Here’s What M On Gear Shift Means

If you have ever been asked what does M mean by a car? Well, M means manual gear change and was once quite common when the gears were used to increase the speed of the vehicle using a clutch pedal.

Now the M means that you can change gears manually when you want to and it is a safety backup feature used on Automatic Transmission vehicles.

In certain conditions, it feels safer to use the gears and remain in complete control of the vehicle. This can be the case in bad weather and steep inclines where we are at risk if the Automatic Transmission fails.

What is the M Gear Shift Used for?

The manual gear shift is used to increase the speed. In a manual transmission, the vehicle increases the speed by using a shifter, gears, and a clutch. It is often used in difficult terrain and especially if the automatic transmission can’t be relied on. It also takes a greater level of skill and concentration on the driver’s behalf than the automatic mode would.

With a 5-speed transmission, the engine revs higher as the vehicle increases speed. Once a higher speed is reached, or RPMs reach a certain level the driver will press the clutch pedal and slip the transmission up to the next gear. The engine then increases power.

A truck climbing a difficult terrain in the forest.

The same thing happens in reverse when downshifting. Watch the formula one driver at work, shifting their cars through so many gears to increase speed.

In a neutral position, the clutch is not engaged. If the driver has stopped, the hand brake should be applied to keep the vehicle from rolling away.

How Does the M shift Work?

As we shift up through the gears the speed increases accordingly. Continuously high RPMs are bad for the engine and will wear it out when used continuously. Gears and clutch slow the RPMs down so that the engine is not continually running at high Revolutions Per Minute. The higher the gear equates to higher the RPMs.

The latest cars are designed to switch from automatic to manual transmission as you cruise along the highway. After driving for a while, the drivers can usually tell when they need to shift to a higher or lower gear, and transmissions are designed to adjust using switches on your shifter.

The concept behind manual transmissions is to keep the RPMs (Revolutions per Minute) low enough to prevent the car engine from burning out. The RPMs make the engine revs higher as the car increases speed, the driver slips in the clutch and the transmission goes to a higher gear.

The gears in most manual transmissions have four gears and reverse, while high-performance cars go up to sixth gear, the higher the gear the higher the RPMs, and the fifth gear can reach 3,000 RPMs.

What Does M Mean on a Car?

The M actually stands for manual shifting, allowing you to control the car your way and M means you will ultimately have better control of your car when you use the gears. The older models of vehicles had a gear shift either near the wheel or indicator or on the center floor. Now you can switch easily from automatic to manual wherever you are driving.

The manual shift is really useful in sparing the brakes. If driving down a steep incline many of us drive with one foot on the brake, but using the gears correctly can overcome this problem by lowering the gears of the car and driving accordingly.

The same applies to inner-city driving, where minimal speed is required due to congested traffic conditions where low gear can be extremely useful and beneficial to the brakes.

With an automatic vehicle, you don’t get the same fast response that you get from a manual car, so it can come down to personal preference, but it is great to have both options in a car. Needs very much depend on personal choice and the type of driving you do, when continually on the highway and doing high-speed, automatic vehicles are more relaxing for the driver.

If you have an automatic vehicle it may have a Semi-Automatic mode available allowing you to control your vehicle while shifting gears.

City Cars

The Toyota has the M/S switch on the gear switch. This auto transmission helps the driver to control speed when in various types of traffic, it is a useful function during rain events enabling change by simply pressing the M/S button.

The manual mode allows you to shift gears and when you want to control the shifting of gears yourself, this is a good option. Most vehicles now have a lever or a button on the gear shift that lets you shift the gears manually.

Different countries appear to vary in attitude to manual vehicles, and in the UK, nearly everyone drives a manual transmission car, while in the USA it would be considered unusual. In Australia, all the young drivers now learn to drive in manual vehicles, while 20 years ago everyone was driving automatic vehicles.

Why Drive a Manual Vehicle and Can I Shift from D mode to M Mode?

Taking a manual driving test means that you learn to drive a manual car. Once you have passed the test it is up to you as to whether you drive an automatic car or a manual one. Many people who drive a manual vehicle say they like the feeling of control that it gives them. While driving an automatic you often feel that the car is driving you.

A manual car is more fuel efficient, mainly because the engine is less complex than an automatic one. So the driver does have more control over how the car is driven. However, if you have decided on an automatic car you can now have the best of both worlds.

In your new automatic car, you can shift from D mode to M mode as you drive down the Freeway. Many cars now have the M feature on the central gear shift, read your car’s manual as instructions vary from vehicle to vehicle.

Once you master the complexities of a manual vehicle, driving an automatic car will come naturally to you, so it doesn’t matter which one you drive as you will be able to adapt to either.

What Does the M Button Mode Do in an Automatic Car

In many cars the M button is on the gear shift, giving the driver the option of switching to manual mode. This is very different for older drivers who were used to a hydraulic clutch on the floor where there were once three pedals! Now, this function is performed by a switch.

Once the switch kicks in it allow the driver to manually change gears without the computer doing it.

Starting Your Car

As a safety feature, many cars have to be placed in neutral to start them. This is a backup feature for Auto Transmission. There is another new feature in European cars that I find frightening.

When stuck at a traffic light a start-stop system shuts off the engine while the car is not moving. When you hit the gas to start again the engine restarts, or we hope it restarts! This is to save gas or petrol, but some of the cars don’t start again easily, and hold up the traffic, perhaps due to the driver panicking!

Do Manual Transmissions Last Longer?

A manual car usually lasts longer than an automatic car, with the manual lasting more than 10 years. The automatic transmissions will eventually wear out, as an automatic vehicle is designed for hassle-free driving.

Careful driving and proper driving techniques can keep your car functioning for longer. It is also necessary to keep up the regular maintenance schedules as per the manual. Go easy on the clutch, lift your foot off the clutch while accelerating, and at the red light slip your gears into neutral.

Check the transmission fluid regularly and make sure that it is not leaking out. You don’t want a lack of fluid pressure. Carefully maintain your engine cooling system, which cools both your engine and transmission fluid.

Some manual cars last for years, and it is mainly because they have been well looked after, and driven carefully by the owner. Automatic cars are more expensive than manual, so if you are on a budget a manual car may be the answer for you.

A woman inspecting her car’s engine.


Most of us love a manual car, as it allows more control of the vehicle on difficult terrain. However, for an older person who only drives to the shops and the bowling club, an automatic can be the answer to a hassle-free trip.

What does M mean on a car? Will now be much clearer to you as the M means manual control switches that can prevent the car from going backward in an emergency. The new cars have so many safety features that it really depends on what you want from your car and the car you are used to driving.

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About Matthew Webb

Hi, I am Matthew! I am a dedicated car nerd! During the day, I am a journalist, at night I enjoy working on my 2 project cars. I have been a car nerd all my life, and am excited to share my knowledge with you!

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