Should you shift to neutral when your automatic car is at a standstill?

What’s the right thing to do?
by Joey Bernardez | Apr 2, 2019
PHOTO: Pixabay

This question landed in our inbox recently: “Hi, TGP. I’ve just started driving and read this article that says not to shift to neutral even at a red light because it causes damage to the car. When am I supposed to shift to neutral?”

Let me proceed with the assumption that you drive a car with a traditional torque-converter automatic transmission. This is a contentious issue. Some experts will say leave it in drive (D), and others will say put it in neutral (N) while stopped at a light. The weird thing is that both arguments cite the same reason—wear and tear.

On the one hand, there are manufacturers who say that you should keep it in D and step on the brake. Interestingly, these are the same manufacturers who say that your automatic-transmission fluid will last a lifetime. On the other hand, there are reputable mechanics with vast experience who say to shift to N at traffic stops.

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Personally, I’m a ‘shift to neutral while stopped at a light’ kind of guy. To me, not only does it make sense, it’s just so much more comfortable and convenient.

Let’s say traffic stops and you don’t know for how long. You keep your transmission in D with your foot on the brake to keep from moving forward. In Philippine traffic, you never know if you will be stationary for five minutes or 50 minutes. I can understand stepping on the brake for less than a minute or so. But for extended periods of time? ’Di ba  nakakangawit yan?

If you like to keep it in D and step on the brake, go ahead. Just make sure your right foot doesn’t get tired lest you accidentally let go of the brake and your car rolls forward and bumps a car—or, heaven forbid, a pedestrian—up ahead. Just exercise caution.

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If it’s just a short stop, I will keep it in D and step on the brake. If it’s an extended traffic stop, I’ll put it in N and pull up the parking brake. There is no hard and fast rule. However, I do find that most experienced drivers do what I do. Interestingly, there are modern push-button automatic transmissions that don’t have an N position anymore. The choices are just Park, Reverse, and Drive.

As for the wear-and-tear issue: I have a Toyota with an automatic transmission that I constantly shift from D to N and back whenever traffic stops. It can be a short stop or a long stop. The car’s got well over 200,000km and its automatic transmission is fine. As a matter of fact, I only changed the automatic transmission fluid this year, well beyond 200,000km. Come to think of it, I probably should have changed the fluid much earlier. But it’s fine. It shifts very well.

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Modern cars are so robust and reliable. It doesn’t matter what method you choose. Do what’s most convenient for you. Just drive cautiously and respect other drivers.

Thanks for writing in. Hope this helps!

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PHOTO: Pixabay
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