What Does The Plus(+) And Minus(-) Mean In A Car [Paddle Shifters]

You must have seen these signs on your steering column or next to the gear shifter lever in an automatic car. 

They all mean the same thing in the sense that you can still manually change gears in your automatic car. The plus (+) sign is for shifting up and the minus (-) sign is for downshifting and is called paddle shifters.  

In the past, car manufacturers would put the function close to the gear shift lever, but now they are located behind the steering wheel as paddles. 

The choice of paddle shifters on the steering wheel means that you have an easier time shifting the gears without necessarily lifting a hand off the steering wheel. 

When To Use Paddle Shifters

Many modern cars have this type of system. As much as some brands make it a gimmick, it can be quite useful if it is built right. 

One of the times you could use paddle shifters is when you want to downshift fast and go over a hill. Usually, you may have to wait a lot longer for the car system to detect the strain and change to a lower gear. This time you do it yourself. 

It does not have to be uphill alone. There is also the case of going downhill. Using low gears while going downhill helps with generating a bit of engine braking. The last thing you need is to ride your brakes. 

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Towing can be strenuous sometimes for a vehicle especially if it is not meant to tow heavyweights. However, you using low gears can help with the torque. So, easily downshift was necessary to tow better. 

How Are Paddle Shifters Used?

How Are Paddle Shifters Used

Now that know more about why you may want to use such shifters, it is vital to also know the best way to use them. 

Most, if not all cars with paddle shifters will have the plus shifter on the right and the minus shifter on the left. Make sure to take note of this. 

So, before you can use the paddle shifters, ensure the car is in manual mode. If you do not know how to do it, consult the car’s manual.

With the car in manual mode, start driving and watch the RPMs on your dashboard. Once the RPMs hit around 3000, pull the right shifter, which is plus to change to second. 

Keep driving the car normally and watch the RPMs too. Once you hit 3000 RPM once again, pull the right lever again to change to second gear. Continue doing so until you are in the highest gear depending on the driving conditions. 

Downshifting follows the same process, but this time around you have to use the left lever, which is the minus, and wait for the RPMs to drop to below 2000. 

Take the car through all the gears as you come to a complete stop. You will notice the car would be idling anywhere from 800 to 1000RPMs. So, it is not that hard to use paddle shifters. It gets easier with time. 

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This video should give you more details on using paddle shifters

YouTube video

Does Using Paddle Shifters Make Driving Fun?

Someone who is used to driving an automatic car might wonder what is the whole purpose of such a feature.

Well, if you have driven a manual transmission before, there is no doubt you will want to give this a try. This is because you have control over how the car shifts and ultimately your driving experience too. 

The only difference from a manual car is that there is no clutch this time around. The clutch pedal sometimes makes people reconsider driving a manual. They do not want to keep stalling. 

If you can get the same experience from an automatic car without the worry of stalling, then go for it and see how it works out for you. 

Which Transmissions Use Paddle Shifters?

You are likely to come across paddle shifters in auto-manual cars, automatic cars, and manual cars too. 

The automated manual is the one that would be the most common car type to have this feature. The shifts are controlled by the car’s ECU. This kind of shifting is often jerky because of how the automation between the clutch and transmission is achieved. 

Yes, manual cars can also have paddle shifters. However, they are common in racecars. Such a car will still have a clutch pedal, but no H-pattern type of gear system. 

The system is paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. You still need to use the clutch while changing gears. 

As for automatic cars, they can also use paddle shifters. Here, there is a specific ECU programming that prevents gearbox damage in case of abusive gear changes. Some are just gimmicks, so it depends on the car model. 

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Here is a video on manual vs. paddle shifters to understand more 

YouTube video


Will paddle shifters ruin a gearbox?

It depends on how you change the gears. Those who commonly downshift their gears hard are likely to damage the transmission. 

When should you use paddle shifters?

You can always use them whenever you want to have more control over the gear changes and power delivery of the car. 

Can you shift faster with paddle shifters than with a manual car?

Yes. It takes an average of 1 second for a person to change gears manually. With a paddle shifter, you do it in a quarter of that time. 

Are CVT paddle shifters real?

The reality is CVTs do not have conventional gearing, so paddle shifters on them are just gimmicks. It is an illusion for you to feel more in control.

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