My dad taught me to put my transmission in neutral while at a stoplight. Is he right?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

When I was a youngster and would ride along with my father, I noticed that he would always put his car in Neutral when stopped at a traffic light. Of course, I'm referring to an automatic transmission. Once I started driving, I found myself doing the same thing. Now, after driving for more than 20 years, I am still doing this, in the belief that it is better for the transmission, the drive train, or the automobile... period. Can you give me some insight on whether there is any benefit to this, or am I just creating more problems for myself?

TOM: You add credence to our theory, John, that 98% of the misinformation in this century can be traced back to fathers. The other two percent comes from either brothers or the CIA.

RAY: I think your father's habit dates back to the early days of the automatic transmission. When automatics were new, drivers probably didn't trust them entirely. And there was probably some fear that these things could "run away" from you. So drivers would shift into Neutral at traffic lights because it seemed safer.

TOM: But the truth is it doesn't help the car at all, and in fact, it probably does some harm. Every time you shift to Neutral and back into Drive, you "relax" and then "stress" every component of the drive train. And all that does is wear out those moving parts.

RAY: Now, to be fair to you and dear old dad, in the grand scheme of things, you're really not doing much harm to your car. It just means that some of those parts will wear out a little sooner than they would have otherwise (maybe even after you've sold the car to your brother). Our point is simply that you're not doing the car any good by shifting back and forth all the time.

TOM: So I suggest you make some better use of your time at stop lights, John. Try polishing the buckle on the seat belt...or if you want a little more of a challenge, try figuring out whether your current odometer reading is a prime number.

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