What Does the M Mean in a Car?

If you’re not used to driving cars with automatic transmissions, you can easily be confused with the letters and numbers on their gear shifts. To use them properly, you need to understand what they mean. In that respect, what does the M mean in a car?

The meaning of the letter M on an automatic transmission gear shift is Manual or Manual Control. It is what you need to put the gear shift into if you want to switch the transmission from automatic to manual control. Once you place the gear into M, you can manually shift the gears.

Sometimes, manually shifting gears is better than allowing the car to do it automatically. This is the purpose of the M in your vehicle with automatic transmission. To use M on your car, manually push a button on the gear shift or shift the gear level to control the car.

Read on to learn more about the meaning of M in an automatic transmission, its function, and how to use it.

What Does the M Mean in a Car?

what does the m mean in a car

Manual or Manual Control

The M on a car with automatic transmission stands for Manual or Manual Control. It allows you to control your vehicle if you use it manually. Switching to M will override your vehicle’s automatic transmission until you change it back to automatic again.

Effective When Driving Uphill or Downhill

There will be times when manual mode is more effective in moving your car than the automatic transmission. Such times can include driving uphill or downhill or overtaking another vehicle on the highway.

When you put the gear into M, you can manually shift the gears into what you want. The instrument panel will display the current gear that you have chosen. There is either a button on the gear shift, or you have to shift the gear manually to select M.

Automatic Transmissions Have Paddle Shifters for Shifting Gears Manually

Most cars with automatic transmissions have paddle shifters that are used to shift the gears manually. Paddle shifters use the plus (+) sign to upshift the gear and the minus (–) to downshift. These paddle shifters are typically attached to the steering wheel of the vehicle.

When you shift the gear to M, the instrument panel will display the letter M. So, if your car were previously in drive mode, the D would be replaced by M. If you see the M on the display screen, you can now manually shift your gears.

Is An Automatic Shifter Faster than a Manual Shifter?

Is shifting to M from D will enable your car to go faster? It depends on the age of your vehicle. In older car models with automatic transmissions, this is possible. However, many technological advancements have made modern cars with automatic transmissions faster than their manual siblings. 

It also depends on how you manipulate your manual shifter. You can go faster in a manual shifter if you are climbing a hill because you can control your speed by how heavy you step on the gas pedal.

Cars with automatic transmissions usually leave it to the system to choose and control the car’s speed. So, in most cases, you don’t have any control over the speed of uphill climbing, no matter how heavy you step on the gas pedal.

What Can A Manual Shifter Do?

Compared to an automatic shifter, where you don’t have any control over gear selection, a manual shifter gives you complete control of what gears you want to use. First, when you put your shift to manual mode, it overrides the automatic transmission system.

Anytime you want or need to drive manually, you need to shift to this mode. You also need to change to manual mode if the automatic transmission has difficulty negotiating the road you are currently driving on.

Additionally, most people shift to this mode if they think it will be safer to have manual car control instead of leaving the gear to automatic control. They believe it will keep them from having an accident.

As a matter of convenience, you may use the manual mode to give you the ability to have on-demand upshifts and downshifts whenever you need to without using the clutch. It will depend on the driving situation that you are currently in.

What Is the Importance of M?

At first, it was just Toyota Motor Co. with a manual (M) option with automatic transmissions. Pretty soon, other car manufacturers also followed suit. Most modern automatic cars have this M option in some of their automatic gear shifters.

To some people, this M option is not a big deal. However, some drivers think the M option makes a huge difference in the performance and safety of an automatic vehicle. They are a boon to drivers who are experienced in driving manual cars.

Again, what does the M mean in a car? The M in a vehicle means Manual. Check the shift indicator in the instrument panel for your car’s gear.

Automatic Gear Shift Letters

what is m in cars

Aside from M, other letters are indicated in a car’s gear shift display screen with automatic transmission. Since we are on this subject, I deem it just right to explain these other letters’ meanings:

  • D – This is the drive mode, where your gears are in drive gear and which is held while you are driving forward.
  • R – This is the Reverse mode you should use when backing up your car.
  • P – This is the Park mode you choose when safely parking your car.
  • N – This is the Neutral mode, where you are caught up in traffic, and your lane is on Stop.
  • L – This is the Low gears, meaning you choose this mode if you want to slow down the speed of your vehicle, like climbing or going down a hill.
  • E – This is the Economy mode. You can choose this gear when you want to save up on your gas consumption. It will attenuate (reduce) the power options of your car to gain more fuel economy.
  • S – This is the Sport mode. You can choose this gear if you want to extract more power and speed from the engine, such as when overtaking another vehicle on the highway.

Why Choose Manual Over Automatic Shifting?

1. Gives Better Control

The one main reason why some drivers shift to the manual mode is that it enables them to control their vehicles better. An alert driver has a lot more information at hand than the computer of the car. That includes the ongoing traffic, level of light, and weather conditions.

2. Helps in Driving in Difficult or Hazardous Road Conditions

M could also help if you drive in difficult or hazardous road conditions, such as standing water and icy or muddy roads. You also have better control of the car’s speed with manual mode.

3. Enables the Use of the Engine’s Maximum Speed

Manual mode will enable you to use the engine’s maximum speed and increase its braking power if the car goes too fast. You can gain more braking power by combining manual mode with engine braking if you negotiate difficult road conditions.

In other words, manual mode allows you to use engine braking. This is very important if you are going downhill for an extended period.

Your brake pads will not overheat the engine either because you can slow down your vehicle by engine braking and not just by your brakes.

4. Allows You to Haul or Tow Heavy Loads

Manual mode can also enable your vehicle to haul or tow heavy loads. It will allow your car to provide increased power because you control your car’s speed, not the computer.

A lower gear may reduce your speed, but it gives your engine more power to carry the weight of your vehicle and the added load.

When to Shoot in Manual Mode?

As you can glean from the above discussions, there are better times when you should use the M mode of your automatic transmission. When are these opportune times?

Some drivers can better handle the challenges of unsafe road conditions if they put their automatic cars in manual mode.

There are also a lot of drivers, especially those experienced in manually controlling their vehicles, who prefer to drive in manual mode. To them, there is no better driving experience than having complete control of the car, no matter the circumstances.

Can You Shift to Manual While the Gear Is on Drive?

what does the m gear mean in a car

It is not a no-no to put your automatic transmission to manual mode while your car is in motion. You can do so without any worries. Modern automatic gearboxes are designed with a manual mode that you can use while driving your vehicle.

So, anytime you want or feel you need to, you can switch from D to M and expect your vehicle to run without any problem. If you choose to do so, the instrument panel will promptly indicate M on its display screen.

What Happens If You Suddenly Shift to M from D?

There’s nothing bad that will happen. It will give you more control of your vehicle’s speed. For instance, if you are driving down a hill, you might be worried that your brake pads will overheat.

Instead of riding your brakes throughout your downhill drive, shift to M mode, and you will save your brakes because you can now shift to the lower gears of your transmission. You can use the first or second gears to take advantage of engine braking.

In Closing

The M on a car with automatic transmission stands for Manual or Manual Control. It is the one you need to put the shift gear into if you want to switch from automatic control to manual control.

When you put the shift gear into M, you can manually shift the gears instead of letting the car shift the gears automatically.

Sometimes, it is better to control the car manually than to use its automatic transmission. This is the reason why the M is there. To use the M, you must either push a button on the gear shift or shift the gear level to M to manually control your vehicle.