Here, a lesson or two on best gear engagement for fuel economy

Hi Baraza,

I own a Suzuki Escudo with automatic transmission. I have been driving with the selector on “4H” during normal driving.

Recently, a friend advised that I should drive on “N” for better fuel consumption. The car feels lighter, but there is an intermittent whining sound and some letters (“N” and “4L”) appearing on the dashboard, also intermittently.

So, I re-engage 4H for fear of damaging the transmission system. Please advise me on the best gear engagement for fuel economy.

BJ

Wait a minute; are the gear positions only 4H, 4L and N? That’s odd. There should be 2H also, which is the recommended setting for ordinary driving. This is what those letters mean:

4H stands for 4-High, which basically means 4WD is engaged, but the transmission is in High range. This gives normal driving speeds. This setting is for use where one or more tyres are losing traction but speed is not an issue, such as on flat ground with a thin and slippery, muddy layer on top. It will keep the car moving even while suffering wheels pin, and will prevent skidding (up to a point).

In a car with selectable 4WD, it is not recommended for regular use, especially on tarmac, as it is heavy on the fuel and the car is difficult to turn (there is a tendency to go in a straight line). Extended use of 4H also wears down the transmission. Use only when necessary.

4L (4-Low): This means 4WD is on and the transmission is in low range. The least used 4WD setting for most drivers, 4L is intended for extreme conditions, where speed is undesirable and might actually lead to disaster. Such conditions include descending steep slopes, crawling over rocks or over terrain so twisted and gnarled that one or more wheels catch air every now and then.

The extremely slow speeds might cause the engine to stall in normal transmission settings, which is where the low range comes in. It allows high engine speeds with low road speeds.

The low range also multiplies torque and allows the car to crawl up inclines of high aspect ratios, which normal cars cannot tackle. In most cases, the diffs are locked by default when 4L is engaged.

2H (2-High): 4WD is disengaged and the car is on 2WD. This is the setting for normal, day-to-day use on regular road surfaces. It eases up the rolling resistance offered by the transmission weight, thus boosting performance and fuel economy. The car also steers easily since the workload on the steering wheels is reduced.

N: This has to be neutral. It works more or less the same as neutral in the primary gearbox. It disconnects both front and rear driveshafts, allowing the engine to be used for other purposes by means of a power take-off (PTO) shaft.

This is mostly old technology; most new 4x4s don’t come with PTOs, which in turn means some might not have the N position, especially for those using an electronic switch to engage/disengage 4WD rather than the traditional gear lever on the floor of the car.

This now begs the question: How was your car operating on N (neutral)? This is my surmise: your car uses the gear lever on the floor rather than the rotary switch found on new Escudos.

In trying to select N, you might have “partially” engaged 4L, which means that the gears are not meshed properly. This would also explain the whining noise and the flashing dashboard light. The cogs may be slipping in and out of position intermittently.

If your car has 2H, engage that immediately in the following manner: Bring the car to a complete stop. Engage the parking brake. Engage neutral in the primary gearbox (free). If it is an automatic, place the lever in N, and NOT P (Park).

Make sure the front tyres are pointed straight ahead (the steering is dead centre and not turned to any side).

Depress the clutch all the way in, just to be sure, for a manual car. Place the transfer box in 2H firmly and decisively. That is, make sure the tiny lever has clunked solidly into position. From there, drive as you normally do: engage gear, release the parking brake and go.

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Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, and I wonder if you have a blog where readers can refer to your past articles. If not, it would be a great idea.

Now to my question: I have a Toyota Starlet EP 92 YOM ‘99. I must admit it has served me well for more than five years. The car is still in good condition, but for the past few months, it has developed a problem with its gearbox.

The car jerks when you engage drive from neutral. This happens after driving for about 10 minutes. Apart from the jerking, the gears still shift very well.

Some mechanics have advised me to change the whole gearbox, while others say it could be an electrical problem. Could you advise on what the issue might be? Is it time I replaced the whole gearbox despite the fact the gears shift well?

Morton Saulo

Hi,
I hardly think a gearbox replacement is necessary. Your problem does not sound fatal, and the cause could be something as simple as either topping up or replacing the ATF.

Have you done either of those in the five years you have owned the car? It is always wise to check the transmission oils at the same time you make the typical fluid checks in the engine bay.

How bad is the jerking? If the fluid is not the issue, then the control electronics could be the problem: the solenoids, the TCM, or even the valves or pumps in the transmission gubbins.

Get a mechanic who will look at it without resorting to last-ditch efforts just because they probably don’t understand what is happening. Your problem is not as critical as requiring a transplant just yet.

However, if you don’t remedy the situation pronto, then a transplant is what you will need eventually.

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Dear Baraza,

I always look forward to reading your articles in Car Clinic every Wednesday, and I have observed the following:

1. You are sometimes overly critical of some types of cars, which you dismiss, in my view, as almost useless, even though you do not say so outright. Your article of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, on the Nissan Murano with a heading reading, “The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about”, is a case in point.

While it is not my wish to correct your articles, since I am not a motor vehicle expert, I honestly feel that you sometimes go overboard in your criticism of some models.

You must bear in mind there are people who already own the models you so criticise, and I am sure it does not go down well with them. And neither does it, I believe, go down well with the respective car manufacturers (in case they read your articles!) let alone prospective buyers.

Years ago, there was on a comedy, Mind Your Language, on TV.

2. As well as your technical know-how regarding motor vehicles, I have noted with interest your good mastery of the English language, which you also put to good use.

However, in my view, you sometimes go overboard with your expressions, which to me would require the majority of your esteemed readers to consult a professor of the English language or refer to the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary.

Your language in the Murano article refers. I would like to know whether your questioner, Eriq B, understood your answers well!3.

Finally Sir, many automatic cars, if not all, have on their gear stick or lever, a button which when pressed in reads “O/D Off”. Kindly explain in simple terms, what it does.

DKoi

Hello Sir,

I may be a columnist on matters motoring, but first, I am a writer. And as a writer, I have certain tools at my disposal. These tools include metaphors, analogies and hyperbole. I use these tools to great effect and to style my product, and it is in the styling of this product that I came to the attention of the book-heads at NMG. The fact that I might know one or two things about cars is a bonus.

I believe that I am here primarily for my ability to string words together in a way that not many can easily emulate. It is typically the onus of the reader to discern where to take things literally and focus on the content, and where to gaze at the magnificence of the literary tapestry woven by a veteran wordsmith in his weekly attempts to prove himself as one of the greats, legitimate or otherwise.

I believe this addresses your second question. Given that Eriq B has not reverted ever since, there could be two explanations: 1. He fully understood what I wrote and accepted/dismissed it, letting it go at that, or 2. It all blew past his ears and he is up until now thumbing a copy of the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary you mention, in a desperate attempt to derive meaning from my somewhat elaborate literary tapestry.

I trust he is an intelligent man, so for now, we will work with the first theory until he reverts. Okay, let me put down my own trumpet, which I think I have blown enough.

To your first point: I admit I do dismiss some cars ruthlessly. And yes, there are people who own these cars and whose feelings get hurt every time my weekly word salad hits the stands.

Good examples are owners of the Toyota Prius, and Subaru drivers… especially Subaru drivers. This latter group can now have their sweet revenge while they still can.

The last Kiamburing TT championship was taken by an orange, 6-star Coupé, so there will be no end to the punitive payback these Subaru fans will mete out on me following the fun I have had with them over the years.

Given that the driver of the said winning vehicle is a friend of mine, I will have a “word” with him concerning his choice of vehicle and the awkward position he has placed me in. This “word” might or might not be delivered with the aid of a crude weapon. I do not much care for being placed in awkward positions.

Not so much for Murano drivers. Until a Murano wins a single off-road challenge, it still sits in the wastebasket of useless propositions alongside automotive jokes like the BMW X6. These cars really do not make any sense to me, at all.

Speaking of the BMW X6, yes, manufacturers read what I write, and while most will just watch and quietly hope that I get a job elsewhere (preferably away from newspapers), one or two will take exception and make known their discontent.

This invariably leads to a repeat road test (or a new one for cars previously undriven), a stern talking-to and the inevitable recommendation that any time I feel like walking all over their products, I should reconsider. I usually reconsider, as requested, and then I proceed to walk all over them again.

This is not done out of spite, as some might assume. My reviews are the result of critical analysis and the need for honesty, which is sometimes brutal.

Why, to be realistic, would I ever want to buy a Murano over, say, a BMW X5? How much of the planet is the Prius actually saving when, over its lifetime, it actually does more environmental damage than a V8 Land Rover Discovery?

What exactly is a Sports Activity Vehicle? Who would look at the face of a Chevrolet Utility pick-up and truthfully declare that it does not look a bit funny?

I hope you get my point. I am here not only to dispense advice and sample vehicles so that you don’t have to, but also to initiate discourse and encourage critical thinking. A car is the third biggest investment you will ever make in your life. The second is buying a house. The first is educating your child.

You wouldn’t want to take your child’s education lightly, would you? Schools of ill repute will be steered clear of. Neither would you want to spend good money on a hovel into which you will condemn yourself and your loved ones their whole lives. So why not exercise the same keenness when it comes to choosing a car?

Have a good week.

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