Some tips for driving Debbie's Suburu in the Swiss Alps.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

My husband and I recently moved to Switzerland from Michigan and have brought over our 1986 Subaru GL wagon with an automatic transmission. The reason for this was that a typical dented, rusted 1976 Mini painted purple goes for $7,000 here, so you can imagine what a new car costs. Besides, we have the only car around with a "Woodstock" bumper sticker on it. But beyond our problems relating to finances, the obnoxiousness of the natives, and our inability to get your column or radio show here, we have trouble adjusting to all these mountains! So I have two questions: 1) When going down a mountain, is it OK to put the car in second gear to save the brakes? and 2) If an automatic car is in any other gear than Drive, will it downshift automatically to Neutral if you have to stop? If you answer these questions, I'll send you some chocolate.

TOM: Gee, Debbie, we often have a lot of trouble deciding which two or three questions we can answer in any given week. But your bribe made it easy this time.

RAY: The answer to your first question is yes. Not only is it OK to put your automatic transmission is a lower gear when decending a steep hill, it's required! You're not "saving the brakes" from wearing out. You're "saving" them from overheating. When brakes get too hot, the brake fluid can boil and the brakes can fail. Not the greatest way to see the southern slope of the Matterhorn, if you know what I mean.

RAY: So putting the car in second, or even first on a very steep hill, uses the compression of the engine to help keep the car's speed down to a managable level, which allows you to use the brakes less often. And even though it makes the engine sound like it's racing, it's the right thing to do.

TOM: The answer to your second question is also yes. An automatic transmission doesn't actually shift into Neutral when you stop. Rather, the "torque converter" just stops transferring power to the wheels, so the engine can keep turning while the car sits still. And that works in any gear--Overdrive, Drive, Second, First, or Reverse.

RAY: So use a lower gear when decending steep hills, stop whenever you need to, and send the Toblerones to my home address, otherwise my brother will jump on them before I have a fighting chance.
Pamphlet Adv 03

RAY: Hey, did you hear that our new pamphlet, "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It," is a million seller!

TOM: That's not what I said, you knucklehead. I said I had a MILLION of them in the CELLAR!

RAY: Oh. Well, it's still got loads of great information on how to make your car last forever.

TOM: Order your copy of "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It"
by sending $3.00 to....


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