Home » Automakers Sometimes Make Putting A Car Into Gear Harder Than It Needs To Be: COTD

Automakers Sometimes Make Putting A Car Into Gear Harder Than It Needs To Be: COTD

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When you get into a car with an automatic transmission, you expect pretty simple and easy operation. I mean, you click on your seat belt, start the vehicle, then slide the lever into the desired gear. That’s easy! Well, some automakers have decided to change how your vehicle gets into gear and it gets real funky sometimes.

Now, there have been different ways to get a car into gear for about as long as the car itself has been around. There was a time when a push-button automatic transmission was a luxurious option. Old Chrysler push-button automatics were still mechanical as the buttons moved corresponding cables, getting your car into gear. Even large commercial vehicles have push-button transmissions. The top photo of this COTD is the ZF push-button five-speed automatic that’s in my 2002 RTS-06 transit bus. Every time I hit those buttons I have this fear that the required communications won’t reach their destinations and thus, my bus won’t go into or out of gear. Those buttons aren’t actually connected to the transmission!

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Gear Selectors 0007 Zf Gear Sele
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Anyway, today we asked you about an annoying feature in a car you love. Normally, I don’t nominate answers to questions for COTD, but this was too good from Bizness Comma Nunya:

Push button shifters, all of them, are bad. Rotary knobs are a little better, but still not great.

I can’t believe I’m one of these people now, and only because I own a Hyundai with its push button shifter… but just give me the damn lever back please. I don’t give a shit that it’s shift by wire and the lever is a glorified switch anyway, it works, everyone knows it, and it’s intuative without looking at it for k-turns/parking, etc…

Toyota knew their core audience on the all-hybrid sienna to not fix what’s not broken and they did a regular shifter lever.

Extra points for any car maker brining back column shifters, which are superior to console shifters for automatics.

I’ve hit park a few times on the Hyundai and it didn’t register because I didn’t push hard enough and almost caused a small incident… that has happened exactly zero times when slamming a lever in park…

This managed to get a response from resident goth, Adrian!

There’s a lot to be said for established heuristics in car design, and they are often overlooked in favour of a solution looking for a problem. My RR Sport was a late facelift and had the pop up rotary gear selector, and while the theatre of it was fun it was surprisingly unintuitive. I often selected the wrong gear or none at all. Interestingly JLR have ditched it now in favour of a more traditional style selector.

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Mercedes Streeter

Sometimes, I test out shifters by putting my wife, a non-car journalist, into one of these vehicles and letting her take a spin. When I put her in a Volkswagen ID.4 (above), she stared at the shift dial as if it were a piece of alien tech. In the grand scheme of things, these shifters probably aren’t the biggest deal, but they often aren’t intuitive. Getting your car into gear shouldn’t take research!

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Have a great evening, everyone.

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Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
11 months ago

I sat in a new Lincoln Continental back in 2017 for a good minute and a half before I could figure out how to get it into gear. The buttons look for all the world like they should be presets for the radio, and unless you look carefully at the letter on them, your eye doesn’t register what they are even there for. Awful design.

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KJ
KJ
11 months ago

Anyone link me to a write-up on why column shifters disappeared? It’s my biggest hangup, I still gripe about it. It’s a solved issue that doesn’t take away console space.

Aspirant_Fool
Aspirant_Fool
11 months ago

I don’t think I want the letters ‘D-N-R’ prominently displayed anywhere in my vehicle… Any time emergency services spends wondering whether or not they indicate ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ is too much time.

Holly Birge
Holly Birge
11 months ago

Both of my cars are manuals — there, problem solved LOL

SLM
SLM
11 months ago
Reply to  Holly Birge

I remember the time I took my friend’s car, it was a manual. But when the stick just fall mid-driving, you wish you had buttons…

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
11 months ago
Reply to  Holly Birge

I have 4 manuals, a 3 speed, 4 speed, 5 speed and 6 speed. Each one has a slightly different location for reverse. THe 3 speed has R where first is in most cars. I have almost put it in R at an intersection more than once.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
11 months ago

The all time worst shifter is still Tesla’s touch screen. I also have a lot of hate for the touch switch “shifters” where you don’t actually move the lever, like the ergonomic disaster that killed Anton Yelchin.
I want something that moves and offers clear tactile feedback. FWIW push button shifters on the Allison heavy truck transmissions work OK, but they also put the box, and it’s LED gear indicator in clear line of sight.

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
11 months ago

In an automatic a big shift handle is wasted space. People hate change so they want to complain about something as dumb as push buttons and dials. I like what Tesla does and some others have copied it.

Just because something has been done for 50 years is not a reason to continue doing it. Established heuristics is a terrible and short-sighted argument.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

Never said that the automatic shifter needs to be big and take up lots of space.

And which Tesla shifter are you referring to exactly?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
11 months ago

I suspect Jared is referring to the never to sufficiently damned touch screen slider Tesla inflicted on new models.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

Tesla sucks, that is stupid design, & you’re completely wrong.
Maybe you’ve never even heard if it ain’t broke don’t fix it (more likely choose not to believe it/are ignorant) but anytime something is worse (especially on all these stupid distracting touchscreens) it’s going BACKWARDS!!! It worked for decades because…it worked!

Vee
Vee
11 months ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

Let me introduce you to the idea of lateral versus forward progress. Lateral progress means you offer an alternative, standalone, non-modular solution to a problem that already has an existing (and often superior) solution. Like a smartphone application to turn your lights on and off instead of a physical switch. Forward progress is a solution that solves a problem with the least number of compromises and provides a base for future progress to build on. Like going from sleds to wheeled carts.

Nearly all “advancements” made in the last two decades have been lateral progress. It just seems new and advanced because it was either cost inefficient previously or engineers actually were able to tell product planners to sit down, drink a coffee, and stop wasting their time.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
11 months ago
Reply to  Vee

This is an excellent explanation. Thank you.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago

I think the ultimate design is the column shifter with specific positions for PRND and nothing below D.

Add paddle shifters for any manual gear changes, and some separate drive mode select button/flipper that most cars have now anyway for eco/sport/snow/etc.. modes.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
11 months ago

The “established heuristics” argument is yet another reason why turn signals shouldn’t be capacitive touch buttons on a steering yoke.

Stalks work, are common to more than 90% of all vehicles on the road for the last 50+ years, and in my opinion are also a far better solution from an ergonomic perspective too.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
11 months ago

The steering yoke is one of the worst interior design decisions in the past few decades of car design. 8 year old me would think it’s awesome… adult me realizes it’s a nightmare.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago

Yeah, basically the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen…makes me angry every time I see a pic of it (Well, also just like seeing any Tesla/EV/new car/plastic junk on wheels)

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
11 months ago

On motorcycles: there are two competing standards.

One being a lever on the left handlebar which you push to the direction of signal (the majority of the industry); the other is one button on each bar for the respective direction (left/left, and right/right) used on BMW & Harley.

It leaves a not-so-insignificant number of us feel that it is so jarringly frustrating moving between them that it becomes an instant turn-off for that entire brand despite.

Kenneth Penney
Kenneth Penney
11 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

BMW switched to the one button setup several years ago. 2012 R1200RT is that configuration..

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
11 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

I have a 2005 BMW R1150GSA with the buttons on each bar. I ride the bike for a couple of weeks a year in Europe. The rest of my bikes have conventional switches. I find that after an hour of riding, the BMW feels natural – different but not worse or better.

The more annoying part is the cancel switch on the BMW is on the right grip in the same position as the horn on the left grip. I fixed that years ago with an aftermarket relay that allows me to cancel the signal by pressing the same signal again (the way Harleys work).

One other note – the tactile feel of those BMW buttons is amazing – someone spent significant time engineering in exactly the right amount of travel and resistance. More modern BMWs have a much less satisfying feel.

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