What does L mean on a car
What does L mean on a car

What does L mean on a car?

You must have often wondered what Does L mean in the car. We are all familiar with the terms park, neutral, reverse and drive on the gear shift panels. The ‘L’ often confuses us as it is rarely or never used. The “L” on the gear shift stands for low Gear or low. It is the lowest gear utilized in certain conditions like driving steep hills, descending hills or towing. Let’s understand the origins of ‘L’ and its necessity and usage.

The origin and history of the ‘L’ or low gears in cars?

Introduced in the 1940s in the era of vintage cars of the world. Low gear was a requirement for automatic cars. The lower quality of the brakes and engines made it a daunting task to go uphill. So to increase the torque in the car, the low gear became an important part of automatic cars.

The low gear was indeed an important engineering marvel at that time. It made driving an easy task and relieved the driver. There are fewer perils of controlling the clutch, brakes, and throttle levers all along with driving or steering.

What are the different gears besides L in an automatic transmission?

While you now know the L in a gear shift stand means Low gear. let’s understand what the other gears present are and their functions:

  • ‘P’ in the gear shift stand is for the park, and it is used when the car needs to be put in static mode.
  • ‘R’ in the gear shift stand is for reverse; this gear is used to reverse the car.
  • ‘D’ in the gear shift stand is for the drive; it is used for the everyday commute of the car.
  • N’ in the gear shift stand is for neutral; If you need to move the car without starting your engine, this gear is used.

When should you use the Low gear in a car?

The low gear means the lowest gear, and it is designed specifically for certain situations you may face while driving. Here are circumstances in which you should use the L or lower gear.

Car after climbing a hill ascending down
  1. Climbing a steep hill: When driving up a steep hill, you should use low gear. The engine experiences less stress when in low gear when climbing hills. Using the L gear functionality, driving up a steep road becomes easy and safe.
  2. Going down steep or descending hills: In addition to the brakes keeping your car in low gear helps your car descend safely down a hill or steep road. It also reduces the wear and tear of the brake as it slows the car by providing resistance to the high-revving car’s engine. 
  3. While driving through poor road conditions: The car’s gear should always be in L positions when driving through poor road conditions in an automated transmission car. The lower gear keeps the car’s speed slow and constant while you navigate through a rough patch. In addition, it protects the car from any additional wear and tear or, worse, an accident due to a higher speed.
  4. Towing other vehicles, campers, boats, or cargo: Towing requires a lot of power from the car; hence the low gear is used. The low gear provides extra pull power to the vehicle. When you are towing another car, vehicle, camper, or cargo, the car needs to be put on L gear. The Low gear reduces the strain on the car’s engine by providing added torque. It would help if you also were careful of the speed at which you are towing. It should be no more than given in the owner’s manual of the car. Deviance from this could lead to engine wear and tear.
  5. Driving through Snow and Ice: Driving through ice or snow requires the car to have a good grip on the road to avoid slippery conditions. When you use the Low gear of the car, it will move slowly also with more power. Thus when you are driving through snow or ice, you should make sure to use the L gear of the car.

Does the car shift to L gear automatically?

Yes, your car automatically shifts to low gear in an automatic transmission. When you start driving the car, it automatically goes to a lower gear and a higher one when you gain momentum. Moreover, whenever you slow down or stop at a traffic light or street intersection, the vehicle changes to a lower gear. The L gear in a car is very important as it prevents the engines from spinning your wheels out of control or making your cargo quickly.

In a manual transmission car, you have to shift to a lower gear manually, but in an automatic transmission, the car itself does the same.

Do you know in some countries including India the alphabet L is displayed on the front or rear window glass in some cars?

As strange as it may sound, in India and in some countries, if you are learning to drive a car or have only a learner’s or beginner’s license, people put the alphabet L on the front or rear glass of the car. It warns fellow commuters that the person driving is new to driving or learning. So be cautious and drive safely when passing through these cars. So the word L of the cars has a completely different meaning in India.

Letter L for Learning Driver


Now you are familiar with all the abbreviations of your car’s gear shift manual. Especially the letter L or low gear. The car uses Low gear when driving on a steep hill, descending a hill, driving through a rough road, towing a car, boat, or cargo, and driving in snow and ice. The gear shift to Low gear is done automatically in all automatic cars. Just check the driver’s manual and drive at adequate speed when in Lower gear.

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