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Do You Have to Stop Before Shifting From Reverse to Drive?

Stephen Fogel
September 23, 2019

The vast majority of today’s cars, trucks, and SUVs are equipped with automatic transmissions. An automatic transmission is easy to use; you simply put it into Drive and off you go. Until you have to back up your car, or shut it off after parking it, an automatic transmission requires no attention from you.

But what about the best way to shift from Drive to Reverse, or Reverse to Drive, or into Park from Drive or Reverse? Should you come to a complete stop first, or is that not really necessary?

How an automatic transmission works

While an automatic transmission makes driving easy, the transmission itself is a very complex piece of machinery. Most automatics are hydraulically operated, using the pressure of the fluid inside the transmission to change gears, based on the needs of the driver and the vehicle.

Today’s sophisticated automatics are also computer controlled, which means that a processing unit oversees all of the relevant information about your engine and transmission, and decides when the transmission should shift, and which specific gear it should be in, subject to the demands of the driver. Some automatic transmissions can even adapt to your driving style, giving you the type of shifting that pleases you, whether that is a relaxed, leisurely pace, or a more aggressive, performance-oriented approach.

Shifting from Drive to Reverse, or vice versa

It's always a safe strategy to come to a complete stop before changing directions using your automatic transmission. This lets all the relevant moving parts, including those inside the transmission and those connected to it, to stop moving in one direction before going the opposite way. There is never any problem with doing this, and it will always be the best way to preserve the reliability of your entire drivetrain.

Now having said this, there are certain safeguards built into many automatic transmissions. Because of their hydraulic design, there are no hard mechanical connections between the parts inside an automatic. Generally speaking, at low speeds (under 5 mph or so), occasional shifting from Drive to Reverse, or vice versa, will not normally cause any transmission damage.

When would you ever need to do this? There may be a time during the winter when your car gets stuck in the snow, and you need to “rock” it back and forth to get free. Don’t overdo it or make a habit of it, though, because too much shock to your universal joints and axles can cause premature wear or damage to them over time.

In addition, the electronic controls on many automatics are programmed to ignore a command from the driver to shift into reverse when moving forward above a certain speed. These transmissions will wait until your vehicle reaches a very low speed before making the shift into reverse. This can prevent a very expensive mistake on your part.

Shifting into Park from Drive or Reverse

This is a completely different situation with only one right answer! You should always come to a complete stop before shifting into Park from any forward or reverse gear.

Why? When you shift your automatic transmission into Park, there is a component called a “parking pawl,” which is a pin that locks the transmission and keeps it from sending power to the wheels. Shifting into Park while the car is still moving can eventually damage this locking mechanism. If it fails, your car could roll away. One way or another, you may be in for a very large repair bill. So always remember to stop before shifting into Park. And apply your parking brake as well, for an added margin of safety.

Prolong the life of your transmission

To avoid any unnecessary (and expensive) automatic transmission repairs, remember this simple rule: come to a complete stop before shifting from Drive to Reverse, or from Reverse to Drive, or into Park from either Drive or Reverse. This should lead to a long and happy life for your automatic transmission, and lower repair costs for you!

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

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