I've been told that reverse is the "strongest" gear, so in a manual transmission vehicle you should park your vehicle and leave it in reverse in the event of a parking brake failure. Others have said first or second gear are fine as well.

Is there a "best gear" to leave your manual vehicle in when parking it?

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    Related question: is there any mechanical proof to the claim that reverse is the "strongest" gear?
    – William
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 4:02
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    that sounds like a new question. But it would mostly depend on the brand and model of gearbox.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 10:05
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    I've always been taught to leave it in free. And now that I have kids who like to sit behind the wheel (and who knows, get a key and turn it some day) I'm quite happy with that. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 12:26
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    Also in Paris and other large cities, it's very common to push other cars a bit to make a tiny parking space a bit bigger. Leaving it in a gear means damage to your vehicle. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 12:29
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    @makinbacon damaging my drivetrain when the vehicle starts rolling on a hill is my slightest worry. Should my parked vehicle start rolling on hill I have way bigger issues than my drivetrain: Think "other people crushed by my car"
    – Martin
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 10:11

11 Answers 11


The lower the gear, the better the job the engine compression will do at holding the car if the brake fails, that's because a lower gear makes the engine spin faster and requires it to do more work for the car to move. So 1st is better than 2nd, between reverse and 1st it's not so obvious – but from the examples people are finding it looks like 1st is a bit better.

Bottom line, 1st or reverse, leaning towards 1st.

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    I checked three different cars from three different countries and all had a higher gear ratio in first than reverse, of course this could be a case of selection bias
    – method
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 5:48
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    @method That doesn't sound like selection bias, just a small sample. Selection bias is where something specific about the way you selected the sample gives biased results. For example, if you work in a hospital, you might believe that most people are sick but that would just be because sick people go to hospital more, so your sample includes more sick people than the population as a whole. Unless you think something about the way you chose the cars might have caused you to select cars with the gear ratios you describe, it's not selection bias. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 12:21
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    Pedantically, the transmission won't be holding the car in place, the compression of the engine will be doing that - multiplied by the gear that the transmission is in.
    – KevinDTimm
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 17:00
  • Pedantic is good :-)
    – dlu
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 0:04
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    @method: yes, and higher gears would be better if it wasn't for the fact that you'd have to be lightning fast on the clutch, 2nd gear is usually a decent sweet spot. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 4:10

When I'm on a hill with the front of my car facing up the hill I park the car in first and turn the wheels away from the curb so the transmission is fighting against gravity.

When I'm on a hill with the front of my car facing down the hill I park the car in reverse and turn the wheels into the curb so again the transmission is fighting against gravity.

When I'm on flat ground I park in first as reverse is too finicky to deal with that frequently :)

Happy to be wrong here. Just what I've always done - opposed the forces of gravity with the opposite transmission gear.

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    I think you are right, but actually, is there a mechanical reason that pushing a car is harder "against" the gear? It could easily be the same in both directions. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 13:54
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    Can you provide some sort of source for the fact that the transmission "fights against" moving in the wrong direction? The transmission doesn't have a ratchet in it, does it? Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 14:25
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    This answer is badly wrong. There is no such thing as the transmission "fighting against gravity". Rather, the way you're doing it, if the vehicle does manage to move despite friction in the transmission and engine, it will turn the engine backwards, which has the possibility to damage the engine. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 16:50
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    @Paparazzi: My understanding is that it has something to do with the valve timing and clearance, and that the pistons might hit the valves when it's turned in reverse. This sounds unlikely to me, but everything I've ever read about turning the crankshaft by hand when working on the engine has included warnings to turn it only in the forward direction. I suppose it's possible that it has something to do with the oil pump mechanisms instead. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 17:05
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    It seems very unlikely that engine damage due to the wrong gear would be a problem in the real world – for the damage to happen, first the parking brake would need to fail, then the engine compression would need to be inadequate to hold the car, then the car would have to survive whatever caused it to stop as it ran down the hill with the engine spinning backwards. Possible? Sure, but it seems that the damage from the collision at the bottom would almost certainly be a bigger problem than the engine running backwards for a few seconds – but still there's no harm in using the right gear…
    – dlu
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 23:41

So, looking at a couple common manual transmission gear ratio charts, first gear would be best. Why? It has the highest ratio. Although it is (in the charts I found) very close to reverse.

Here's a chart for Honda Civics (up to '91 I think)

Here's a PDF from Toyota's press room with their Corolla specs.

Highest ratio = greatest amount of torque applied to the wheels from the crank. Conversely, more torque needs to be applied to the wheels to force the crank to rotate. Also, from my understanding, the forward or reverse gears make no difference except that (I imagine) your motor REALLY won't like being rotated backward. So in that regard maybe it would be better to choose the gear that suits your hill directionality... but at the same time, if you brake and trans fail to hold your car on a hill, chances are things could go VERY wrong very quickly.

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    If both the brake and transmission fail to hold the car, things aren't going to go wrong quickly. They're already well and truly wrong, and may get much worse fast.
    – Leliel
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 18:17
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    @Leliel exactly. Not only do you have catastrophic failure of 2 or more systems, but now you have a 2 ton snowball as well. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 18:54

First gear when pointing down hill, reverse when pointing up. If your car ends up rolling, the engine will turn in the correct direction. If you park in reverse pointed downhill and your car rolls the engine will turn backward, and vice versa. This can cause various problem with the engine including skipping a tooth or binding on the timing chain/belt and is almost universally cautioned against when working on engines.


You certainly want either neutral, 1st or reverse (depending on circumstances, see other answers). One aspect that I see influencing this is a gearbox lock - some cars have an anti-theft feature that can lock the gearbox, preventing the thief from shifting. On such cars, reverse is preferred, as it makes it much harder to drive the car away.



That's what your parking brake is for.


It's called a parking brake for a reason. If parking on a steep incline, turn your wheels so that your car will roll against the curb if the brake fails. Better yet, as the last step when parking, let the car roll (gently!) against the curb already.

If you use a gear to keep your car from rolling, that puts a strain on the engine and the entire drive train for which it wasn't designed. Specifically, a mechanic at my local garage described it as "hanging on the cam belt", which would lead to greater wear on it.

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    I have always been under the impression this is illegal in most states in the USA. (finding the actual law is a little harder but ex: dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/hdbk/parking) Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 23:28
  • @AustinFrench That what is illegal? The link provided states exactly what this answer discusses. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 3:54
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    @DaveNewton the link states: "Always set your parking brake and leave the vehicle in gear or in the "park" position." Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 15:18
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    @DaveNewton when a manual is not it gear, it is in neutral... Also, I did not downvote or anything. I think the question is subjective regardless of the law (as the law is rarely enforced unless there is an accident) but it is worth noting I believe. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 19:34
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    @AustinFrench Sorry, I was thinking auto trans with a separate park mechanism :/ Derp. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 20:15

I have an alternate suggestion for using reverse with a stick shift to park. Perhaps merely to facilitate backing out of the parking space. In first gear you increase your odds of ramming into the curb if momentarily distracted.

  • That only works if you park nose-in - if you reverse park (and you should, it's much safer), the opposite would apply...
    – Nick C
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 10:16
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    And in reverse you increase your odds of ramming into traffic if momentarily distracted. I think the better advice would be to not drive distracted.
    – Joey
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 14:50
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    when I drove a Manual Transmission I always put it into the Gear I wanted it in even if it was already in gear after I had started the car, so that I knew what gear I was in. never start a car and hit the gas.
    – Malachi
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 17:28

ok a real answer first that doesn't rely on special conditions

if you are pointing uphill put it in reverse. this is to prevent any damage from rolling because you have a house in San Francisco. you should also steer the front wheels to the left (right if you're british) so the back of the front tires are effectively chalked by the curb.

if you are pointing down hill then it should be first. you should also steer the front wheels to the right (left if you're british) so the front of the front tires are effectively chalked by the curb.

now for some conditionals

1st gear, low range 4wd, diffs locked, under drive engaged, and axles set to low gear. yes this does give you 3 shifters and 2 buttons. more is better right?

enter image description here

  • If the car is pointing uphill, it seems like gravity would want to pull it backwards, down the slope, so putting the car in reverse gear would seem to make gravity's job easier than if you were to put it in first gear. If the car is pointing downhill, gravity wants to pull it forward, down the slope, so first gear would seem to make that easier than reverse would. Or are you using "pointing uphill" and "pointing downhill" different from how I understand them? What you state feels backwards (not pun intended).
    – user
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 15:39
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    @MichaelKjörling The reason to use forward gear for pointing downhill and rev for uphill is so if the car does roll you will not spin the engine backwards. But whichever one of those gears are lower will be the gear that will hold the best regardless of direction. engine compression is engine compression regardless of which way it is spinning.
    – Cc Dd
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 3:20

To add an answer with sources, I own a Hyundai i20. Page 5/4 (191 of pdf) of the owner's manual states:

Before leaving the driver's seat, always make sure the shift lever is engaged in 1st gear for manual transaxle or P (Park) for automatic transaxle, set the parking brake fully and shut the engine off. Unexpected and sudden vehicle movement may occur if these precautions are not taken.

Page 5/8 (195 of pdf) states:

Before leaving the driver's seat, always set the parking brake fully and shut the engine off. Then make sure the transaxle is shifted into 1st gear when the vehicle is parked on a level or uphill grade, and shifted into R (Reverse) on a downhill grade. Unexpected and sudden vehicle movement can occur if these precautions are not followed in the order identified.

I'd rather take my advice from the manufacturer of the vehicle!

  • Even when the manufacturer appears to contradict themselves between the two snippets? Also, the manufacturer is interested in covering their own rear; if they state to do something, and it can be shown that the driver didn't, then if because of the driver's actions there is an accident, the manufacturer can't really be held to blame, can they? If they had said nothing in the manual, someone would almost certainly argue (perhaps in a court of law) "well, you didn't say I couldn't do it that way!" and the court would have to agree because that was indeed the case. CYA is a real thing.
    – user
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 15:44

The lowest gear to go up the hill. Lowest for mechanical advantage (you are using compression in the engine as the force). Up the hill as that is the direction of force the transmission is designed for. So first if pointing up the hill. Reverse if pointing down the hill. Level ground reverse as reverse gets less wear and tear in normal use and it is also typically a lower gear than first.


Habitually leaving a manual transmission car in gear is a bad idea. One day you will jump in the car, turn the ignition, and discover that the starter motor is more powerful than the handbrake (you will start moving before the engine even fires!), but the object you just hit was stronger than the car.

Automatic transmissions may have a lock that prevents you starting the car when the transmission is engaged, but (at least in the UK and Europe) manual transmissions do not.

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    Most manual cars in the U.S. have an interlock switch on the clutch that prevents that from happening, just like an automatic does on the gear selector. However, that switch can be disabled, sometimes as a user-option like my Jeep. (crawl under the dash, unplug the wire from the switch, and put it on a jumper instead, which is factory-mounted to the firewall) Without that interlock, you're correct about the starter being able to move the car.
    – AaronD
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 18:06
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    Also, all manual transmission car I ever drove require to disengage the engine by pressing the clutch to start, simply "turning the key" or pressing a button is not enough. So you don't jump into an object.
    – Francesco
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 18:36
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    Relying on the parking brake alone merely to guard against a rare occurrence probably already accounted for by an interlock switch is not a good idea.
    – Lyle
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 21:42
  • Furthermore... would that really happen to anyone? Well, to someone who usually only drives automatic, perhaps. When I drive automatic, I tend to find myself first feeling around for the clutch pedal, before I recall there isn't one and I can just turn the key. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 10:34
  • older cars in europe - certainly anything from 2001 onwards - are likely to allow you to start the car in gear. More modern cars in europe require the clutch to be depressed (manual) or the brake to be depressed (automatic/electronic clutch) before you can start the car.
    – Mauro
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 15:13

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