Learning to drive for the first time is a challenge, whether you’re a teen or getting your licence later in life. From car tyres to car maintenance, you have to create an entirely new encyclopedia of knowledge for yourself so you can drive confidently on the road.

When it comes to understanding the ins and outs of your car, sometimes it’s best to start with the basics. Consider your car controls, for example. There are more than you might think, and you’re going to have to familiarise yourself with all of them if you want to drive safely and effectively.

Ready to get started? Let’s crack this beginner’s guide to driving wide open so you can learn all there is to know about the controls in your car.

Person driving a car during daytime

Start with the dashboard

When you first climb into the driver’s seat, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of controls you have to work with. To make things easier, take a look at your dashboard first. Here, you’ll find controls designed to let you know how fast you’re driving, how long you’ve been on the road, and how your car is responding to your driving style.

The most common controls to appear on your dashboard include:

  • Speedometer – Tells you how fast or slow you’re going
  • Odometer – Tells you how many kilometres you’ve driven since visiting your last garage as well as how many kilometres your car’s driven in total.
  • Fuel gauge – Tells you how much fuel your car has left in the tank
  • Temperature gauge – Tells you how warm your engine’s got; can be used both as a security measure and as a temperature-control gauge.

Car speedometer on a blurry dashboard

You will also find warning lights on your dashboard. These lights won’t light up unless something’s gone wrong, but you should still be able to see their outlines when you first get into the car.

Warning lights you’ll need to look out for include:

  • Fuel
  • Oil
  • Engine
  • Water
  • Tyres
  • Battery

Moving to the steering wheel

Once you’ve got the dashboard controls down, it’s time to move onto the steering wheel itself. You might think that the steering wheel would be the easiest part of a car to understand. While you’re not entirely wrong, there are plenty of knobs and tools here that you’ll need to take into consideration before heading out onto the road.

A steering wheel with car controls on a dashboard

When learning how best to use a steering wheel, you’ll need to know how to use:

  • Windshield wipers – Depending on the make and model of your car, the position of the lever that controls your windshield wipers may vary. You’ll be able to use this lever to select a speed for your windshield and trigger your windshield wiper fluid, if you need to.
  • Indicators – You must always use your indicators to let others in traffic know when you’re turning left or right. Again, you’ll be able to control your indicators using the lever on the left-hand side of your steering wheel.
  • Headlights – As dusk settles, you’ll need to turn on your headlights to better see what you’re doing on the road. These levers come equipped with a twistable knob that lets you switch between low lights, high beams, and your brights.
  • Cruise control – If you’re heading out for a long afternoon drive, you can use the cruise control button or lever to maintain your speed without having to keep your foot on the accelerator.
  • Horn – If you’re irritated with another driver or if you want to avoid an accident, you can use your horn to alert other drivers.

Newer cars may also allow you to control your radio using buttons on your steering wheel. You’ll usually find these buttons on the right-hand side of your steering wheel, and you can use them to keep your music playing without taking your eyes off of the road.

Tuning the car radio

Fiddling with your console

Right next to your steering wheel, you’ll find your control console. This console contains the vast majority of your vehicle’s controls, including:

  • Ignition – Whether you have a push-button ignition or are still toting a set of keys, you’ll need to be able to locate this control if you want to go anywhere at all.
  • Hazard lights – These lights help you let other drivers know when you’re in distress.
  • Temperature control – heat up in the winter and cool down in the summer, so long as your engine’s adequately warmed.
  • Radio – Listen to your favourite playlist with the help of an aux cord or a Bluetooth connection. Alternatively, just listen to public radio to see what songs are the hottest of the moment.
  • Rear camera viewer – Not all vehicles come equipped with a rear camera, but these cameras will help you back up and park by providing you with a view that you may not be able to manage otherwise.

A modern handbrake with car controls around

Down on the floor

Finally, take a look at your car’s driver-side bucket. Here, you’ll find several essential car controls, such as:

  • Accelerator
  • Brake
  • Gear lever
  • Handbrake

Note that your bucket will only include a clutch if it runs on a manual transition. Clutches look like normal pedals but tend to be placed closer to the right-hand side of your vehicle.

Other car controls

Your car may have more or fewer controls than those listed here, depending on its make and model. Before you start driving, make sure you’re able to identify your:

  • Seat adjusters
  • Headrest adjusters
  • Mirror adjusters

These controls aren’t as essential as the others noted here, but they’ll make your drive more comfortable and even safer, if used correctly.

Becoming a confident driver takes time and practice. Once you have the controls of your car down-pat, though, you’ll be able to head out onto the road with a little more confidence.