My car is a Volvo S80, it's great in ground-level snow. I tried going up an incline in "D" and it wasn't having it, basically just slowed down and stopped dead in its tracks.

I have never used the 3 - 2 - 1 shift positions before. Don't know If I understand them.

Are they like basically limiting where you shift to?

As in D, this is fourth gear, so I go from 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 and stay in 4th. But with 3rd it's 1 - 2 - 3 and I stay in 3rd?

But why exactly is staying in 3rd a good thing?

Isn't 4th the most powerful gear to be in?

I digress, what automatic gear should I shift to when driving up a snowy incline 1,2,or 3?

Thank you

  • 1
    Do you have any familiarity with manual transmissions at all?
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 1:20

2 Answers 2


Bit of transmissions 101

First gear makes the most torque / power, but has the lowest top speed and worst fuel economy.

Top gear has the highest top speed and best fuel economy, but the least amount of power and torque.

In an auto, leaving it in D is fine 99% of the time unless you need more power. Shifting into 3, 2, or 1 typically limits you to that gear and the gears below it. So 3 will access 1, 2, and 3. In my truck - 2 will be 2 only, and 1 will shift up into 2 @ 3K RPM.

As for what gear you should you be in depends on your vehicle. I would lean toward second gear. You will need to pay attention to how fast you are going and your RPM.

Also - in the snow, you will likely have more issues with traction (spinning the tires) than not having enough power. Momentum is very important when driving in the snow.

  • 1
    I agree about the torque and economy for each gear, but the power should be the same, right?
    – costrom
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 21:11
  • I would assume power would be higher since the force (torque) is higher. Not sure if the output shaft of the transmission spinning slower 'works out' the power, like lifting a weight using 1 pulley or 3 pulleys. would be interesting to see that charted.
    – rpmerf
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 22:07
  • Rotational power is a product of torque and rotational speed. The torque at the wheels may be higher but the speed is lower.
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 11:36

When you say "stopped dead in its tracks" I assume you mean with the wheels spinning.

In this circumstance your choice of gear selection in an automatic is pretty much meaningless. What you generally want is less torque to avoid wheel slip. In a manual transmission you could use a higher-than-normal gear to some benefit, but such a feature is generally not available in automatics.

Basically one would suspect you need better tires!


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