Will avoiding reverse actually extend your transmission's life? Find out.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

When my grandma and grandpa visit and take me shopping at Wal-Mart, they try to "save on the reverse." Basically, they park way in the back of the lot in a spot where they won't have to go in reverse when they leave (they can go forward and "pull through" because there's no car in front of them). But then we have to walk all the way to the doors, which usually is a far walk. They get mad when someone gets their spot. Is it worth the trouble of finding a spot and walking so that they can avoid putting the car in reverse? Will the transmission last longer if they pull through instead of having to reverse the car when they leave? -- Haley, 10 years old

TOM: The short answer is no, Haley. There's no good reason to "save on the reverse."

RAY: Think about how often you use reverse compared with all the other gears. Compared with first, second and third, reverse hardly gets used at all. In fact, if they want to save the transmission, they'd be better off driving around half the time in reverse and saving the forward gears!

TOM: So, something else is going on here, Haley. I think your grandparents may just be uncomfortable backing up. Driving in reverse isn't easy, even when you're young. You have to crank your head all the way around. You have to try to see through windows that are farther away, and that have large metal pillars between them. You have to try to see over the trunk. You have to steer with what are now the "back wheels." And when you're backing out of a space in a parking lot, you often have your view blocked by the 8-foot-tall SUVs that are parked in the spots on either side of you.

RAY: And then you add to that the natural disadvantages of older age, like diminished eyesight, hearing and flexibility, and backing up can seem like an unpleasant chore. So maybe they're not so much "saving on the reverse" as they're "saving on the reversing" -- they're saving themselves from having to drive backward.

TOM: The other possibility is that they've become concerned about America's obesity epidemic. They're parking far away from the store entrance to force you to get off your duff and do some walking because they love you, Haley.

RAY: They may feel like they're doing you some good by making you walk a quarter of a mile before they get all soft and buy you three hot dogs, large french fries and two ice-cream sodas (grandparents can't help that).

TOM: In any case, I wouldn't worry about it, Haley. It's not harming anybody, it makes them more comfortable, and the exercise is good for everybody.

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