Is it OK to skip the granny gear when starting a car and go straight into second gear?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I need you two to settle a dispute between my brother and me. He and his wife have five-speed manual transmissions in each of their cars. She has a Beretta GT, and he has a Chevy S-10. Both were bought new. Whenever I drive with one or the other I get "razzed" about starting off in first gear. They call first gear the "granny gear," and both avoid using it. They start off in second gear. I try to tell him that first gear is there before second for a reason. I also tell him that it's no coincidence that they have gone through a combined total of four clutch replacements on those two cars. He says it's because he puts on more miles than I do in a year, and that I don't know what I'm talking about. Who's right?

TOM: You're 100 percent right, Mark. And your brother is a knucklehead.

RAY: There's no question that starting off in higher gears ruins clutches. To help you understand this, here's a basic lesson in "clutchology." If you want a very simple analogy, think of the clutch as two round pieces of sandpaper facing each other. One piece is attached to the engine, and the other goes to the transmission, and then to the driven wheels. And when you engage the clutch, you force those two pieces of sandpaper together until they're spinning in unison. That connects the engine to the wheels.

TOM: Now, that's an overly simplified description of how the clutch works, but as you can imagine, there's a moment when those two pieces of sandpaper (actually the clutch disc and the clutch cover) are coming together but they're NOT yet spinning in unison. And during that moment, what's happening? They're sanding each other! And the more time they spend sanding each other (this is called "slipping"), the sooner the clutch will wear out.

RAY: And by starting off in second gear, your brother has to give the engine more gas, and let the clutch out slower. And by doing that, he increases the amount of time that the clutch spends slipping. Take it a step further. Imagine if you started out in fifth gear. To keep the engine from stalling, you'd have to really rev up the engine, and let the clutch out a reeeeeeaaaaly slow. And all that time, the clutch would be slipping i.e. sanding itself to death!

TOM: "Granny gear" is a term used for an ultra low gear on some heavy trucks. It's lower than first gear, and it's supposed to be used when the truck is carrying a very heavy load. And why is it there? So those trucks don't burn out their clutches!

RAY: So tell your brother that if he wants to skip a gear, skip third...skip fourth....skip to M'lou for all we care. But tell him not to skip first gear.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One