Five Bad Habits You Should Avoid When Driving Automatic Vehicles

Driving an automatic is more straightforward than driving a manual, but there are still ways to mess up parts of your vehicle. Here are five things you shouldn’t do if you drive a car with an automatic transmission. In this video, Jason Fenske from the EngineeringExplained YouTube channel explains some of the worst driving habits you can have when you own an automatic vehicle. Not only will see what you shouldn’t do, but Fenske will also show you why you shouldn’t with actual engine parts and diagrams:

  1. Never coast downhill in neutral: Modern automatic transmissions cut fuel to the engine on their own, so putting your car in neutral won’t save you any petrol. Also, it takes some control away from you.
  2. Never switch directions without stopping: Make sure you come to a complete stop before going from drive to reverse or vice versa. Otherwise you’re using your transmission to stop the vehicle instead of letting your brakes do their job.
  3. Never “launch” your vehicle: Don’t rev your car’s engine in neutral and drop into drive to launch yourself forward. It’s fast way to wear out the bands in your transmission (they’re expensive to replace).
  4. Never put your car in neutral at a stop light: It won’s save you any fuel (fractions of a litre if any), and it can wear on the transmission.
  5. Never shift into park until you’ve come to a complete stop: Some cars won’t even let you do this, but you should never do it anyway. You can damage or break the locking pin that’s used to keep your transmission from running.

Some of these might seem like a no-brainer for a gearhead, but not everyone that drives a car knows how it works or what kind of damage you can do with seemingly harmless habits. These tips and best practices can help anyone keep safe on the road and extend the life of their automatic vehicle.

5 Things You Should Never Do In an Automatic Transmission Vehicle [YouTube]


  • 6. Never drive with one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator. This could lead to confusion and an accident should you depress one and not the other by accident. Further, if you rest your foot on the brake while driving you will likely be activating your tail lights which will confuse the drivers behind you and render the point of having brakelights moot.

    • The operative word being *could*, the reality being if your retarded enough for this to be a realistic proposition – that you would get confused and stab the wrong pedal you shouldn’t be driving…

      I’d say the opposite, as long as your not completely incompetent and aren’t putting pressure on the pedal so that the brake lights are on, the appreciable reduction in time to being braking in an emergency is very useful.

  • Does anyone ever do any of these things? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do any of these, and I’ve been with some really shitty drivers.

  • It sounds as if it’s bad for an auto transmission to slow down “on the gears” then, is that true?

    I enjoy the control of a manual and being able to slow down using the brakes and the gears can shed speed very effectively. I’ve done a bit of coastal hill driving in an auto using the gears to slow down (in flappy paddle mode), maybe that was a bad idea…

    • Was wondering this also, having always been told to use the gears to slow down in a manual.

      Not that I would ever want to drive an auto, but I suppose it’d be good to know 😛

      • The Torque Converter used in place of the job a a clutch would perform in a manual is designed to function in one direction.
        In addition the planetary gear sets that make up the guts of an auto contain one-way ‘sprag’ gears to allow one stage of the gearbox to overspeed the previous stage.
        What this means is that an auto behaves a little like the back wheel on a push bike – if you pick the back wheel up off the ground you can spin it backwards without driving the pedals around – that click-click-click you hear when so doing (or when you are coasting along) is the sprag gear in the bikes wheel hub.
        So as you can imagine it’s not really well suited to engine braking but because of all the friction in the gearbox it does provide some effect regardless (you’ve probably noticed the effect isn’t as strong as it is in a manual).
        Back in the day it was considered not such a flash thing to do, but to be honest I couldn’t say just how bad it really is to do, just that an auto isn’t really designed to do it.

    • Whilst it may feel effective to let the gears shed the speed, you are putting a large strain on your transmission teeth that they are not designed to do regularly and trusting your clutch to not slip or abrade apart.
      Replacing brake pads will only set you back 80 dollarydoos, a transmission will set you back many many thousands.

    • Most autos now days do a form of engine braking and manually shifted autos are designed for it and will lock you out if you’re going to do something damaging.

  • for #4 This is what I’ve worked off, and it makes more sense to me to be honest.

    Put the automatic transmission into ‘Neutral’ when you’re stationary…

    When stopped at traffic lights, if your vehicle has an automatic transmission, putting it into ‘Neutral’ will take the pressure off it until the traffic lights turn green, when you can put it back into ‘Drive’. When the automatic transmission is in ‘Drive’, it’s still driving the wheels even if you have your foot on the brake to keep the vehicle stationary at traffic lights, for example. If you were to take your foot off the brake, the vehicle would drive forward under power without you even pushing the accelerator since the engine is running at idle speed and is therefore driving the automatic transmission.

    Considering how much time the vehicle spends at traffic lights at a standstill, it’s best for the automatic transmission to be in ‘Neutral’ while stationary. Automatic transmissions are highly complicated, sensitive pieces of machinery. Relieving the tension in it by putting it into ‘Neutral’ when you’re stationary and waiting around will go a long way to keeping it in the best possible condition and avoiding unnecessary wear and tear.

    • Keeping it in drive means that you have fiction between liquid and the torque place, in the torque converter (clutch).

      Changing to neutral means you use the shift mechanism which wears out the bands.

      Which of those actually wears components more? The original youtube vid says that the torque converter doesn’t really wear since it’s liquid, while the gear change wears the bands via mechanical process.

      • Fair enough, if that’s the case then perhaps it would be better to do it that way then. That sucks as I’ve formed a very strong habit of shifting to neutral whenever at lights.

        I notice further down that someone has the same opinion as what I had. Perhaps it is a case of – if you know you will be stopped for a particularly long time, shift to neutral, if just at traffic light, leave it in drive.

    • I prefer to keep the auto in neutral at the lights because I find it uncomfortable to brake the vehicle to prevent creep for long times.
      In neutral, there is no forward motion and I can rest my feet.

  • I wouldn’t say never. When offroading, there is an advantage to loading up the torque and downforce on the front end of your vehicle to overcome obstacles.

  • Number 4 is wrong. If you are in neutral, the transmission is not engaged and can therefore not wear. However, if you are stopped for period of time i.e. railway crossing, place the transmission in neutral. If you idle in Drive, all the energy being fed to the transmission by the idling engine is going nowhere – except to heat up the trans oil, which can only be cooled by the main radiator. This is why you may overheat very quickly on a hot day when stopped for too long.

  • When parking an automatic vehicle, especially on a hill:

    1) With foot on brake, put the car in neutral
    2) Apply parking brake
    3) Release foot brake and allow parking brake to take the load of the car’s weight
    4) Place the transmission in Park.

    Lots of people allow the transmission to take the load of hill parking which causes undue stress on the transmission and that shuddering “slam” when starting off again and taking the transmission out of Park.

    Taking that strain is the parking brake’s job. The Park position of an automatic transmission is more of a failsafe.

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