Should You Press Accelerator When Starting A Car?


I remember my grandfather teaching me to drive on the farm, he had a little VW Golf and my legs barely reached the pedals. My enthusiasm and raw excitement didn’t make for smooth foot work but I learned a lot that summer.

Should you press the accelerator pedal when starting a car? When starting a car, pressing the accelerator pedal is not required. A car engine is managed by on-board computers, optimum fueling is automated once the ignition key is turned to the start position.

By the end of this post you’ll understand the correct way to start a car, and why you don’t need to use the accelerator on start up.

How To Start A Car

In the early days of motoring, the driver had a huge workload. The carburetor needed to be primed, engine had to be cranked by hand and engine timing needed to be adjusted constantly. All this just to get it started…. I’m exhausted!

But modern cars are so easy to start, they really are. The process is a little different auto to manual transmission, we’ll cover both here.

Starting an automatic transmission car

  • Sitting in drivers seat, buckle up your seat belt
  • Place your right foot on the brake pedal
  • The transmission needs to be in “P” (Park)
  • Place the key in the ignition, turn and hold until the engine catches and starts. If your car is equipped with key-less technology, simply press the start button, once.

Starting a manual transmission car

  • Sitting in the drivers set, buckle up your seat belt
  • Place your right foot on the brake pedal
  • Apply the parking brake if not already applied
  • Set transmission in Neutral
  • Depress the clutch pedal with your left foot
  • Place the key in the ignition, turn and hold until the engine catches and starts. If your car is equipped with key-less technology, simply press the start button, once.

Do You Have To Press The Brake When Starting A Car?

It is good practice to press the foot brake before turning the key to start the engine. However, most models will allow you start the engine without pressing the foot brake.

An automatic transmission will start once the shifter in in “P” Park or “N” Neutral. However, the shifter can’t be moved as you know without first pressing and holding the foot brake. This safety feature is called a shift lock.

A manual transmission will allow you start the engine without applying the foot brake, however some manual transmissions are fitted with a clutch switch also known as a clutch sensor. The switch prevents starting unless the clutch pedal is fully pressed. This is a safety feature that prevents prevents accidental gear starts.

Can I Start My Car In First Gear

Before staring your car it is always good practice to have the parking brake on. Staring your car in first gear is OK, so long as you press the clutch pedal first.

Pressing the clutch pedal as you know, disengages the engine from the transmission and prevents lurching forward unintentionally. Some manual cars won’t engage the starter motor unless the clutch pedals.

Is It Bad To Drive In First Gear?

A manual transmission maxed out in first would hit similar speeds, about 35 mph. A manual car must be driven in first gear in order to get to 2nd and gear and so on. Unlike auto transmissions, manual gearbox’s don’t employ an oil cooler. Instead airflow across the box is sufficient to cool the oil and gears.

However driving in first gear won’t generate a lot of airflow and overheating is a real risk if driven in first gear at higher speeds for prolonged periods.

How Fast Will An Auto Go In First Gear?

An automatic vehicle may be driven in first gear but is only intended for very low speeds. Maxed out in first gear would be about 35 mph, but the engine would sound horrible, the rev limiter bouncing 6500 rpm. Driving at this speed would likely overheat the transmission, damaging internal components.

Can You Break Without Clutch?

Braking without clutching is considered good practice, so long as the car is moving with sufficient momentum. Obviously if the driver intends braking to a stop the engine will stall without clutch.

A manual transmission is more work than an auto, without a doubt. But it’s more rewarding and exciting to drive, especially if it’s a performance car. Driving a manual car is a skill that for many doesn’t come right away. It’s possible to shift a manual car just as smoothly as a auto, but it will take some practice and a few techniques like engine braking.

Clutching before braking is known as coasting and should be avoided unless pulling to a stop from second gear. See coasting below.

What’s engine braking?

Engine braking is using a car engine to slow it down. An engine is basically an air-pump, sealing off the air supply to the pump is like lifting your foot off the gas. Closing the throttle causes the engine to struggle as it attempts to suck air. The engine’s basically choking and this causes the flywheel, transmission and car to slowdown.

This is experienced by the driver as an instant drag on the car, like the car is being held back. To experience the power of the engine braking, try pressing the clutch, this of course disengages the transmission from the engine causes the car to speed up.

Engine braking is important for many reasons, here’s just some of the advantages.

  • Reduces the load on the brake system
  • Increases braking efficiency
  • Reduces brake pad and rotor wear
  • Reduces brake heat
  • Increases gas mileage
  • Greater driver control

What’s coasting

Coasting is a habit of some drivers where they select neutral or press the clutch while moving down the road. It is sometimes used by drivers on long hill descents to aid gas mileage or when they intend pulling to a stop.

Coasting means the engine is disengaged from the transmission and is not recommended for many reasons.

  • It reduces driver control
  • Causes excessive brake heat
  • Reduces braking ability
  • Increases brake wear and repair costs
  • Reduces gas mileage

Is It Bad To Start A Car In Neutral?

Starting a car in neutral is good practice, obviously the parking brake needs to be applied. In addition to starting the car in neutral, press the clutch pedal. This might seem like a belt and braces, but there’s a good reason for doing so.

Pressing the clutch disengages the transmission from the engine and that reduces stress on the battery and starter on start up.

Can Revving Engine Damage It?

Revving an engine won’t damage it, revving is much less stressful to an engine than driving down the road. In addition, PCM controlled cars are fitted with rev limiters. The limiter does as its name suggests, it electronically limits throttle application usually cuts in at about 6500 rpm (depending on engine size and design).

Latest models will limit throttle much lower than that unless the car is dynamic (moving down the road), effectively preventing revving while the car is stationary.

When I was an apprentice mechanic before the days of PCM’s, over-revving was a real problem. In older motors it was possible to rev the car so hard the internal components would collide.

To repair this type damage required removing the cylinder head and replacing some valves and a head-gasket.

Related Question

Is it bad to rev a car in park? Avoid revving an automatic car while in park, it’s possible for a worn transmission to move into gear accidentally causing the vehicle to lurch forward.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of classic car ownership, from tires to roof aerials and everything in between.

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