/ Motoring

Do you leave your car in gear?

Car in gear

When parking your car do you apply the handbrake and leave your car in gear too?

Picture the scene: you manage to find a parking space right outside your destination, execute a perfect parallel park and jump out. As you’re walking away a faint graunching noise emanating from under the car gets louder, before a sudden ‘twang’. Your handbrake cable has snapped, but it’s OK, you’ve left your car in gear to prevent it rolling away. Or have you?

Our recent survey discovered that 25% of Which? members never leave their car in gear, even when it’s parked on a hill. Conversely, 35% will always leave it in gear, with the practice more prevalent amongst drivers over the age of 65.

This sensible precaution is likely to become more widely practised soon. That’s because new changes to the driving test in April 2014 now sees learners taught to leave a car in gear and apply the parking brake no matter where it’s parked. So what should you actually be doing?

Leaving your car in gear

Well we spoke to Mark Lewis, director of standards for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), to help clear things up. Mark told us:

‘There is little need to leave a manual vehicle in gear when parked and unattended if the parking brake is working effectively. Vehicles fitted with automatic gearboxes get locked into park even though they have a parking brake.’

However, when parking on a hill it can be prudent to leave a car in gear in case the handbrake fails. As Mark pointed out:

‘On an uphill incline turn the wheels away from the kerb and leave the vehicle in first gear. Similarly when facing downhill, the vehicle may be left in reverse and the wheels turned towards the kerb.’

He also told us that drivers should de-clutch before starting the car – a requirement on more modern vehicles – to prevent it jerking forwards unexpectedly. Depressing the clutch also reduces wear on the starter motor.

Applying the handbrake

With the advent of the electronic parking brake, operated via a switch or button rather than a lever, there is less chance of the handbrake cable working loose over time, and eventually failing to hold the car properly.

But in my experience these electronic parking brakes are hit or miss as to whether pressing the button actually activates them. Although you’re soon reminded as your car gently rolls away as you try and get out.

So were you taught to leave your car in gear when parked? And do you regularly do so? Also, would you trust an electronic handbrake to hold your car over a conventional manual one?

Do you leave your car in gear when you park?

Yes (70%, 3,281 Votes)

No (30%, 1,437 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,718

Loading ... Loading ...
David Brown says:
9 April 2016

I was taught to drive in 1952 at the Cheshire Police Driving School. From this date I have always parked my car with the handbrake on and the car in gear. On hills I always additionally turn the steering out on inclines and in on declines to encourage the car to roll into the car should the handbrake system fail. In November 2008 I became a member of the Institute of Advance Motorists where the same practices are used. Common sense dictates that this is a sensible practice.

Jackie says:
11 April 2016

I once had to summon assistance when parked on a flat surface, because after a few days the handbrake had became jammed on, presumably due to the effect of salt or rust. Since then I always leave my car in gear and the handbrake off. Handbrakes are for hills.

Mike Motuel says:
12 April 2016

Interesting one this. I always leave my car parked in gear as well as the handbrake on. This is partly
because with age (I’m seventysix) sometimes comes absentmindedness. So leaving the car in gear is
a bit of insurance so to speak. Also when one thinks of being parked on the flat it can actually be a slight
incline. Agree with the article’s comments about parking on a hill – I have always observed this in fifty
odd years of driving.

Bernard Armitage says:
12 April 2016

I have always parked my car in gear wherever it is ever since an unfortunate occurrence many years ago. At the time I owned a Citroen BX Estate car and one evening it was parked in a school yard whilst my wife and I attended a WEA evening course. During this time the hydro pneumatic suspension settled at the rear (not an unusual occurrence) altering the angle of the car and loosening the handbrake and the car had rolled across the school yard and into the rear wing of a Citroen 2CV denting it. No damage was done to my car but I had to pay for the repair to the 2CV.

Mike T says:
12 April 2016

Being 70 odd I agree with the majority of commentors of my age, in the late 50’s we were taught that hand brakes were unreliable so in gear etc.etc. As already stated, “old habits die hard” so I still do it, except that I now drive an automatic !
Actually all the brakes were less reliable back then so we were taught to slow down through the gears, I no longer do that, but it still frightens me when younger drivers charge up to a halt sign as I approach along the main road.


Maybe not quite so old as Mike but still over 70 and I have to say I was never taught to leave a car in gear. I passed my test in the early 60’s and in those days did most of the car maintenance myself and never in all those (50 odd) years have I had a handbrake fail. I understand the theory behind leaving the car in gear but 1. I think its unnecessary because of the reliability of the handbrake and 2. forgetting that the car is in gear and starting the engine doesn’t do the starter motor and mechanism any good. I do note however that on my wife’s new Yaris, that it is necessary to depress the clutch in order to start the engine, so maybe manufacturers have got wise to this issue. I was also taught to slow down through the gears and to an extent I still employ that tactic particularly when descending steep hills. And I would agree about ‘younger’ drivers, or more generally drivers that don’t think ahead and only stop if they absolutely have to!


Planner -while its up to the individual whether they leave their car in gear or not (and I do ) its not that I wish to comment on but on the fact that you said– I was always taught to slow down through the gears. As an engineer I have to ask -which is cheaper to replace -a gearbox or brake pads ?


Duncan, if I remember correctly the reason for using engine braking was because in olden times car brakes (drums in those days) were not as good as now and prone to fading under prolonged use? I agree about putting the wear on pads and discs rather than the gear box.

I wonder where the foot dipswitch met its end? On automatic cars particularly these days I think I would find a left foot-operated flasher/dipswitch quite handy (footy). I’d also like to see a more prominent blue main beam warning light – I do occasionally overlook it when meeting oncoming traffic.