Driver And Driving

[Infographic] Automatic Car Gears Meaning You Have To Remember!

Mike Cross
Updated Jul 18, 2021
Automatic Car Gears Shift Meaning You Have To Remember
Automatic Car Gears Shift Meaning
Automatic Car Gears Shift Meaning

Whether you are a newly minted driver or a seasoned driver shifting from a manual transmission to an automatic one, you may have questions. It is true that an automatic transmission “does the work” for you when it comes to shifting gears. But as a responsible driver, it is a good idea to understand how an automatic works.

This article will focus on an automatic transmission-how it works and what the gears mean. To get the best out of your car, you should understand it completely.

What is an automatic transmission?

An automatic transmission is a bit of a mystery. You turn the key and off you go. An automatic transmission uses a torque converter. This is actually a fluid coupling that uses a separate pump and turbine that spin in opposite directions inside the converter. This action lets the engine move independently of the transmission. Instead of having different sets of gears to lock and unlock the transmission output shafts, an automatic transmission has a single gear set which is responsible for using the different gear set ratios.

A hydraulic system is responsible for managing the different bands and clutches that control the gears, and a gear pump is used to push the transmission fluid through the system.  A governor is needed to monitor the movement of the shift valves that supply the hydraulic fluids to the different gears. As this fluid pressure increases or decreases, it forces the shift valves to close and open the different gear circuits.

Automatic Car Gears Shift Meaning You Have To Remember
Automatic Car Gears Shift Meaning You Have To Remember

What are the letters and numbers on my gear shift knob?

When you drive an automatic transmission vehicle, the knob has several letters and possibly a few numbers on them. These letters and numbers are there to help you know which gear you should use depending on your driving needs and road conditions.


Pronounced like “prindle”, these letters are an anacronym for the letters on your gear knob. Let’s take a further look at each letter and what function they are responsible for on your car.


The P stands for Park. If you have engaged the park gear, the transmission’s gears are all locked. This way your wheels are prevented from moving either forward or in reverse. Although you may think you just need to use this car when you are stopped and the engine is off, many cars require your gear to be in the park in order to start-up as well. This is for safety reasons.


The letter R stands for reverse. When you switch your car into Reverse, the gears are shifted to allow your car to drive backward.


If you have engaged the letter N, then your transmission is in Neutral gear. This gear set releases both gears for forward and reverse.  This gear allows the tires to spin freely. The only time you would need to use N is if your car will not start and you need to push it or have it towed.


The D obviously stands for the Drive gear. When you put your car in Drive, power is sent to the wheels and you can begin moving the car. Your transmission will automatically shift to higher gears as you drive faster. Sometimes there are numbers with the Drive gear. These are for different driving conditions.

  • D1-increases the amount of torque for difficult conditions such as mud
  • D2- this is used for uphill and steep climbs. It can provide a quick burst of engine power to aid in the climb.


This refers to Low gear. It can also be referred to as M for Manual mode.  This setting is helpful because it allows the driver to manually shift the transmission. This is an option for cars that have paddle shifters. These shifters can be found on the steering wheel. This gear option is beneficial for climbing steep hills or poor road conditions, such as snow or mud.

Automatic transmission maintenance tips

An automatic transmission can be more costly to repair than a manual transmission. Because of this, it makes good sense to be sure you regularly maintain your car so you get lots of use from it.

  1. Check the transmission fluid regularly
  2. Make sure to use the right type of transmission fluid for your car
  3. Make sure you have the engine’s cooling system serviced
  4. Have the transmission flushed at regular intervals
  5. Be sure that you do not shift gears while you are driving; the car should be at a complete stop before shifting gears
  6. Give your car time to warm up before driving off
  7. If you need to use your spare tire, do not drive on it for too long; be sure to replace the tire as soon as possible
  8. It is a good idea to regularly change the filter for your transmission
  9. Do not use your car to tow heavy loads
  10. Take your car to a professional to have the transmission inspected annually

Some of these tips can be done by yourself, especially if you are handy under the hood of your car and have the appropriate tools in your garage. Other tips require you to schedule a service visit. It may seem annoying, but in the long run, prevention goes a long way.


Automatic transmission cars and vehicles are popular and are more common than manual transmissions. An automatic transmission is easy to driver. You do not need to have the right coordination of hand and foot and clutch when shifting gears. Your car will do the work for you.

Automatic transmissions are also safer to driver. This is because you do not need to worry about stalling at traffic lights or while driving uphill.

The gear shift knob on an automatic are marked to help you figure out the gears. There are markings for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. Some cars also break down the Drive further to accommodate different driving conditions.

Make sure you properly maintain your automatic transmission car and you will have years of driving to look forward to.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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