Car Controls & Instruments

To ensure you understand the function of each control on the car and the potential effects of incorrectly using them.
To know and understand all of the controls and instruments on your car
  • To be able to operate the controls on your car without taking your eyes off the road
  • Know how to read and understand the instrument panel including the warning lights and speedometer
  • To know how to find out more information on the controls and instruments for your own car

This will cover foot controls, then the hand controls.

The major controls are about controlling your vehicle.

The minor controls about how you and your vehicle communicate with other road users, lights etc..

Foot Controls:


 gas pedal being used
The accelerator pedal should be controlled with your right foot and is the furthest right of the three foot pedals.

The accelerator controls the amount of fuel that is supplied to the engine. The more you press the accelerator pedal the more fuel will go to the engine and more power is generated.

Understanding the amount of pressure to apply to the accelerator takes practice especially when moving off in your car. Too little will cause the engine to stall and too much may make the car surge forward.

The accelerator pedal is normally called the gas. It’s easier to say.

The Story Of The Car Part 3: Accelerating


The footbrake pedal should also be operated by using your right foot. (You should not need to ever operate the accelerator and footbrake at the same time.)

The footbrake is the centre of the three pedals.

The footbrake pedal is used to slow down and stop your car from moving.

The more pressure you apply to the footbrake the quicker your car will slow down. Using the footbrake pedal correctly takes practice, to ensure the wheels are slowed down enough but not to let the brakes lock.

The Story Of The Car Part 4: Braking

Clutch Pedal.

The clutch pedal should be operated by the left foot and is the furthest left of the three pedals.

The clutch is the connection in your car between the driving wheels and the engine.

Good clutch control requires practice and is an essential skill to learn for moving off and changing gear.

The Story Of The Car Part 5: The Clutch And Gears

Hand Controls:



The parking brake is usually located on the floor of the car, behind the gear lever. Although it can also be located under the instrument panel or sometimes an additional pedal.

The parking brake holds the car still whilst you are stopped.

The parking brake should not be used to stop the car when it is moving, apart from in an emergency if the footbrake has failed.


Steering wheel.


The steering wheel is used to control the direction in which you want the car to travel. If you turn the wheel to the left, the wheels at the front turn to the left. Then the whole car then moves to the left.

The Story Of The Car Part 6: Steering System And Method

Gear lever.


The gear lever is usually found to the left of the driver’s seat, it is either on the floor of the car or on a raised console. The gear lever is placed so it is easy to reach and use whilst you are driving without you needing to look at it.

The gear lever enables you to change from one gear to another and also has reverse gear for when you need to reverse your car.

The Story Of The Car Part 5: The Clutch And Gears

Minor Controls:



The position of the lighting controls varies from car to car, so always make sure you know where these controls are located when driving a new car.

Head Lights.

controls lights weather

Your car’s headlights should always be used during night time driving and during bad weather with reduced visibility.

Headlights can be set to full/main beam and dipped beam.

Full beam should only be used on empty stretches of road or motorway at night time. They should not be used when other traffic is visible or during the day as they distract and dazzle other road users.

High/main beam

Dipped beam should be used if you are driving at night and there are other vehicles around you. Other times you should use dipped are during the daytime in poor visibility due to heavy rain or snow.

Low/dipped beam lights

Fog Lights.

Car with fog lights on

All modern cars should be fitted with at least one rear fog light.

Fog lights are only used during foggy weather and visibility is reduced to less than 100 meters. You must not use fog lights in other circumstances, as they can dazzle and district other drivers. There is usually a warning light on the car dashboard to alert you to the fact your fog light in currently on.


Indicator control/stick

The indicator switch is usually found on a stalk on one side of the steering wheel, this enables you to use the indicator without removing your hand from the steering wheel.

Indicators are used to show other road users which direction you are going to be travelling in.

Although indicators usually self cancel after a change of direction, you should always check this or it may confuse other drivers.

Hazard warning lights.

controls HAZARDS

Hazard warning lights should be used to warn other road users if you are temporarily obstructing the traffic. This may be due to:

  • having broken down
  • being involved in an accident
  • you have to slow down quickly due to seeing an obstruction or hazard ahead.

It is not acceptable to use hazard lights to stop in an area with restrictions or double yellow lines (unless one of the above applies.)

Reversing lights.

Car reversing light

Reversing lights are on the white ones on the rear of the car and provide a warning signal to others that your car is moving backwards.

Reversing lights also provide additional lighting for the driver when the car is reversing.

Side lights.

Car with just side lights on

On many modern cars sidelights are located in the headlight unit itself.

Side lights are less bright than headlights and are normally used if you are parking at the side of a busy road (but remaining inside your car) to warn other road users that you are there. In the MOT manual they are referred to as positional lights. They can also be used during the day, if for example it is cloudy but not dark enough for main headlights.

Instrument Panel.

car instrument panel

Always check your own cars vehicle handbook for specific information on your cars instrument panel, as this will vary from car to car. The instrument panel is on the car’s dashboard, partially behind the steering wheel, so it is easily visible whilst you are in the car.

The main parts of the instrument panel are:

  • Speedometer – this tells you the speed you are travelling in both miles and kilometres per hour. This may be a dial or digital display.
  • Fuel gauge – to show you how much fuel you currently have in your car
  • Rev counter (on some cars) this tells you the engine speed in revolutions per minute (RPM)
  • High beam indicator light – to show when you have your car headlights on full beam
  • Temperature gauge – to show the current temperature of your cars engine
  • Indicator repeater light – to remind you that your indicator lights are currently being used

Warning Lights.


Warning lights on the cars control panel assist you to drive safely, monitor the cars engine, protect the cars engine and other parts from damage and to see what functions you currently have selected.

The warning lights on your car may vary, but may include:

  • Oil pressure light – this will show if your oil is very low or the oil in the car is not moving around as it should. (Oil lights will light up when you turn the ignition on, but should then go off as the engine starts.)
  • Water temperature light – this will light up if your engine is overheating
  • Doors or boot open light – show that one of the doors on your car is not correctly closed
  • Seat belt warning lights – this shows that one of the people in your car is not wearing their seatbelt or has removed it

Warning lights should never be ignored as they are letting you know that there is a problem. Your vehicle handbook will contain more information on the exact warning lights that your car has.


car horn

The car horn is used to warn other road users that you are there. The car horn must only be used when absolutely necessary. It is not acceptable to use your horn aggressively as this can be dangerous as it may distract other drivers.

You must not use your horn when your vehicle is stationary or in a built up area between 11.30 pm and 7.00 am.

Heated Windows.

heated rear windscreen

Most cars have heated rear windows. Some also have heated windscreens.

Heated windows allow you to keep the windows free from frost, ice and condensation on the inside of the windows.

Demister settings allow you to direct warm air to the windscreen of your car. This is once the engine has warmed up.


Wipers and washers.


A windscreen wiper is used to remove rain, snow or spray from the windscreen of your car. Windscreen washers are used to direct water onto your windscreen to wet the surface before using wipers if required.

On most cars the windscreen wiper and washer controls are on a stalk mounted on the cars steering column. Rear wipers if your car has them are operated by separate controls.

Manufacturers Options.

Cars may have many other controls and instruments. If you are purchasing a new car, you may even be able to choose additional instruments. These could be air conditioning or wiper blades for headlights.

It is essential you spend some time learning where the controls and instruments are in your own car. Or if you are driving a car that is not your regular one. The manufacturers vehicle handbook will be able to provide you with more information on all controls and instruments of your car.

The Story Of The Car Part 8: Signals And Lights

The Story Of The Car Part 9: The Ancillary Controls

It is important for your own safety and that of others that you can safely use all controls and instruments within your car.

Using them incorrectly or not using them at all could result in you being a danger to others and could result in fines or prosecution.


  • Ensure you know where all the controls and instruments are in your car
  • Know the meaning of warning lights and what action to take
  • If unsure of anything check your vehicle handbook for more information.
Further Reading:
The Highway Code Rule(s): 110-116

Driving The Essential Skills: Section(s) 3


What’s in the driving syllabus?

Click on a topic below to get started.
Please note this syllabus should be used with a professional driving instructor.

Cockpit Drill

Safety Checks

Controls and Instruments
Moving Away and Stopping
Safe Position
Mirrors Vision and Use
Anticipation and Planning
Use of Speed
Other Traffic
Dual Carriageway
Motorway Driving
Country Roads
Pedestrian Crossings
Turning the Vehicle Around
Emergency Stop
Independent Drive
Fuel-Efficient Driving
Passengers and Loads