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  5. Automotive 101: 5 Transmission Questions You’re Too Afraid To Ask

AutoNation Drive | Aug 16, 2019

View of a gear shifter

As your elementary school teacher likely told you, "there's no such thing as a dumb question." Despite this, we often feel the need to hold back our question when car-obsessed friends or automotive salespeople begin throwing out jargon about vehicle transmissions. We simply nod and smile, pretending we actually know what it is they're talking about.

While we encourage customers to ask questions during their new or pre-owned car or truck purchase, we understand the feeling of embarrassment that can come from asking a seemingly "stupid" question. That's why we've done the questioning for you. Below are five questions (with answers) about your car or truck's transmission that you may be too afraid to ask your friend or salesperson about.


1. What's the difference between a CVT and an automatic transmission?

CVT is an acronym for continuously variable transmission. Unlike a traditional automatic transmission, a CVT doesn't have "fixed" gears. It's a bit complicated, but CVTs are able to smoothly transition between a seemingly infinite number of gear ratios. As such, cars equipped with a CVT can often times theoretically perform more efficiently than cars equipped with a traditional automatic transmission, which are limited by a set number of gears. Both transmissions have their advantages. While many individuals enjoy the smooth nature of a CVT, others appreciate the reassuring engine noises that occur with each gear change in a traditional automatic transmission.


2. What do these plus and minus buttons do?

Nowadays many automatic transmissions offer a "manual" mode that allows the shifting of gears via plus (+) and minus (-) symbols that are activated via the transmission shift lever, or steering wheel or column-mounted paddle shifters. Like controlling a manual transmission, tapping the "plus" button puts your car in a higher gear, and tapping the "minus" button puts your car in a lower gear. Even CVT transmissions have been trained to emulate a "manual" mode that allows the driver to choose between a number of pre-selected gear ratios.


3. Can I buy a stick shift car even if I don't know how to drive stick?

In short, yes; however, don't blame us if you cook your car or truck's clutch. We recommend first finding a friend who will teach you how to drive a manual transmission. Maybe this friend is kind enough to teach you in his or her own car, or maybe he or she will request you rent a car. Nevertheless, it's best to try driving a stick shift car before purchasing one, that way you can be sure a manual transmission is right for you.


4. My car is stuck in "drive", how can I get it into "park"?

Most cars have a "shift lock" system for such scenarios. While it varies by make and model, many cars have a small place near the shift lever where you can stick your vehicle's key in. Doing so will release your car or truck's shift lever and allow you to move it to park. If you do not see an area to insert your key near the shift lever, reference your vehicle's owner's manual.


5. What's the "L" mode on my transmission for?

Although it's not always marked as "L", almost every automatic transmission offers a transmission option below "D" or "drive". Choosing this "L" mode holds your car in a lower gear. If your automatic transmission has numbered labels below "D", then it will only shift up to the gear that number represents (say "3" is located below "D", then your car will only shift up to third-gear).

It can be a little confusing, but using the transmission's "L" mode is best for downhill driving. By engaging this mode, you can use the engine to slow your car down, as opposed to your brakes. This ensures you maintain the set speed limit without heating up your brakes to a point that they become ineffective and unable to bring your vehicle to a stop.

If the label below "D" is marked "S", this means your vehicle's automatic transmission has a "Sport" mode. This mode is best used in sporty and dynamic driving situations, otherwise it's best to leave your transmission in "D". Meanwhile, an "M" designates the engagement of a manual mode.

If you drive a gasoline-electric vehicle or electric vehicle, you'll likely notice a "B" mode, as well. This mode uses the electric motor to slow the car down.

Be sure to check out our complete inventory of new vehicles for sale nationwide, featuring both automatic and manual transmissions, then contact us to schedule a test drive!

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