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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Bqpqfb
Bqpqfb
3 months ago

Anticipating torque steer that doesn’t exist anymore. 35 years of hooning FWD manual econoboxes made it ingrained. Even under brisk acceleration it isn’t present on either AWD car we have now, nor the manual Miata.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
3 months ago

Definitely do the neutral waggle, generally twice. I think I began doing it because I always park in gear, so I’m cautious not to start the engine in first gear.

Since my Fit is geared pretty low, I also frequently do a hand-check on the gear lever position to verify I’m really in 5th (top gear) on the highway. Even though it’s obvious from the tach, I think I’m subconsciously hoping to discover a new 6th gear that’s been secretly added by the motoring elves.

I used to have a pretty elaborate gas station ritual to check that the fuel filler was returned to the pump before driving off. Then I realized that the pump won’t print a receipt unless the nozzle’s been returned, so if I have a receipt in my hand there’s no way the nozzle can still be connected to my car. Of course I can still drive off with the filler door open….

Professor Chorls
Professor Chorls
3 months ago

I have a habit of randomly pulling the parking brake release latch/button (older trucks/vans, all manual). Never actually drove with the parking brake on or half-assedly released before, but I’m just paranoid for some reason.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago

Coming to a complete stop before shifting from D to R is a habit I wish my wife was more consistent with!

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

Is that really risky, mechanically? Used to do that with prior/family vehicles, never had transmission issues (mostly Fords).

I don’t think I do that my Prius v, but it’s also a Prius so it kinda self-propagates being slow and careful.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago

Anybody pause when starting a gas car to wait for the glow plugs to warm up? Did that a few times!

David Escargot
David Escargot
3 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

I do this almost daily… if a passenger looks at me funny I’m ‘priming the fuel system’

Lokki
Lokki
3 months ago
Reply to  David Escargot

I had that ingrained in me with my first Alfa Spider with mechanical fuel injection back in the 70’s. You HAD to let the fuel pressure build enough or it wouldn’t start. There was even a warning light that stayed red until the pressure came up, but I never looked at it: I was taught be an older friend that after turning the ignition to on, the amount of time needed to pressurize the pump was exactly the time it took to put on your seatbelt…. this was back in the day when wearing seatbelts wasn’t cool either.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

I wait for the suspension to rise.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

For almost 10 years I had diesel Mercedes & shitty 80s Subarus. Would catch myself looking for glow plug light in the Roos—and reving the Mercedes just before shutdown to prevent dieseling in the carbureted Roos

Jeeptopian
Jeeptopian
3 months ago

I always look to my left as I let the clutch out in first when I take off. Something I noticed myself doing but cant stop it, never happens for any other gear changes just starting from a stop.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
3 months ago

A big one of mine that is probably unique and not shifter related: I do a lift and wiggle when I get in the seat of cars with softer upholstery. Over time, if you just get in, the upholstery of the seat bottom will shift over toward the passenger rear corner, then to top grain wears off in a hurry, and it wears through really quick. Upholstery is one of the few car related tasks I’m not super excited about doing, so I always do a little lift and wiggle to make sure the upholstery doesn’t get bunched up there.

My neutral check is a single soft slap on the passenger side of the shifter toward driver. Another shifter related tic is being weird about reverse gear; Jeep is on the right, RX-8 on the left. The extended part of that tic is that I’m always weird about top gear on the Jeep because it FEELS like it needs another gear, and the reverse not-quite-lockout spring isn’t strong enough to keep me from trying from time to time to money shift.

Last edited 3 months ago by Spectre6000
Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
3 months ago

I adjust my rearview mirror way more than anybody else, because for some reason it bugs the crap out of me if it’s not perfectly aligned with the rear windscreen. Like things have to be perfectly parallel or it drives me crazy.

I also hyper-fixate on every single rattle and squeak inside of my car interior and with some previous cars I’ve torn them apart to bare metal on the inside to find the source of the sounds.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago

I get it.
The rear view mirror must (MUST!) align perfectly with the rear windscreen.
To the point that I remove the rear seat headrests unless there are rear seat passengers.
Single cab, bench seat trucks are the best for this particular quirk/obsession.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
3 months ago

Glad I’m not the only one! For me, old BMW wagons are the best, for some reason the mirrors always aligned quite nicely with the rear windscreen. The early 90’s 5-series wagons (and most sedans) didn’t come with rear headrests so it was nice for my mild OCD… but maybe not for my rear passengers’ necks, lol.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
3 months ago

Are you me?

(Pls no)

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Are you me?

(Pls no)

Lokki
Lokki
3 months ago

Q: How can you tell when the rear-view mirror is perfectly adjusted?

A: The rear view mirror can never be perfectly adjusted.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago
Reply to  Lokki

Truer words were never spoken.

This is why I drive everywhere in reverse. So I can keep my eyes on the road while continuously adjusting it.

Lokki
Lokki
3 months ago

Your sentiments mirror mine exactly. After all how can you know where you’re going unless you’ve been there?

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
3 months ago

Somewhere back in your driving life, Torch, did you have a vehicle with a balky steering lock that had you wiggling the wheel to make sure it had released?

HumboldtEF
HumboldtEF
3 months ago

Thats what I was gonna say. I do this in my Honda Element work truck to ensure the steering column is unlocked or to lock it when its not lol. I dont think I do it in my personal car… i think, maybe someone can watch me too?

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago

oh my god. You just restarted my recurring nightmares about the times I left the wheel in my ’97 Econoline turned after putting it in park and turning it off…

Apparently one time a family member had it get stuck and a tow truck had to lift the front wheels off the ground so they could be turned and get working again.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
3 months ago

I bounce the shifter off of the reverse lockout next to first since it’s an audible signal the car is indeed in neutral. It’s saved me a few times.

AssMatt
AssMatt
3 months ago

Yes to the shift handle and yes to the ebrake handle, but in the Mondial, it’s to make sure neither is engaged; this is because of the dogleg shift pattern and the wacky fold-down-when-on emergency brake with intermittent idiot light. I find myself at red lights fiddling with both at the same time, one in each hand. VERY CONSCIOUSLY.

Kenneth Penney
Kenneth Penney
3 months ago

I do the neutral check myself. Motorcycle related, I always do a double kick on the side stand when I put it down. A habit I got into many, many years ago when I experienced a partial stand extension and the bike starting falling over while I was still sitting on it.

Hiram McDaniel
Hiram McDaniel
3 months ago

Two of my vehicles are manuals, one a 5-speed, and the other a 6-speed. On the 5-speed, it’s the classic pattern where reverse is right-and-back, the 6 is opposite which is left-and-up. Anytime I need to reverse, my better Hal has noticed that I put it in reverse, then back out, then back into reverse at least twice. I know which car is which pattern, and clearly I know which car I’m in, I guess some synchromesh in my head just has to make sure that it “feels” like it is really in reverse.

My other two cars are automatics, one gear selector is in the console, the other is on the steering column. I drive the Ridgeline (on the column) much more often, so when I drive the Accord Coupe, I almost always grab for the steering column selector, which isn’t there, and wind up doing some vague hand waving thing.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
3 months ago

Left-right-left-release.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago

I always waggle the shifter twice to confirm it’s in neutral. It is good to hear I am not the only one. Of course, diagnosing yourself as normal based on a habit you share with Torch isn’t 100% solid. Hahaha.

10001010
10001010
3 months ago

Re: Shoulder tic – I’ve noticed this and knew exactly what DT was talking about before even seeing the video. I like it though, it let’s me know he’s about to share an opinion, and it makes Jason Jason, don’t change!

Re: Involuntary habbits – Neutral checks, constantly. My car and my bike have gear indicators and I still do it because they will absolutely lie to you. I find myself doing it in my wife’s car sometimes too and hers is automatic. Just habit I guess.

Another thing I do, apparently, I mean, I didn’t think I did it all that much but my wife insists I do it constantly, is allegedly, I regularly fidget side to side in my seat. Sliding my back/butt back and forth a little bit. After she pointed it out I have to admit I do it a lot, even on the motorcycle, I can’t tell you why. It’s not constant or anything, just occasionally and briefly, like Torch’s shoulder tic, if you’re not really paying attention to me you’ll miss it.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago
Reply to  10001010

I still remember that from MSF training – “what does the green light mean?” “it’s in neutral!” “No! It means there’s power to that light! Never just trust it.”

I still always gingerly let the clutch out when I think I’m in neutral, feeling for that bite…

Last edited 3 months ago by Jack Trade
10001010
10001010
3 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I too still hear my MSF instructor’s voice every time I let out the clutch on bike or car.

Nick Loh
Nick Loh
3 months ago

Clicking the release button on hand parking brakes for sure. Sometimes if I’m accelerating quickly (like merging) I’ll do it to make sure it’s not a little bit applied. Otherwise it’s kind of a fidget toy.

Recently I’ve noticed that I put my foot on the brake when starting, even on cars where it’s not required (key start, automatic in park, parking brake set). My daily has a push-button start that requires that, so it’s become a habit.

When I’m stopped in a situation where creeping forward would cause a problem (e.g. in a left turn lane, while traffic from the right is turning left and might clip me if I roll forward) I push the brake pedal all the way to the floor, just to be sure…

Honda Fit is the Answer
Honda Fit is the Answer
3 months ago

Oh I 100% will waggle the shifter *a ton* to make sure it’s in neutral. Like 10+ times is not terribly unusual for me, and I’ll do it even more more when I’m parking.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
3 months ago

I do one neutral check..

Otherwise it is clean the seat before I sit down and pull the seatbelt a few times.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago
Reply to  Arrest-me Red

Me too on the seatbelt when I’m about to do something like merge onto the freeway, or hit a group of twisties. I mean, who do I think I am, Bill Hickman about to bolt from McQueen or something??

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
3 months ago

I’m always checking the turn signal stalk after a turn. Mostly from driving old cars where there is little tactile input from the indents. I also turn down the music when I’m looking for an address or turn.

Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago

On all my cars I find myself going Neutral – 2nd – 1st because my Austin Healey is non-synchro first gear and that ensures that it will mesh cleanly. I don’t know why.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

My ’02 Mustang’s shifting experience is also improved by doing this. It shouldn’t be, but…

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
3 months ago

Another one that is new to me and probably to EV drivers: Checking the car screen after plugin in the charger. If it turns on with a green color or displays the message charging, my anxiety is gone, but during the process after plugin, it goes yellow while it initiates, waiting to see if there is no error. I am just standing next to the car praying nothing goes wrong lol. In the past I walked away without checking until one day the car never charged… barely made it home that day.

I had an experience with EA where the car displayed ERROR in red. Nothing around me as a backup, I almost passed out until I tried another charger and worked. I don’t have these issues while putting gas…

Last edited 3 months ago by Mrbrown89
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago

Do motorcycles count for this discussion? If so, obsessively hitting the turn signal shutoff button.

I’m always figuring I’m that guy, riding around with them flashing away. I even sometimes unconsciously try to do it on the track, starting to move my thumb before my brain screams “this bike doesn’t even have that you moron!”

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Same here. It’s even worse if you ride a BMW of a certain era. They had the dumbest blinker setup – a button on each side of the handle bar to activate and a completely separate button to deactivate. The little all-in-one rocker switch on every other bike works so well, I don’t know why they felt the need to reinvent it.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

That sounds very BMW, and I kinda like it for its complex-yet-more-long-term reliable nature b/c fewer single points of failure.

Ben
Ben
3 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Every single time I come up to an intersection just to be sure I’m not mistakenly signalling something that will cause someone to pull out in front of me.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago

Let’s not talk about the number of times I’ve hopped in an car with an automatic and stabbed the left side of a wide brake pedal when I’m about to start the car (and on rare occasions while moving).

I also have the parking brake tic and a bad habit of keeping my hand on the shifter in a console-mounted automatic.

My neutral waggle is once toward me. If the shifter can move I’m in neutral. I reflexively do that all the time.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
3 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

I have done the manual and auto leg slam having one of each. Or have the gearshift on the floor in one car and the column on the other.

Causes confusion to me and humor to all.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

I’ve done all of those things. My wife thinks it’s funny when I rest my hand on the auto shifter like it’s my manual stick. I also reach for a column mounted shifter in my wife’s Highlander sometimes, forgetting I’m not in my Ford pickup.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
3 months ago

I’m not conscious of the things I do unconsciously.

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