The shift-to-neutral-at-stop-signs controversy revisited.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

Some months ago, you covered the "shift-to-neutral-at-stop-signs" controversy. I would appreciate you going over this issue again. My husband has this habit when waiting for the light to change to green. I explained what you said about it in your column, and tried to get him to stop, but seeing it in print might make a stronger impression on him. I have been reading your column for some time and enjoy it very much.

RAY: Well, it's too bad your husband wouldn't take your word for it, Geraldine. So we grant you full permission to rub his nose in it now that it's in print.

TOM: You're talking about the habit a lot of people have of shifting an automatic transmission to Neutral while stopped at a light. We've said several times that we don't recommend it.

RAY: We know why people do it. There's a lot of emphasis on reducing stress these days. That's why there's a proliferation of relaxation tapes, yoga classes, and prune puree mineral baths. And people think that when you put the car into Neutral, you are taking stress off of the motor. It sounds perfectly logical,'s not.

TOM: First of all, the engine couldn't care less. It's designed to be strained. The rest of the drive train, however, (the transmission, the drive shaft, the CV joints) get stressed the most when you PUT THE CAR IN Drive. When you shift from Park or Neutral INTO Drive, you really jolt the whole system, and over time, that produces much more wear and tear than sitting at a stop light in Drive with your foot on the brake.

RAY: And that's why we recommend that people who have this habit find something else to do at stop lights. Check the mirrors, change the radio station, comb your hair, or pop a new Wayne Newton tape in the eight-track player.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One