Every automatic car has some kind of gear selector, whether it’s a lever, a rotary dial or simply a button. But generally speaking, they’re labelled with different letters for different functions. Usually, these letters are P, R, N and D. Sometimes they might also have L, or a couple of numbers, usually 1, 2 and/or 3.
P stands for Park – select it when the car is stationary and you want to take your foot off the brake pedal. R stands for Reverse when you want to back up and N for Neutral, when you want to disengage any gears, for example if your car is being towed. D stands for Drive, which lets the car move forwards.
L stands for Lock and it restricts the gearbox to the lowest two or three gears, which could be useful when driving up a very steep hill. Some gearboxes let you specify a particular gear and these are labelled 1, 2, 3 and so on.
To select any of the gears, simply move the gear selector towards the relevant letter. In most modern automatic cars, an LED will light up next to each letter and you’ll often see a corresponding letter on the driver display behind the steering wheel.
In some automatic cars with a gear lever, you have to press a button on the handle before you can move it, just to stop the car from being accidentally knocked into gear.