What do the all the different gears of your automatic car mean?

Where Can I Find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is composed of 17 characters (digits and capital letters) that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle. A VIN displays the car's unique features, specifications and manufacturer.

The VIN can be found in a couple of places including on the car's registration label (1), on the compliance plate in the engine bay (2) or on the passenger side windshield (3), or on one of the door posts (where the door latches when it is closed) (4). See the image below:

Look for the VIN in these other locations:

  • Insurance card/Insurance policy
  • Vehicle title and registration certificate


For most drivers that use an automatic car, they'll be able to change gears effortlessly from park to reverse to drive, and also occasionally neutral if the need arises. If they were asked what the other gears mean, chances are they wouldn't be able to answer with great confidence.

Today, we uncover exactly what those other gears mean. Take a look.

The lowdown on L

The L your see on your gearbox refers to Low. If you put your car into L, it will not automatically transition to any higher gears.

Switching your transmission into L allows maximum power, such as on a steep hill. It will restrict your speed in order to climb the hill, preventing your engine from overheat trying to struggle up a hill at a greater speed. Just make sure you don't press too hard on the accelerator as this can overwork your car.

Your car may show a 1 instead of an L - these are both the lowest gears.

Time for 2

Second gear works just like the first gear, except you should only enter second gear once you're done with the first. Good scenarios for second gear are when you're on a slippery road and need to lower your speed for your tyres to get a better grip on the surface.

You can also use 2 for engine braking downhill. However, if it is a wet road, you're better off using the brake pedal in drive instead. This is also because many cars are only front-wheel drive, which means that you'll have less control of your vehicle if descending a steep road in the rain.

All about the overdrive

Quickly ramping up through the gears can reduce engine stress and potentially cut down on fuel consumption.

It's not typically shown on the gearbox like the other options, but you'll typically find an OD button somewhere on the side. This is pretty much an extra gear that helps you to transition up to the highest gear as soon as possible.

Overdrive is good for driving on open roads at high speeds. By quickly ramping up through the gears, your engine is put under less stress and you can potentially cut down on fuel consumption.

Some newer cars also come with an economy gear or button, which also works to reduce your mileage. If you're considering switching from a manual to automatic, make sure you follow our guide to buying a second-hand car, and do your research.

A CarHistory report can help you make an informed decision, as well as provide relevant information about its ANCAP safety and emission ratings.

View a sample report >