Could starting a manual transmission in second gear actually be better for your car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently purchased a new, 2008 Nissan 350Z. I allowed a friend of mine (from Australia) to drive it to the airport yesterday, and noticed that after stopping at a red light, he would start the car in second (instead of first) gear. He explained to me that this is better for the engine and would prevent first gear from wearing out. My question: Is he correct? And if not, is this bad for my car? Thanks! -- Darcy

RAY: Well, your friend certainly did teach you a valuable lesson, Darcy: Don't let any of your knucklehead friends drive your new car again!

TOM: Starting in second is not good for the engine. The engine is perfectly happy to start in first gear. In fact, starting in a higher gear under the wrong circumstances could cause you to "lug" the engine, which is bad for it.

RAY: But more importantly, starting in second is bad for your clutch. You need to use more gas and let the clutch out more slowly when starting in second. That wears out your clutch more quickly.

TOM: And while first gear CAN wear out someday, it usually lasts the life of the car. So it's not something you need to actively protect and "save," like the last sparerib in a pu-pu platter. In fact, second gear is the gear that typically wears out first, because it's the most-used. You almost always use it on the way up and on the way down through the gears.

RAY: Now, there ARE situations where you can start in second with no ill effects. If you're facing downhill, or already rolling -- even just a little bit -- then you don't need first gear.

TOM: Or, if you have an overpowered car, like you do, Darcy, and you're extremely careful with the clutch, you can get away with it. But there's no real advantage to it on a typical passenger car.

RAY: Right. So, in general, go first to first gear. That's why they call it first gear. If second was supposed to be used first, they would have called second first.

TOM: This is starting to sound like an Abbott and Costello routine. Start in first, Darcy.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter