What Does M Mean on a Car?

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Wondering what the M mode is on the transmission panel of your car? Stay tuned to find out more regarding this. 

As you know, cars these days come in two transmission options- Automatic and Manual. However, if you purchase an automatic car, it has the option to switch to a manual transmission mode depending on the conditions. 

Automatic cars have been on the market for a long time, but there is still visible confusion about the gear transmission on these cars. 

Automatic transmission is comfortable but has certain disadvantages, so you may need to go back to the manual occasionally. That’s why you have the M mode on your dashboard, indicating whether the vehicle is in manual mode. 

In this guide, I will walk you through transmission modes and how and when to switch between them. We’ll also discuss the M mode on the dashboard. Let’s get going. 


Why Do You Have M On Your Car?

The M on the dashboard refers to the manual gear shifting in your car. Usually, you will find + and – signs along with it that you can use to upshift or downshift. 

In many situations, the manual transmission gives you better car control, such as driving in hilly areas, overtaking someone, or going through uneven roads. During manual mode, the system controls the brakes and clutches. However, you can only shift to the next and previous gear through the switches. For instance, if the car is in 2nd, you can go to 1 or 3. 

Manual transmission mode works as a backup or safety feature in automatic cars mainly because automatic transmission works better in ideal situations where you don’t need to manage the speed, gears, throttle, etc., constantly. 

But for tricky driving conditions such as driving down a steep road where you frequently need to apply brakes and manage the acceleration, manual mode is the best as you can shift as per the speed you want to go in. It also helps with brake life. 

The automatic transmission doesn’t provide an instant change of speed and power, while in M mode, you can shift gears as per your will and accelerate to increase the car’s speed. 


How to Operate the Car in M Mode?

When your car is running in M mode, you must use the + and – switches to shift gears. The downside, however, is that you can only switch to +/- one compared to the fully manual transmission, where you can go from 5th gear to 2nd, and skip 3,4. 

Here are some advantages of using M mode rather than the automatic one:

  • It gives you control of the vehicle regarding gear shifting. As I mentioned, the automatic mode is designed to work in ideal driving conditions where few activities are needed. But with a manual one, you can shift however you want and manage the drive as per your preference. 
  • While going downhill, the car continuously uses the brakes to keep the speed under control, preventing it from sliding. But, with manual mode, you can reduce the speed by shifting two gears down. When you are in first or second gear, the engine will control the car’s speed, giving a breather to brake pads that might be overheating. 
  • With M mode, you can accelerate and change the speed faster than in auto mode. 
  • If you want to overtake the car ahead, the automatic transmission may take a while to provide you with the necessary torque you need to overtake. In this case, you can switch to M mode, adjust the gears quickly and pass the vehicle. 


Understand the Dashboard

An automatic dashboard usually consists of the following signs:

1. P Mode

P refers to parking. You can use the shift handle to activate the park mode whenever you leave the car at some place unattended. The Parking mode will keep the car in gear so it won’t start rolling down by itself. 

2. R Mode

R is the reverse mode. Bring the lever to R if you are parking or driving backward. The system will control the clutch and brakes of the car while you can control the acceleration. 

3. N Mode

When you activate N mode, there will be no movement in the car. N refers to neutral, and you can bring the vehicle to neutral by pressing the brakes and moving the handle to N. In this case, the vehicle will keep rolling without locking them.

4. D Mode

D mode refers to automatic driving. When you start the engine, put your foot on the brakes, and use the handle to activate the driving mode. The car starts moving as you slowly let go of the brake pedal. That’s how an automatic car starts. 

You can switch from D to M even while driving and use the +/- switches to shift between gears. As you switch to the M mode, you will be able to see the gear that the car is currently in. 

5. M mode (+/-)

+/- buttons are used to change gears when the car is in manual mode. You will be able to see the current gear the vehicle is running in.


How to Start the Car in M Mode

Here are the steps you need to take to start and run the car in M mode:

  • Read your car’s user manual and understand the switches and their operations adequately. Knowing all this information beforehand is essential, not to risk anything. Check the controls, various modes, their placement, and functions carefully. 
  • Keep your hand near the gear shift switches. Most of the vehicles have + and – signs on them. Start the engine. 
  • Press the brake pedal all the way, and use + sign to put the car in first gear.
  • Release the brake pedal slowly and hit the throttle pedal gently to start driving. 
  • Use the + and – switches to shift between gears as per the engine’s RPM count. This information is available in the user manual. 


Conclusion: Automatic or Manual?

Although automatic cars sound more luxurious and advanced, one can’t deny the drivability and controllability of manual vehicles. With auto cars, you only have to manage the brake, while the rest will be taken care of mechanically based on the speed and RPM of the wheels. 

Manual (M mode) cars give you a better driving experience since you control gear level, clutch, and brakes. Yes, it may require more training than automatic, but the experience is much better. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of both transmissions:



Easier to learn than manual cars Less control in some conditions
Less input needed from the driver Relatively more expensive 
Less complicated operation  Costly spare parts and servicing
More popular and, great resale value Not so fuel economic



More affordable than Automatics More complex to operate
Higher fuel efficiency  Need to manage gears constantly
Controlled acceleration, torque, power More difficult to learn driving from
More popular and, great resale value Lower resale value 


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