Is it necessary to shift an automatic transmission out of "overdrive"?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1993 Toyota Camry four-cylinder with an automatic transmission and overdrive. My girlfriend uses it occasionally and feels it's ridiculous to manually engage/disengage the overdrive when I tell her it's necessary to. Her point is, what's the use of having an automatic transmission if you have to shift it? She will soon be driving the car regularly, and I'm wondering if her leaving it in overdrive all the time will cause strain or worse problems for the transmission? -- Mike

TOM: Mike, pay attention, because we're going to ask you a very important question: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?

RAY: Actually, it's not a terribly important question for you, Mike, since you're not going to be EITHER this time. But it's a good question to keep in mind when future "relational" disputes arise.

TOM: In this case, your girlfriend is right. The automatic transmission shifts into the appropriate gear all by itself. Hence the name "automatic."

RAY: When the car gets going above a certain speed, and you're not accelerating hard or climbing a hill, it shifts into overdrive to slow the engine and save gas.

TOM: And there's only one very specific condition under which you might want to take the transmission out of overdrive. If you're driving right at the speed where the transmission shifts from third gear to overdrive, you may find the transmission is "hunting."

RAY: That's the same thing baseball players do in the off-season. Only in this case, it refers to the transmission shifting back and forth a lot, looking for the right gear to be in.

TOM: And it doesn't hurt the transmission. It just has the capacity to be annoying to the driver. So if it bothers you, you can temporarily take the transmission out of overdrive until the road conditions change.

RAY: But if it doesn't bother you -- and clearly, it doesn't bother your girlfriend as much as YOU'RE bothering her -- you can just follow Bobby McFerrin's famous advice: Don't be shifty, be happy.

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