What Happens if I Drive My Car in Low Gear?


A vehicle’s gearbox is a vital transmission component, and when used wrongly, it can easily damage your car. 

I realized that most people don’t understand when to use or not to use the low gear. 

So, I have outlined a detailed guide to help answer most questions about the low gear. 

Both manual and automatic vehicles have low gear, but surprisingly, some owners don’t even understand what this is. 

Although gears switch automatically in automated cars, you will need to input low gear manually in some situations. 

Therefore, it’s vital that you understand what low gear is and how you can use it to maximize fuel efficiency and utilize your car’s power optimally. 

Continue reading to gain more insights. 

What Happens if I Drive My Car in Low Gear?

When you shift your vehicle to low gear, it moves slowly but with more power. The wheels will get a better grip on the road, so you can easily go down a steep hill without putting extra strain on the engine. In slippery conditions, it will also help keep the vehicle under control. 

What Is Low Gear in Cars?

The most frequently used controls on the gearshift are P, R, N, S, and D

P stands for park, R is reverse, N for neutral, S for sport, and D for drive

Some cars have an additional letter L in the settings. 

It stands for low gear, which is similar to gear one and two in manual vehicles. 

You probably know how to use most of the settings you rarely use the L. 

By shifting the gear to L, you restrict the amount of fuel injected into the engine. 

This will lower the engine speed, and it provides the wheel with a little more force than speed. 

Your car can thus easily navigate through difficult obstacles and stay intact even on poor roads. 

When Should You Use Low Gear?

Many drivers avoid using the low gear either because they don’t understand its purpose or haven’t been in a situation where this was helpful. 

Various circumstances call for the use of the low gear, so it’s better to understand how to use it. 

Shift to the low gear when:

Towing Heavy Loads

When towing heavy loads, you can damage your vehicle if you drive at high gear. 

Keep in mind the transmission basically shifts and operates optimally under the manufacturer’s recommended weight. 

Anything beyond this range will strain the transmission and damage it. 

Naturally, you wouldn’t mind driving at a slower speed while carrying heavy cargo, so it makes more sense to operate on low gear and ease the gas pedal. 

The low gear provides additional pulling power that keeps the engine running at a higher revolution per minute to perfectly handle the heavier load 

Climbing a Steep Incline

You should use the low gear while driving in hilly or mountainous terrain. 

In such conditions, gravity begins to pull the vehicle back, making the engine load heavier. 

Once you shift to the low gear, it gives your car a little more power, so you can easily climb the steep inclines with minimal strains on the engine. 

Driving Downhill

Driving down a steep hill or a slight incline for a long period can easily overheat your car engine. 

Keep in mind that while driving on flat ground, steam rises to the top of the radiator. 

But while driving on an incline, the pump can’t force the steam to go down to the radiator, so it gets trapped inside, causing overheating problems. 

This can even cause brake damage, which is extremely dangerous while driving in such conditions. 

So, before you begin to descend a hill, remember to always shift the gear to low. 

This will help maintain a slow and steady speed to prevent the car from getting out of control. 

The low gear will even help slow down the vehicle reducing the amount of braking needed. 

Though you will still need to use the brakes, you will save them from too much pressure that causes wear and tear. 

Driving on Slippery Roads

During flushing floods or when driving on muddy, slippery roads, it’s good that you use the low gear. 

The lower speed and extra torque will help lower the load on the wheels and engine. 

Low gear also helps maintain a steady and safe pace, which minimizes the risks of wheels slipping. 

Shifting the gear to low is also very helpful when driving on icy or snowy regions. 

The increased power will help the wheels grip the road more firmly so the car won’t spin out over the icy surface. 

How Can You Activate Low Gear?

You can activate the low gear using various methods depending on the model and make of your car. 

For manual transmission, you can downshift into a lower gear. 

Whenever you want to shift to the lower gear, ease off the gas pedal. 

Keep the speed low enough to trigger the low gear and ensure that you slow down early enough before you get to the obstacle. 

Once you lower the speed sufficiently low, the transmission should shift to a lower gear automatically. 

Alternatively, if you are in D and want to lower the gear, take your feet off the gas and brakes and let the car slow down to about 20 to 25 mph. 

Resume a steady speed and shift to gear two. 

Another easier method you can use to shift to low gear is to wait until you stop the car at a stop sign or traffic lights, then change the gear from D to one. 

Should you need to shift from the low gear while in one, accelerate till you achieve around 3000 MRP. 

Now switch to gear two and maintain a steady speed.

Then once you attain 3000 MRP in this gear, switch to D. 

Can Your Car Shift to the Lower Gear Automatically?

Some cars shift the gears automatically. 

When you start an automatic car, it kicks off with the lower gear and slowly accelerates to a higher speed. 

Also, as you park such vehicles or stop at a street intersection without fully turning off the car, the transmission automatically shifts to the lower gear and back. 

This way, the engine won’t speed the wheels out of control in areas where you shouldn’t speed for safety purposes. 

How Does Automatic Transmission Work?

The automatic transmission in your vehicle is a computer-controlled program that uses sensors to determine when it should change the gears. 

This system keeps the engine running at optimum revolutions per minute. 

Whenever the sensor determines that the MRP is above the limit, the transmission will automatically shift the gear to ensure that the engine runs slower. 

Similarly, the transmission will shift the heat to increase engine speed once the MRP goes below the limit. 

The main benefit of this transmission system is the ability to drive without a clutch. 

It eliminates the need for numerous manual shifts so you can concentrate entirely on driving. 

Meaning that even people with disabilities can comfortably ride such vehicles. 

The automatic transmission can detect when you go uphill, overtake, or drive on flat ground and adjust accordingly. 

It’s worth noting that even with the automatic transmission, you still need to take control of the shifts. 

For instance, you can vary your driving to control when and how your vehicle’s gears shift. 

Can You Shift to Lower Gear When Driving at High Speed?

You should never attempt shifting to a lower gear when driving at high speed. 

While sometimes the need to downshift might seem urgent, like when overtaking on the highway, skipping various gears as you downshift at high speed can cause more harm to the engine and transmission. 

Keep in mind that shifting to a lower gear makes the engine turn faster to produce more power for a given wheel speed. 

When you change the gears abruptly, the engine speed will rise suddenly, which is very dangerous. 

Some manufacturers even install a sensor that detects when the car engine runs at extremely high revolutions. 

If you exceed the limit, the sensors will shut off the engine, and your car will abruptly stop in the middle of a journey.

The high-speed wheel spins can also get the car out of control. 

The harsh gear change also causes severe damages to the transmission, and it will fail sooner than expected. One effect is that the brakes can overheat and fail. So always allow the vehicle to slow down, then shift the gear into low. 

The Bottom Line

As you drive through various terrain, you will end up using different gears. 

Some situations call for lower while others high gear, so you need to know how to use them accordingly. 

Experiment with your car, and you will know its limitations and capabilities. 

Generally, the low gear provides more torque and the most spinning, making it ideal while driving any inclined, sloppy, and slippery roads. 

Lowering the engine speed and increasing torque in the low gear setting can also help you save a substantial amount on fuel.

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

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