Putting a car in park at stop lights


Is it harmful to my car to put it in park at long stoplights? When I was in China a few years ago all the taxi drivers did it. Is it better for car health? Worse? I drive a 2011 BMW X5.

Harmful?, no, Dangerous?, could be.
While in Park, your brake lights are not on, that could get you rear-ended by someone thinking you are moving. If a situation exists that to avoid an accident you need to move forward quickly, that isn’t going to happen if you are in Park.

You aren’t saving any wear and tear or fuel by putting the car in Park so don’t.

I don’t know why anyone would want to do this repeatedly unless stuck in traffic and needing to rest your leg. Most cars though will unlock the doors when the car is shifted to park so there is not only the security issue of sitting at a stop light with the doors unlocked but wearing out the door locks.

Isn’t the OP putting more wear and tear on the clutches in the automatic transmission by doing what he has apparently been doing?

According to Click and Clack, every time you shift into gear, the entire drivetrain takes a jolt, particularly the linkage that can eventually wear out. That’s why I leave my car in gear until I’m parked.

Edit: …when I drive an automatic. When I drive a car with a manual transmission, I have a different approach.

I shift my manual transmission to neutral at long stoplights and keep my foot on the brake pedal for the lights. I have never seen the backup lights flash on a vehicle as they shifted from park to drive when the light turned green.

I’d say, Yes, the OP is doing more wear and tear on the transmission shifting into Park at lights.

Other than the very valid points mentioned above, the interlock mechanism is going to be going through a lot of cycles.

So you pull up the red light, shift into PARK, and unknown to you the interlock gives up its life. So when the light turns green you’re sitting there unable to shift out of PARK into anything else.
Given the lack of patience exhibited by many, you may then become the target of some nasty road rage for clogging up the works as you wait on the tow truck… ;-(


The other issue is being rear ended and possibly avoiding it. If you are sitting at a stop light and see a car approaching that may not stop, do you really want to have the car in park so that you can’t take quick evasive action?

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I’ve always shifted into neutral when waiting at a stop-light on my automatic equipped truck. I don’t like the idea of having to hold the truck back with the brake pedal, you got the engine fighting with the brakes, when shifting to N is so easy to stop the ongoing battle. Whether it helps or hurts the drivetrain and brakes, probably doesn’t make any notable difference either way. But shifting to N it is easier on my lazy leg and foot.

I wouldn’t shift into P however. From D you have to shift through N and R to get to P. And it would be easy to accidentally shift into R instead of P, and accidentally back into the car behind you. Plus shifting in N still usually requires a little brake pedal to prevent rolling, which keeps the brake lights on, just as it would with a manual trans. Shifting from D to N is just one click, very easy.

I shift to neutral for any red light; I understand that that’s easier on the clutch, which one would have to keep disengaged otherwise. I keep my foot on the brake pedal because I could roll or be hit from behind.

Yeah … lol … I expect most people with manual transmissions shift to N while waiting for red lights. The OP has an automatic.

@sgtrock21 brought up his manual.

Shifting to N or P usually involves releasing one clutch inside the transmission rendering the gears in a neutral state while clutches that are required for both first and reverse remains engaged. When D is required again, the one particular clutch that was released is reengaged and takes all the beating

Just as the clutch in a manual can wear out, clutches in an automatic wear out as well. I usually just pull up the parking brake and leave it in D.

I typically don’t use China as a source of best practices for driving.:grin:

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I have seen that many times, back in the analog days. Flashing the backup lights isn’t so much of a surprise as I immediately know why. My issue is that putting the car in park can give you the thought that you can release the brake and turn off the brake lights. That can confuse drivers approaching the stopped car. And living in Florida… there are LOTS of confused drivers! :wink:

I wish that this phenomenon was limited to only the state of Florida.
A few days ago, I was driving on a back road with an unnaturally-low speed limit of 30 mph, so almost everyone will do ~35 mph–with impunity. I had the misfortune to get behind an elderly woman who chose to drive at 20 mph. :frowning_face:

But… it gets better!
We came to a tiny roundabout, and she chose to drive around it clockwise!
Thank God that nobody else was driving in the opposite direction.
I was fortunate that I was giving her a lot of distance at that point, otherwise she might have hit me when I completed my navigation of the roundabout in the correct manner. And, I was lucky that the road opened-up to 2 lanes shortly thereafter, and I was able to put her in my rearview mirror.

Holy Moley!

There is an intersection near my mother’s house in Jacksonville (at I-295 and Old St. Augustine Rd. in case you want to check it out on Google Earth) where they let opposing directions turn left at the same time. The problem is that the intersection is setup so you’re supposed pass to the left of a small traffic island with a sign on it that says “keep left.” There are dotted lines showing the drivers the correct path, but at least once a week there is a driver who stays to the right of the traffic island, hitting an oncoming car.

To make matters worse, the exit ramp from westbound I-295 to northbound Old St. Augustine Rd. has no merge area, but it forces you to turn at an angle where your B-pillar blocks you from seeing oncoming traffic.

I’d blame whomever the idiot was who designed that intersection for not making it a cloverleaf with no traffic lights, but for all I know, there might be a legitimate reason this intersection couldn’t be designed that way.

That really is a confusing intersection @Whitey. I took your suggestion and used Google Maps to take a look at how the traffic in that underpass flows in the street view mode. I can see why there’d be a lot of crashes there. It appears like it wouldn’t take much effort to make that intersection into a conventional interstate to divided highway design, with stop lights/stop signs controlling the flow of traffic. There’s no need I can see for all that spaghetti like road striping. I see the problem with the merge too. I wonder, is it a coincidence there’s an ambulance going by the other direction at that spot? … lol …

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