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September 2, 2017

9 Do's and Don'ts When Owning a Car with An Automatic

A vast majority of new cars available in the market today are available solely with an automatic transmission. Though it’s made day-to-day driving much easier, it’s also caused a lot of misconceptions to pop up. So separating facts from fiction, here are some 9 Do’s and Don’ts to consider when owning a car with an automatic transmission.

#1. Don’t coast going downhill

Some people argue that putting the gearbox into Neutral when going downhill saves you fuel. That’s not the case. Since modern cars actually cut fuel to the engine on their own, coasting downhill in Neutral won’t save you any gas. Plus, doing so actually takes some control away from you.

#2. Don’t put your car into Neutral at a stoplight

This is something that’s widely debated on the worldwide web and has even caught a tech guru or two out. The fact of the matter is, you don’t need to put your car into Neutral at a stoplight. If it’s about avoiding unnecessary wear-and-tear on your transmission, then consider this: the act putting your car into motion actually puts more stress on your gearbox, so keeping it in Drive while in traffic is nothing. Popping the transmission from Neutral to Drive repeatedly may not necessarily cause wear on your gearbox, but it can wear out the shifter bushings and pins. Though they are not expensive to fix, they can still be a hassle.

Now, if it’s about fuel economy, then that argument doesn’t hold true either. Not only do the revs rise when you put the car into Neutral instead of keeping it in Drive, newer gearboxes actually cut drive to the engine on their own to lower emission.

If you are going to spend a long period stationary though and want to shift to Neutral, then that’s fine for as long as you engage the mechanical brake (parking or foot brake as well). Likewise, if there’s some else that needs your immediate attention at a traffic light (unruly kids in the back seat, etc.) always engage the Parking Brake and put the shifter into Park (not just Neutral) before attending to your business. Of course, if it can wait until you’re safely parked, then that’s the wiser option.

#3. Don’t change gears while your car is moving 

Before changing from “Drive” to “Reverse” or vice-versa, ensure that the car comes to a complete stop. Failure to do could weaken or strip the gears of the transmission and may lead to serious damage. This also holds true for shifting in and out of “Park.” By doing so, it can break the locking pin that keeps your transmission from running.

#4. Don’t drive on a spare tire more than necessary

If your car is equipped with a temporary-type spare tire (T-Type Spare), driving on them for an extended period of time will not only cause damage to your suspension (such as having the wheel alignment to go out of whack), but it can also put unnecessary strain on your transmission. This is especially true for vehicles equipped with All-Wheel Drive.

#5. Don’t overload the vehicle

Heavy loads can cause overheating. Towing or carrying heavy loads can cause premature wear-and-tear on your transmission. If you need to tow, make sure your vehicle is up to the task (consult the owner’s manual for its maximum towing and payload capacity), or better yet, use tow trucks or vehicles designed specifically for towing.

#6. Do gradually build your speed

Launching your vehicle (revving your engine while the gearbox is in Neutral and then jamming the gearbox into Drive) is a surefire way to cause wear-and-tear, especially the transmission band. Always learn to build your speed gradually.

#7. Do check the transmission fluid regularly

The fluid level or absence thereof is an indicator of potential problems. Identifying a leak early on can prevent more damage (or more expensive repairs). The fluid quality should be a bright red color, clear, and smell sweet. If it’s not, better have a specialist take a look.

#8. Do use the right type of transmission fluid

If you need to top up with transmission fluid, always use the right type. There are several types of transmission fluid available in the market, the most common of which are called Dexron and Mercon. That said, these two general types come with many variants, so it’s always best to consult the owner’s manual for the ideal type.

#9. Do schedule for inspection/tune-up annually

A diagnostic check on your car’s engine and transmission is like your annual physical examination. It’s like taking care of your car’s overall health. Any small problem or issue can be rectified at this time before it gets too costly to repair.


  1. #2

    Other sources say that it's better to shift to N while in traffic or stoplight. Keeping it in D and stepping on the brakes wears out the transmission clutches and consumes more fuel. As you are preventing the car from motion. Maybe for stop and go traffic it is okay to keep in D and step on the brakes? But let's say you'll stop for more than 30 seconds like in a stoplight with countdown keep it in N?

    I'm confused? I want to learn how to drive more economically and efficiently.

    1. You don't wear out your transmission by keeping it in Drive when stationary even when you're stationary for 30 seconds.

      Your automatic transmission uses a torque converter which essentially has two parts. The engine is connected to the impeller and is always spinning. On the other hand, the transmission is connected to the other half, the turbine which only moves when the car is moving.

      While your transmission does experience some load when its in Drive and you're not moving, but your transmission experiences far greater stress when you're applying the throttle. So if wear-and-tear is the reason for shifting to Neutral at a stoplight, it doesn't hold up.

      In addition, if you need to move off and you forget that your car is in Neutral, you may inadvertently shift to Drive while you're already putting in some gas (believe me, this happens). This causes wear to your transmission clutch which is expensive to replace.

    2. What about Mazda's accelerated warmup? Every cold start, the revs are at 1200rpm for the first 30 secs then normalizes are 750rpm. I think it's designed to do that anyway. So will that harm the transmission? I think otherwise or maybe it only applies to some cars.

  2. What is the proper use of NEUTRAL ing AT cars?

  3. Maybe if you want to push your car while the engine is turned off or something.

  4. #2 is not applicable to DCT (the ones Ford powershift AT are using). Keeping it to D while on complete stop and braking will make the transmission overheat.

  5. I put my car in "P" Park whenever in a stoplight. Is this safe?

  6. #10 Don't buy an automatic in the first place.

    If you want to be a cool car enthusiast you should get a manual transmission car according to the commenters in this site.

    1. Sir this article is a guide on how to properly use an automatic transmission vehicle. Not about being "cool". Besides, some cars nowadays no longer offer a manual transmission.

    2. Some people cannot understand sarcasm apparently. Sad...

  7. I have an old Lancer CVT. I am lazy in stepping brakes at stop light. So it is a neutral for me during stop lights.

  8. Thank you for the information. It has helped me and sorted the primary problem. But people should go to free auto repair manuals pdf Chevrolet for a usual check if there is any other problems. I tried them and they are really good and cost effective.


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