Experiments

Stop Car By Shifting Into Reverse

posted: 04/11/12
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As seen in "MythBusters: Viewer Special I."
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Finding: BUSTED

Explanation: In the 1930s, comic book character Dick Tracy had a hair-raising ride in a brake-tampered car, though he didn't even try to shift gears to stop it, as this myth suggests. But could you really stop a speeding car by shifting into reverse? The MythBusters got behind the wheel to put the brakes on this tire-squealing myth.

Two types of transmissions — manual and automatic — are at the center of this theory, but neither offers much stopping power when you're commandeering a steel bullet on wheels. Turns out, you can put a moving car's automatic shifter into reverse, but the transmission will actually go into neutral. Most modern vehicles have safeguards to prevent engine damage, which is what would happen if you flipped directly from "D" to "R." Putting it in neutral will keep your vehicle from continuing to accelerate as if you were pressing the gas pedal, but unless you're also applying the brakes, the change in gears alone won't slow your current speed drastically enough to stop it.

If you discover your brakes don't work, downshifting a manual transmission into a lower gear can slow your speed. But when the car is moving, the reverse gear won't work because it turns in a direction opposite to all the other gears.

Looks like when the brakes are out, your only option besides "go" is "slow."

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