Should you really shift to neutral when stuck in traffic?

By Ferman Lao

Hi, Ferman!

I recently bought a Toyota Vios 1.5 equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. I have a habit of shifting to neutral during stop-and-go traffic conditions and while waiting for the light to go green.

My question is: will this have a bad effect on my transmission? I feel like leaving the gear set to D during traffic consumes more fuel and might place additional stress on the brakes because it is trying to stop the car constantly. Is this true as well?

I used to drive a Lancer 1.6 equipped with CVT. I never really had a problem with the transmission despite doing the same thing. But I've read that CVT is different from a traditional automatic transmission, which the Vios has. I'm really wondering if this driving habit is good for my car or not.

Thank you very much for reading this letter.



Hi Dennis,

What you are doing is correct.

Quite a number of drivers, particularly the ones who picked up bad driving habits from other drivers who didn't know any better, often practice improper driving by not shifting to neutral when the car is not moving. While I would like to tell you that there is a good reason (under normal circumstances) for keeping it in D and stepping on the brakes at a stop, I can't. It's mostly born out of laziness and improper training.

As you have correctly surmised, the engine does consume more fuel and you do wear down your brake-system components more when you leave your transmission in D or Drive while the traffic light is red or when you’re idling and waiting.

With automatic transmissions, the engine is energizing or driving the transmission to move in the direction of the gear you've selected--forward or reverse. When you keep it in gear, you are telling your vehicle to move; when you're on the brakes, you're preventing motion. You're unnecessarily and slowly raising your automatic transmission fluid, wearing out your transmission clutches, and consuming more fuel because you're on the brakes to keep the car from inching forward. You're also unnecessarily wearing down and heating up your brake pads. By simply shifting to N or neutral there would be no need to apply the brakes with the amount of force required to resist forward motion.

If you notice all of the above result in unnecessary wear, all of which increase the cost of operating and maintaining your vehicle. It's also a very unsafe practice as if you happen to accidentally lift your foot off the brake, you will most likely get into an accident.

While we're on the subject of automatic transmissions, it is also a very bad habit to shift into P or Park when you're at a stoplight. Numerous drivers have adopted the practice as well and, quite frankly, it is also an accident waiting to happen apart from slowing damaging a different part of your transmission, which will eventually lead to the a different sort of automatic transmission failure.

It won't matter if your car has CVT or the conventional multi-speed automatic transmission. Shifting to neutral under most normal conditions is good practice.

Best regards,

Ferman Lao
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Filter comments by:
  • rdjl_13 Feb 24 2012 @ 02:39pm
    This is very informative. I usually leave the transmission to D and pull the handbrake as hard as possible when on traffic. I always do it to respond quickly once the traffic moves or when I'm in front of the lane and it turns green. Now I know it's wrong. Hehe. Thank you, Sir Ferman! :)
  • Kim John Feb 24 2012 @ 04:02pm
    yung semi automatic ganun din ba?
    • art Feb 24 2012 @ 09:07pm
    • someonespecialisme Feb 25 2012 @ 01:25am
      kahit semi automatic chances are ganun din siya..
  • someonespecialisme Feb 24 2012 @ 04:52pm
    thanks sir ferman, this is very informative..i always shifted to N since i got used to driving a manual..i thought leaving it to D would kind of wear out some clutch mechanism like when we keep the clutch and brake pedal depressed in a manual..
  • torquebender Feb 24 2012 @ 06:02pm
    bagong kaalaman na naman, thanks sir!
  • HKB Feb 24 2012 @ 07:33pm
    MALAKING TAMA TO>>>>>>>>>>
  • vonschnipp Feb 24 2012 @ 08:35pm
    common sense, really.
  • Anna Barbara L. Lorenzo Feb 24 2012 @ 09:37pm
    Send in more tech questions, guys! :)
  • Feeter Silverster Feb 24 2012 @ 09:41pm
    Ok, this is very educational for those who have a/t. I made it a habit eversince to put the gear to neutral whenever the vehicle is in stop. Naka neutral na naka hand brake pa kaya pag nag- GO, andaming bumubusina agad sa akin kasi hindi agad ako maka arangkada, hehehe, I found them very nasty and impatient.
    • mindkinetic Feb 25 2012 @ 10:58am
      we share the same habit . i also put my gear to neutral and then handbrake for safety.
      • 17Sphynx17 Feb 25 2012 @ 12:29pm
        I wouldn't advise always pulling the handbrake though. It pulls the cable and makes it go loose eventually. One of two things will happen, either it will be harder to lock the wheels using the handbrake (because it is loose), or the handbrake will fail to disengage at one point because of mechanical failure (happened to my aunt because she practices pulling the handbrake at stoplights).
    • 17Sphynx17 Feb 25 2012 @ 12:31pm
      In my case, I also honk the horn of the vehicle in front of me if it takes them more than 2 seconds to get a move on.

      What I do is I look for the sequence in the stoplights in my regular route. I pretty much know the sequence of when the light is supposed to turn green for me/my lane, so I basically shift it just before it changes to green and step of the accelerator after it becomes green.

      It will really depend though as I am sometimes in a rush and I get impatient, although I still do not subscribe to road rage. =)

    • rsa1 Feb 27 2012 @ 10:39pm
      anticipate the green "go" signal. i'm not the type na saka lang magshift pag gumalaw na yung nasa unahan, i see to it that the moment the light changes, i'm ready to move. If you stall for even 1 sec. it's a domino effect to the car's behind you. hopefully all drivers will be considerate!
    • bbulusan Mar 14 2012 @ 03:57pm
      same here, that's my practice either i'm using manual or A/T--gear to Neutral then handbrake, but of course anticipating the green "go" signal as sir rsa1 said.

      pag-Manual pa nga, naging habit ko na when slowing down.. let's say from 5th->4->3->2->1-N, then handbrake. Nakasanayan ko na.. great help especially if you need to slow down agad, using engine break para di gastado & pantulong sa brakes.
  • Deyn Man Feb 24 2012 @ 11:42pm
    you really do learn something new everyday! :)
    thanks for sharing!
  • agutz1010 Feb 25 2012 @ 12:08am
    Common sense talaga to
  • triple4 Feb 25 2012 @ 01:35am
    I thought everyone knew this already....
  • 17Sphynx17 Feb 25 2012 @ 12:34pm
    I think a more proper question instead of just shifting to neutral is if it really unsafe to shift into neutral when you are coasting as you are say approaching the stoplight which is turning red or red?

    I do this style maximize my momentum and prevent engine break. I don't do this style though when I am tired as I need to be responsive during the "coasting" scenario.

    Oh and I do this on a somewhat level area or slightly sloped area only. I don't shift to neutral if I am in a hill descent though. I at least know that much to have the engine break as a useful feature instead of relying on the brakes.
    • jabroni Feb 25 2012 @ 01:11pm
      Bro May nakalagay sa Handbook ng automatic na kotse ko na nakadamage dw ng transmission ung nag-neutral ka habang gumagalaw pa, so hndi ko ginagawa ung ginagawa mo. Sana ito nmn i-explain ni Sir Ferman next time.
      • 17Sphynx17 Feb 25 2012 @ 01:24pm
        Alam ko hindi naman sa masisira pinagbabawal sa manual according to safety lang kasi may engine break while in gear.

        If the principle is the same for manulas, then I think it applies din na pwede dapat. As far as I can gather kasi di pa naman nasisira transmission ng matic namin. hehe!

        It's like them saying din na you can "push" an automatic if it is not engaged in drive but Ondoy has shown me na you can after you disengage the shift lock and after mo napatakbo yung auto, hopefully with nothing else wrong, transmission is unaffected. It is just not adviseable sa tingin.

        But yup, good to hear from Sir Ferman din about this next time.
      • 17Sphynx17 Feb 25 2012 @ 01:40pm
        *that you can't push
      • rdjl_13 Feb 26 2012 @ 09:52am
        Ang alam kong bawal pag nakapatay yung makina. Pero pag naka-on, pwede. :D
  • barubal Feb 25 2012 @ 04:07pm
    now you know
  • chris_t610 Feb 25 2012 @ 04:21pm
    Hi Folks, I have a question here about automatic trannies and I sure hope some good Samaritan(s) would be able to help me...

    I am maintaining a 1992 Lancer with A/T (3 speed) -- I kept her all these years for good sentimental reasons plus the fact that there were only limited number of these that was released by Mitsu way back then. The cyclone engine is almost as fresh since the car was mostly driven by a lady, except for the AT -- that leads me to my concern:

    Could you direct me someplace where I can perhaps find a replacement of the tranny? I dont want to shift it to standard since that would ruin her character. I am from Pampanga and I have seen the transmissions being sold in Capalangan -- mostly were rebuilt na lang. I would prefer it if I could find an original like the one that is currently being used.

    Thanks in advance guys, cheers!
  • rarq23 Feb 25 2012 @ 09:49pm
    I don't bother to put it to neutral thinking it will use up more gas since I noticed having a higher RPM on neutral than by stepping on the brake pedal during red light stops. The car revs up a bit when you shift from D to neutral and goes back down but never to the rpm that you had on full-stop D. Do you guys notice it also? It is consistent on automatic cars I tried (city, altis, forester) and they're all less than 3 years old and very well maintained when I drove them. I ended up having the no-neutral habit also to be "safe" for backward inclines (which sometimes is difficult to detect). For drivers like me who got used to automatic transmission, neutral is usually just for long stops. I tried to use the neutral on stops before but I often accidentally step on the accelerator before shifting back to D and it is a shock moment when you hear the engine rev up. It's a difficult habit to break.
    • Feeter Silverster Feb 26 2012 @ 09:55pm
      The higher rpm during neutral is just because of the idle up mechanism of the aircon. When the aircon is on, it makes the idle rpm higher. But putting on neutral and paying more gasoline is better than replacing the transmission when time comes.
    • maraf67 Feb 28 2012 @ 09:53am
      If i a m not mistaken engine revs up after disengaging from D to N is the brilliant work of the idle management system. RPM shoots up because less power from engine is suddenly required, however in a split second the system detects this and brings the engine down to the right rpm. Similarly, other systems working like aircon and power steering affects idling, but the system detects this immediately and corrects or compensates on the requirement, this is why the rpm needle fluctuates. With new design aircons that require less engine load to run, and power steering run by motors instead of pump, less fluctutations on the rpm are felt and ultimately the engine regains more hp, even if just a fraction
    • maraf67 Feb 28 2012 @ 09:54am
      If i a m not mistaken engine revs up after disengaging from D to N is the brilliant work of the idle management system. RPM shoots up because less power from engine is suddenly required, however in a split second the system detects this and brings the engine down to the right rpm. Similarly, other systems working like aircon and power steering affects idling, but the system detects this immediately and corrects or compensates on the requirement, this is why the rpm needle fluctuates. With new design aircons that require less engine load to run, and power steering run by motors instead of pump, less fluctutations on the rpm are felt and ultimately the engine regains more hp, even if just a fraction
  • rarq23 Feb 25 2012 @ 09:57pm
    It seems to me that the stress during hill descent engine brakes is the same or even greater than when stepping on the brakes during full stop on "D". My gauge is the higher engine noise during engine-brake scenarios.
    • Feeter Silverster Feb 26 2012 @ 10:02pm
      maganda ang engine braking, hindi ito stress sa makina, basta make sure na tama sa speed ang gear at rpm, syempre avoid high rpm. kung manual tranny ang gamit nyo, ilagay sa tamang gear ang kambyo para within 2000 to 4000 rpm lang ang makina.
  • rarq23 Feb 25 2012 @ 11:36pm
    >> While I would like to tell you that there is a good reason (under normal circumstances) for keeping it in D and stepping on the brakes at a stop, I can't. It's mostly born out of laziness and improper training.

    I think Fernan also got lazy here for not trying to look at another perspective. Probably he and the people around him all drive manual transmission - haven't really tried to ask people using automatic. I have reasons why I don't switch to neutral (prior posts). Was there a research of the official stand from manufacturers? They're the real authority when it comes to this kind of questions. They probably have designed automatic transmissions to handle that kind of stress anyway. I think that's what people really need to know. For me the issue is not yet settled but I do want to know the answer.

    Anyway I'm also guilty of being lazy - I chose to drive automatic transmissions in the first place. :-)
  • rarq23 Feb 26 2012 @ 12:34am
    I apologize for the far too many posts but I had tried to get answers for this for a long time. I found a lot of posts online not favoring the "N" on stop. I also found this online: "the transmission is decoupled from the engine at idle by the torque converter". Is it true for the torque converter during the full-break on "D"?
  • Kyoichi Sudo Feb 26 2012 @ 05:14pm
    paging Noel Calma, pls read hehehehehe...........
  • kaceike25 Feb 27 2012 @ 05:15am
    Apart from shifting to Neutral doing traffic light stops, is it also advisable to use the handbrake when 'N' is engaged ?
    • maraf67 Feb 28 2012 @ 09:39am
      If i feel i have to let go of the brake pedal and the car is on nuetral, i always activate the handbrake to prevent accidental D condition. If you notice from N to D you dont need to depress the unlock button on the shift knob, so chances of accidentally tapping this into D is waiting to happen. Safety first!
      • kaceike25 Feb 29 2012 @ 07:08am
        thanks for the advice maraf67! I appreciate it.
  • krzcuevas Feb 27 2012 @ 01:58pm
    Eh kapag medyo palusong ng konti ang kalsada at medyo mabagal ang nasa unahan, advisable bang pitikin papuntang NEUTRAL, tapos saka ulit pitikin sa D kapag me pagkakataon ng umovertake sa nasa unahan. Wala bang masamang epekto un sa transmission..??
    • 17Sphynx17 Feb 27 2012 @ 08:11pm
      masisira transmission mo nito sa alam ko. Ganun nasira yung sa kaibigan ko, pero sa kanya kasi rebolosyon talaga bago ilipat sa D kasi gusto mag "drag race" ang idea naman.

      Pero the principle applies I think for this.
  • RS500 Feb 27 2012 @ 10:11pm
    Sa edsa pag traffic tas pababa ung daan. Ung sa cubao underpass, santolan bridge, saka aurora underpass. naka neutral ako pababa.
  • Ferman Lao
    Ferman Lao Mar 01 2012 @ 10:26pm
    If your keeping you car for sentimental reasons and plan to keep it in the best shape possible, the ideal choice would be to have it rebuilt using new parts at a qualified Mitsubishi dealer. Alternative option is to find the transmission code and look for a surplus unit of the same type.
  • Andrew Marcella Mar 14 2012 @ 06:33pm
    good question......great answer, direct and to the point, more power!
  • FadeAwayDunk Apr 03 2012 @ 08:26pm
    Nilalagay ko sa Park pagtraffic. mali pala. nice post
  • emaniebo May 02 2012 @ 07:07am
    This is actually illegal in some countries, and definitely illegal here in Great Britain - if you do this here in the UK - you will fail your driving test. If you get caught by the police in neutral even when stuck in traffic, you can get a minimum fine of £30.00. Safety regulations dictate that you should keep your car in gear all the time to be in control of your car at all times - even in stop light. That's why many Filipinos failed their first driving test here in the UK due to this bad practice - myself included. Passed it on my second try though.
  • mlopez911 Aug 11 2012 @ 10:35am
    Won't constantly shifting into neutral harm the transmission or perhaps? Constant disengaging and reengaging of the the gears seem to be more of cause for concern to me than the minimal amount I'll save in gas, if that can even be proven.

    When shifting back to Drive, the car jerks a bit.

    Your thoughts?
  • Ferman Lao
    Ferman Lao Aug 24 2012 @ 05:14pm
    Hindi advisable. Undue wear and tear.

    In that instance, you will have to follow the country's laws then.

    what car?
  • PanotAko Sep 14 2012 @ 04:46pm
    May monty kami na gls-v 4x2 a/t at pag ginagamit nmin, practical pla na ilagay ang tranny sa neutral pag stop light at traffic.
  • vacationleave Sep 21 2012 @ 05:51pm
    Hello. I had to join in just to post a comment on this thread because i can't resist this misinformation.
    Let's get straight to the point: The need to shift to Neutral from Drive when in a stop or coming to a stop for Automatic transmission is a COMMON MYTH among drivers. This myth stems from the idea that keeping the transmission in Drive while stepping on the brake wastes fuel and causes unnecessary wear on the driveline. In fact, actual engine wear and fuel loss are minimal and/or insignificant. In an automatic transmission, going to Neutral when on a stop (usually in traffic) is NOT advisable because it actually induces more stress shifting to and from D to N than just staying on D and holding the brakes. Regularly shifting from Neutral and back into Drive when the light turns green, then immediately stepping on the gas, can wear on the transmission, driveline and engine mounts. Automatic transmission is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ANIMAL compared to manual transmission so if you think you know the concepts and logics of manual transmission, that is not applicable to Automatic transmission, nowadays more than ever.

    Automatic transmissions contain many gears in various combinations. In a manual transmission, gears slide along shafts as you move the shift lever from one position to another, engaging various sized gears as required in order to provide the correct gear ratio. In an automatic transmission, however, the gears are never physically moved and are always engaged to the same gears. This is accomplished through the use of planetary gear sets. The design of a planetary gear system allows the transmission to be compact and also allows for the changing of gear ratios without having to physically engage or disengage any of the gears in the system.

    In summary, going from Drive to Neutral on stop is a necessity for Manual transmission BUT a bad habit that should be avoided when in Automatic transmission or even Sportronic transmission.

    But don't take my word for it. Research. You'll get the explanation you need.

    Bottomline, if you have a vehicle with auto transmission and your coming to a stop in traffic and your hands are itching to shift that stick to Neutral, find something else to do, like comb your hair or slap your face perhaps, BUT LEAVE THAT LEVER ON DRIVE! Otherwise, buy a manual transmission and your itch will be solved.
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