Will Putting Car in Neutral at Stoplight Harm a Transmission?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 05, 2018

Dear Car Talk:

I'm a lifetime fan of Car Talk. So, I'm LAZY! SO lazy that I live where all the roads are flat in Miami so I don't have to deal with inclines. I'm also so lazy that when I'm stopped at a light or stuck in traffic, I put the car in neutral so I don't need to keep my foot on the brake. I drive an automatic 2001 Mazda 626. Am I causing any damage to the transmission by doing this? -- Sean

I don't think you can hold a lazy candle to my late brother, Sean. He often was too lazy to put up the top on his '74 Chevy convertible.

So what, you say? Well, when a garden eventually sprouted up in the back seat of his car, he was also too lazy to weed it. Otherwise, he could have at least had some fresh tomatoes.

I don't think you're harming the transmission, Sean. I'm basing that in part on the fact that your transmission has already lasted 17 years, despite your sloth.

We used to recommend against this practice. But that was when cars routinely idled at 1,000 rpm or more. At that engine speed, the various components of the drivetrain (the gears, the transmission, the CV joints) would kind of "slam" into each other every time you put the car into drive. You may remember feeling that "thunk" in the old days.

But now, with computer-controlled engine management and fuel injection, most cars idle at about half that speed. So, once the car warms up (after a minute or so) and it's idling at 600 rpm, when you shift from neutral into drive, you hardly even notice it. And neither does your car.

The only downside is the embarrassment you feel when the light changes, and you push the pedal three-quarters of the way to the floor before you realize you're still in neutral.

But you seem like the type of guy who can take that kind of heat, Sean.

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