When do you use N (Neutral) in an automatic gear transmission?

When do you use N (Neutral) in an automatic gear transmission?

I am finding various pieces on above subject, but I am not sure what does work.

Some use during towing. I know some of you may have used N (Neutral) in an automatic gear transmission.

Do you mind sharing the situation/impact?

Does switching to N from D while driving strain/damage the transmission?

Does frequent “N” usage hurt transmission?

What is the situation to use N instead of Break?

I find car owners manual, MVA/DMV Drivers handbook did not document the use of ‘N’ (Neutral transmission). The owners manual mention about FREE movement between ‘D’ & ‘N’. It did not say beyond it.

I asked the driving instructor about it. He was surprised about my ‘N’ use question. I am not sure, how drivers could learn about it?

Thanks for sharing.

When do you use N (Neutral) in an automatic gear transmission?


If the car won’t start and you need to push it out of the way or onto a tow truck, use neutral.

If the car is being towed behind an RV and has the appropriate add-on equipment to do so, use neutral.

Other than that, I can think of no time your car should be in neutral.

Someone is overthinking this. If you are stopped for a time ( waiting for train to pass ) you would put the automatic transmission in Park, not Neutral and use it for a brake ( which is what you meant instead of break ) . Changing to neutral while driving is dumb and dangerous. Your driving instructor should have told you this unless they were just confused by your question.

I use Neutral when driving very slowly downhill on slick surfaces. Improves my control by eliminating pushing by the auto trans.

Can’t say I would use it. Much unless stuck in traffic and would have the brake on and not wanting to put it in park and unlock the doors. Otherwise mainly in the garage to roll the car back by hand after blowing snow.

If you want to jack up one driving wheel and turn it by hand (engine off), use neutral.

Yep, just about never, not for any usual driving situation. And not for towing, you can damage the automatic transmission.

Just by reading the OP’s post I do not think this is someone who should be pushing a vehicle out of gear or jacking up one side to spin a tire by hand. After they have much more experience maybe, they mention driving instructor so this has to be a new driver.

At an automatic car wash where it pushes the vehicle through.

Neutral in an automatic transmission need never be used except for diagnosis purposes (see insightful’s post).

For towing an automatic, I strongly suggest a tow dolly. When towing an automatic in neutral, some of the internal tranny parts are turning but without the aid of the internal fluid pump, which provides lubricating fluid for the parts. Damage will result. People do damage automatic trannys by attempting to tow in neutral. I’m sure your owner’s manual will confirm my suggestion not to do so. And you should always consult your owner’s manual for towing.

The good news is that modern automatics are controlled by the Transmission Control Module, and that won’t allow you to damage the tranny unless you “force its hand”. If the car is resisting whatever you’re trying to do, stop trying.

Personally, I use neutral routinely when I’m stuck in traffic. It takes pressure off of my bad foot, and it’s truly harmless used in that manner. If you do this, learn to pat attention if you’re no an incline and be sure to put it back in D when the time comes to go again, or when you go to take off you just might roll backwards when you’re expecting to go forward.

I agree with “auto owner”. There are times when engine braking can work against you on really slippery hills and only abs works the best. I also use it when I have to stop for an extended periodic at a sign or light. I put it in neutral and apply the emergency brake and never use park while sitting in traffic. There is no way I am going to take a chance on being rear ended while in park.

There are special cases when neutral is worthwhile too. Neutral is required on every truck based 4 wd I have ever driveen to engage low range in 4 wd whether it be auto or manual. Pushing or towing a stalled car a short distance requires neutral too. Some 4 wd with a neutral transfer case can be towed when in neutral there and the transmission.

Least we forget unintended acceleration. Great time to have a neutral. So it can save your life.
Mechanics like cars with it in a shop …roll it a few feet when it can’t be started to work on it. And the list goes on.
I think if every experienced driver thought about it, they could come up with several important uses too.

If you’ve got to flat-tow a vehicle, you can leave it in N with the engine running. (You risk transmission damage with engine off, and having it running in gear is very dangerous.

After I’m done parking on a hill, I put on the parking brake and shift to neutral and release the service brake. Shifting to park without checking the parking brake may torque lock the park paw.

When I’m sitting at a red light, I usually just put on the parking brake and leave it in drive, unless I’m facing downhill. That’s when the transmission should be in neutral. Asking the parking brake to hold against gravity and the engine may require excessive force on the parking brake.

I would avoid shifting back and forth between neutral and drive unless I’m driving a rental. Gears are spinning with the engine when in neutral and they come to a stop, by slipping the clutches a little, when shifted to drive.

Normally most drivers won’t use neutral except in unusual situations, such as if your engine has developed a habit of stalling unless you increase the RPM by putting it in neutral at a light and revving it. Or if you need to move the car without the engine running, or if your “neutral safety switch” is acting up and you can’t start it in “Park”.

Sometimes in cold weather I back my car out of the garage and click the shifter into neutral while I sit in the car and let it warm up a bit. Park would do just as well I guess, but just putting it in neutral seems like the right thing to do, since I don’t get out of the car. My driveway is flat and there’s a little hump that keeps the car from moving even if your foot isn’t on the brake.

On some cars you must have the shifter in neutral with the engine warmed up to get an accurate reading of the fluid level in the transmission.

I drive our Prius about once a month. It has a slap shifter. D-R-N-B. took me awhile to read manual it’s say B is for engine braking. If u touch the brakes, the car uses regen braking at first depending on pedal effort. Than brakes kick in if u really want to stop. I use N at long stoplights since it is easy to tap shifter sideways into N. but the Prius is special. Engine will shutoff at long lights even if foot is on brake. And it will shut off if foot is off brake and u are in N. car will move forward via elec if motor is off though. Thats why I use N

One more use for N, when the vehicle won’t start in park, put it in neutral to see if the issue is the park/neutral safety switch.

You should occasionally make sure that your parking brake is working correctly by stopping on a steep hill, putting the car in neutral, applying the parking brake, and taking your foot off the brake pedal (with nothing to hit in front of you or behind you, of course).

We have several level railroad crossings where freight train with as many as 130 cars pass by. Depending on how many cars are left to cross, I may put the car in Park or Neutral.

I put my truck in neutral while waiting at red lights. If it looks like a long wait I mean. To avoid having to press on the brake pedal to keep the truck from moving forward in Drive. I expect it is probably safer to just leave it in Drive, but I find it annoying that the truck is fighting with itself. And there is some safety factor in using Neutral I think in avoiding a situation where the truck might move forward while a pedestrian is crossing.

I use ‘Neutral’ in two cases:

!. If the engine dies while on the road, shifting to "Neutral’ allows the car to roll further in search of a good turn off and to allow a restart attempt of the engine. You cannot crank in ‘Drive’ or other forward or reverse gear.

  1. The second case would be with a runaway engine or a misbehaving cruise control. I will take care of the driving. The engine can take care of itself until I am stopped and can turn off the ignition. On some cars it is possible to lock the steering wheel inadvertantly by turning the igniton switch past the off possition.