Drive or Neutral at Traffic Lights: Which Is Best?

You’re going fast on a busy road when you see a red light. You want to leave your car in Drive while you wait for the green light, but you’re not sure if you should. Your family and friends have given you mixed advice, and you’re not sure what’s best for your car and the world. Is letting your car idle in Drive bad for it? Does Neutral cut down on pollution and fuel use? Or are these stories and myths just false?

Today, we’ll talk about these and other questions to help you make the best choice for your car and the environment. We’ll talk about the good and bad things about sitting in Drive and Neutral, as well as how they affect your gas mileage and the health of your car. You will also learn how to save gas and leave less of a carbon footprint while you drive. Allow us to begin!

Is Idling in Drive Bad? Separating Fact from Fiction

When you don’t move your car, but leave the engine going, this is called idling. It can happen while you’re at a stop sign, a traffic light, or a parking lot. When you idle in Drive, you keep your car in Drive gear and press the brake pedal to stop it from going forward.

That’s right, some people believe that leaving your car in Drive to idle is bad for it and the earth. Here are some bad things that can happen when you idle in Drive:

  • Environmental Effects: When you let your car idle in Drive, you waste money and fuel by burning it for no reason. This also contributes to air pollution and climate change. Based on the size of your engine and how much you use your air conditioner, the U.S. Department of Energy says that leaving your car in Drive while it idles can use up to half a gallon of gas per hour. That’s the same as going about 10 miles! Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and leads to global warming. If you do nothing for 10 minutes a day, you could release up to 220 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.
  • Busting a Fuel Efficiency Myth: Some people think that leaving your car to idle in Drive will save them gas because restarting it uses more gas than sitting. When it comes to older cars, this may have been true, but not anymore with fuel injection methods in cars made today. As the U.S. Department of Energy says, shutting off and then back on your engine uses about the same amount of fuel as letting it idle for 10 seconds. So, turn off your car if you’re going to leave it alone for more than 10 seconds. This will save fuel.
  • Engine Wear and Tear: Idling in Drive can also damage your engine because it keeps it going slowly and under load. This can cause carbon to build up in your engine, which can make it work less well and use more fuel. You’ll also need to change your oil more often because it can make your oil last less long and use more of it. Idling in Drive can also make your engine warm, which can damage engine parts and shorten their lives, especially when it’s hot outside.
  • But sitting in Drive isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it’s even needed. These are some good things about stopping in Drive:
  • The modern technology factor: Some newer cars have features, like auto-stop/start systems, that take care of the problems that come up when the car is running in Drive. When you stop at a red light or stop sign, these systems turn off your engine. When you let go of the brake pedal, they turn it back on. This way, you won’t waste gas, hurt your car, or pollute the air. But not all cars have this feature, and some drivers might find it annoying or takes their attention away from the road. To find out if your car has this feature and how to use it, look in the owner’s guidebook or talk to a service worker.
  • It can be easier and safer to let your car idle in Drive than to shift to Neutral or turn off the engine, especially if you’re only going to be stopped for a short time. You can keep your car ready to go by idling it in Drive. This way, you don’t have to waste time or effort changing gears or starting the engine. If you need to respond quickly to changed traffic conditions or stay out of a crash, this can help. Leaving your car in Drive to idle also keeps your power steering and brakes in good shape, which can make it easier to control and safer.
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The Neutral Option: When and Why

You can also put the car in neutral when it’s just sitting there. When your car is in neutral, the engine is not linked to the wheels. This means that the engine does not help the car move. Thoughts on putting the car in Neutral while it’s running can help save gas and keep the engine from wearing out? Many good things happen when you let your car idle in neutral:

  • Consumption of Fuel: Idling in Neutral can slightly lower your fuel consumption because it lets your engine run at a slower speed with less work to do. With Drive, on the other hand, the change is often very small, and changing gears might not be worth the trouble. A study from the Argonne National Laboratory found that leaving the car in Neutral instead of Drive while it idles can save about 0.1 gallons of fuel per hour. That’s the same as going about two miles! That’s not much. If you let your car run for 10 minutes every day, you might save 4 gallons of gas a year.
  • Little to No Wear and Tear: Idling in neutral can also help your engine last longer because it lowers the stress and heat on its parts. But it won’t have much of an effect in the long run, and it might not be worse than the chances of switching to Neutral. Never leave your car in neutral if you don’t have to. It could be harmful or even dangerous. Here are some bad things about sitting in Neutral:
  • Idling in Neutral can be dangerous because it makes it more likely that you’ll roll over in Neutral by mistake if you’re not using your parking brake or if you’re going uphill. This could make you lose control of your car and hit something or someone else. It can also make it harder to respond quickly to changing traffic or avoid an accident because you have to put the car back in Drive before you can move. Idling in Neutral can also mess up your brakes and power steering, making it harder to control and less safe.
  • Stress on the Automatic Transmission: Idling in Neutral can also put stress on and damage your automatic transmission, which sends power from your engine to your wheels. The clutch, the torque converter, and the gears can get worn out from going from Drive to Neutral and back again and again. This can make your transmission work less well and more efficiently, and it can also make repairs cost more.
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Many drivers have to wait at traffic lights every day and let their cars idle. Lots of people drive their cars, but not many know the best way to let them idle for their car and the earth. People who drive in Drive sometimes think that letting their car idle is bad, so they shift to Neutral or turn off the engine. Some people leave their cars in Drive and use the brake pedal because they think it’s okay for the car to idle.

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