When would you use kick down?

When would you use kick down?

When driving, it can sometimes be useful to move down a gear without slowing down. Dropping a gear increases the engine revs, which also increases power to the wheels and gives a burst of speed. In a manual car, this is as simple as changing gear whenever you might see the need.

But what do you do when you’re driving an automatic car and you can’t just change gears whenever you want? That’s where kick down comes in.

What is kick down?

Kick down is a mechanism in automatic cars that allows the driver to drop a gear, by using the movement of the accelerator pedal. By dropping a gear, the car’s able to gain a burst of power and acceleration through increased engine revs, just as it would in a manual car.

When should I use kick down?

Kick down is designed to be used whenever a driver needs to increase the immediate power delivered by the engine. This is usually followed by an increase in acceleration, helping you increase speed as quickly as possible. These are the times when you might find yourself using kick down:

  • Overtaking a vehicle - Faster acceleration when overtaking means that you can get past them quickly, allowing you to return to your lane sooner.
  • Going uphill - Driving up steep hills tends to need quite a bit of engine power, and lower gears are often recommended. If your car hasn’t automatically dropped a gear to help you out, you can use kick down to make it happen.
  • Towing something heavy - Automatic gearboxes are designed to work based on the weight of the vehicle they’re in. When you add a heavy load, they can get a bit confused about which gear they should be in, so you can use kick down to adjust.

For more information on the best times to change gear, you can check out our blog ‘When to change gears on a manual car

How do I trigger kick down?

Most automatic cars have a kick down mechanism. In older automatic cars, kick down tends to happen only when the accelerator is fully pressed to the floor. In most cases this will trigger a kick down switch, where you’ll  drop you down a gear. After you’ve dropped a gear, you can simply lift your foot to allow the accelerator to come back to a normal position.

In newer automatic cars, it’s unlikely you’ll need to actively engage kick down. Most modern automatics use a series of sensors and the car’s computer to determine the right gear for you to be in at all times. If you quickly press the accelerator and the car doesn’t accelerate properly, the computer will choose the appropriate gear to provide you with the power you need. This could mean dropping down one or even two gears if necessary.

Some modern automatic cars also have different modes that you can switch to, depending on your needs. Most standard modes will be the most fuel-efficient and are designed for normal driving. If your car has a ‘Sport’ or ‘Performance’ mode, you may find them useful in the situations described above. These modes will usually cause the car to take longer to go up the gears, and to be faster to kick down. These modes are designed to give you as much power and acceleration as possible when you need it. If your car isn’t accelerating properly and you think you might be in the wrong mode, it’s best to check your car’s manual or talk to a specialist.

If you’d like to know more about different car options, you can check out our blog ‘What is a mild hybrid car?

Can using kick down damage my car?

For some older automatics, there are mixed opinions on the impact of kick down. Kick down causes higher revs, and so puts more strain on the engine. Using it too often, or in the wrong situations, in older automatic cars does have the potential to cause damage in the long term. If you think your car engine might be under strain, it’s best to talk to a mechanic.

In newer automatic cars, this kind of damage is unlikely to happen. All of the sensors that detect when kick down might be needed are also designed to know when it’s best not to use it. If you try to engage kick down while the engine is too hot, or the engine revs are already high, then it’s very likely that your car won’t allow it, and nothing will happen. Your car will stay in the same gear and continue as before. For example, if you are towing something very heavy uphill, you may already have kicked down at the bottom of the hill. As you continue up the hill, the car is unlikely to allow you to kick down again, to stop your engine overheating.

A few final tips…

Kick down can be very useful when used in the right situations. Here are the last few things to keep in mind when using kick down:

  • How your kick down is triggered can vary depending on what type of car you have. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with your car’s specific mechanism before you start trying to drop gears on steep hills.
  • Kick down is unlikely to cause damage to modern automatic cars, as their systems prevent them from changing into a lower gear when the engine revs are already high.
  • Using different engine modes can help to make kick down more efficient, and give you the power you need. This is particularly useful if you need increased power for longer periods of time, for example if you are towing a heavy load.

If you’re wondering which type of car might work best for you, you can check out our blog ‘Should I buy a diesel car?

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.