Automatic gearbox modes

Most automatic transmission selector positions are no mystery. The letter PRND is familiar even to drivers who may not drive an automatic transmission themselves. But what about the letters “L” or “B”, are you familiar with these shifter positions as well?

The automatic gearbox selector (gearstick) is used to select a driving mode, such as forward or reverse, etc. You will usually find the gearstick in the same place as a conventional gear lever, i.e. on the centre console. However, there are exceptions to this, in some cars you will find the drive mode selector under the steering wheel or on the dashboard. This location was particularly popular on vehicles of the last century. But it is no exception today, for example the new Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC has the drive mode selector under the steering wheel.

Also, the paths of the selector can be straight or all kinds of curved. With the move to electronic transmission controls in recent years, the size of the selector lever has shrunk considerably, often down to the size of the paddle shifters. This gives designers a much freer hand when it comes to interior design and ergonomics.

So what do the letters on the automatic gearbox mean? The letters indicate the driving mode selected according to the position of the selector lever, which is changed by moving the lever to that position.

Automatic gearbox modes:

P (Park) – Parking position

  • this option mechanically locks the transmission output shaft, preventing the vehicle from moving in any direction
  • used when the vehicle is parked, as a handbrake. However, it is recommended to use the handbrake at the same time!
  • the vehicle cannot usually be locked without moving the selector lever to the P position, so it will warn itself of the incorrect position of the gear selector before getting out
  • together with the “N” position, the “P” position is the only position in which the vehicle can be started

R (Reverz) – Reverse motion, reverse gear

  • this option allows reversing with all the necessary features such as: reversing lights, reversing camera, repositioning of the rear view mirrors, etc.

N (Neutral) – neutral

  • In normal driving, there is no need to use the idle speed, as the gears are shifted automatically without the clutch and without moving the lever through neutral, as in manual shifting
  • no engine power is transmitted to the wheels in this mode
  • it is used when standing for long periods with the engine running, when passing through a car wash or automatically when using the sailing function
  •  beware of possible towing of the vehicle on a cable, the neutral of automatic gearboxes works slightly differently to manual gearboxes, read the specific manual

D (Drive) – Drive forward

  • option for normal forward driving
  • shifting is automatic

S (Sport) – Sport driving

  • selection for forward driving with sport shift mode
  • the automatic gearbox in this mode keeps the engine speed generally higher and allows the engine to be revved to its maximum
  • some gearboxes are capable of accelerating the shift speed

M (Manual) nebo (+/-) – Forward drive with manual gear selection

  • forward drive option with manual gear change
  • used when the driver does not want to select gears himself
  • even in this mode, the automatic will not let the vehicle switch off if you forget to downshift

L (Low) – Slow driving

  • in this mode the gearbox stays in the lowest possible gear, so sometimes the digit “1” is used instead of “L”
  • slow mode is used, for example, in off-road terrain when slowly descending a hill, or when maximum traction is needed
  • today you may not find this option in your car, it is often replaced by a “driving mode selector” which, depending on the mode selected (downhill, towing a trailer, etc.)

2 – Slow driving

  • like the “L” mode, the gearbox uses only the first two gears
  • on some models, the automatic only allows upshifting from 1st to 2nd gear

D3 or 3 – Slow driving

  • as in the previous two cases, the automatic only uses the first three gears

B (Brake) – Forward motion with regenerative

  • this driving mode can be found on hybrids and electric cars
  • this is a mode with increased regeneration, when the accelerator is released the vehicle slows down noticeably using regeneration to recharge the batteries
  • in practice, this means that the vehicle speed can be controlled by the position of the accelerator pedal and the braking can be kept to a minimum