True or false: It's a good idea to shift an automatic transmission into neutral at a stoplight.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have driven cars since the "Model T." In the early years, before automatic transmissions, I routinely shifted to Neutral at stop lights or in heavy traffic. When I bought my first automatic transmission car in 1967, I continued to shift into Neutral under the same circumstances. I do this because I believe it takes the strain off the engine. True or false?

RAY: What are trying to brag by mentioning the Model T, Cheetus? My brother's got you beat by a mile. Don't you remember seeing him on TV with Ward Bond, taking those Conestoga wagons across the continental divide?

TOM: Look, Cleetus, when you shift into Neutral at stop lights, you do take a very tiny bit of strain off the engine, but it's so insignificant that it really doesn't make any difference. I mean, pulling a 6,000 pound Airstream trailer up Pike's Peak strains the engine. Sitting at a stop light in Drive is hardly worth mentioning.

RAY: But what you do is worse. Everytime you shift back and forth like that, you're jolting every part of the drive train; the axles, the CV joints, the differential gears, the transmission and so on. And that repeated motion--that kind of tightening and loosening--does more damage than letting the car sit there in Drive.

TOM: So from now on, Cleet, when you come to a stop, keep your hands off the shift lever, OK? Try to find something else to distract you at stop lights. How 'bout a nice drooling Schnauzer to pet while you're waiting for the light to turn green?

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