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What Does “L” Mean on a Gear Shifter?

What Does “L” Mean on a Gear Shifter?

Driving an automatic car usually feels easier than one that’s manual. Even automatic cars still have a shifter somewhere in the cabin, though. 

You might’ve noticed the letter L on it if you’ve looked closely.  Most of the time, you’re not going to use that setting. Learning when to use it is still a good idea if your shifter has it, though. 

The L stands for low gear in most cars. You can use it to prevent your car from shifting into higher gears once the RPMs get higher, which delivers more torque to the wheels, which is ideal for towing.

The L on your shifter is where you put it when you’re trying to stay in low gear. Putting it there stops the car from shifting as its RPMs rise, unlike usual. 

Since you’re in a lower gear, you’ll feel like you’ve got more control. Read on for all you need to know about driving in low gear!

When Should I Use “L” On My Gear Shifter?

Towing something behind the car puts a ton of strain on its transmission. When it tries to shift, it’s going to wear out the transmission. 

However, if you’re in low gear, that’s not going to happen. You’ll only shift into 2nd gear at the highest, preventing possible damage. 

Another time you’ll benefit from low gear is when you’re driving on hilly terrain

Going uphill takes way more effort than coasting down a slope. So, it can put a lot of stress on the engine if you’re in high gear. 

Putting the car in low gear while you’re on hills can make them feel smoother. The car isn’t going to shift while you’re on the way up. Plus, it’ll keep the car from going too fast on the way down, too.

You might want to put the car in low gear when the weather gets bad as well. Driving on slick roads can make it dangerous to drive at high speeds. 

You won’t have as much time to react if you’re car loses traction while it’s on the road. 

Put the car in low gear to boost its torque, giving you more control.

That’s usually enough to prevent traction loss if you’re driving on ice. It can even keep you from slipping if you’re going down a road that’s been covered by snow

Is It Bad to Drive on L?

Driving the car in low gear isn’t something you should do all the time. Doing it too much will damage the car’s transmission system if you’re not careful. 

That’s because low gear keeps the RPMs higher. As such, it’s making the engine work more than it would if it were in a higher gear. 

Keeping your car in low gear all the time would damage its engine faster. You can check your car’s manual to see whether it’s got any recommendations for low gear. 

They’ll typically tell you if you’ve got to stay below a certain speed. Most of the time, your car has to drive slowly while it’s in low gear. 

Driving too fast puts excess strain on the transmission. If you’ve kept it in low gear too long, your car’s transmission could snap from the stress. 

Don’t drive in low gear if you’re trying to get on the highway. 

It’s not going to let you accelerate fast enough to keep up with other cars if you’re on the interstate. 

If you use low gear, only use it for a little while. 

Once you’ve finished, put the car back into drive. That’s where the shifter should be most of the time you’re in the car. 

Can You Shift From D to L While Driving?

Shifting from drive to low gear isn’t possible without stopping. That’s because it would damage the driveshaft if you changed while the car is moving. 

If you’d like to shift into low gear, you’ll have to stop the car first. Try pulling over to the side of the road, somewhere without traffic. 

Then, you can apply the brakes like you would if you were parking the car. Once you’ve pressed the brake pedal, you should be able to move the shifter.

A lot of cars make it so you’ve got to wiggle the shifter to get it into low gear. You might need to apply a little pressure to push it into place. 

You can release the brake pedal once you’ve pushed the shifter into low gear. After letting go of it, your car should start moving forward. 

You can drive the car as usual now that it’s in low gear. Be careful if you’re not used to driving like this, though. 

You’ll notice the car isn’t accelerating as fast as it would if it were in drive. That’s why low gear is useful in the first place!

But, it can be confusing if you’re not used to driving a car while it’s in low gear. 

When Should You Drive in Low Gear?

Low gear is a useful setting when you’re trying to limit a car’s speed while preserving its torque. You can put the car in low if you’re on an unstable surface, like ice. 

Keeping the car in low gear stops the wheels from turning too fast once you’ve hit the accelerator. So, it’ll keep your wheels from spinning out if the roads are slick. 

You can even use low gear while it’s snowing to stay on the road. Another place where you’ll benefit from low gear would be on hills.

Taking a car uphill puts it under a ton of stress, especially if it’s in drive. Using low gear while you’re going uphill can stop the car’s transmission from wearing out. 

Switching gears while you’re going uphill isn’t good for the car’s engine. So, driving in low gear can help you prolong its lifespan by minimizing wear. 

Finally, you can use low gear if you’re coasting downhill and want to preserve your brakes. Low gear makes the engine apply braking pressure while you’re drifting down slopes.

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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!