Drifting a car with engine off to park it. Harmful?


I’m new here and have a habit-of-driving question/transmission question.

We have a 2004 Subaru Forester automatic transmission, purchased new (not used). A family member who has been driving it a lot has a habit of when coming to a stop when done driving the car they turn the engine off, then drift the car into the driveway, then put the car into park. They do this every time, no matter if it’s into the parking space at the grocery store or at home. For example, this is what they do. Our driveway is several hundred feet long. When pulling into the driveway about halfway up they turn the engine off, then drift the car to where they want it to be parked. At that point they apply the breaks to the car, then put it into park, then take out the key.

I’ve been told that having the flywheel of the engine turning without the power of the engine running behind is hard on the transmission. Is this true?

Funny thing is that after our recent snowstorm this past weekend I tried to put the car into 2nd and 1st gear going a steep hill and it would not go into these gears. It still would go into 3rd gears, but none of the lower gears. Is this person killing the transmission?

PS: If it helps they mysteriously have killed several other transmissions on different cars. I’ve asked them to change their driving habits, but they say I am wrong and won’t budge, even in the evidence that it seems hard on the cars. The only thing I can figure is that since he learned to drive in the 1940s that years ago cars must have been different.

Thank you in advance for any replies.

Drifting?? How about “coasting”…Drifting is when you slide a car sideways…

And yes, this is a very bad “habit” as you give up much of the control of the car…Power steering and brakes are GONE…The transmission shifts into the twilight zone with no pump running…

When the engine is turned off the transmission pump stops pumping fluid thru the transmission. Then as the vehicle coasts the drive axles rotate the components in the transmission without lubrication. Now this won’t damage a transmission in the short term, but this continued practice can result in transmission damage.

This is why most automatic transmission equipped vehicles can’t be towed with the drive wheels on the ground. The components in the transmission are turning with no lubrication and the transmission is damaged.


Essentially they’re coasting at the end of every event. They probably have some fuel economy thing in mind. If they’re all automatics (seems to be indicated), the lubrication for most transmissions stops when the engine is shut off. I’m assuming neutral here so there’s nothing to rotate the pump, yet the drive shafts are still turning. This would/may be somewhat different in mixed automatic transaxles where they have a common sump. In my mind’s eye, I would have to imagine this only occurring over the relatively long term. The 300’ event or the 20’ event would typically not in itself degrade the bushings that require constant lube to remain cool. ATF is primarily a coolant with some lubrication properties.

Thanks all for the replies.

Ooops, my apology. Should have said ‘coasting’ and not ‘drifting’.

To geeaea:
The car is not being drifted with the engine off while in “neutral”. It’s being drifted while in “drive”. He pulls into the driveway/parking space, has the car in drive, cuts the engine, then once he decides on the exact spot where he wants to park the car he applies the break, puts the car in park, takes out the key.

To be honest, in addition to thinking all along that this is hard on the transmission (as evidenced by our cars in the past – may they RIP), it’s also kind of makes the car (and people in it) come to a ‘jerky’ and hard stop. Not smooth at all.

I have no idea how to get him to change his habits since he believes I’m the one in the wrong. I’m pretty sure though that if I were a guy he’d listen to me. I digress…

Clearly though you I think you’re correct when you say this is a habit related to believing that this is saving fuel. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure it’s costing me bucket-loads of money in the long run to repair and replace transmissions and to buy new cars.

Thanks again all.

Ask him to stand out in a busy parking lot for a while and see how many other people coast in to a spot like he does. I’ll bet that the answer is very close to zero. That might tell him something.
Alternate solution: Make sure that your next car is push-button start. They are difficult to shutdown while in drive.

The potential for damage to the car and/or loss of control have been well covered. I have one primary rule when using my stuff and it applies to EVERYONE including fossilized relatives that are set in their (misguided) ways:

I don’t care who you are or your personal beliefs; if you want to drive MY car, you follow MY rules or you won’t be driving it anymore. <- that’s a period!

BTW- the term “my car” refers to any vehicle that I have to financially support or perform repairs on.

This “family member” sounds like someone who could have said “you live under my roof, you live by my rules!” Perhaps this argument could be used against them to achieve the desired result…

it’s also kind of makes the car (and people in it) come to a ‘jerky’ and hard stop. Not smooth at all.

Jerky stop is indirectly related but mostly a driving skill issue. In a typical braking situation, if you care about smoothness, you should ease into the brake until you have the desired amount of braking and smoothly ease out slightly as you come to a halt. An engine that’s trying to keep the car going has the same effect of easing out the brake.

I do this sometimes, if I’m not backing into a parking space, but my car can be towed with 4 wheels on the ground. I know that most Hondas can be towed with 4 wheels on the ground as well, so maybe a Honda transmission can survive this ritual. Still, you loose power steering in the process.

Simple fix!!! Take the keys away from these clowns.

I just don’t see the coasting activity happening for a long enough period of time to cause damage,not even in culumative sense.

I agree, it’s not like the gears, bearings, clutch packs, etc., stop being oily the instant the oil pump stops pumping oil to them. We’re talking about coasting the last couple of hundred feet at a very low speed and with absolutely no torque load on the transmission parts here, not about towing the car hundreds of miles at highway speeds. Some of us take some extremely unimportant issues way too seriously.

I used to cringe at the way my grandfather drove his car because it didn’t jibe with what the football coach who taught drivers ed taught and I accepted dogmatically, until, I finally figured out that it was he was driving a car older than I was and it was I who was always working on my car.

This is one of those things that you should lighten up about.

One of these times he will lock the steering column ad drive into a tree or a parked car. THAT should cure this “habit”…

You can’t turn to Lock when the thing is coasting in anything other than Park. If we are talking about a manual transmission . . .

We are talking about an automatic transmission, and I don’t know of any that will coast in “Park”.
I think it would take forever for this practice to damage a transmission, but I would not do it. And as has been said here, you lose power steering and power brakes.

I suspect he grew up during the war with gas ration coupons and needed to make every drop of gas count. I doubt you will ever change him so try to minimize the damage by giving him a straight stick to drive and not a Subaru. Transman would be the resident expert on this though-where is he lately anyway?

Most cars accumulate enough vacuum to do at least one stop with the engine off. As an experiment, I did stop after stop going down a hill without the engine running in my car and it took about six stops before the accumulated vacuum was used up. Not all cars lose power steering with the engine off, mine doesn’t because it’s power steering is electric.

You can still steer and stop a car that loses power brakes and steering, or at least, I can.

Life’s too short to freak out over every person that doesn’t drive exactly like we do. We take a lot of things way more seriously than we need to.

I take it this guy is a fan of the movie “The World According to Garp”.

At the risk of revealing my age, a number of years back, the term “drifting” was the common term to describe what we now refer to as “coasting”.

If you’re paying for the car, this family member should drive by your rules or surrender his keys. If not, then just learn to accept what you cannot change. You cannot help someone who is not open to being helped.

Is is a good practice? No. Do I have a few that my kids would probably likely see me change? I’m sure I do. My dad, now gone, took horrible care of his cars. But rather than try to change him, I enjoyed his company and guidance while he was here. Now that he’s gone I miss him. The cars are just unimportant memories.

MB my old man (he is 79) does everything 100% opposite of the way the rest of the world does, it has been a “trying” life with his influence,but I will still miss him when he is gone also.

He has also turned into a “2 foot driver” I know we had this discussion about 2 foot drivers before.