What Is Overdrive and When Should You Use It?

Overdrive is found on most automatic vehicles and very few manual cars. Even a plethora of old cars have it, but there’s a difference in the way that you use it. Old cars shouldn’t use overdrive under 50 MPH, while new cars shouldn’t use it under 60 miles per hour.

Overdrive is a feature designed to improve the efficiency of your transmission when you’re cruising at high speeds. It works by reducing engine RPMs. You should use overdrive when you’re steadily driving above the aforementioned speed limits.

Throughout this article, you’ll learn the following information about overdrive features:

  • When should you use it?
  • Is it bad for your car?
  • How do you use it in action?
What is overdrive and when to use it.

When Can You Use the Overdrive Function On Your Vehicle?

Using overdrive in an automatic car is something that most drivers tend to avoid. Without the knowledge of what it does, it can seem useless or risky. After all, you’ve driven for so long without ever using it.

However, overdrive actually saves you money, gasoline, and time because it uses your transmission in a way that requires fewer RPMs, saving you gasoline and increasing the lifespan of your transmission.

Here’s a list of examples for when it’s appropriate to use overdrive:

  • Whenever you’re driving over 60 miles per hour steadily, you should use overdrive. It will allow you to save gas and move at a smoother pace. This can be done when you’re on the highway, driving along country roads, or speeding up to the pace of traffic on the road.
  • When you’re on a long road trip with varying speed limits that exceed 50 to 60 miles per hour, you can turn your car into overdrive. Some roads, such as the popular Highway 101, have speeds that range from 35 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour. Keep an eye out for anything within your car’s overdrive limits.
  • When you put your car into cruise control and let it take over, overdrive and make it even easier for you. Without having to adjust the speed, you can let your vehicle coast at 60 to 70 miles per hour on overdrive. Make sure you’re alert to adjust the speed if necessary, but this 1-2 combo is as good as it gets for long drives.

Overdrive is a very useful feature that any automatic car driver can take advantage of when they’re on the road. If you ever experience a time when you’re able to cruise at or above your vehicle’s designated speed limit for overdrive, give it a try and see how much smoother it is.

Is Overdrive Bad to Use?

Some drivers are worried about the possible damage caused by using overdrive. You can’t harm your transmission if you’re using overdrive within the previously mentioned parameters, but it’s definitely possible that it could lead to issues if done incorrectly.

Overdrive isn’t a free gasoline savings card, nor is it a way to use your transmission efficiently every time you drive. It should only be used when you’re driving above 50 to 60 miles per hour for extended time periods.

There are definitely bad times to operate a vehicle with O/D on:

  • When you’re driving uphill, don’t use overdrive. Since overdrive reduces your vehicle’s RPMs, it makes your engine work much harder when you’re trying to drive up a steep incline. You’ll end up going way too slow, or worse; You could ruin your transmission.
  • Don’t use overdrive if you’re driving downhill, either. Since it uses fewer revolutions, you can’t efficiently slow down enough to save your brake pads. Downhill overdrive usage is widely debated. Some drivers believe that it saves them from having to brake as much since they’re going slower, while others point to the transmission concerns.
  • If you’re not driving above 50 miles per hour (for older cars) or 60 miles per hour (for newer cars), then don’t use overdrive. You won’t save any money or transmission fluid by doing it. Instead, you’ll force too much pressure on the transmission since it’ll be cruising at a lower RPM.

Never think of overdrive as a save-all feature. There’s a reason that many drivers avoid it altogether. However, you can use overdrive appropriately to reduce the strain on your transmission.

If you find yourself in any of the situations found in this section, don’t switch it on. It should only be used when you’re cruising on a flat or low-incline road at the correct miles per hour. Other than that, rely on the natural state of your transmission.

How Do You Use Overdrive on a Car?

Overdrive is a very easy feature to use. You shouldn’t turn it on when you first start the engine, even if you know that you’ll be steadily cruising at the right speed. Instead, wait until you’re there, then turn on overdrive.

If you’re still concerned about using it correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Speed up to the cruising mileage that you’re going to be using for your trip or commute. You don’t have to leave the limit the same as you would with cruise control. Instead, feel free to turn it on when you’re above 50 to 60 miles per hour.
  2. Locate the O/D symbol light in your vehicle. It should be on your dashboard next to the odometer and other symbols. Make sure that it’s off before you push it.
  3. Turn on the overdrive feature by pressing the button labeled ‘O/D’ once you’ve completed step 1. You might feel a slight jerking motion; It’s just the transmission locking the gears and setting itself.
  4. Before you start to decelerate below 50 to 60 miles per hour, turn the overdrive feature off. Remember that you’ll feel a similar jerking motion since the transmission has to free up the other gears for your car to use.

Note: Never leave overdrive on all the time. Even if you’re pulling off a highway, turn it off before you slow down. Accelerating with overdrive on under the designated speed limit can strip the gears of your car, causing you to have to buy a new transmission.

Using overdrive isn’t complicated, all you have to do is make sure that you’re cruising correctly. There’s nothing special about the process! Feel free to use it every day if your commute calls for it. Frequent usage can be a massive benefit for your vehicle.


Overdrive is a feature that pretty much every vehicle with an automatic transmission will have. It’s been used for decades, and the usefulness continues to improve for modern drivers. When it’s used correctly, there’s no denying the positive effects that it has on a vehicle.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what you should’ve learned from this post:

  • Use overdrive when you’re cruising above 50 to 60 miles per hour, depending on the age of your vehicle.
  • Don’t use overdrive when you’re below the aforementioned speed limit, nor when you’re going up or downhill.
  • Overdrive is usually symbolized by the letters ‘O/D’.
  • Overdrive works by lowering the RPMs of a vehicle while it’s driving steadily at high speeds.
  • When you use O/D correctly, it can drastically improve the lifespan of your vehicle’s transmission.
  • Improper usage of overdrive can strip the gears of your car.




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