What is a semi-automatic car

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BMW semi-automatic car
Slide behind the wheel of a BMW to test drive a semi-automatic car
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Wondering what is a semi-automatic and how it is different from other cars?

Cars tend to fall under the category of topics people know a lot or nothing at all about. Many of us learn to drive at the earliest age possible, but we gather our car knowledge on an as-needed basis. As a result, thereís some basic confusion over what a semi-automatic car is.

If youíre car hunting now or planning to in the future, itís important to know what you get with semi-automatics and why some drivers prefer them. Basically, a semi-automatic car has an automatic transmission with a user interface that lets the driver shift the gears when she wants to, or let the computer do the work. The fact that the transmission allows the driver to choose when gears shift is the reason these cars arenít fully automatic.

Inexperienced drivers will find it easier to drive a semi-automatic car than a manual one. The major difference between the two is that semi-automatics donít have a clutch pedal. With manual cars, the driver has to coordinate stepping on the clutch pedal to change gears while driving or stopping. When in automatic mode, the gears use electronic sensors to execute gear shifts themselves. 

Semi-automatic cars make the overall driving experience easier so you can focus on where youíre going and on the other cars around you. Semi-automatic driving is particularly useful for the stop-go traffic patterns that many commuters face daily.

One of the culprits behind car confusion is the varying lingo used by manufacturers.

There are several different types of semi-automatic gearboxes, but they all have the same function that enables the driver to either let the computer automatically control gear changes or to switch to manual mode. Porsche was the first brand to introduce this technology in 1990. Today BMW, Audi, Chrysler, Honda and Nissan offer their own versions, though each has a different name for it. A few examples include Porscheís tiptronic transmission and BMWís steptronic system.

While their technology sounds confusing, thanks to a bunch of long words that all mean the same thing, semi-automatic cars are easy to drive. The driver controls gear shifts through a paddle on the steering wheel, by moving a knob beside the stick shifter or with another basic mechanism within reach. Enthusiasts like that semi-automatic cars offer the physical engagement of a manual car without the hassle of always dealing with a clutch pedal. 

If youíre looking to purchase a car and find yourself on the fence between manual, automatic or a semi, you really should take each for a spin.


Forbes: Semi-Automatic Transmission BMW

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