What Does L Mean on an Automatic Car’s Gear Shift?

L usually stands for the “low gear” setting on a car’s automatic transmission. This setting is useful when driving on a hill or towing on rough terrain.
Written by Cameron Thiessen
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
The L on your car’s gearshift represents “low gear mode.” This gear is used in situations when you need high engine power while driving at a low speed.
For example, if you’re having trouble climbing a steep hill while towing a heavy trailer, you might want to engage the L gear setting on the gearshift. This will keep your vehicle in a lower gear while maintaining high levels of torque and burning less fuel.
Want to learn more about the low gear setting on your car’s automatic transmission? Then come along with
, the
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, as we walk you through the meaning of the L gear and all the other letters on your car’s gearshift.

What does “L” mean on a car gearshift?

The L stands for “low”, and it represents a setting that prevents your car’s automatic transmission from shifting higher than the lowest gears—usually first gear and second gear if you’re thinking in terms of a manual transmission.
Normally, when you push the gas pedal down, your transmission will shift up to a higher gear in order to optimize acceleration and speed. When you switch to the low gear setting, it will optimize your vehicle’s engine torque instead of its speed.

What are the other gears on an automatic transmission?

The most common arrangement of the different gears on an automatic transmission gearshift is PRNDL. Here’s what each of those letters refers to:
  • P: Park 
  • R: Reverse 
  • N: Neutral
  • D: Drive
  • L: Low
Park is engaged when you want to park the car and have it remain stationary; Reverse makes the car go backward; Neutral disengages the engine from the transmission and allows you to roll or push the car; and Drive is used for everyday automatic transmission driving.
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When to use the low gear setting

The low setting is used to keep driving at a low speed while improving tractionondifficult terrain. This helps your vehicle maintain power and control in situations like driving off-road, climbing hills, and towing.

When climbing up a steep hill

Steep hills can be scary places to drive, whether you’re trying to crawl up one or maintain control going down one. The low gear setting can help you stay in control and avoid slipping when driving uphill.

When driving down a steep hill

Using L mode when driving downhill will allow you to maintain a slower, more controlled speed. It will also allow you to use your brakes less, since the car’s engine will help you move more slowly instead—this is called engine braking.

When towing

You might not want to keep L mode on while you’re towing on the highway, but this could be a big help if you’re towing a trailer across gravel or uneven dirt roads, or if you’re toting a heavy load up a steep hill. The low gear setting improves your vehicle’s pulling power byoptimizing low-end torque instead of speed.
MORE:The 10 best SUVs for towing

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As with many of the settings on modern cars, L mode is only good in certain situations, specifically the ones we’ve discussed in this article. You wouldn’t want to use L mode during normal everyday driving. Especially if you need to get up to highway speed, you’re going to at least need that third gear.
This depends on the vehicle that you’re driving. Many modern cars have electronic automatic transmission systems that allow you to switch from D to L while driving, but this may be risky in other automatic cars—it’s best to check your owner’s manual first. This will give you the best idea of when you can and can’t change certain gearshift settings.
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