Auto Transmission Basics: How to Use the Gears Correctly

Auto Transmission Basics: How to Use the Gears Correctly

Cruising in an automatic car is such a breeze yet it’s surprising how many of us don’t know how to use the gears correctly! Here’s a quick run-through of the rudiments so you won’t risk damaging your gearbox.

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Most automatic cars have three-speed transmissions and Overdrive is the fourth and highest speed. So if you’re driving with the 0/D button off, your car can only shift up to third gear. The 0/D should always be on in normal driving conditions because it lets the engine pick up slowly to give better fuel efficiency, putting less wear on the engine. There are situations that require you to switch off the O/D such as:

When driving up a shallow hill. Due to the incline, the transmission goes back and forth between third and overdrive to find the suitable gear to be in.

When overtaking another car on the highway. By forcing the transmission into third gear, it gives your engine more torque and therefore, able to accelerate fast enough to overtake the other car.

  • 2 – Typically, second gear is used when the third gear fails to provide enough climbing power when going uphill. Second gear is also for when you need more traction to avoid spinning your wheels on muddy roads.
  • L – This refers to first gear and most car manuals tell you to use this gear when going downhill on a steep slope. Why? On this gear you slow down the car using engine braking which holds back the car to let it roll down at a safe speed. This prevents the brakes from burning, from prolonged heat as a result of constantly stepping on the brakes.
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Darla Beck, posted this comment on Apr 19th, 2009

Very interesting and helpful article. Thanks for sharing.

George W Whitehead, posted this comment on Apr 19th, 2009

I’ve only owned one car with automatic transmission, and that was a long time ago. Great article, Matt.

Inna Tysoe, posted this comment on Apr 19th, 2009

Good article.


Uncle B, posted this comment on Apr 21st, 2009

G d bless the electric car – no transmission to worry about! no million moving parts for friction or planned obsolescence, No piston engine guilty of the same obsolescence game! Just “trade – in” batteries and plug the damn thing in now and then. Next, we get rid of the heavy Iron sheetmetal we paid so long to lug around, and replace it with space age, carbon fiber and polymerized plastic modern miracles, (even Hyundai does a pop bottle body!) and the rust problem is gone! Now, get rid of the “Annual Model Change” for corporate rip off profits and change models only when real improvements of technical significance have been made! We have spent the last 100 years producing “crap to go to scrap” in under five years, spinning our wheels, wasting our lives chasing advertisement girls and chromed naughty bits? and now we wonder why we are broke and out of resources, beholden to the Chinese, debt wise, and our corporate raiders, the dividend collectors, have moved to the Shanghai stock market with our riches? Do we really have “Stupid Sucker” stamped on our foreheads?

Bo Russo, posted this comment on Apr 21st, 2009

This kind of made me laugh because Ms.Bo didn’t know this.When we visit her sister there is a grade,she puts it in OD when she should down shift and puts it in Drive when it should be in OD.

Juancav, posted this comment on Apr 21st, 2009

Helpful article,

C. S. Robins, posted this comment on Apr 21st, 2009

That is so true! Most people do not know how to work most of teh gears on their car…it could end up saving them money and their car in better shape.

Luffy12, posted this comment on Apr 22nd, 2009

good instructions

CutestPrincess, posted this comment on May 9th, 2009

that’s great,your works are always interesting

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