Does putting your car in neutral save gas: Myth or reality

Putting your car in neutral does not necessarily save gas in modern vehicles.

When it comes to saving gas and getting the most out of every drop, drivers are constantly searching for tricks and tips. One common piece of advice that’s been passed down is the idea of putting your car in neutral. But does it really work?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the truth behind this popular notion, diving into the mechanics of fuel efficiency, the evolution of modern car technology, and when, if ever, shifting to neutral may make sense. So, fasten your seatbelt, and let’s navigate the gears of fuel economy together.

does putting your car in neutral save gas

What is the Neutral Gear?

The neutral gear, often referred to simply as “neutral,” is a state in which a vehicle’s transmission disengages the engine from the wheels. In this state, the engine and the wheels are not mechanically connected. This means that the power generated by the engine does not transfer to the wheels, and the vehicle remains stationary, regardless of whether the engine is running.

How Does the Neutral Gear Function in a Car?

The neutral gear is typically located in the center of an automatic transmission’s shift lever, alongside the familiar “Drive” (D), “Park” (P), and “Reverse” (R) positions. When you shift your car into neutral, you disconnect the transmission from the engine. This allows the engine to continue running independently of the wheels.

The Primary Purpose of Neutral Gear:

The primary purpose of the neutral gear is to provide a state in which the vehicle’s wheels are free to spin without transmitting power from the engine. This can be useful in various scenarios:

  • Starting the Engine: When you start your car, it’s neutral. This allows the engine to run without moving the vehicle until you shift into “Drive” or “Reverse.”
  • Towing: When a vehicle needs to be towed, it’s often placed in neutral to prevent the wheels from resisting the movement and causing damage to the transmission.
  • Coasting: In some situations, such as when going downhill, shifting into neutral can allow the vehicle to coast more smoothly without engine braking.
  • Car Washes: When going through an automated car wash, attendants often place the car in neutral to allow it to be moved without the engine being engaged.

The Gas-Saving Claim: Can Putting Your Car in Neutral Save Gas?

The notion that putting your car in neutral while driving can result in significant fuel savings is a belief that has persisted for years. It’s essential to explore the theory behind it and its origins to understand this claim.

The Theory Behind the Claim:

The theory that putting your car in neutral can save gas hinges on the idea that disengaging the transmission from the engine reduces the load on the engine. In other words, when your car is in neutral, the engine doesn’t have to work as hard because it’s not powering the wheels. Consequently, proponents of this theory argue that less fuel is consumed.

This concept may seem logical on the surface, but it oversimplifies the complexities of modern vehicle systems. While it’s true that an engine consumes less fuel when idling than when propelling the vehicle, the fuel savings from shifting to neutral are negligible, if they exist at all. In fact, the engine management systems in modern cars are designed to optimize fuel consumption when coasting or decelerating in gear, rendering the fuel-saving claim largely obsolete.

Origins and Persistence:

The origin of the belief that putting a car in neutral saves gas is somewhat murky. It likely emerged from outdated practices, anecdotal experiences, and a misunderstanding of how modern car engines and transmissions operate. Some drivers may have observed a temporary drop in their fuel gauge while coasting in gear, leading them to conclude that putting the car in neutral is a viable fuel-saving strategy.

Furthermore, this belief persists because it’s easy to spread and seems like a simple way to save money on fuel. People are often drawn to quick fixes or hacks that promise to reduce expenses without significant effort.

However, automotive experts, including engineers and mechanics, have consistently debunked this claim. They emphasize that keeping your car in gear while coasting is more fuel-efficient and safer than shifting to neutral. Modern vehicles have advanced engine management systems that optimize fuel injection and engine braking when coasting in gear, making this the more effective and safe option.

The Science Behind Fuel Consumption: How an Engine and Transmission Work Together

Understanding how a car’s engine and transmission work in harmony provides insight into the factors that influence fuel consumption, including engine braking and idling.

Engine and Transmission Interaction:

  1. Engine Function: The engine’s primary role is to generate power by burning fuel (usually gasoline or diesel) in its cylinders. This controlled explosion produces mechanical energy that drives a crankshaft.
  2. Transmission Function: The transmission serves as a bridge between the engine and the wheels. It consists of multiple gears that can be shifted to control the speed and power delivered to the wheels. In essence, the transmission determines the engine’s mechanical advantage over the wheels.
  3. How They Work Together: When accelerating or maintaining a constant speed, the transmission selects the appropriate gear ratio. If you need more power (e.g. when climbing a hill), the transmission shifts to a lower gear to provide greater torque. Conversely, it shifts to higher gears at higher speeds to improve fuel efficiency.

Idling and Fuel Consumption:

Idling consumes fuel, and the fuel consumption rate during idling varies depending on factors like engine size and design. While idling for short periods, such as at traffic lights, may not significantly impact fuel efficiency, prolonged idling, such as leaving the engine running while parked, can waste fuel and increase emissions.

Many newer vehicles feature technologies like auto-stop/start systems to minimize idling-related fuel consumption, which automatically shut off the engine when the car is stationary and restart it when the driver releases the brake pedal.

See Also: How much gas does a car use idling: Calculating the cost

Myth vs. Reality: Does Putting Your Car in Neutral Save Gas?

Let’s examine the arguments proposed by proponents of this practice and counter them with scientific evidence and expert opinions.

Arguments in Favor of Putting Your Car in Neutral to Save Gas:

  1. Reduced Engine Load: Advocates claim that shifting to neutral reduces the load on the engine because it disengages the transmission from the engine. This, they argue, results in less fuel consumption.
  2. Decreased Engine Braking: Shifting to neutral reduces engine braking, which can slow down the vehicle when coasting in gear. This allows the car to consume less fuel.
  3. Anecdotal Evidence: Some drivers report that they’ve experienced better fuel economy when putting their cars in neutral, particularly when driving downhill or coasting to a stop.

Counterarguments with Scientific Evidence and Expert Opinions:

  1. Engine Load and Fuel Injection: Modern vehicles have sophisticated engine management systems that optimize fuel injection when coasting or decelerating in gear. Shifting to neutral can disrupt this optimization, causing the engine to use more fuel to maintain idle speed. Expert automotive engineers recommend keeping the car in gear for optimal fuel efficiency.
  2. Engine Braking Efficiency: While engine braking can slow down the vehicle, it’s an efficient way to recover energy. When you release the throttle while in gear, the engine consumes little to no fuel, and the kinetic energy generated during deceleration is converted back into mechanical energy, potentially improving overall fuel efficiency.
  3. Transmission Wear and Tear: Shifting to neutral at high speeds can lead to excessive wear and tear on the transmission, potentially resulting in costly repairs. Automotive experts advise against this practice.

Potential Risks and Downsides of Putting Your Car in Neutral While Driving

  1. Loss of Control: Reduced engine braking can make steering trickier on slopes or slippery roads.
  2. Safety Risks: Delayed acceleration, disrupted safety features, and slower response times can compromise safety.
  3. Transmission Wear: Shifting to neutral at high speeds can lead to excessive transmission wear and costly repairs.
  4. Fuel Inefficiency: Contrary to belief, it may increase fuel consumption as modern vehicles are optimized for in-gear coasting.
  5. Legal Consequences: In some areas, it’s against the law due to safety concerns, potentially resulting in fines.
  6. Brake Overuse: Overusing brakes for deceleration when in neutral can lead to overheating and reduced effectiveness.

Remember, it’s generally best to keep your car in gear while driving to maintain safety, control, and the health of your vehicle’s components.

Fuel Efficiency Tips: Maximize Savings Without Shifting to Neutral

Boosting your vehicle’s fuel efficiency doesn’t require shifting to neutral, a risky practice that can harm your car. Instead, follow these practical tips for saving fuel and reducing your carbon footprint:

  • Regularly maintain your vehicle in peak condition. This includes oil changes, air filter replacements, and tire upkeep, as well-maintained cars run more efficiently.
  • Check tire pressure regularly and ensure it matches the manufacturer’s recommendations. Under-inflated tires can decrease fuel efficiency.
  • Remove unnecessary items from your car. Extra weight reduces fuel efficiency, so travel light whenever possible.
  • Avoid rapid acceleration and braking. Gentle driving conserves fuel and prolongs the life of your vehicle.
  • Turn off your engine if you anticipate being stationary for over a minute. Idling consumes fuel unnecessarily.
  • Air conditioning can be a gas guzzler. Use it sparingly and consider using the vehicle’s ventilation system instead.
  • Plan your trips efficiently to reduce the number of separate journeys, saving time and fuel.
  • Driving at excessive speeds increases wind resistance and fuel consumption. Stick to posted speed limits for better efficiency.
  • Keep windows closed at high speeds to reduce drag, and remove roof racks when unused.
  • If you’re looking for a new car, consider fuel-efficient options, such as hybrids or electric vehicles.
  • Sharing rides or using public transportation reduces the number of vehicles on the road, benefiting your wallet and the environment.
  • Use GPS or navigation apps to find the most efficient routes, avoiding traffic jams and congestion.
  • Pay attention to your vehicle’s fuel economy and address any sudden drops which may indicate underlying issues.
  • Consider enrolling in an eco-driving course to learn advanced techniques for maximizing fuel efficiency.


When it comes to saving fuel, shifting to neutral might seem like a shortcut. But in reality, it’s a detour that leads nowhere. Modern cars are designed to sip fuel efficiently in gear. So, rather than risking safety and transmission, follow the proven route: regular maintenance, smooth driving, and smart habits. This way, you’ll save gas, all while cruising smoothly toward a greener and more efficient drive.

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