What does the S mean on a gear shift? — when to use it
Learn about the "S" on a gear shift.
If you’ve just made the transition from a manual to an automatic car, or just got your first car and it’s automatic, you might get confused by a few markings. An automatic car has several inscriptions on the gearbox meaning different modes and settings.
So, you might be wondering – what does the “S” mean on a gear shift? The “S” on a gear shift means it’s a setting to toggle on the sport-driving mode. Sounds basic enough, doesn’t it? Well, things are not exactly that simple, so our team wanted to give you an overview of the “S” setting and situations where you should use it.
About automatic gear shift positions
Driving a car with an automatic transmission can be a blessing in case you are constantly on public roads with frequently jammed traffic. However, you have to know how to use the shifter, even if it’s automatic and seems way simpler than the old-school manual transmission.
It depends on the transmission type since some sporty cars have more settings, but these are the most common options:
- P for the park mode
- R for reverse
- N for the neutral mode
- D for drive mode
- S for sport mode
Some vehicles also have a comfort mode setting listed on the gearbox, which makes the car go into lower revs and drive more smoothly through the gears. The park gear is only used when your vehicle is parked, and you can start the engine from the neutral position.
Once the engine is up and running, selecting the drive mode will get you going in the first gear, and the automatic gear selector chooses gears based on your throttle pressure. However, different types of automatic cars work differently when it comes to selecting gears.
So, if you have paddle shifters behind the wheel, you can manually select the gear your car will be in. Also, turning on the sport mode differently affects the gear selector ratio when compared to regular drive or comfort mode.
What does the sport mode do in your car?
By activating the sport mode in your car, you’ll increase your throttle response and get a sportier driving feel. It locks out higher gears before the takeoff and keeps your vehicle in a lower gear according to the situation. In other words, it includes revving your car into a high RPM range and it gives you easily accessible power.
For instance, if drive mode shifting gets done at 2500 RPM, sport mode will get it up to 4000 RPM or even higher before the shift, based on the model and the engine type. While in sport mode, you can also use paddle shifters to get a sort of manual shifting feel.
While driving in sport mode is fun and engaging for owners of sporty vehicles, it affects your fuel consumption. It requires more fuel being injected and a higher engine compression, so you’ll notice a significant increase in fuel consumption when in sport mode.
Turning the sport mode on
For most automatic cars with this function, the “S” mark will be visible on the gear shift and you can turn it on as soon as you are in drive mode. You can do it while you are launching your car from the traffic light, and it’s safe to switch from drive to sport mode at any point while driving.
All that matters is that your shifter was in drive mode previously. You can feel the kick of the sport mode by feathering the accelerator as you cruise down the highway, and pushing it all the way once the sport mode is active.
Most drivers are concerned with turning the sport mode on in the middle of a drive, and it’s completely safe to do it. You can switch the sport mode off by simply getting your shifter into the drive position afterward, and it changes the suspension and the throttle response, as well as gear ratios.
Situations where you should use the “S” mode
You’ll often hear an ongoing debate on whether it’s okay to drive in sport mode for extended periods. While it enforces faster gear shifts and a higher RPM range before the shift, sport mode doesn’t damage your transmission on its own.
It’s perfectly fine to use it for extended periods, although it’s not recommended to frequently stay in sport mode. It’s due to increased fuel consumption and higher engine revolutions that could, theoretically, make your engine components wear off faster.
Still, cars with the sport mode usually come with powerful engines and you won’t do much damage by driving in the sport mode occasionally. Just make sure to use the drive mode when you are cruising to keep the RPM range at an optimal level. Here are the main situations where you should use the sport mode:
- Overtaking on a highway
- When your car is already in motion to avoid sharp acceleration
- When you need a higher RPM range to drive uphill
- When you wish to get a higher driving engagement within the speed limit
Naturally, the sport mode comes with a bit of that driving joy like revving high before the shift in a manual car. It’s great for having fun as long as you respect the speed limit and traffic laws, and it’s most useful when doing an overtaking action to make it as safe as possible and return to your lane.
Manually shifting gears
Even if you drive an automatic car, you can still manually select the gears. If the sport mode doesn’t bring the driver out of you enough, you can use the paddle shifters behind the wheel. This way you can control the rev limiter to some extent.
For instance, if you try to downshift into a second gear while driving too fast in the fifth gear, the gear selector will wait until the first appropriate moment to downshift. You can also use the plus and minus on the gear shift to manually shift through the gears.
When in drive mode, you can pull the lever to the side towards the plus sign, and push up and down to get to a higher or a lower speed.
So, if you’ve been wondering about “what does the s mean on a gear shift”, now you know the answer. Our team hopes to have helped provide insight into the basics behind the sport mode, and give you an idea of the situations where it might come in handy.
Just make sure you don’t keep the shifter in the “S” mode for too long, since you can just use the regular drive mode for cruising on the highway.
What does the S mean in gear shift?
The S on a gear shift means it’s a sport mode setting and you can pull the lever to it to affect the gear ratios so that your gearbox shifts at a higher RPM range.
When should I use S gear?
You should use the S gear when overtaking or driving uphill, or any other situation that requires maximum torque output from the engine.
Can you shift from S to D while driving?
Yes, you can shift from S to D while driving by simply pulling the shifter back to the D position.