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Do Car Brakes Work in Neutral?

Do Car Brakes Work in Neutral?

Many aspects of your car’s transmission are obvious. Drive (D) makes the car move forward, reverse (R) makes it go backward, and park (P) does not allow it to move at all. 

These are the three shifter selections that people use the most. 

Neutral is a setting that might be somewhat of a mystery to the average driver. Let’s explore what neutral does, and most importantly, whether you can use your brakes in neutral.

Your car’s brakes will still work when you are in neutral. You can steer and brake as usual while in Neutral but the car will not move forward when you press the accelerator. 

Before we explore the topic of braking in neutral, first, let’s get a good understanding of what the neutral (N) position on the selector does in the first place. 

When the car is in drive or low gears like L1 and L2, the engine is connected to the wheels. This allows the car to move forward. Park (P) locks the wheel axle and prevents it from turning, but the engine is still connected.

Neutral is a bit different, when you select N, the engine disengages from the axle and wheels. When you press the accelerator, power from the engine will not be routed to the wheels to move the car forward. 

You will still be able to turn the wheels with the steering wheel and maintain control of the car.

Can You Brake With Your Car in Neutral?

The short answer is, yes, your brakes will still work when you are in neutral. You can steer and brake, but the car will not move forward when you press the accelerator. 

Some think that this is a bad idea, but in modern cars, there is no reason not to use the brakes in neutral.

Some people think that putting your car in neutral and “coasting” when possible, will help save fuel. 

This is a throwback to cars made in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Transmissions in cars have changed since then, and continually shifting between neutral and park while driving actually uses more fuel. Here’s why.

Modern engines automatically turn off the fuel injection systems when you take your foot off the accelerator and the revolutions per minute (RPMs) of the engine begin to slow. 

This is known as “engine braking.” 

Modern cars have features like hill descent control, engine stop-and-start, and other functions that will not work if the car is in neutral. 

These features save much more fuel than switching between drive and neutral.

Another reason why driving with your car in neutral is a bad idea is that if you have to step on the accelerator to avoid an accident, you have to put the car back in gear first, and this slows your response in an emergency. 

On some cars, you have more braking force when you are in gear than when you are in neutral. 

Some cars have an auxiliary vacuum pump to help with this, but others do not.

When Should You Use Neutral Gear?

There are a few situations where you will use the neutral gear. 

However, it is useful in some situations, such as:

  • When your car is being towed
  • Going through an automatic car wash
  • Testing the wheels by hand-spinning them
  • When you must push the car off the road

You rarely need to use neutral, but it is good to know that it is there when you need it.

Emergency Brake Back-up: Something Every Driver Should Know

One important use of neutral is if your brakes go out. You can put the car in neutral, and it will gradually slow the engine down.

This works unless you happen to be on a downhill slope. It is not the best solution, but it can at least help.

There is one situation where knowing how to use neutral in an emergency situation could save your life. 

If your throttle happens to get stuck while traveling at highway speeds, putting your car in neutral could help you avoid a fatal crash. 

Sometimes, a stuck cable or linkage in the throttle could cause your accelerator to stick. 

There has also been an incident where a misplaced floor mat jammed the accelerator down.

If you find yourself suddenly traveling down the road with a stuck accelerator, the first thing you should do is to move the gear selector into neutral. 

You can then use your brakes and steering to move the car safely off the side of the road. 

It is important that the next thing you do is to put the car in park and shut off the engine. 

Do not attempt to restart or move the car yourself, because it will have to be towed and repaired to be safe unless the problem was the floor mat.

Most people never have a reason to put their car in neutral, but it is good to know that this is an option in an emergency. 

It is a good idea to go to a safe area, like a large abandoned parking lot, and practice this move at low speed. 

Hopefully, you will never face this situation, but it is good to practice, so you will remember it in case you would ever need it.

In a stuck throttle situation, the worst thing you should do is to shut off the engine. 

This will cause you to lose your power steering, brake assist, and other functions that can help you bring the car to a safe stop. 

In newer cars, even if you can get the key to turn to the off position, it will lock the steering wheel, and you will not be able to control the car, making the situation worse. 

Shutting off the engine will not slow the car any quicker than shifting into neutral.

The bottom line is that you can use your brakes in neutral if you have to, but there are many reasons why you should not shift your car from neutral to park unnecessarily. 

You will not save fuel, and you could limit yourself if you need to get out of an emergency situation quickly. 

Knowing what neutral is for and how to use it properly is something every driver should know.

Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!