What does PRNDL mean in automatic cars?

What does PRNDL mean in automatic cars?

Automatic transmissions can be confusing, especially if you are new to them. The P, R, N, D, L, or S is the first thing that you will notice on an automatic transmission shifter. These are the five most frequently used positions on the shifter, therefore it is essential to understand what each one means to drive more safely and confidently.


  • What does PRNDL mean?

    PRNDL means Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Low.
  • What transmission functions are added on some vehicles aside from PRNDL?

    Other vehicles have S (Sport) or M (Manual) instead of an L.
  • P (Park)

    The gear selector should be in this position to park your car. The letter “P” is commonly seen on the top of the lever. If the vehicle has a digital shifter, there are many different ways that the selector can perform the park function.

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    Pressing the button or shifting the lever into park activates a parking pawl, which locks the gearbox into place, stops the wheels from rolling, and disengages the power from the engine. The rear wheels of most vehicles with electronic parking brakes lock simultaneously with the parking pawl. For other vehicles, it is best to apply the emergency brake first before shifting into park.

    R (Reverse)

    This function is used when backing up. It puts the vehicle’s transmission into reverse gear. It is best to put the vehicle on full stop first before shifting to this transmission function.

    N (Neutral)

    Putting the transmission in neutral means that no gear is connected into it. It is usually positioned in the middle of all gears.

    Although this function is more frequently used in manual transmission, it is also recommended to put the transmission after holding the brakes in vehicles with automatic transmission to reduce the load on the engine.

    In vehicles with dual-clutch transmissions, the engine’s flywheel and clutch can be disengaged even if the gear selector is in drive but you can still shift the lever to neutral if you will be stopped for a short period of time.

    D (Drive)

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    The forward gears of the transmission are engaged by this function. In order to drive forward, simply hold the brake pedal then shift the lever into this gear.

    L (Low)

    Low range, symbolized by the letter “L,” enables the transmission to maintain the gear ratio to apply the engine brake. The vehicle's speed is limited by this function, which minimizes your reliance on the brakes. It is often used when going uphill or overtaking another vehicle.

    As transmission technologies evolve, car manufacturers have been gradually replacing the low function with different letters that stand for other functions.

    S (Sport)/M (Manual)

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    Other vehicles have “S” or “M” instead of an “L.” Similar to a transmission's low function, placing the gear selector in this position will let you select gears to engine brake. Using this function gives the driver more control over the transmission than having the transmission shift automatically. Sport or Manual functions are applicable for more adventurous driving or when greater engine control is required, making them more thrilling for aficionados even though they do not require a clutch.

    Photos by Roy Robles and Kent Flores

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