What does "L" mean on a car's gear shift? What it means and when to use it

An automatic gearshift has several letters that signify its operation. One of the letters often causes confusion for today’s drivers. You may even be one of the people asking, what does “L” mean on a car’s gearshift? Understanding this gear will help you be more comfortable using it. 

We will be taking a close look at L gear in this article. This article will show you how to use L and what gears you can find on your shifter. 

Índice de Contenido
  1. What Does “L” Mean?
  2. Auto Transmission Gears: How to Understand P, R. N. D. and L
  3. What to do with low gear?
    1. 1. You can climb a hill
    2. 2. Driving downhill
    3. 3. Towing
    4. 4. Unpleasing Weather
  4. Doesn’t the Car Shift Into Low Gear Automatically?
  5. How to shift into L Gear

What Does “L” Mean?

An L is the low gear on your shifter. It’s the equivalent of first gear in a manual transmission vehicle, depending on what car you drive. In L, the transmission doesn’t shift into the higher gears, but it stays in the lowest gear for more engine power without speed. 

The engine will harness itself to give you more power and control. As you push the accelerator pedal down, the engine sends pure force to the wheels, but this extra power doesn’t translate to speed. 

Low gear isn’t commonly used because the engine can shift itself into first when it’s needed. You may need to manually shift the car into first when necessary. 

Auto Transmission Gears: How to Understand P, R. N. D. and L

On your automatic gearshift, you’ve likely noticed the different letters available. The majority of automatic transmissions come with a R, N and D available. Here’s what each of them means:

  • P (Park) – Helps your vehicle remain stationary
  • R (Reverse) – Used to back up your vehicle
  • N (Neutral) – Keeps engine power from transmitting to the wheels, commonly used to tow or push the vehicle
  • D (Drive) – Allows transmission to shift naturally while traveling

It is possible that there might be a Low gear as well, just like we talked about above. 

RELATED : What is D3 gear in Automatic Cars?

What to do with low gear?

1. You can climb a hill

You need your vehicle to be able to climb up steep hills. What your vehicle doesn’t need is speed. 

You can reduce motor stress by setting the transmission at the lowest gear. It’s the same concept experienced when you are trying to bike up a hill. You can reach the top of the hill by putting the bike in a lower speed. 

2. Driving downhill

It isn’t just going up the hill that makes for a good time to use the L gear. It can be used when you are going to the opposite side. 

The L gear reduces the amount of brake use by shifting the transmission to the L. Instead of trying to slow down your brakes as you go, the engine will do the job. 

High-revving engines create resistance which slows the vehicle. It’s the same concept used by truckers that apply the engine brake down steep grades. 

With some automatic transmissions this won’t work though, so check the owner’s manual for your car type.

3. Towing

You will find the lower gear to be a good friend when you are towing a lot. You can use it to pull heavy loads like your boat or trailer.

When the transmission is in the Low gear, there’s extra torque provided. This torque provides the extra pulling power that you require without putting more strain on your motor. 

However, you should always reference the owner’s manual and towing guide provided by the manufacturer to determine how fast you are able to drive in L gear. You don’t want to overdo it and create permanent damage to the motor. 

4. Unpleasing Weather

When driving through snow or ice, you need to be extra cautious. To maximize safety, shift into low gear to harness more of the engine's power.

You will still be able maintain your speed in the lowest gear without losing power. The result is better handling of the wheels on slippery surfaces, where spinning cannot occur. 

Doesn’t the Car Shift Into Low Gear Automatically?

You don't have to input anything, because your car uses the low gear regularly. The Low gear will automatically be selected when the car is started. You can also reverse it to low when you pull out from a red light or stop sign. 

You will need a low gear in these cases or else the wheels might spin uncontrollably when you start to take off. The engine instead transmits the correct amount of power to each wheel for the situation. 

If you have an automatic transmission in your vehicle, there’s no reason to shift into low gear for these situations. Let the engine and transmission work in harmony to produce the maximum power possible at any given moment. 

How to shift into L Gear

These steps will guide you through putting your vehicle in Low.

  1. Drive is a mode where you can take your foot of the accelerator and slow your car down to at most 20 mph. 
  2. As you shift to L, maintain a steady pace.
  3. You will have to reduce your speed if the RPMs rise too much.

You can move out of L gear once you're ready for the auto transmission to start working again. These are the steps.

  1. Accelerate the car while it is still in L-gear until the RPMs reach 3,000.
  2. For Drive mode activation, flip the shifter from the A gear back to the D. 

You could permanently damage the engine and transmission if you shift it from high to low speed. It is best to travel slowly when you activate the first gear. When in doubt, it’s best to read the owner’s manual to find out how slow you should be going while using the L gear.

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