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Use of first gear is req'd for a Saturn Vue, optional for a 4 spped with granny gear

Car Talk Reply

Citrus Springs


You had a letter in a recent Ocala FL paper from a fellow who had a dispute going with his wife. They apparently had their first standard shift car together with a new Saturn Vue.

She started from a stop sign in 2nd gear saying her father taught her to do that because 1st gear was not needed.

Reasonably enough you said the Vue needed all its gears and implied if she does not properly start in first she will be damaging the clutch and transmission.

Here is an explanation that immediately came to mind.

The first standard shift vehicle I owned was an old 1962 Chevrolet Carryall Suburban. It had a heavy duty 4-speed with a floor shift. Some called that transmission a 3 speed with a granny gear. 1st gear was strictly for stump pulling (as it worked great for a few times) or starting up a steep hill. 1st gear was so low you could get full engine speed and torque at about 5 to 10 mph.

I?m guessing the young lady?s father may no longer be with us or his son-in-law thought the notion of starting in second gear too silly to talk about.

My bet is her father taught her to drive in a truck with a 4-speed floor shift equipped with that granny gear ratio first. If you taught someone to drive manual transmission with that transmission you would be right to say usually you don?t need to use first gear.

So I expect the Vue driver forgot the ?except when? part of her father?s driving lessons and does not know her Vue has gear ratios that require usually using them all.

So yes she needs to start in first with her Saturn Vue. If she was driving something like a 62 Chevy truck with a heavy duty 4-speed using 1st would usually not be needed starting on level ground.

Henry J

And how long has it been since a mainstream passenger vehicle has come with a granny gear from the factory? If someone is that out of touch with the times, they probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

Kind of reminds me of this old timer who hangs out in the club house at the golf course where I play. He bought a new 2005 Highlander a few years ago with the Nav system that has speech capability. He legitimately thought the voice coming from the navigation system was an actual live person sitting in a cubical somewhere who was telling him where he needed to go.

Granny gear is still around on a lot of the heavy duty light trucks. I have done work on a fellow’s '99 F-250 Power Stroke with a six speed manual. That truck is geared so low and has so much torque he said he normally starts in second if towing, third if not. Many similar trucks in the new market are available with a six speed manual with a first gear that is almost worthless to any normal driver. I guess it would be good if you wanted to climb a tree with a ten thousand pound trailer in tow or something like that.

I fondly remember experimenting with a 99 SS Camaro with a six-speed. You wanted to use first gear,it was effortless to engage first gear and the clutch worked so nice I would recommend a beginner learn in it (not my car) It was dramatic the effect that traction control had.

Myself, I learned in a 68 Roadrunner with a 4 sp and a 383, did a accidental burn-out in front of a cop. I don’t think skipping first would have helped me.