Can You Change Gears In An Automatic Car While Driving?

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  • Post last modified:July 3, 2021

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Many of us grew up learning how to drive stick-shift cars. We got used to smoothly changing gears up and down as necessary while we were driving. The question is, with manual transmissions becoming basically extinct, can you change gears while driving in an automatic car? We have searched for the answer to this question so that you don’t have to!

You can manually change to some gears while driving an automatic car. Other gears you should never switch to unless you are completely stopped as it can severely damage your engine. Most modern cars thankfully won’t let you switch to some gears while driving to stop any mechanical disasters. For the most part, automatic cars up and downshift for you so you don’t have to worry about it. 

Automatic cars all have varying shifters and gears that you can use. There is a wide variety of different “modes” that come with automatic cars that have different uses. It is very important to know the limitations of shifting with your specific car. If you do it wrong, it can cost you a lot of money and even more stress later on. Keep reading down below so you can know the complete capabilities of your automatic car’s transmission!

An automatic shifter of a car and other buttons seen on the dashboard, Can You Change Gears In An Automatic Car While Driving?

Shifting Your Automatic Car While Driving

Depending on what gear you’re trying to get to, you’re even encouraged to shift your car while driving. You just have to know when those situations are. The transmission is no different than any other part of your car. You want to use it properly, and not wear it out any faster than you have to.

A cool automatic shifter with an on board display

How Do You Manually Shift An Automatic Transmission?

Before talking about the ins and outs of shifting while driving an automatic car, it’s important to know how to. Depending on your car, the shifter may have a button of some sort on it that you need to press to move the shifter. If this is true for your car, then press the button before shifting. Then you simply have to move the shifter to the desired gear. You may want to let off the gas while doing this. Your car should also, thankfully, restrict which gears you can do this with while driving. 

What Gears Can You Shift To While Driving An Automatic?

This can differ depending on the gear modes that are available in your car. Usually, cars will have a sport mode or economy mode, or some variations of those. You can and should shift to those while driving but only during the appropriate times. They are meant to optimize your car’s performance.

However, if you don’t use them at the appropriate times, shifting them can hurt your car. You should also be able to shift to neutral when needed, like if your car dies on the road while driving. 

What Gears Shouldn’t You Shift To While Driving?

A car automatic gear shifter placed on park

This might seem like common sense, but for the well-being of your car, it’s important to point out. You should never try to shift into park or reverse while driving. As mentioned above, the majority of automatic cars on the road today won’t let you do this anyway. Which is good because it could severely damage your transmission.

You shouldn’t even switch in and out of these two gears when moving at all. Chances are your car will let you switch from reverse to drive while moving slowly. Even shifting between these gears at a low speed will wear down your transmission faster. 

Do You Ever Need To Shift While Driving An Automatic?

For the most part, not really. Automatic transmissions are designed to do their job more efficiently on their own than with us helping. That’s why manual transmissions aren’t really around anymore. Automatic ones do a better job at shifting than any human can.

You can use the driving modes mentioned above when it is appropriate to do so. Even with those, you should exercise caution so that your transmission doesn’t see any unnecessary wear from it. 

More Automatic Transmission Questions

Learning if you can shift your automatic car while driving is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s important to know in detail when and how it’s appropriate to use that shifter while driving. Especially since many individuals aren’t even sure what those extra letters next to the shifter even stand for. 

What Is S Mode In An Automatic Car?

S mode stands for “sport” mode. Even if you don’t have a fancy sports car it may still be handy to you. Sport mode does a few different things that change your driving experience. The first thing it does is change when your automatic transmission decides to shift. Usually, automatic transmissions shift at fairly low RPMs. Sport mode makes it shift at a higher RPM. This changes the performance level of the car and gives many a smoother driving experience.

It also affects the suspension and handling capabilities. This is why it can be useful for navigating winding or twisting roads. Like when you’re driving through mountains for example. It makes handling your car and normal speeds a bit more comfortable in these areas. 

Can You Shift From D To S While Driving?

Automatic gear shifter placed on drive mode

Yes, you can shift from drive to sport mode while driving. This should only be done in situations like the ones explained above. You also want to avoid making this transition while completely pressing down on the gas pedal. This might be damaging for the transmission. Your car’s computer should stop anything damaging from happening in this instance but better safe than sorry. 

How Do Automatic Cars Know When To Change Gears?

A lot goes into making an automatic transmission work the way that it does. Basically, when the RPM of your car gets to a certain accelerating speed it knows when your upshift. Also, when the RPM gets low enough, your transmission knows when to downshift. The transmission has sensors in it that tell it when these points have been hit so it knows when to shift. 

Why Does My Car Jerk When Shifting Gears With An Automatic Transmission?

Unfortunately, this is a fairly common problem with automatic vehicles. This can mean that there is already a problem with your transmission, or if you don’t fix it soon there will be. One of the leading causes of this is that your car is low on transmission fluid. Either that or the fluid is very old and dirty and needs to be changed. There may also be a part inside of the transmission that is going bad. If it’s not the fluid then it will save you a huge problem and bill later on if you take it into the shop now. 

Is There Anything You Can Do If You Really Want To Manually Shift?

Aside from getting a specially made or older manual transmission car, there is another option. Many newer automatic cars come with the option to manually shift them while driving! If the car has this, it will show a spot next to your shifter with a plus and minus sign. Sometimes there will also be an “m” next to them. Putting your automatic transmission into this mode will allow you to upshift and downshift on your own! 

Finishing Up

You can change gears while driving your automatic vehicle. Your car thankfully shouldn’t let you shift to the most damaging gears like reverse and park. When shifting to the other options, it’s important to know when it’s the appropriate time to do so. Not shifting in the correct situations can easily start to damage your automatic transmission. Now that you know how to use your automatic transmission as effectively as possible, all that’s left is to take a road trip!

For more transmission information make sure to click on the links below:

When Should You Check Transmission Fluid?

What Pickup Trucks Come In Manual Transmission?

Does Toyota RAV4 Have CVT Transmission? [Various Models Reviewed]

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