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by James Ward

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Despite a tongue in cheek report to the contrary earlier this year, Australia remains one of only 75 countries who drive on the left – with right-hand-drive vehicles.

If it’s all you know, then it feels natural and makes perfect sense, but for the uninitiated, just what changes when the steering wheel moves sides?

It is a question that CarAdvice reader Robert asks…

I’m travelling to Europe later in the year, and my hire car is listed as having a manual transmission. I’ve never driven overseas before – and I know this might seem a bit obvious, but just what is different?

It’s a great question Robert because this is something all of us at CarAdvice have been asked a number of times – usually from Americans enquiring about RHD Australian cars!

To help illustrate with an example, we have a 2015 Peugeot 508 Allure sedan shown here in both left and right-drive configurations. And while there may be some market-specific differences, the cars are basically the same.

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Stepping into the European model (and I guarantee you’ll head to the passenger door at least once), the first thing you will notice is a feeling that you are sitting too close to the driver’s window on your left.

This will pass with time, but its probably the sensation that will take longest to get used to.

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The steering wheel is identical. There are volume and cruise control functions on the left and menu / select functions on the right in both cars. This is the same for the instruments – tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right.

Expect this to be the same for your rental car too. There is no need for manufacturers to incur extra costs by ‘mirroring’ every component.

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The steering column includes the indicator and wiper stalks which on the Peugeot are (obviously) in their ‘European standard’ positions of lights on the left, wipers on the right. The argument to this is that you can still change gears while indicating, and why cars built in RHD markets (like Japan and Australia) have them the other way around.

While on gears…

This is where the American questioners have always felt concern. Not with the pedals which are still left-to-right clutch, brake, throttle – but with the gear shifter itself.

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It’s very simple – the H-pattern is always the same. First on the left and up, sixth on the right and down (we’ll assume your rental Clio wont be running a dogleg gearbox…).

So where you are used to pushing away to engage first, you now need to pull towards you. It may sound counter intuitive to everything you know, but it will feel very natural very quickly.

Changing gears with your right hand isn’t tricky and your existing learned behavior of the H-pattern layout will help with the process. You may not be fast shifting through twisty Alpine passes on your first day, and even the best of us occasionally grab fourth instead of second but take it easy and you’ll be fine.

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Other elements around the cabin, like the instrument cluster mentioned earlier, will be probably identical to the Australian market version. You may find that while in Europe some functions will feel more natural as they are closer to the driver.

Note the infotainment functions on the Peugeot. Driving the car around Melbourne, reaching across the touch screen to enter sub-menus, and even the location of the volume knob sometimes felt a bit cumbersome, as these are more tuned to the left-side driver position.

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Driving on the other side of the road is something else that sounds more daunting than it is – but remember to look left and keep right and you’ll be feeling like a local in no time. Plus remember to carry lots of change for the toll roads!

One last gun fact – most European cars will have the fuel filler on the passenger (right) side as a throwback for when filling pumps were on the side of the road rather than in large service stations.

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Robert, we hope this helps. Have a great trip and drive safe!

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If you have any car related questions, shoot us through a message at the Ask CarAdvice tab.




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