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You & Your Car

Your car can pick a gear better - and faster - than you Add to ...

In using the transmission versus brakes of my Lexus GS 460 for braking and vehicle control, I can seamlessly step down from eighth (or a lower gear) to second with quick successive flicks of the shifter. Am I harming the transmission?- Jack in Toronto

Probably not, but I would argue that while it is fun to downshift and have that participatory experience, it is not necessary in everyday driving.

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Today's transmissions, especially the later versions like your eight-speed, are so sophisticated and well-programmed that they are, almost without fail, in the right gear at the right moment for any situation. They also feature electronically controlled engagement and releases of the clutch packs.

If you think back a number of years, it was easy to tell when a shift took place in an automatic transmission, especially under heavy or full throttle application. The transmission would snap off a shift with a neck-wrenching jerk - if there was sufficient power. But in all cases the shift was sudden and noticeable. But as electronics came into play, engineers were able to write programs that would actually cut or reduce engine output for a split-second during a shift.

The silky shift you feel in powerful cars like your GS means the system is operating the internal clutches and, instead of either on or off with all that power applied - which could be damaging over time - the clutches and gears are engaged or disengaged even more rapidly, with less slippage, but they do so with less power applied.

If you are downshifting to reduce wear and tear on the brakes, don't bother. The time, visual and mental effort to do so is better off concentrating on the traffic scene, looking for emerging situations.

Having said that, I, too, enjoy the involvement of selecting gears and when driving a vehicle equipped with a "manumatic" gearbox for pleasure - rather than merely to arrive at a destination - I'll grab a different gear at every opportunity. But I also realize this is for my pleasure, that 99 per cent of the time the transmission has made the same gear choice when I get back on the power exiting a corner.


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