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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! Well, doing it can increase the automobile’s performance by maximizing the 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?

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, ore torque, and more power for the engine.

What is Low Gear?
What is Low Gear? (photo source:

What Does L Stand For in A Car

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 move up to the next gear at a specific range of revolutions per minute (RPM) to prevent damage of your car’s engine and transmission.


Low Gear In An Automatic
Driving in the first gear will help in certain situations. (photo source: Nissan Owner Channel @ Youtube)

When to Use Low Gears in Automatic Transmission?

Drivers use the low gear in auto vehicles for some specific reasons. For answering the question: When to use L gear, let’s find out:

For Towing

It’s one of the most common reasons. Putting the vehicle on low gear generates more engine power, making it easier to tow a heavy load. Automatic cars switch gears with the changes of speeds and RPMs, which can affect the engine if you continue to haul something.

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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.

Driving In Low Gear
Putting the car in the first gear will help when you are riding down a road. (photo source:

Climbing a Steep Hill

When you are ascending a slope, the 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.

How to Use Low Gear in an Automatic Car?

Automatic vehicles change the gears automatically when speed increases/decreases and when the torque reaches a certain RPMs. 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 a lower gear and keep the speed at that level as long as you want to car to drive in that gear.

Many auto car drivers never use the low gear 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.

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

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  1. Asphel Rotich says

    Good for this knowledgeable information.What is the function of OD on/off?

    1. Rob says

      When you reach speed turn this on and it will be like changing manual car go top gear. Reduces Revs and as long as you maintain cruise speed will help with fuel economy.

    2. shame Mutefura says

      OD stands for overdrive,on 5 speed cars when ever the warning for od appears it means the transmission ends at gear number pressing the button ussualy positioned onthe right hand side of the head of the gear lever the od warning disappear and the sound noise made by your motor decreases showing that you have now engaged. Overdrive

    3. Jumbe Zulu says

      I have Toyota corolla with a 1NZ engine.After driving it for sometime especially when its hot it produces a cracking sound.Someone said the transmision oil is dirt. How true is this?

  2. Alex says

    That was real useful to me

  3. Collins mutua says

    Whats the problem with ma car on drive it’s engine has so vibrations

    1. Cooter says

      Does the engine vibrates even when you change the spark plugs….??

    2. Michael Kirigi says

      Check your engine mounting (upper&lower mounting) if is worn out \broken the rubber bush

  4. Peterson says

    A very good insight on lower gear. Actually I don’t know that it is important going downhill.I have a Mazda demio which vibrates once I hit 60, what could be the problem and can it be solved

    1. Aguy says

      I had the same problem. Different car tho. Weird as it may sound, check the tyre pressure. One of them might have more preessure than the other ones essentially not balancing

    2. Pragg says

      Do not forget to check the inner drive shafts of your if it is not tyres

    3. Kanuna says

      Wheel alignment and balancing!

  5. Patrick says

    Good information. Needs more knowledge

  6. Derek says

    How to Use Low Gear in an Automatic Car?

    1. user says

      Automatic vehicles change the gears automatically when speed increases/decreases and when the torque reaches a certain RPMs. 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 a lower gear and keep the speed at that level as long as you want to car to drive in that gear.

    2. user says

      Do you think our reply is helpful?

      1. Derek says

        Yes, pretty much!

        1. user says

          We are glad about that!

        2. user says

          Still good?

        3. user says


  7. Daniel says

    what about D2. How does it differ from L?

  8. Brian says

    Hi When should I drive overdrive drive in automatic transmission

  9. Charles Juma Makunja says

    Very educative

  10. Henry says

    this is very educative for many think that an automatic gearbox can not perform on rather poor terrain

  11. Majid Misango says

    Am so much impressed with your information on cars. Please advise me,if it’s recommended to drive my automatic van on neutral gear.

  12. Mutambuze Julius says

    Good and educative advise. please help me to understand the meaning of rpm and turbo in vehicles. thank you.

  13. Elias. Dickson says

    Am learning a lot from this website. I have Toyota passo when I traveled long distance the light of OD and check engine appeared on my Dutch board and the speed of my vehicle start slowing down its own while my foot is still on the ccellerator. What can I do to overcome this problem?

    1. George says

      I had the same problem with my passo,the OD light was always on and the car was losing power.turned out the problem was the vehicles earthing.

  14. Alex says

    Great information shared here

  15. Peddle Master says

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thank you for providing these details.

  16. Davie says

    Useful tips,still following

  17. Crispin says

    Great infor here. Thank you so much. I have a queston what cause the gear lever in an automatic vehicle to be sting and produces a sounded (difficult to move from parking ). For example if I park my car the moment I want to start off the gear lever will be difficult to move from parking slot ….no matter how much I press on the brakes.

  18. tigis says

    is it ok to shift lo a low gear 1 & 2 when in high speed uphill or on the highway ? cause I’ve been doing that on auto cars and occasionally.

  19. Dova Davis Ndsgha says

    Informative. Quarry. My car is a Toyota Prius Hybrid. The gears are “P” parking “D” Drive and “B” is this the substitute for “L”? My manual book is in Japanese and of no help to me.

  20. kenneth says

    explain overdrive clearly. the explanatin above its not clear. if the light disappear it means you have DISengaged OD. please explain

  21. Anthony says

    How do you engage 4wd in an automatic vehicle?

  22. Moses Nginga says

    At what point should I engage my D3 in my Honda brand,

  23. moanakoena says

    My is Regius Petrol .There is a new problem of Reverse. Totally no Reverse can you help but forward is going.when applying Reverse ther is problem

  24. Evans says

    Thanks for the information about L gear. But my van also has ‘S’. What’s this used for and when should it be engaged? My manual is in Japanese and I can’t use it at all!

    1. Eriq says

      S means shift..mostly followed by a + & – sign where you can go up or down a gear..or paddle shift on the steering wheel..i think there is also S for sport in some cars maybe

  25. […] Low Gear in Automatic Cars […]

  26. revin says

    When in traffic what gear should i use or full stop at red for 30 secs? should i shift to park then handbrake or just leave to D(drive) then handbrake then release the brake?

  27. Ali says

    Also used when driving in the mud and sandy soil.

  28. […] Automatic Transmission: Low Gear Functions Explained […]

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