Car Advice

Reader Question: Am I damaging my transmission by using paddle shifters?

Nobody wants to damage their car, so are paddle shifters a risk?

HELLO, I HAVE a simple question that I suspect may not have a simple answer. I bought a brand new 2017 Toyota Camry SE with sport mode and paddle shifters. I am an avid motorcyclist and use downshifting on exit ramps, approaching slow traffic, red lights, stop signs and downhill. I have a lot of experience with manual vehicles. I have researched my question on the internet and have found a million different opinions!

I have 256 miles on the vehicle and have done much the same style of shifting as I would a motorcycle or manual car. Question: is this damaging my transmission/drive systems, or is the automatic transmission able to account for and handle this stresses? Is it severely reducing my engine life? What can I do or tips do you have regarding the use of paddle shifters? As a manual driver I assumed that you would treat them as a manual vehicle, but now I have myself overly worried that I may be damaging my vehicle.

Thank You.

Practical Motoring Says:

YOU CAN RELAX. You won’t, and can’t damage the car by manually selecting gears with the paddles. The simple reason is that the computer controlling the transmission simply won’t let you select an inappropriate gear that will do damage. Try it – at freeway cruise speeds change down and you’ll probably get as far as third before the transmission refuses further downchanges. The car may beep or flash a light, but it won’t let you drop into a gear that would exceed the rev limit.

Conversely, if you select say second gear and accelerate the car will probably automatically change up to third if you don’t do anything, or perhaps it will bounce off the rev limiter which isn’t great driving but won’t harm the car. I don’t know which action the Camry takes when it hits its rev limiter, probably the automatic change up at a guess. You also won’t be able to pull away in third gear – you may be able to pull away in second though as that’s useful in slippery conditions.

As for tips – well, you don’t really need the paddle shifters at all. The modern gearbox is smart enough to select lower gears when required, and brakes on modern cars are good enough not to require engine braking assistance in almost all circumstances, with long, steep hill descents being a notable exception to that rule and even then modern automatics select lower gears to help.  Overall, there’s no benefit to you manually changing gears when decelerating. More on that in the links below.

Paddle shifters are more of a marketing device to make people feel like they’re real drivers and to get a bit of racing-car halo. In normal driving they aren’t required, and even less so with even new iteration of gearbox technology.

Further reading

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Wendell Williams
Wendell Williams
2 years ago

I have used sport mode in my 2013 Camary from time to time in the past , whether on expressway or residential streets. I noticed my warning light was on . I attempted to drive my car seemed to have problems changing gears. I drove to Toyota dealership at a low speed of 40 mph., Dealership notified me that trans was shot . To repair over six thousand dollars. I was devastated. I’m going to have fixed not a top priority at the moment. I figured cheaper to keep or buying someone else’s problems with used car purchase.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper