously press the other lever.
  4. System failure – in this case the corresponding letter appears on the control panel screen (depends on the model of the car), and the car returns to the automatic transmission – automatic transmission.

Paddles under the steering wheel

Now, in general, it is clear what the paddles are for and how to use them. But each brand of car has its own peculiarities, which is worth learning about before getting behind the wheel and driving a long distance.

The advantages of paddle control can include convenience and safety, ease in shifting speeds. Cars with such a system are easily mastered by newcomers to driving.

As for the minuses, the main one is the price. Also, experienced drivers do not like that the software robot does everything for them – the paddles, create only the illusion of independent control, which is very different from the real manual and, even more so, from the manual transmission. Many people like to drive the car themselves rather than relying on automatics.

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