What are the Functions of Low Gear in Automatic Transmission?

The gears in an automatic car shift automatically. So, many people may wonder if there’s any need to use the low gear in automatic transmission.

Well, doing it can increase the automobile’s performance by maximizing fuel efficiency and increasing the engine’s power. All you have to do is to know the right time of driving in low gear.

What Is Low Gear In Automatic Transmission?

Also known as first gear, this mode in automatic transmission slows down the engine and provides more torque. In an auto car, the gears automatically shift from ‘park’ or ‘idle’ to first and then gradually up to the fifth depending on the speed of the vehicle.

Shifting to low gear in an automatic means the car will stay in the first gear despite the engine being shifted to a higher gear. It results in less speed, more torque, and more power for the engine.

what does the l mean on the gear shift
Lower gear (first gear) slows down the engine and provides more torque. (Photo: Cars.com)

What Does L On The Gear Shift Mean?

If you are wondering what is the L gear in a car, here is your answer.

L – is the symbol of Low

L here is the abbreviation for Low. When the lever is in this mode on the car, the engine will be at the lowest possible transmission level, for more specific, is in the gear.

Some older automatics lock it in the first gear but for other moderns, it can be moved up to the next gear at a specific range of revolutions per minute (RPM) to prevent damage to your car’s engine and transmission.

what is low gear
Driving in the first gear will help in certain situations. (photo source: Nissan Owner Channel @ Youtube)

When To Use The Low Gear in Automatic Transmission?

Drivers use the lower gear in auto vehicles for specific reasons. To answer the question of when to use L gear, let’s find out!

For Towing

It’s one of the most common reasons. Putting the vehicle on L gear generates more engine power, making it easier to tow a heavy load.

Automatic cars switch gears with the changes in speeds and RPMs, which can affect the engine if you continue to haul something.

Just check the vehicle’s speed limitations for first gear from the owner’s manual and don’t cross that limit while towing. It will keep the torque consistent and won’t put stress on the motor.

Riding down a Steep Road

Using the brakes for slowing down while riding down a sharp road or hill can overheat them and possibly lead to brake failure. You can use the first gear to take the pressure off the brakes. 

While you will still need them, they won’t wear out easily because the engine will do some ‘braking’ on the low gear.

l mode in car
Putting the car in the first gear will help when you are riding down a road. (Photo: Autocar.co.uk)

Climbing a Steep Hill

When you are ascending a slope, gravity works on the vehicle and makes the engine work much harder. As the situation is almost like towing something heavy, using the first gear will make the task a bit easier for the engine.

Shifting Out of Park

You should use the low gear when shifting out of park mode in auto transmission cars. This allows you to accelerate, even if you’re towing a trailer or a lot of heavy stuff.

Note that the Park gear in automatic cars may sometimes act-up, so beware and learn more about how to release an automatic gear shift stuck in park for better and smoother driving experience.

How to Use Low Gear in an Automatic Car?

We have just gone through some notices for in what situation will you need to use low gears. Automatic vehicles change the gears automatically when speed increases/decreases and when the torque reaches a certain RPM. 

However, if you want to force your auto transmission car to downshift into a lower gear, you have to ease off the gas pedal at first. 

Then, let the transmission move toward an L on automatic transmission and keep the speed at that level as long as you want the car to drive in that gear.

Watch the video from Helpful DIY to see how to use Gears in an Automatic car.

FAQs on Lower Gear In Automatic Transmission

  1. Is it bad to drive in lower gear automatic transmission?

It’s not normally bad for the car as long as the engine RPM isn’t close to alarming figures. If you’re hauling a big trailer or riding down a hill and need additional power or engine braking, driving in low gears is OK as long as you don’t exceed redline.

  1. What happens if you go too fast in a low gear?

Driving in a lower gear will cause your automobile to accelerate faster, but only to a certain degree. 

Driving at this setting will impose strain on your gearbox, and it will deteriorate faster as a result. At the same time, you will use more gasoline than is necessary.

  1. What happens if you shift to a low gear at high speed?

Driving at too-high speeds in a lower gear puts a strain on both the gearbox and the motor. 

  1. Is it true that a L gear in car consumes more gas?

When you stay in lower ratios for an extended period of time, your fuel consumption will rise. Driving slowly in the highest gear increases fuel consumption. When it’s safe to do so, use the highest gear possible, and don’t linger in lower gear for too long.

  1. Is it possible for a car to overheat when driving in low gear?

Driving in low gears for extended periods of time may be the cause of a car overheating in traffic. If you must continue driving after your car has overheated, drive slowly and avoid traffic jams to prevent keeping the engine in lower gears.

l on car shifter
Driving in low gears for a long time may cause overheating. (Photo: Collison Motoring Services)
  1. Does driving in low gear make the car slower?

Your car will be slower when you drive in low gear. Keep in mind that the lower the gear, the more reachable power; the quicker your engine goes, the higher the gear! 

As you accelerate, both manual and automatic gearboxes will shift from lower to higher ratios

      7. What gear should I drive in automatic?

If you wish to travel forward, move the shifter from P (park) to D (drive), or R (reverse) if you want to go backward. While driving, keep the automobile in D (drive). The automatic gearbox chooses the gear that best fits the vehicle’s speed.


Many car drivers never use the low gear in automatic transmission in their lifetime. It happens because they don’t either understand its function or face a suitable situation. 

Well, you know now that it can be helpful in certain situations. Nevertheless, you have to be careful because using it incorrectly can damage the transmission

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