What Are Paddle Shifters?

Ford F-150 Raptor
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(And Do I Need Them in My Car?)

Manual transmissions are going away faster than the landline phone, despite enthusiasts’ wails of protest. Automatic transmissions, they say, take passion and command out of driving.

Paddle shifters bring some of that joy and control back by allowing drivers to manually shift an automatic transmission with steering-wheel- or steering-column-mounted levers.

Normally with an automatic transmission, whether it’s a traditional hydraulic unit, a dual-clutch system, or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the vehicle's computer chooses the appropriate gear changes for the driving conditions. You just put the car in Drive and go, without having to touch the shifter again until you need to back up or park.

That's perfect for everyday commuting, as manufacturers generally do an excellent job of programming their automatics for smoothness, maximum fuel efficiency, and power when you need it. The “shift logic” almost always selects the highest gear possible for the conditions, so the engine runs at a slower speed, increasing fuel economy.

There are, however, times when you want a bit more control over what the engine and transmission are doing, and that's where paddle shifters come into play.

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