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Drivers of automatics are often well-versed in shifting between P, R, N, and D. But many car owners completely forget the L setting and why this gear even exists. So, what does L mean on a gear shift? And what are the best applications of this setting? 

If you don’t know the answers, scroll down as Driverevolve explains all there is to know about this gear mode! 

What Does L Mean On A Gearshift? 

According to the gearbox glossary, L on gear shift means Low, a lower gear setting that stops the gearbox from switching up past 1st or 2nd gear. “L” transmission setting, not to be mistaken for low ranges, has various functions. 

Engine Braking: The Premise For Low Mode 

Learning about engine braking can help you understand the function of the “L” transmission setting.

If you're traveling down the mountain and put your vehicle in N, it will behave like a sled and speed up wildly. Countermeasures such as slamming the brakes are possible, but they risk overheating and wearing down your engine quickly. Downhill driving in N is dangerous, which is why we need engine braking!
Engine braking is the premise of L gear. – Car Deal Page

 If you’re traveling down the mountain and put your vehicle in N, it will behave like a sled and speed up wildly. 

Of course, countermeasures such as slamming the brakes are possible, but they risk overheating and wearing down your engine and brake pads quickly, which is even riskier. 

This is why downhill driving in N is dangerous and where engine braking comes in!

Engine braking happens when the driver lets off the brake pedal, and the car keeps going at a safe and constant speed. 

In detail, when you activate engine braking, your motor shuts down the throttle almost all the way, and powerful suction is developed. This suction sucks a significant amount of potential power and, therefore, successfully slows your car down or maintains a certain velocity.

Downhill drives require engine brakes to keep the vehicle from spinning its tires quicker than the motor can go. Most automobiles can be driven safely at 30 mph downhill without touching the brakes if the stick-shift transmission is in 2nd position.
Engine braking is helpful when driving downhill. – Drive Spark 

Downhill drives require engine brakes to keep the vehicle from spinning its tires quicker than the motor can go. Most automobiles can be driven safely at 30 mph downhill without touching the brakes if the stick-shift transmission is in 2nd position.

When the driver chooses the “D” or driving mode, the car’s inbuilt technologies determine what will occur. Advanced technologies in modern autos may detect when a person is losing control on a downward slope and activate hill descent to regain the car’s control.

Older automatic transmissions keep upshifting while you speed, so your motor will never have a chance to help you slow down.

Driving in a lower setting and preventing your gearbox from going up while going downhill will allow your engine to decelerate along with the vehicle. You could quickly access this mode by selecting any lower positions than D on the shifter (“3,” “2,” or “L”).

What Does “L” Gear Mode Do?

Almost all automatic transmissions have a low (or “L”) setting, and some also include a 3rd (or 2nd, or even a 4th) gear. 

When changed to “3,” the gearbox won’t go into any gears lower than the 3rd setting; adjusting it to “2” limits it to the 1st and 2nd positions. In other words, your transmission will not engage in any gear lower than the selected one.

 What Does “L” Gear Mode Do?
The low mode is for downhill driving. – Carscoop

All positions above are the default hill descent options, and you should always select one of them while traveling down a hillside. 

Sticking your vehicle to the “3” gear will also stop it from changing up while heading uphill. This also maintains the high RPM rate and provides peak energy for a steady climb, even if you’re running a low-power car.

If you’re using an automatic gearbox, the “L” setting will only allow drivers to utilize the 1st and, in certain cases, 2nd gear. With this configuration, your car will de-accelerate significantly; thus, if the hill isn’t too steep, the 3rd gear is more than enough to keep things under control.

However, the “L” gear will be a true savior when you’re pulling or carrying heavy items. When heading down the mountain, it becomes considerably more challenging to slow down due to the extra load of those items. 

In this case, by selecting “L,” you will be able to control your car’s downhill velocity using engine braking, ensuring a safe trip downhill.

The Best Scenarios To Use L Mode

Downshifting allows for more control and stability when driving up or down an extremely steep slope. 

If you’re facing a steep climb on a muddy road and in “D” mode, slamming on the gas pedal will cause you to speed past the safe point. If you put the gearbox in “L” and crank up the revs to the sweet spot, you’ll have an easier time climbing.

You should utilize the " L " transmission mode when going downhill and pulling a big load, such as a camper trailer or towed automobile, you should use the "L" transmission mode. This is why 18-wheelers go so slowly down the slopes: they perform the same technique.
Use L gear to control your speed when going downhill. – Toyota UK Magazine 

You should utilize the ” L ” transmission mode when going downhill and pulling a big load, such as a camper trailer or towed automobile, you should use the “L” transmission mode. This is why 18-wheelers go so slowly down the slopes: they perform the same technique.

Having said that, “L” is still designated for the most extreme situations. Most of the time, the “1” setting will suffice.

How To Use An Automatic Car In Low Gear

How To Drive

The “L” position can be beneficial if performed correctly. However, driving in the low setting without grinding your gearbox might be tricky. In case you’ve never driven an automatic vehicle in low gear, here are some good tips:

  • First, select the lowest setting available, generally a 1 or 2. And if you can, stick with this position as long as possible; it will prevent the automobile from veering out of control.
  • Don’t rush into changing into a higher setting; instead, allow your vehicle to coast for a couple of seconds to prevent your gearbox from grinding and to improve handling.
  • Never rush around turns in an automatic transmission vehicle; be extra careful while in the lower gear. Any carelessness might cause an accident.

How To Stop

Trying to brake while driving in low mode on a steep slope might be challenging. Follow these steps to complete the task:

  • Keep your seatbelt on and your vehicle in P mode.
  • Shut down your car’s ignition, wait 10 secs, and afterward, switch it back on.
  • To stop your automobile, slam your foot brake down entirely and hold for a while.
  • Keep your hands off the shifter lever! Your vehicle will immediately shift into the “L” position and stop.

FAQs 

Does Your Car Shift Into Low Gear Automatically?

Yes. Automatic gearboxes in modern automobiles handle downshifting automatically, relieving drivers of the distraction of continually changing gear positions when navigating city traffic.

In fact, when you start your automobile and gradually accelerate, you always pass by the “L” position. Additionally, anytime your car is parked or stopped at a traffic light without shutting the engine down, the transmission will automatically shift from a higher gear to ”L.”

Can You Shift From “D” To “L” While Driving?

Yes, but you shouldn’t. Since shifting your gear while your vehicle is in operation might cause severe damage to your driveshaft, it is not advisable.

You need to bring the vehicle to a complete stop before engaging in the low position. If you can, try stopping in a safe area away from traffic. After that, use the brakes as you would while parking. You should be able to adjust your shift lever after hitting the foot brake.

You may let off your foot brake when you're in low gear and ready to go. If you release the brake pedal, the automobile should accelerate. If you've put the auto in low gear, you may continue driving as usual. If you aren't accustomed to operating this way, exercise extra caution.
You can’t shift from D to L when driving. – Automatic Transmission Repair

Many vehicles need a little jiggle of the gear lever to enter the L position. Try pressing the shifter with extra energy if it doesn’t seem to be going in.

You may let off your foot brake when you’re in low gear and ready to go. If you release the brake pedal, the automobile should accelerate. If you’ve put the auto in low gear, you may continue driving as usual. If you aren’t accustomed to operating this way, exercise extra caution.

You’ll see that your vehicle doesn’t speed up as quickly as it would if it were in D gear. That’s the whole point of having a low-gear option! However, if you’re unfamiliar with operating a car in L mode, it might confuse you a bit!

Is It Harmful To Drive On L Mode?

Yes.

Keeping your vehicle in the L position for a long time is not advisable. If you aren’t cautious, performing it too often will ruin your car’s gearbox if you aren’t careful. Why? Because your engine revs faster in L mode. As a result, your motor has to work harder than it would if the vehicle operated in a higher position.

Driving around in low gear for a long time is a sure recipe to shorten the lifespan of your automobile’s motor. Read your car’s booklet for further tips and advice on low gear. The book will usually let you know if you need to maintain a specific pace or if there are any cautions. 

When in low gear, your automobile can only run at slow speeds. If you drive too quickly, you impose more load on the gearbox; a car's gearbox might collapse due to this pressure.
Driving on L mode might bring adverse effects. – Auto Josh 

When in low gear, your automobile can only run at slow speeds. If you drive too quickly, you impose more load on the gearbox; a car’s gearbox might collapse due to this pressure.

If you’re about to merge onto the freeway, don’t do that in L mode. Why? Because you can’t speed up quickly enough to catch up with traffic on the highway and, thus, may be fined heavily for not adhering to speed requirements. 

If you must shift into low gear, do it sparingly. Once you’re done, bring your vehicle back to D mode. For most driving cases, your lever should stay in that position.

Wrapping Up 

What does L mean on a gear shift? Now you’ve known the answer. To prevent tires from spinning out of control and exceeding safe velocities, you should downshift to this gear setting when heading downhill, especially if you’re carrying heavy loads. Yet, do not overuse this L mode too frequently, or you risk damaging your vehicle’s engine!

For more posts like this, visit our Fun Driving section

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