What Does Neutral Do in a Car? When Should You Use It?

What does neutral do in a car? The neutral gear is essential for drivers of manual transmission vehicles as it is required for the car to move.

What Does Neutral Do in a Car ~ Ran When Parked

However, its functionality in automatic transmission vehicles differs because you can move into the drive gear without using the neutral. Sit back and take a chilled beer as we dive into the functions of the neutral gear in your car.

What Does the Neutral Setting Do in Your Car?

The neutral setting in your car serves practical purposes like decoupling the engine. This ensures no power is transmitted to the wheel axles when the accelerator pedal is pressed. This allows the wheels to rotate freely or “coast” without significant engine engagement, giving you some control over the vehicle.

Neutral gear, often denoted as “N,” is not an actual gear but a setting in the gearbox where no gears are engaged. Some drivers may see it as a less relevant feature for daily driving, especially with automatic transmissions. However, it serves many good purposes.

Neutral in a Manual Transmission

In a manual transmission, think of the neutral position as a middle ground where no gears are active. When you shift the gear lever into neutral, it’s like hitting pause on the engine’s power going to the wheels. So, when your vehicle is in neutral, it’s disconnected from the transmission, allowing the wheels to spin freely without any engine influence.

Neutral in a Manual Transmission ~ Ran When Parked

We often use neutral to start the engine without making the vehicle move. It is similar to putting an automatic transmission car in “Park.” Plus, when you’re changing gears, you usually pass through neutral to move the gear lever from one gear to another, like going from first gear to second gear.

Generally, the neutral setting in a car with a manual gearbox decouples the engine from the transmission to allow the wheels to spin freely without engine power.

In a manual car, the transmission gears disconnect from the output shaft, stopping torque from reaching the wheels. Engine power still goes to the transmission but doesn’t reach the wheels.

Neutral in an Automatic Transmission

Neutral serves the same purpose in cars with automatic and manual transmissions, but how it’s engaged differs.

In automatic transmissions with planetary gears, it disconnects the clutch packs. When you shift to neutral in an automatic car, pressing the gas pedal won’t power the wheels. However, you can still steer, and the wheels can spin freely.

In essence, neutral in an automatic transmission cuts the engine-to-wheel connection. This allows wheels to rotate freely with minimal engine involvement while retaining some control. Shifting to neutral doesn’t cause significant harm, although frequent and extended use could harm the torque converter.

What Are the Best Conditions to Use Neutral in Your Car?

The best conditions to use neutral in your car, especially an automatic transmission, is when your car gets stuck in a throttle or snow. It is also useful for towing your vehicle. Whenever there’s a brake failure, the most effective way to park is to switch to neutral.

Whenever Your Car Is Stuck

Imagine cruising on the highway with a stuck throttle; using the brake alone may not suffice to stop the vehicle safely. Knowing how to react when your car experiences a stuck throttle is crucial for safety. Shifting from “Drive” to “Neutral” while using the brake is the best approach.

Using Neutral Whenever Car Gets Stuck ~ Ran When Parked

It cuts off engine power to the wheels and the throttle, allowing you to control steering and gradually apply the brakes for a safe stop. Turning off the engine isn’t advisable as it disables power steering. Neutral gear is also useful when stuck in snow, making it easier to push the car.

For Towing Your Vehicle

Neutral gear has multiple practical applications beyond emergency stops. It is a helpful gear for towing a car when a proper tow dolly is unavailable. Shifting to Neutral is the preferred choice for towing automatic transmission vehicles. Using Neutral during towing helps keep the engine on and reduces transmission damage.

While Neutral isn’t the ideal method for towing, it becomes necessary when a tow dolly isn’t an option. This way, it ensures minimal engine and transmission damage.

When Your Gas Pedal Fails

Experiencing a stuck gas pedal or brake failure while driving can be terrifying. Unintended acceleration is a common fear among drivers. Despite its importance as a “just in case” safety feature in automatic transmission cars, many people aren’t familiar with how to use neutral efficiently.

In neutral, you can maintain control of the steering wheel and effictively guide your vehicle to a safe spot.

For Parking Safely If the Brake Fails

In the event of brake failure while driving, many drivers think that turning off the engine is the best course of action. However, this is incorrect because it also disables control of the steering wheel. The safest response to brake failure is to shift the car into neutral, allowing you to steer it to a safe location.

Using Neutral For Parking Safely If the Brake Fails ~ Ran When Parkedllage

As mentioned earlier, turning off the engine cuts off power to the steering wheel. Thus, controlling the steering or bringing the car to a stop without damage is impossible. Additionally, turning off the engine during brake failure at high speeds can further complicate the situation by locking up the wheel mechanism.

Therefore, the only recommended and safe solution is to gently shift to neutral, enabling you to steer and gradually bring the car to a stop.

When Is it Best to Avoid Using the Neutral Gear?

It is best to avoid using the neutral gear when coasting down hills as it doesn’t save fuel and can be risky since you lose quick access to engine power. This is contrary to popular belief, as many drivers often switch to neutral when going down the hill.

You should avoid using the neutral gear in the following conditions:

When Coasting Downhill

Coasting downhill in neutral is often believed to save fuel, but it’s a practice you should avoid. This is mainly because it reduces your control over the vehicle. Switching to neutral may reduce fuel flow to the engine. This may reduce your control of the car as you cannot use the engine’s gears to slow down.

Reduced control over the car can prove dangerous, especially when you quickly need to react while going down a slope. In this situation, you can only rely on the main breaks putting more strain on them. Similarly, when driving a manual transmission car, maintaining control by using your gear stick allows for quicker and safer reactions.

Shifting to neutral while driving can also lead to premature brake wear since you rely solely on the brakes for slowing down. Whereas in gear, you can use a combination of brakes and engine power. Abruptly shifting to neutral while moving can also damage your transmission’s torque converter.

When Stopping at Traffic Lights

Shifting to neutral at traffic lights to save fuel is not adequate. The lights are brief, and any fuel savings would be minimal. Therefore, it’s best to avoid using the neutral position at traffic lights. While it’s not explicitly dangerous, it increases the risk of rolling into another vehicle, especially if you forget you’re in neutral when it’s time to move.

Considering Neutral When Stopping at Traffic Lights ~ Ran When Parked

Moreover, frequently shifting gears at stoplights can cause unnecessary wear and potential premature replacement. Instead, leave the engine in drive, apply the brakes, and release them when the light turns green.

In automatic vehicles, use the handbrake to prevent transmission wear. If the gear is in neutral when the light turns green, revving the engine will consume more fuel.


Does Switching to Neutral in Your Car Save Gas?

No, switching to neutral in your car does not save gas. The idea that putting your car in neutral improves fuel efficiency is simply a myth. When your car is in neutral, the engine continues to idle, consuming the same amount of fuel as it would in gear.

Shifting a manual transmission to neutral while driving won’t harm the car mechanically. However, it can negatively impact your fuel economy. This is because many modern engines deactivate the fuel injectors when coasting. When in neutral, your engine must idle, using some fuel.

Can You Accelerate When Your Car Is in Neutral?

No, you can not accelerate when your car is in neutral. Even if you press the gas pedal hard, your car won’t accelerate when it’s in neutral. Shifting to neutral can be helpful when you’re in the passenger seat and want to avoid a potential accident.

Should You Use the Neutral or Handbrake First in Your Car?

Always use the handbrake first in your automatic transmission car. This prevents the car’s weight from resting on the parking pawl and transmission components. As a result, it reduces the risk of costly repairs caused by constant pressure on these parts.

For manual transmissions, use the handbrake first, and then select “neutral” if you’re parked on flat ground, “reverse” when facing downhill, or “first” when facing uphill. This added precaution ensures that if the handbrake fails or isn’t applied securely, the engine’s resistance will prevent the car from rolling on an incline.


Neutral enables your car to coast, and it’s crucial to understand when to use it. Let’s check out some critical points we mentioned in this article:

  • Neutral in your car helps to decouple the engine, ensuring no power is transmitted to the wheel axles when the accelerator pedal is pressed.
  • With the neutral setting, your car wheels rotate freely or “coast” without significant engine engagement. As a result, you have more control over the vehicle.
  • The neutral setting is useful when your car gets stuck in a throttle or snow. It is also useful for towing your vehicle and for parking during a brake failure.
  • Avoid the neutral gear when coasting down hills or even when driving at all. You should also not switch to neutral when stopping at traffic lights.
  • Switching to neutral in your car does not save gas. In fact, it can affect your fuel economy.

The neutral gear is primarily reserved for emergencies and mechanical failures. If you encounter a situation where your vehicle is stuck, or the pedals aren’t responding, shifting to neutral is a safe and prudent choice.

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