/ 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

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I always leave my Astra in gear after it rolled out of my drive which is virtually flat and neatly went in a semi-circle and rolled into my neighbours drive 2 doors down and parked next to her car with only a slight scratch. The handbrake was on and it wasn’t in gear. The following week ‘Watchdog’ had a feature regarding this happening with a number of Vauxhalls with walls and cars being damaged. I have never trusted the handbrake since – luckily no one was injured.

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Astralogy, Duncan?

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Merrik B. Brown says:
6 May 2016

If parking on a hill, always in gear, and the handbrake on. On the flat, probably in neutral with the handbrake on. When parking in the garage, or long term parking in the open, in gear and handbrake off, to prevent the shoes or pads rusting on to the drums or discs.
Honest John of the Daily Telegraph has reported that modern handbrakes can relax after the car has cooled down from a run, allowing it to move some time after parking.
I have known handbrake cables to break.

John Clayton says:
6 May 2016

I drive a Saab 9-5 and always have to put the gearbox into Reverse when parking. If I don’t I can’t remove the key! I once saw a car that had rolled down a grass slope in a cliff-top carpark straight into another car. If it had been left in gear that wouldn’t have happened.

Andy Pieters says:
8 May 2016

TL;DR the previous comments, but my opinion is this:

First and foremost, *always* *always* *always* depress the clutch and the brake when starting the car. Gear or no gear, there may be a time you’ll think you’re not in gear when you are. So always start the engine with the clutch depressed.

Secondly, I do put my car in gear whenever I’m parked on an incline or decline, no matter the steepness. I did find it hard to remember to put it in reverse or forward depending on the direction faced. Uphill = forward, downhill = backwards, in other words, choose the gear that you would use to move the car uphill from its present position.

Again as a 60 year old I was taught to park the car in gear and on inclines to turn the wheel so that if the car moved the kerb would help prevent it rolling away. However, I was told not to leave the handbrake on as well, The ‘reason’ for this was that if the car is left overnight the drop in temperature leads to the handbrake cable stretching. A little stretch each night soon leads to a handbrake that won’t hold.

Paulo Goncalves says:
19 April 2019

I had not heard about this but it makes sense in very cold temperatures this could be a problem in the old engine. Anyway, between handbrake, gear and wheel direction there are three options. I think two would be safe but there are places like San Francisco where you need one of them to be the wheel direction to avoid a fine.

Jack Sivewright says:
18 May 2016

I am missing something here – I thought the space above would allow me to add my vote – there is no available link/ icon whatever – but I must be doing something wrong. In any case I have advised my wife to park in gear – she was a no before now, but I am a definite yes. I thank you for the advice on depressing the clutch on starting up – after driving 50 years , this is a new one on me, but you learn something new every day, even golden oldies like me LOL.

SO, handbrakes are obviously controversial! What about my motorcycle? Very few m/c have a parking brake so IN GEAR is the order of the day. Furthermore, the electrics have an interlock to prevent starting if in gear. Could not car manufacturers consider this relatively simple precaution in an age of electric windows, seats and handbrakes…

The design of hand brakes in the older cars even up to early 80’s were never good at holding car in an incline. Therefore the old generation of people like myself were taught not to rely too much on handbrake only and we had to leave the cars in gear. Hand brakes in modern cars are much better designed. In general, it is good practice to use the gear as an additional precaution regardless of whether you are of the old generation or the young generation.

A neighbour across the street from me which is on a hill learned the hard way after her car came across the street and demolished my garden well she didn’t leave her car in gear with the handbrake on and what do you think happened 2 months later same thing happened only it was a neighbour 3 doors down from me got their garden wall demolished, this tool didn’t learn a lesson the first time , which goes to prove leave your car in gear and make sure handbrake is well applied an expensive lesson she learned as she had to pay for 2 walls to keep her no claims bonus intact.

One thing no-one seems to have mentioned is that there are situations where the choice of gear to leave the car in is important if a failure to remember the car was left in gear (or change of driver so the new one wouldn’t know) could result in the car going somewhere undesirable. The most drastic cases are where there is parking along a quay or river bank or in a car park with a steep drop only protected by a fence or a low wall but running into something solid or another car could do a lot of damage, even although less likely to prove fatal.

If ANY driver attempts to start the car, they should depress the clutch first, as mentioned several times above. This avoids any chance of the vehicle moving as well as lessening the load on the starter motor. Some vehicle manufacturers are now interlocking the clutch pedal with the starter motor, so if you don’t depress the clutch, the starter won’t operate.

Would you believe that up to 13% of UK Drivers and Driving Instructors surveyed in 2012 had experienced a vehicle rollaway. 12 out of 20 cases reported in the media resulted in pedestrian fatality and in each case the vehicle was not parked in gear.

Chris Wells, late of England now in Scotland.

Yes I do leave my car in gear when parking on an incline, I always have.
I am now 79 and was taught to drive when very small by my father, passing my driving test at 18 for motor bike and car.

Now I find it essential to leave the car in gear, as the inclines I have to park on are steep here in Oban.

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Well I am 58 I passed my driving test at 18 and was never taught to leave the car in gear in any circumstances. I do leave my car in gear if I’ve park on a hill, I will start turning the wheels as well as this makes complete sense to me. It seems most people over 60 leave the car in gear, I wonder if this began because cars built 40 years ago were very basic and far more likely to fail. Cars today seem to be far more sophisticated and far less likely to fail. I had a Renault Scenic with an electronic handbrake, it was brilliant so easy to pull off etc. It seems to me it is a matter of choice, if a car is damaged when parked car insurance companies do not ask if it was left in gear (they probably will now).

Paulo Goncalves says:
19 April 2019

I was always taught that it does not really matter if 1st or reverse gear is used but to use one. I guess the fact is that you do not expect the handbrake to fail. If it does, the least would be to have an issue with the engine. a car rolling down the hill is much more dangerous. Anyway, I never heard of any issue with putting the wrong gear…
One of the methods that you can use to start a car once the battery is off is in fact to push it and then set a gear, so that’s another reason why this clearly does not kill engines. If you have to do not replace the battery and do the push a few times then you really deserve to have the engine break down…
I agree that vehicles are more reliable but insurance conditions are also stricter. So if they find a way to avoid paying, they will!

One of the biggest myths about parking on hills is that you leave the car in first gear when facing uphill and reverse when facing downhill.
Why ? There isn’t a logical reason as the engine still turns the same way whether you’re in first or reverse gear, the engine doesn’t turn backwards when you’re in reverse gear.
Both the gears have roughly the same ratios and cause the engine to turnover at higher revs than the other gears, therefore providing a greater amount of engine braking effect. The bottom line is to leave the car in either first or reverse , it maybe better to leave the car in first in case you’ve forgotten you perhaps had left it in reverse and have an unexpected reversing situation !!