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So you got your shiny new car and you're ready to go. You don't read so good, so you skipped how to use a manual transmission and opted for the automatic. Now you can drive forever, across the plains, up the mountains and down the valleys, right?

Wrong. There is a right and wrong way to use an automatic transmission. So unless you have some shade tree mechanic living in your house, or you just have deep pockets, let's cover the basics. You should know that automatics are usually three gear transmissions. When you select Drive, the car will only shift through the first three gears. Overdrive introduces a fourth gear that allows your car to achieve better fuel economy at high speed. However, if you have a button activated Overdrive mode, you can click it on and click it off while driving at constant speed to hear the effects. You'll lose RPMs when engaging overdrive and get better fuel economy. If, if, if you don't strain the engine. The Overdrive gear is higher than a 1:1 ratio, so acceleration is an uphill battle with it engaged.

From A Standing Start
Before you back out of the driveway, think about where you're going. If you're going around town and you plan to stay off the highways, you'll want to put your car in Drive, so slide the gear selector to D. Drive is used when the car will not spend any long period of time traveling over 45 mph. Similarly, Drive is always used when the car is in stop and go traffic, so even if you do spend some time cruising around at 55, make sure to select Drive when you're crawling from stop light to stop light.

Conversely, when you plan to sustain speeds over 45 mph, you should engage Overdrive. Selecting Overdrive is a different procedure for different manufacturers, but your car's gear selector should have one of the following sets:

  • D and (D): where (D) is actually a D written in a circle. These two selections are your Drive and Overdrive settings, respectively. Usually seen on column change gear selectors.
  • D: If you only have a D, then there is mostly likely a button that engages the Overdrive mode. This setup is normally seen on stick (a la manual) gear selectors and the button is somewhere on the handle of the gear selector. There is probably a light on the dash somewhere that will illuminate to to tell you Overdrive is on or off.
  • (D): If you only have a (D), then your car is equipped with an Overdrive mode, but the car itself will determine when to engage Overdrive or stick to Drive. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Don't worry about changing gears while the car is in motion. Going from Drive to Ovderdrive and back again is fine, just don't slam it into those other letters or numbers. Which reminds me, we need to talk about those other silly numbers and letters.

Alphanumericbet Soup
Your gear selector probably has P, R, N, D and/or (0) along with any combination of L, 1, 2, or 3. One list tag later, and. . .

  • P: Park. Surprise! What may be surprising is the number of people that piss me off using Park incorrectly, but more on that later...
  • R: Reverse. Again, not surprising. But you auto people don't get that cool manual transmission Reverse gear whine. Use this when you want to go backwards.
  • N: Neutral. Only used when you need roll the car on a tow truck or make a bet with your cousin about how fast you can push a car down the road.
  • D and/or (D): You were asleep for the first half of this, weren't you?
  • L, 1, 2, 3: These are modes that will lock your automatic transmission into using a particular gear. This is helpful when you don't want to transmission to shift in response to throttle position or load. Useful if you need to pull someone out of a ditch or engage engine braking. Note that you won't have all of these selections, but some combination thereof. Used sparingly.

Not All Roads Are Created Equal
The L, 1, 2 and 3 modes are very useful in certain conditions. Some of the most frosty Everythingarians may already know that using 2 helps to get you rolling on snow or ice. Because you're selecting a higher gear, less spin (per engine rotation) is being imparted to the wheels, which helps prevent you from spinning your tires when you take off on slippery terrain.

For those of you who have never used a manual transmission, you may not be away of a mechanism called engine braking. It has to do with shifting into a lower gear, which forces the engine into higher (but safe) RPMs. Your engine, even those four cylinders, take a lot of energy to keep spinning if you're not on the throttle. So we can lose some kinetic energy of the car to the internal kinetic energy of the engine.

In order to do this safely, you must consult your owner's manual about the safe ranges of speed in which you can engage a particular gear. In 1 you'll probably have a max of 15, 2 would be about 35--but check your owner's manual to be sure, I accept not responsibility for what happens to your car that I've never seen before. Furthermore, I would only use this as an emergency braking mechanism under extreme duress. However, there is a time we want to use this constantly:

Mountain Driving
When you're going up a mountain, your engine is under significant engine strain. Especially if you go lumbering up the mountain in a low RPM, you can kill your transmission or engine from cooling issues. This is where it's a good idea to lock your gear selector into 2 or maybe 3, depending on conditions, and proceed up the hill in a timely fashion that keeps your engine RPM around 2,500 and up.

And since what goes up must come down, you'll be forced to descend the mountain. Do not rely on your brakes to take you down the mountain. I can't stress that enough. Your brakes are not designed to take the added weight and prolonged heat of a mountain descent. Just stay in the same gear you came up in and coast down the mountain. Your engine speed may be running higher now, but that's alright. Let those chunky internals suck up that potential because your brakes sure as shit won't take it. You can ruin your brakes doing that, or your spinal cord if the brakes fail.

Last, but not least...
I cannot stand people that don't know how to drive their car. What's worse is people that can't even park their car. It's sitting still, how can you fuck that up!? Here's how:

  • Step 1: Locate a parking space, preferably on a hill.
  • Step 2: Enter the parking space.
  • Step 3: With your foot on the brake, put the transmission in park. Release the brake.
  • Step 4: Notice how your head, along with all those of your passengers, snaps forward. Bonus points for stating aloud "Why does it make that funny sound?" when you wrench the transmission out of park and the sound it makes resembles an iron girder being snapped in half.
Roughly nobody that drives an automatic can park the damn thing correctly. Ever. And it pisses me off to no end. When you park a car like Dummy McStupid did above, you're resting the entire weight of the car on the delicate internals of the transmission. In case you didn't know, a transmission often costs more to replace than an engine. And that loud crunching sound is the ripping of teeth and gears apart because, for some wild reason, they were being held together by the dead weight for a 2 ton SUV.

In an effort to prolong the life our automatics and my arteries, let's look at the proper way to park an automatic transmission vehicle:

  • Step 1: Locate a parking space.
  • Step 2: Enter the parking space.
  • Step 3: With your foot on the brake, engage the parking brake, aka emergency brake or hand brake.
  • Step 4: If you are on an incline, slowly taking your foot off of the brake and make sure the car is not rolling. If it does roll, apply more force to the parking brake. When you know the car will no longer move, put the transmission in park. If you parked on flat ground, then you should need relatively less force on the parking brake. Just make sure you don't roll around.
  • Step 5: Shop 'til you drop, knowing that your car is parked correctly.
  • Step 6: Reenter your vehicle and turn the engine on while you keep your foot on the brake.
  • Step 7: Release the parking brake and choose an appropriate gear with which to exit your parking space. Notice the peaceful silence as you slide the gear selector out of park.
  • Step 8: Send appropriate thanks to mikebert. Priority will be given to larger denomination bills.
So there you go. How to save fuel, stay safe on the road and park like a pro. Enjoy!

shaogo tells me that Toyota knows drivers can't park their cars correctly, so they have recently designed the parking gear to handle the weight of the car. I'm not saying he's wrong, but everything on my Toyota was made of plastic, so I'll stick to doing it the right way.

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