Driving a Car With a DSG Transmission: 13 MUST Know DSG Driving Tips

Are you in the market for did you just buy a car with a DSG transmission? And you are reading this? Good for you! Really. When driving a car with a DSG transmission, one of the most important things you can do, besides regular maintenance, is learn how to actually drive a dual-clutch or direct-shift gearbox like the DSG. Yes, at its core, it is just an automatic transmission but in reality, the way that dual-clutch transmission like the DSG work is much more different than your standard hydraulic, Tiptronic automatic transmission.

In this article, we will first briefly cover why are DSG transmissions different, how they are built, and how they operate. Based on that knowledge we will then serve you several DSG driving tips that will not only make you driving more pleasurable, but you will also greatly extend the life expectancy of your dual-clutch transmission. Stay with us!

Do I have a Direct-Shift/Dual-Clutch (DSG) automatic transmission?

Before we dive deeper, lets determine that you are actually driving a car with a DSG transmission. We are aware that the current automotive market can be confusing with so many different types of automatic transmissions out there. Some manufacturers or let alone sellers will not even disclose what kind of transmission is in your new or used car has if you don’t specifically ask them. You can always go back to the dealership and ask them to tell you what type of automatic transmission you have based on the VIN number. You can also open your owner’s manual and check there.

Direct shift transmissions are also called, dual-clutch transmissions and twin-clutch transmissions. They also come under several commercial names such as DSG, and DCT… Consult the table below to check for your car’s brand.

BrandDirect shift/Dual-clutch gearbox commercial nameExplanation
SmartTwinamic
SuzukiTCSSTwin-clutch System by Suzuki
AudiS Tronic
Seat, Volkswagen, Skoda (VAG group)DSGDirect shift gearbox
PorschePDFPorsche doppelkupplungs getriebe
BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Honda, NissanDCTDual-clutch transmission
Dacia, RenaultEDCEfficient dual-clutch
Ford, VolvoPowershift
MiniSteptronic automatic transmission with double clutch
Fiat, JeepDDCTDual Dry-Clutch Transmission

All of the gearboxes listed above work on similar principles which we will briefly explain as we continue. If you have any of these articles that this article is definitely for you. All of these direct-shift, dual-clutch transmissions need to be driven just a bit differently than a standard automatic transmission.

Understanding how a DSG transmission works

A DSG dual-clutch or direct-shift transmission is a closed unit that basically contains two separate gearboxes and two clutches (hence the name). One of the gearboxes is responsible for shifting uneven gears (1,3,5..), while the other gearbox shifts the even gears (2,4,6…). These sub-gearboxes as they are called work together with a mechatronic unit, clutch packs, and selector forks to provide the driver with the best possible shifting pattern and efficiency.

How a DSG transmission works

We do not want to confuse you with a truckload of technological terms and principles so we want to explain how a direct-shift or a dual-clutch transmission works in a real-life example.

You just joined the highway and you are happily accelerating in the 3rd gear. The sub-gearbox that is responsible for uneven gears is engaged with the output shaft while you are driving in the 3rd gear. As you put your foot down on the gas pedal or the accelerator, various sensors that are connected to the Transmission Control Unit are already reporting information back to the transmission that your intention is to accelerate and shift into a higher gear. This information is then conveyed to the sub-gearbox that regulates the even-number gears (2,4,6) and it already engages the 4th gear but it is still not in contact with the output shaft. As this happens, the mechatronics unit will make sure that the clutch on the 3rd gear opens and the clutch for the 4th gear closes and engages with the output shaft. 

The entire process is blazingly fast and your gearbox is always monitoring your next move to make sure it has the right gear engaged before it comes to actual shifting. It is nothing short of incredible. If you wish to learn more about how a DSG or any kind of dual-clutch transmission work, check out thise guide by PracticalMotoring.

golf 4 R32 with a dsg transmission
Volkswagen Golf Mark IV R32 was actually the first production car that featured a DSG transmission.

13 Tips On Driving a Car With a DSG Transmission

Now that you know how your DSG transmission works, it is time to learn how to drive one without causing damage to the complex internal parts that are incredibly expensive to repair.

Driving a car with a DSG transmission in the city and in stop-stop-go traffic

DSG dual-clutch gearboxes are prone to always seek the perfect shifting pattern for the best fuel efficiency. And that is not always the best thing, let us explain.

When you are driving around in stop-and-go traffic, slowly creeping forward, your DSG gearbox will always try and shift as quickly from 1st to 2nd gear in order to preserve fuel. By doing this in dense traffic, it means that it is always engaging and disengaging clutches. This leads to more wear on the clutch packs and it can also lead to overheating.

We recommend that you choose the manual shifting mode where you can simply choose to always move in 1st gear if you are in stop-and-go traffic. Yes, your fuel economy will be worse, but you can save much more when you give your DSG gearbox a break. 

Follow the maintenance plan without exceptions

DSG transmissions are incredibly sensitive to worn-out transmission fluid. So sensitive in fact that many experienced owners even shorten the maintenance intervals that are prescribed by the manufacturer of the transmission. Regular transmission fluid and filter changes are absolutely the most important factor when it comes to extending the life expectancy of your DSG automatic gearbox.

Do not switch to (N)eutral when coming to a complete stop

If you think you are somehow preserving the DSG transmission when you shift into neutral at a red light, you are wrong. Constantly switching to neutral does nothing but send constant mixed signals to the transmission and it does no good for your direct shift gearbox. When you come to a complete stop while driving (stop signs, traffic jams, red lights) just press down the brake pedal firmly and keep your transmission in (D)rive. Pressing the brake completely disengages both of the clutches inside the DSG gearbox and until you press the gas pedal again, nothing bad will happen to your gearbox.

Let your DSG transmission warm up

Everyone needs a little time to get warmed up, to get those juices flowing. Even your DSG transmission. When you start driving with a cold car with a DSG transmission, make sure you take the first 20 minutes easy, especially in the winter. It takes time for the transmission fluid to warm up and lubricate all the moving parts of the DSG transmission. Taking things slowly will reduce the amount of wear and tear which can accumulate over years and cause unwanted damage to the gearbox.

Avoid the DSG transmission startup lag

This tip has been floating around VW forums for quite a bit, so lets sum it up because we agree that it makes complete sense. Many owners, including myself one time, have experienced what is called the DSG startup lag. From the moment you release the brake and hit the gas pedal simultaneously, you can feel that there is a certain lag present. While it is short, less than a second, you can feel it. Many owners predict that this “lag” is basically just the time it takes for the transmission to realize that the brakes have been released and that it can engage the first gear.

The tip here is to release the brakes and then accelerate in order to start without feeling this startup lag. Some drivers do this without even realizing, but many don’t, so we think it is worth mentioning.

Never use the DSG gearbox to stand still on an incline

If you come to a complete stop on a slight incline or a hill, you can keep the car in position by simply applying slight pressure on the gas pedal/accelerator. Doing this constantly is a sure way to burn out your clutch packs and landing at a mechanic. Using the gas pedal and your DSG transmission to keep still on an incline means that the clutch is always engaged and slipping. This will overheat the transmission and cause massive wear to the clutch pack.

What you should do instead is logical, just step firmly on the brake pedal and wait for the traffic to move. Only then should you apply pressure to the gas pedal and roll away.

Do not up-shift while breaking

Dual-clutch gearboxes are constantly gathering data on your behavior. ifThey are analyzing whether you are speeding up, slowing down, your speed, etc. If you try and mess with this process via the manual shifting paddles on your steering wheel, you are sending all kinds of signals to the gearbox which can result in damage to the transmission because the engine and gearbox are running at different speeds. So do not intentionally or unintentionally up-shift while breaking or vice versa.

Do not “launch” the car constantly

Most sports cars or even some “ordinary” cars with DSG dual-clutch transmission come with some sort of launch control. This program is intended for sending the car from 0-60mph in a controlled manner without causing much damage to the car. Even with launch control, your car suffers to a certain degree. Driving a car with a DSG transmission means you automatically get insanely fast gear shifts, so dont be sad if your car does not have launch control.

Seeing people with DSG transmissions launch their cars on their own is devastating. There is nothing wrong with some dynamic driving through tight bends, but seeing people hammer down the gas pedal while holding down the brake pedal is nothing more than calling for serious transmission damage. Don’t do it.

Use the parking brake, always!

Even though your DSG transmission comes with a locking mechanism that prevents the car from rolling away on an incline, it does not mean that the parking brake lost its purpose. Parking your car on an incline and relying on the locking mechanism alone means you are constantly putting pressure on the gearbox. Just use the parking brake, it is there for a reason.

Do not overload or overhaul with your DSG, ever!

If you plan on driving a car with a DSG transmission and haul heavy loads, choosing a DSG transmission might not be the best idea as it is not suited for heavy towing. That is also the reason why you might see cars or pickup trucks that are meant for towing, equipped with hydraulic automatic transmission with torque converters.

Let your DSG transmission know what you want

As we mentioned before, your DSG transmission is always analyzing your next move, so give him the clues. If you want him to shift down and accelerate hard, do that, slam that gas pedal, and let the transmission know you want to go fast. If you want economy, shift down and don’t make sudden changes on the gas pedal. Being gentle with the accelerator and being too gentle with the breaks is not something your DSG likes to see, the more obvious you are with your next move, the better will it perform.

Downshifting a car with a DSG transmission: One gear at a time

Shifting down two gears at a time is something you might see yourself doing in a car with a manual gearbox, going from 5th gear into 3rd is a common thing if you want to quickly overtake someone. Doing the same with a DSG transmission is not that good. If you would leave your DSG in automatic mode, a quick and hard press on the gas pedal would make it downshift 1 gear, then it would quickly downshifted 1 more gear lower if it is possible. And you should do the same when you are manually shifting your DSG transmission. Throwing down two gears at a time means that the same sub-gearbox has to prepare a new gear which is confusing to a DSG gearbox. This will actually lead to much worse response and acceleration times than shifting down 1 geat at a time.

Driving a car with a DSG transmission in Snow

When driving a DSG car in the snow be mindful of one thing; DSG gearboxes hate slipping. When you drive on slippery roads, and if your wheels are slipping on snow or mud, your DSG gearbox will constantly try and engage different gears to prevent slipping. And what that does is constantly engage and disengage different gears but none of them “stick” and preven the car from slipping, and the clutch from slipping as well. Doing this frequently can lead to transmission damage so it is not something we recommend.

modern VW car with a dsg transmission
Most modern Volkswagen automatics are actually DSGs.

Frequently asked questions about driving a car with a DSG transmission

Can you drive a DSG transmission like an automatic?

Of course, you can, a DSG is an automatic transmission. The good part is, that you can also drive it in manual mode if you wish to do so. Otherwise it will take care of gear shifting completely on its own.

Can you drive a car wirh a DSG transmission like a manual transmission?

In most cars yes, you can! That is one of the major benefits to DSG and dual-clutch transmissions. If you wish to dictate when the car shifts, you can do so.

Can you drive a DSG car with an automatic licence?

Yes, you can. A DSG transmission is an automatic transmission first. It has no clutch pedal but you can still shift to manual mode if you wish to do so. It is never the same as driving a manual car so yes, it is allowed to drive a DSG car with an automatic license.

How to drive a DSG in traffic?

When driving a DSG transmission in congested traffic it is best to shift gears manually. Shifting gears manually and staying in 1st gear prevents too much unnecessary gear shifting which leads to transmission wear and tear.

What is the difference between DSG and DCT?

In general, there is little to no difference. Both are dual-clutch, direct-shift gearboxes that are based on the same technology. They are made by different gearbox manufacturers which is the reason for different commercial names despite the same transmission technology.

Conclusion

Driving a car with a DSG transmission requires no special knowledge to be honest. Driving it with longevity in mind however, means that you will change some of your driving habits once you buy a car with a DSG transmission. All of the DSG gearbox driving tips that we mentioned here can be applied without much thought, and the truth is that many people do all these things right. And those people are the ones who experience little to no problems with their DSG transmissions. 

If you are experiencing problems with your DSG transmission check out our Ulitimate Guide of DSG Problems and Solutions.