/ 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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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.


malcolm I am with you on the foot dipper switch -brilliant ! and the fact that the blue light is obscured by the steering wheel in a lot of cases . I too have had lights flashed at me on full beam when I couldn’t see the blue light. While I understand your logic on old drum brakes the problem was that normal priced cars had only basic gearboxes which, unlike now , used a good bit of oil and many did get syncromesh problems because people used the gearbox as a brake , I remember the old car mags were full of it telling you where to get a cheap gearbox . Now they last the life of the car without too much maintenance .

A. Renton says:
13 April 2016

We live in NW Scotland about quarter of a mile uphill from the sea facing S & SW. If we park with the handbrake on the brakes lock within a day or so with rust formed by the moisture & sometimes salt. We are able to park on fairly level ground so we only ever park with the cars in gear.


The Atlantic can get quite rough in your area A.Renton further north is a good area for ECO “sea energy ” so I believe what you say.


Yes you get to scrape the salt off your windscreen not ice in some places

Mr Walter Fairhurst says:
14 April 2016

Buy an automatic, you don’t need a handbrake.

Barry Paley says:
15 April 2016

Why a different gear parking up/down hill?
The engine braking is the same in both.
Throw back to the age of magnetos?

Brian Boag says:
15 April 2016

Always leave my car in gear. Had RAC out 3 times for faulty electronic hand brake on my Passat estate (in garage 5 times and cost hundreds of £ to fix). will not get another car with electronic hand brakes if I can help it.

Paul Schofield says:
15 April 2016

I will leave a car in the appropriate gear when parked on a hill, as I was taught many years ago. However, I have also started to do so on my level drive, because the wheels on my Polo will lock after heavy rain or being washed, to the extent that it can be very difficult to get the car to move.

Roddy says:
15 April 2016

I see that most comments here are from older drivers who were taught to leave the car in gear and still adhere to this advice. I may also consider myself an older driver (66) and was given this advice but changed my mind when I worked for a garage to get some cash together after leaving university.

The garage concerned had a very flashy showroom with big plate glass windows on two sides, one of which faced the customer car park. During my 12 month sojourn there, this window was replaced several times due to parked cars being left in gear and then started up by another driver and going straight through the plate glass window – very spectacular but expensive!!

As a result I NEVER leave my car in gear. On the flat I just apply the handbrake. On a steep hill, I turn the wheels into the kerb as well. As for starting the car in neutral or depressing the clutch, I’ve replaced more clutch release bearings than starter motors in my 50 years of car ownership!

However if leaving the car in a garage for an extended period, the hand brake should be left off to prevent it seizing and the car left in first gear or with the wheels chocked to prevent movement.


I notice quite a few posters make the statement(quite rightly ) of their discs on the handbrake locking due to rain/damp etc . This is due of coarse to the discs rusting as they are made of cast iron . Having repaired foundry machinery I have actually watched the process . One answer (but expensive ) is carbon fibre brakes with ceramic/carbon discs . I notice carbon fibre brakes (pads ) are being tried out by the International Bicycle racing Federation but its time cast iron discs were consigned to the scrap heap -ie-made obsolete they are kept going for cheapness but in 2016 surely foundry methods are being supplanted by modern materials . LIke everything else in life like widescreen TV ,s CD players ,even 3D TV,s the price comes down dramatically when they are mass produced over years because of initial factory tooling costs being overtaken by profits . In other words the “goose laying the golden eggs ” for shareholders should start producing silver ones so that the public can get a better automobile . May I add –the quality of cast iron is going through the floor ,you can actually watch them wear down over a short period I am now going to check where they are made.


That didnt take long –yes there are good manufacturers in the UK/US making disc brakes but guess where the cheap imported ones come from ?? OH no ! not Lucas again on his “one track mind ” saga -but -Yup ! —China -Land of built to a price .


In my early biking days, cast iron (e.g. Brembo) discs were the ones to have while stainless steel ones were best avoided, because of poor performance in the rain. Since (at least) the 1990s, improved brake pad materials seem to have resulted in acceptable performance with stainless steel discs.

My personal experiences with sticking disc brake callipers never identified the disc material as being related to the problem. For example, early Honda pivoting callipers would stick if there was corrosion between the galvanised steel pivot and the al. alloy calliper body; their later sliding callipers suffered similarly – but simply removing and lubing the affected pins led to quick and easy fixes. More fashionable callipers, like opposed piston Brembos, could easily stick due to corrosion between the calliper body and pistons. Luckily, calliper overhaul kits were inexpensive – and came with new seals and exactly the right grease for the job.


Thanks for that history on bicycle brakes Derek.

W J Robb says:
16 April 2016

I have owned my automatic Merc for 8 years and was advised by the car salesman that using my handbrake was unnecessary! Therefore I can count on my one hand the times the handbrake has been used, with no detrimental effect to the car or me! My wife now does the same in her VW Polo.

Brian Baker says:
20 April 2016

The answer is yes I do leave my car in gear.

The first vehicle I own was a mini van back in the 70s, the handbrake wasn’t very good that’s why is the parking Gear.

I’ve always parked in gear ever since my first vehicle.

This did pay off one day when my son decided to use my car when I was on holiday.

Although he put the car exactly the same position on the drive where I left it, but he did not put it in gear that’s how I knew you use the car.

Gordon says:
24 April 2016

Always leave the car in gear when you park. I’m sure I was taught to drive this way (I’m one of the older ones). My wife’s car rolled off the drive one day as the breaks cooled. Luckily it did no hit anything. Now she leaves the car in gear. My son’s girlfriends brand new Polo rolled down the road, across a main road and smashed into another car after 15 minutes out side our house. She was devastated as it was her first new car and first insurance claim. She was not taught to leave the car in gear, but she does now. Driving instructors need to ensure that best practice is followed!

Peter Johnston says:
24 April 2016

I haven’t read all of the comments, and it may be that someone has already made the first suggestion I offer. First, if you are going to leave a manual gearbox car in gear, always leave it in reverse. The direction of travel does not matter (i.e. whether the car is pointing uphill or downhill), when the engine is not running. Reverse is by far the lowest gear and is the one to choose. Secondly, those of us who live by the sea understand that it is a bad idea to leave your car with the handbrake on for more than very short periods, whether it is an automatic or a manual shift, since salt in the form of sea spray can cause the hand brake to lock up – particularly cars with rear drum brakes. In extreme cases (for example, leaving the car while you are on holiday, the only way to free the handbrake off when you return is to remove the drums and clean them out. There are some makes that are worse affected than others (Vauxhall and Skoda, but there are others), but this warning is of general application.

Michael Davis says:
25 April 2016

Agree that the direction of travel does not matter, but on some older vehicles leaving it in reverse can result in a flat battery, as I found out in a Mk. 1 Ford Capri. For some strange reason, Ford did not wire the reversing lamps through the ignition switch.
It is no longer true that reverse is “by far the lowest gear”. This used to be so but not for many years, reverse is now usually close to the same ratio as first. In any case, not really important in this case as either is perfectly capable of stopping the vehicle moving off.


This is a copy of letter I wrote recently to our local paper, (Birmingham Mail). It was in response to a fatality where a van (Mercedes Sprinter) had been parked on an apparently flat pub car park, in Southam, Warwickshire. The van rolled away, very slowly, only attaining 6 MPH. Tragically, it hit and killed a lady who was walking past. This shows the danger of the Highway Code’s advice about parking on hills. It doesn’t take a hill!

Sadly, yet again we read of a tragedy caused by a a handbrake not being set correctly. (Mail, April 21st, page 20). I can recall reports of at least two similar incidents in your pages last year. Why oh why are people still parking in neutral? One reason is possibly because driving instructors teach their pupils to park in neutral.
In contrast, I was taught to drive by my father over 50 years ago, when there weren’t too many driving instructors about. He always impressed on me the need to park in gear, since handbrakes can & do fail. Thankfully, not too often, but when they do the results can be tragic.
Parking in gear costs nothing & can save lives, as the van accident in Southam last year demonstrates all too clearly.
In this respect, the Highway Code is confusing & unduly complicated. It says you should park in gear if parking on a hill, but as this tragic case shows, it doesn’t take a hill for a vehicle to roll away. A gentle slope is enough. The vehicle only started to move some 10 to 20 seconds after being left & even then only attained a speed of 6 MPH, yet this was enough to result in this tragic accident.
The Highway Code also talks about parking in reverse or first according to which way your vehicle is pointing. This is unnecessarily confusing & has apparently been written by someone who does not appreciate the mechanics involved. As long as the vehicle is in a low gear, either first or reverse, it will not move in either direction if the handbrake fails, because the weight of the vehicle will be unable to overcome the compression in the engine cylinders.
For simplicity’s sake, the easiest rule is leave the vehicle in bottom gear regardless of direction. If the vehicle is fitted with automatic transmission, then it should be left in “P” if available, otherwise in first gear.
Any handbrake, electronic or manual, can fail at any time without warning, which is why vehicles should always be left in gear. Belt & braces comes to mind.
Years ago I parked a hire car, a Ford Sierra, on a sloping drive. As I walked away I heard a loud bang & the car jolted forward, but only by an inch or so. A bracket underneath the car, part of the handbrake mechanism, had broken. No damage was done as it was in gear, but if I had left it in neutral it would have rolled down the drive & straight across the road.
So, in my opinion, the message is clear, NEVER, EVER, leave a vehicle parked in neutral. It’ll cost you nothing to leave it in gear & you might just save a life.

I gather from information above that driving examiners are now checking that candidates do park in gear at all times. About time too!
To those worried about the car jerking when starting, follow the Highway Code advice & check it’s in neutral first! Better still, depress the clutch when starting as this lessens the load on the starter motor.


Good points there emmbeedee. The speed of a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian is not necessarily the critical factor. Any impact, however, slight, that knocks a person off their feet could be fatal. It will depend largely on how they fall, which body parts strike the ground or other obstruction, and on what kind of surface they land. Any frail or infirm person or young child is obviously at great risk. The propensity of a vehicle to roll on a seemingly level surface will to some extent depend on its weight distribution and tyre pressures. Any form of parking next to a footpath should be done with great care and putting the engine in gear is a very wise precaution.

JC73 says:
5 November 2017

Thank you Embeedee – I’ve been searching for a clear answer to this debate and your answer is the best I’ve found.


I wonder if the problem is largely due to drivers not putting on the handbrake firmly when parking on hills.

Annabel Blake says:
27 April 2016

I tend to leave my car in gear, especially on any sort of slope (I hate wrenching the handbrake up!). And I ALWAYS leave it in gear, with the handbrake off, if there is an overnight frost forecast.

Sue says:
4 May 2016

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.


Sue you should contact the editor of the Sun newspaper thats just the type of news they like. They could blame it on a long dead relative and call it the “ghost car ” .


Astralogy, Duncan?


I like it malcolm !

Patrick Taylor says:
12 May 2017


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.

Chris B says:
15 May 2016

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.

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.

Bernie Stevens says:
19 May 2016

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…

Jay Wijesekara says:
4 June 2016

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.

James angus says:
25 July 2016

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 says:
14 December 2016

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.


I hope you are enjoying the fresh fish and the rain in Oban Chris and the chip shops sell haddock foremost.

Sue Lapthorne says:
12 May 2017

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).