Should I shift into neutral when I'm stopped at a light?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

Is it harmful to a car's automatic transmission or engine to take it out of gear (to "neutral" or "park") when stopped at a light? Is it better to just leave it in "drive?" My wife and I have been arguing over this matter since we got our 1989 Pontiac Bonneville, and your answer (either way) could prevent a divorce.

RAY: Think for a minute, Tom. Which is worth more, a few extra miles on your Bonneville's transmission, or your marriage?

TOM: You don't tell us which side your wife is taking in this argument, but it doesn't matter. Tell her you wrote to us and our answer is that she's right. Apologize to her, and whenever she's in the car, do it her way.

RAY: For our other readers who may be curious, you should not shift out of "drive" when stopped at a light. That does not spare the transmission excess wear and tear. On the contrary, every time you shift from "park" or "neutral" into "drive," you jolt all the moving parts of the drive train. The engine couldn't care less, but the transmission, the differential, and the CV joints will suffer.

TOM: If, on the other hand, you're stopped for more than five minutes or so, then you can put it in "park." That's called parking. When you do that, you might also consider turning off the engine and going for a slice of pizza.

RAY: By the way, this advice only applies to automatic transmissions. If you have a manual transmission, you SHOULD always put the car in neutral and leave your foot OFF the clutch when stopped at a light. Those with manual transmissions should also remember to apply the parking brake before going for pizza.

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