Car in neu­tral gear at stop­lights doesn’t harm trans­mis­sion

The Maui News - - AUTO -

Dear Car Talk:

I’m a life­time fan of Car Talk. So, I’m LAZY! SO lazy that I live where all the roads are flat in Mi­ami so I don’t have to deal with in­clines. I’m also so lazy that when I’m stopped at a light or stuck in traf­fic, I put the car in neu­tral so I don’t need to keep my foot on the brake. I drive an au­to­matic 2001 Mazda 626. Am I caus­ing any dam­age to the trans­mis­sion by do­ing this? — Sean

I don’t think you can hold a lazy can­dle to my late brother, Sean. He of­ten was too lazy to put up the top on his ’74 Chevy con­vert­ible.

So what, you say? Well, when a gar­den even­tu­ally sprouted up in the back seat of his car, he was also too lazy to weed it. Oth­er­wise, he could have at least had some fresh toma­toes.

I don’t think you’re harm­ing the trans­mis­sion, Sean. I’m bas­ing that in part on the fact that your trans­mis­sion has al­ready lasted 17 years, de­spite your sloth.

We used to rec­om­mend against this prac­tice. But that was when cars rou­tinely idled at 1,000 rpm or more. At that en­gine speed, the var­i­ous com­po­nents of the driv­e­train (the gears, the trans­mis­sion, the CV joints) would kind of “slam” into each other ev­ery time you put the car into drive. You may re­mem­ber feel­ing that “thunk” in the old days.

But now, with com­puter-con­trolled en­gine man­age­ment and fuel in­jec­tion, most cars idle at about half that speed. So, once the car warms up (af­ter a minute or so) and it’s idling at 600 rpm, when you shift from neu­tral into drive, you hardly even no­tice it. And nei­ther does your car.

The only down­side is the em­bar­rass­ment you feel when the light changes, and you push the pedal three-quar­ters of the way to the floor be­fore you re­al­ize you’re still in neu­tral.

But you seem like the type of guy who can take that kind of heat, Sean.


Got a ques­tion about cars? Write to Ray at Car Talk in care of King Fea­tures, 628 Vir­ginia Drive, Or­lando, FL 32803, or email by vis­it­ing the Car Talk web­site at

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