Although a car with an automatic transition will select gears by itself, it can sometimes be a good idea to pick a gear manually.
Lower Gears and Higher GearsThe gears on a car are a more complicated version of gears on a bike. With a lower gear, your car has more oomph – more force behind it – making it easier to drive up a hill, pull a big trailer, or quickly increase your speed. With a higher gear, the engine turns slower, but allows you to maintain a constant speed for a longer period of time.
Some newer vehicles have a gear selection called overdrive (OD). That feature, which typically defaults to “on,” makes for a speedy switch into a high gear as soon as possible, which can help stretch fuel mileage. This is similar to economy mode in many newer model cars. This mode will keep cars going at a lower RPM, meaning better gas mileage, but will give you less power for quick stops or hilly terrain.
When to Switch GearsDriving down a steep hill is a good time to switch into a different gear, such as Lower (L), 1 or 2. This move will slow the car down without having to put too much pressure or heat on the brakes. Switching to a lower gear can also be a good idea for traveling up a hill or pulling a trailer. If you find yourself needing to pick up speed quickly without waiting for the transmission, a lower gear will react to your gas pedal instantly.
Selecting 2 means your transmission is locked in second gear. That can be a good option for starting out on an icy road, but beware: a lower gear may make driving down an icy hill more difficult in front-wheel-drive vehicles.
Check your vehicle manual for specific recommendations based on your make and model. For example, some manuals recommend switching off overdrive in city traffic or hilly terrain. Watch this video on using Overdrive and Economy Mode Override to learn more about this feature.
All of these gear selections are absolutely optional. The beauty of an automatic is that you can let your vehicle handle the gear-switching. If you have any other questions about getting to know the gears and functions in your vehicle or about a vehicle you’re thinking about purchasing, stop into Kuehn Motors to talk with our experienced staff.