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Everything you need to know about DSG gearboxes

There was a time when buying a new car meant a choice between a manual or automatic gearbox. Now there’s another type of transmission to consider – a DSG gearbox.

What exactly is a DSG gearbox car and how does it affect the cost of your car insurance?

There was a time when buying a new car meant a choice between a manual or automatic gearbox. Now there’s another type of transmission to consider – a DSG gearbox.

What exactly is a DSG gearbox car and how does it affect the cost of your car insurance?

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance comparison expert
Reviewed by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
21 JULY 2023
5 min read
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What is a DSG gearbox?

DSG stands for direct shift gearbox. It’s very similar to an automatic gearbox, but with two clutches instead of one. This is why it’s also sometimes called a dual-clutch, twin-clutch gearbox or dual-clutch transmission (DCT).

The clutches are built one inside the other, so only one gear stick is visible, just like a conventional automatic transmission. 

Simply put, a DSG gearbox gives you the best of both worlds – the comfort and ease of an automatic, along with the control and efficiency of a manual gearbox.

How does a DSG gearbox work?

With a DSG transmission, the pair of clutches are electronically controlled by mechatronics, so the car can engage or disengage automatically.

While the first clutch is engaged, the second clutch is ready to change gears in response to the way you drive. Sensors in the gearbox can measure how fast you’re going, how hard the engine is working, and how much you’re accelerating. The mechatronic unit then intuitively works out when to change to the next gear, whether that’s upshifts or downshifts. It's like one big brain.

The result is a smoother, faster gear shift with virtually no pause. 

Thanks to the seamless, responsive gear shifts, DSG gearboxes are fast becoming a popular feature in many car models.

DSG vs conventional automatic

It’s easy to see why many drivers prefer an automatic to a manual car, especially in congested, slow-moving traffic. This is because there’s no need to have your foot constantly on and off the clutch.

But why would you choose a DSG over a conventional automatic, and what are the benefits of DSG vs automatic?

Advantages of a DSG gearbox

  • Smoother and quicker change of gears. A conventional auto car uses a torque converter, which isn’t quite as seamless and receptive as a DSG.
  • Cars with dual-clutch systems are often more fuel efficient than regular automatics. 

Disadvantages of a DSG gearbox

  • A DSG gearbox is a complex piece of equipment and can be expensive to repair if it goes wrong. 
  • Even though it’s intuitive, a DSG gearbox can’t know for sure which gear you’ll want next. This can cause it to hesitate in unexpected situations. 

How do you drive a DSG transmission car?

Driving a DSG gearbox car is much like driving a conventional automatic.

It has two pedals – the brake and the accelerator – and typically Park, Reverse, Drive and Neutral lever settings. And like most automatics, you’ll usually have to put your foot on the brake to switch between the settings.

How to drive a DSG car:

  1. Press the brake pedal as you start the car
  2. Holding the brake, shift the car into ‘D’ (drive)
  3. Release the handbrake
  4. Release the brake pedal to drive
  5. When stopping, hold the brake pedal to stop the car from moving again
  6. Lifting the brake gently will make the car pull away
  7. When you’ve arrived at your destination and applied the brake, shift into ‘P’ (park) and put the handbrake on.

DSG automatic technology is controlled by a computer. However, most modern DSG cars are also equipped with a manual mode that lets you override the automatic gear changes. For example, if you want to select a lower gear for climbing a steep hill or overtaking.

Depending on the model, you usually do this by shifting the gear lever to manual mode. You could also use the + and – finger controls on paddles behind the steering wheel, much like an F1 racing driver.

Which cars use a DSG gearbox?

First introduced by the Volkswagen Group in 2003, the direct shift gearbox is now widely used in a range of models for brands in the VW Group including Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda. 

You’ll find them in everything from the affordable Škoda Fabia supermini to the large and practical SEAT Tarraco SUV. The superfast reaction times of dual-clutch gearboxes also means they’re popular in high-end sports cars like the Porsche 911.

Other popular car manufacturers including Ford, Kia, BMW and Hyundai also offer DSG-style transmissions. Some use different names for their direct shift gearboxes, for example:

  • Audi – S Tronic
  • Porsche – PDK
  • BMW – DCT
  • Ford – PowerShift
  • Hyundai – DCT
  • Kia – DCT

Are DSG gearboxes reliable?

With care and proper maintenance, a DSG gearbox should be no less reliable than other types of transmission. But over time, signs of wear and tear can start to show.

Common faults, especially in older, six-speed DSGs include:

  • Noisy bearings
  • Juddering and shuddering
  • Slow to change gears
  • Struggling to speed up in some gears.

But no gearbox is 100% reliable, especially with a fair amount of mileage on the clock. DSGs are fully automated, so unlike manual transmissions, they don’t risk gear ‘crunching’ from heavy-handed drivers, which can cause the clutch to wear out prematurely.

Do DSG gearbox cars cost more to insure?

The complex technology used to make up a DSG gearbox means that repairs and replacement parts are going to cost more. This means that you’ll most likely pay more to insure a DSG car compared to its manual counterpart.

The cost of your premium can also be affected by the car insurance group your car is in. The higher the group, the more expensive your car insurance is likely to be.

Many brands fit DSG gearboxes in their sports models, which can typically be found in the higher insurance groups.

You also need to factor in your own circumstances: for example, where you live, your driving history, your job and where you park your car at night.

Compare and save

One of the best ways to save money on your DSG car insurance is to compare quotes.

Our price comparison tool is quick and easy to use. Just fill in your details, and we’ll send you a list of quotes in a matter of minutes.

Ready to compare? See if you could save today.

Frequently asked questions

Is a DSG gearbox easy to use?

Once you get used to it, a car with a DSG gearbox is easier to drive than a manual because you don’t have to worry about changing gears yourself. If you already have experience with automatic cars, you’re unlikely to notice much difference driving a DSG car.

Do cars with DSG transmission cost more to buy?

It depends on the make, model, trim and optional features, but yes, in general, if you opt for a DSG transmission it will likely cost more than the manual version.

Does a DSG gearbox use more fuel than other gearboxes?

When compared with traditional automatics, DSGs are generally more efficient. But they don’t always have as good fuel economy as manuals.

Older six-speed DSGs use two ‘wet’ clutches that are heavier than single manual transmissions, so tend to be slightly less fuel-efficient. But newer, seven-speed DSGs are now equipped with two ‘dry’ clutches. These weigh less, offering better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions than most manual versions. 

Which is better – a DSG or manual?

When it comes to DSG vs manual, it’s really down to individual preference. If you want a smooth, effortless ride where all the hard work is done for you, a DSG is a good option. But if you’re someone who gets bored easily, you might be more at home with a manual as it will give you something to concentrate on while driving.

That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that all cars will be automatic in the not too distant future. This means it might be time to get more familiar with driving without changing gears.

Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert

Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.

Learn more about Julie

Rory Reid - car and technology expert

Rory Reid is a car and technology expert. He serves as the main presenter on Auto Trader’s YouTube channel and was previously a host on BBC Top Gear and its sister show Extra Gear. He is also a presenter on Fifth Gear. Previously, he hosted Sky TV’s Gadget Geeks, CNET’s Car Tech channel, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition and on the YouTube channel Fast, Furious & Funny.

Learn more about Rory

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