Home » How Many Times Do You Yank The Shifter To Know It’s In Neutral? Tell Us About Your Involuntary Car-Driving Habits

How Many Times Do You Yank The Shifter To Know It’s In Neutral? Tell Us About Your Involuntary Car-Driving Habits

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David does a lot of things here at the Autopian that we all know about, but there’s also one thing he does secretly: he watches me. If that sounds creepy, that’s only because it is. No, no, I’m kidding, it’s not creepy, but it is A Thing. Once he pointed out this weird shoulder tic I seem to have when on camera, and I get to feel all self-conscious about that, and now he’s noted a habit of mine I’ve never realized before: when I get in a car, especially one I’ve never been in before, I tend to give the steering wheel a little sawing, left and right… Huh.

[Ed Note: Let me just point out the Jason Shoulder Twitch:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

There’s a slight one at about 52 seconds into that video, and then there’s a big one at 1:37. It’s always the left shoulder — it just shoots up! -DT]

I had no idea I even did this steering wheel sawing motion until David pointed out that it shows up in the recent Instagram video of me driving Adrian’s Ferrari Mondial:

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Yep, there I am, cranking that steering wheel for no clear reason, right as I get settled in there. I think maybe I do it to get, like, settled in with the controls? Get a feel for things? Those tugs on the wheel can telegraph an awful lot of physical information about the car, how mechanical or assisted it feels, how much play is in the wheel, how well the seat is adjusted, and all of that is conveyed almost instantaneously! So I’m going to defend my unconscious wheel-cranking, I think.

Also, there’s another unconscious car-gesture you can see in this little video: the waggle of the shifter to confirm the car is in neutral. I think usually I do a wag-wag-wag to confirm, but it’s possible some people may do more or less? Three seems the right number of wags? I think this is worth discussing, too.

Damn, now that I’m thinking about this, I’m realizing I have one more physical car unconscious habit: if there’s a between-seat handbrake, I’ll check that it’s down multiple times, without realizing it, pushing the little button on the lever and making sure it’s all the way down. I know I picked this habit up from my years of Beetle-driving, where it was easy to, say, leave the handbrake on the first pawl notch there.

So what are your habits? What strange things do you do when you get in a car unconsciously, things that, if you worked closely with David, he’d tell you about?

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Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
3 months ago

I always use the parking brake regardless of the car’s transmission. Automatic. Manual. CVT (barf). If the car is being parked the brake is going on. For some reason a lot of people seem to think it’s weird…but it’s become a habit for me between driving stick from time to time and the fact that I’ve always been taught that using it puts less stress on the transmission.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
3 months ago

That parking brake hangup seems like a uniquely american thing. They even call it an emergency brake instead of a parking brake, like you’re not supposed to use it unless your car is careening down a 23% incline and Dr Evil had your discs sabotaged and the only way to slow down is to use the parking brake.

It’s a parking brake. You put it on when the car is expected not to move.

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

I’m confused (as a person who has only driven autos) why some people insist on using the parking/emergency brake all the time. I’ve never had P “give out” or anything.

I do use the parking brake on steep inclines or similar, though. I really do hate the feeling of questioning the order, though. “Wait, is it hold brake pedal, shift to park, apply parking brake, release brake pedal? Or hold brake pedal, shift to park, release brake pedal, apply parking brake?” And vice versa for starting again and moving.
And not knowing if the sounds you hear are favorable/normal or not.
I park on inclines so infrequently that there’s definitely not an “automatic” motion/order for me.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
3 months ago

When turning onto another street in my automatic car, I put my hand on the shifter like I am about to put it in 2nd as I did on my manual cars.

I miss having a manual.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rollin Hand
Dug Deep
Dug Deep
3 months ago

I’ve noticed when I’m on a straight road my hands are always at the bottom of the steering wheel, left hand in an overhand manner, right hand underhand. The weird thing is nobody else that I’ve ever driven has pointed it out.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
3 months ago

3 to the left, 2 to the right. Then I am satisfied I am in neutral. Other than that, I don’t know what I do subconsciously.

Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
3 months ago

Same here, three left, two right, then relax, we have neutrality.

TDI_FTW
TDI_FTW
3 months ago

I tend to go into 2nd before going to 1st when I’m stopped at a light/stop sign. Mostly because one of my cars this makes it easier to go into first and I just instinctively do it in my other car…

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
3 months ago

I used to do that with the parking brake too, push the button and make SURE that it was down all the way. I’d still do that if my last two cars haven’t had electric parking brakes. I definitely wiggle the shifter to confirm neutral as well; stalling is too embarrassing.

One that I catch myself doing sometimes is I’ll put the car into first, then into neutral and back into first. I think that came from a Kia I had a while ago which sometimes would look like it was in gear but wasn’t *actually* in gear.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Bob Boxbody

I do it setting the parking brake, even though I know for sure its pulled out all the way, I always have to give it that one extra tug.

Dan Parker
Dan Parker
3 months ago

Definitely jiggle the shifter, and if the car is out of gear I will almost always go N-2-1 when pulling away. Some old heap I had in the past was a pain to get into 1st, the added momentum of coming from second smoothed it out. Now it’s just a weird habit.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
3 months ago

I also obsessively waggle my shifter side-to-side to confirm neutral. Three different cars and two of them (my Spitfire and my **tears well up** Thunderbird) have oddly positioned shifters. Sometimes in gear looks like neutral.

I also like to rev the engine a few times on start and maybe right before I put it in gear, just to confirm that it still sounds awesome.

Live2ski
Live2ski
3 months ago

my wife will immediately adjust the air vents every time she gets in a car (driver or passenger). even if she was the last person in the car and nothing has changed.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
3 months ago

I do it too. I think it stems from the few times I spaced when parking/stopping and dumped the clutch only to lunge forward as the engine dies. That sting of shame really makes a lasting impression.

Church
Church
3 months ago

Jiggle that shifter more than three times and you’re just playing with yourself.

Church
Church
3 months ago
Reply to  Church

After scrolling down, I acknowledge that Cool Dave beat me to this joke.

Last edited 3 months ago by Church
Paul B
Paul B
3 months ago

We had an old beater Chevy 1500 at a camp I volunteered at. The shifter had as much movement in gear as in neutral. Many a stall trying to get moving in 3rd, sometimes 5th.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul B

A Volvo 244 I used to own had worn-out shifter bushings, nearly that bad but of course with a slightly shorter shifter. The clutch exploded the day after I bought it (I was gently shifting from second to first at maybe 10 MPH) and the shop took a while to get to it (hell if I was changing a clutch on a dirt driveway) and left the up-and-left reverse lockout misadjusted… so when I picked the car up, I slotted it into third and off I went, very slowly.

I figured it out once I went for second.

Edit: It didn’t have a tach yet, and while I thought it sounded like it was lugging a bit, I at first wondered if the clutch might’ve been badly misadjusted. Nope, it was perfect, just in third.

Last edited 3 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago

Any good Judeo-Christian knows that three shakes of the shifter is the only correct technique:

“Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”

Mike
Mike
3 months ago

Judeo-Pythonian?

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike

The Judeo-Pythonian Front? The Pythonian-Judeo Front? The Pythonian Front of Judea?

David Smith
David Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

I thought we were the Popular Front.

Lokki
Lokki
3 months ago
Reply to  David Smith

Neep!

3WiperB
3WiperB
3 months ago

Yes, Every time I stop in the B, the stick gets a jostle to verify neutral. It certainly also gets the same bump when I start it, because I start the car without the clutch in.

Because the clutch release bearing on the MG is a carbon faced bearing, the recommendation is to keep the clutch pedal in as little as possible, so I had to re-train myself to just start in neutral, and also to not hold the clutch in at stoplights. So the MG gives me a lot of automotive tics.

The other MGB oddity is to shift to second before reverse, because there’s no syncro on reverse.

Last edited 3 months ago by 3WiperB
Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
3 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

My 67 had no syncro in first and reverse. I hated not being able to shift to 1st without being at a complete stop. 1st was geared so low, no reason to give it gas when letting out the clutch to get rolling most of the time LOL

3WiperB
3WiperB
3 months ago

My dad’s MGA is the same way. It takes some getting used to not being able to shift into first without being completely stopped.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
3 months ago

I tend to just slap the shifter towards me a couple of times and let it spring back to center.

MP81
MP81
3 months ago

It’s similar to clicking tongs when grilling or tapping the ratchet strap and saying “that ain’t going anywhere”, in that if you don’t, you won’t be in neutral.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
3 months ago
Reply to  MP81

I’m pretty sure hitting the ratchet straps thing is in the DOT handbook. If not, it should be.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  MP81

I just used tongs to grab a new light bulb that was just a little too far into a cabinet. Did I clack the tongs?

You bet your ass I did.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Hell, it’d be weird if you didn’t

Scott
Scott
3 months ago

Hmmm… well, I know that I do waggle the shifter a bit to make sure the car’s in neutral. I also tend to make sure the doors are locked, not because I really think that an attempted carjacking might happen, but just because it’s a non-zero chance (plus I grew up in NYC in the 1970s, and am thus programmed to lock doors whenever possible). I also tend to drive defensively, given that the only accidents I’ve had in 40 years of driving have involved uninsured motorists, and the agita/paperwork with my insurance company tends to drag on for months in those cases. I guess I also do the handbrake check (pushing the button and pushing down to make sure it’s completely off) too.

I think all this on my part is likely indicative of OCD to some degree.

Last edited 3 months ago by Scott
V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago

As someone with two manual and two automatic cars, I often absent-mindedly push my left foot into the firewall when starting the latter despite no clutch pedal being there.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Just don’t do that while the car is in motion. I embarrassed the hell out of myself on the way to senior prom that way.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Totally valid, I haven’t had a manual in six years but I still do it.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
3 months ago

Every time I drive my wife’s car, I jab at a section of the console that doesn’t exist looking for the start button, because that’s where it is in mine. Then when I’m done with her car and get in mine, I jam my fingers on a blank part of my dash where the start button is in her car. And no matter how long I’ve been driving autos, I still find myself resting my hand on the shifter like I’m gonna have to shift any moment now.

Delorean859
Delorean859
3 months ago

I shake the shifter thrice (left-right-left).

As for an involuntary habit, my first car was a 2004 Honda Civic. I had a scheduled recall fix at the Honda dealer, followed by their multi-point inspection. After picking it up I was pulling up to a light and pushed in the brake pedal. Nothing, it went straight to the floor. I then slammed my foot on as hard as I could and the front brakes locked up, followed by pulling the parking brake to get the car to a stop about 10 feet past the line (thankfully my brain did remind me to put the car in neutral during this). It turns out that during the inspection, the tech bumped the brake line and the rust holding it together failed.

Since then, I always start a drive by pumping the brake pedal with the engine off to test pressure and reaching for the parking brake, feeling how tense it is when pulling up on it. Even after getting a different car I still practice this, somewhat involuntarily.

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago
Reply to  Delorean859

Oh man. One of my mom’s anecdotes from when a bunch of my siblings were younger was a similar brake failure at an intersection. She drove through an adjacent fence onto a field to avoid the middle of the intersection, and while waiting for the tow truck, a guy went underneath to look and said “do you have any enemies?”

The car had been in an accident not too long prior and this was the first (or maybe second) time she’d driven it since the repair. The collision center apparently forgot to hook the brake line back up.

They were quite grateful we didn’t sue. (“it was an honest mistake”, my mom says. Sheesh…)

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
3 months ago

I seesaw the steering wheel too. I do it to make sure it’s not heavily clocked in the lock position which won’t allow me to turn the key. I also check to see if I’m in first gear a couple of times while at a stop light. Sometime I catch myself being in 3rd so it just became a habit.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
3 months ago

Yeah, I only recently noticed that I check that I’m in 1st once or twice while waiting for a light to change. Mostly if I’m the first person in line at the light, just so I don’t hold anyone up. I kinda do it subconsciously as soon as I see the traffic light start to cycle.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
3 months ago

I do that handbrake- button thing too. I used to use the space between the seat and the handbrake lever as a cupholder, and it was easy to raise the lever one click pulling the drink out. So I got in the habit of checking.

And if anyone doesn’t do the neutral shifter waggle (two reps, for me) before letting the clutch up, they’re a fool.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
3 months ago

You shake the shifter three times, any more and you’re just playing with it.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago

Make sure the passenger door is locked. Then I can ignore the wife as I crank it up and start to pull away. After 40 years it still kills every time.

And the first thing that really gets done is to pretend to adjust the rear view mirror, just to make sure she hasn’t hired a hit man, yet….

Last edited 3 months ago by Col Lingus
Outofstep
Outofstep
3 months ago

How many times do I yank my shifter? Once, this isn’t a pleasure cruise you degenerate yankers.

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