‘I’ve never used fifth gear. What’s it for?’ – and other motoring howlers

Drivers reveal their ignorance of the motoring basics that cost money and cause red faces

One in seven drivers admit that they’ve never used fifth gear on their car, with some believing it to be some sort of turbo boost the should only be used when driving hell-for-leather on motorways, it’s been revealed.

That’s one of the findings of a national car leasing company which found that many drivers are blissfully unaware of the workings of their cars, a fact that could be losing them money in higher petrol consumption and overdue repairs.

Flexed.co.uk asked drivers about the basics of motoring, as well as approaching mechanics and roadside rescue operators for their most embarrassing tales of the road, and found tales of motoring ignorance that may make you wonder how some people passed their driving test in the first place.

“It’s fair to say that many people don’t know how the internal combustion engine works, or have a working knowledge of torque ratios,” says Flexed spokesperson Mark Hall, “But when you meet drivers that don’t know how to work the windscreen washer, then your mind is boggling.”

Working from its own survey on the basics of driving, Flexed soon found out that people’s ignorance of basic car facts ran far deeper than they thought possible.

  • 14% said they had never used fifth gear on their car
  • 41% said they had no idea how to check the oil
  • 19% said they drive around in summer with the clock on the dashboard showing winter time because they didn’t know how to change it
  • 28% didn’t know how to adjust rear view mirrors
  • 27% didn’t know how to check the tyre pressure

However, it was conversations with drivers that were most revealing, which are reproduced here with their permission:

  • Barbara, 58: “I’ve never used fifth gear. What’s it for? Is it some kind of motorway boost thing?”
  • Ellis, 22: “You can change the mirrors? Why didn’t anybody tell me?” (When told it’s part of the driving test) “Oh, right, I remember.”
  • Tony, 46: “I confess that it took me five years of driving before I found out by accident you can use full beams when driving around at night. It then took me about two weeks to realise why other drivers were flashing at me.”
  • Sandra, 33: “My brother thought fog lights existed only to make his car look cool. He even called them cool lights, and never switched them off. Not cool, really.”

Flexed’s Mark Hall says “Some of these stories may sound funny or charming, but they’re also costing drivers money. It’s estimated that not using fifth gear increases your petrol consumption by up to 15% in everyday driving.

“Motoring around with the wrong tyre pressure can also increase fuel consumption, and also wear out your tyres quicker.”

Mechanics, garage staff, and roadside rescue operators also had a few tales to tell:

  • Mechanic Glenn said: “I had a car brought in because the owner said they ‘couldn’t make the water come out’. After some gentle prodding, we found out that the windscreen washer bottle was empty. We couldn’t bring ourselves to charge them.”
  • A Highways Agency patrol driver told Flexed: “We came across a car on the motorway hard shoulder with its hazards on. It turned out the driver was under the impression that it was illegal to use anything but the controls of the car when driving, and was adjusting the air conditioning. That was a strange conversation.”
  • Car salesman Derek: “A chap turned down one of our top sellers because he said it was over-revving on the test drive. It turned out he had only ever driven automatics before, had somehow found first gear on the manual gearbox, and left it there. Unbelievable.”

Flexed says it’s easy to take our knowledge of the complex world of automobiles and driving for granted, which makes it easy to laugh at people who have no idea of the basics.

“But it’s incredible to think that grown men and women who have successfully got through a driving test still don’t know how to fill their car up with petrol,” says Hall.

“That’s the mother-in-law of one of our own staff,” he says. “The poor chap can hardly live it down.”