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Why Hasn't Reverse Gear Been Standardized in Manual Transmissions?

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author photo by Will Kinton December 2017

As it currently stands in 2017, I can probably hop behind the wheel of almost any modern car and drive away. Outside of some specialty cars or race cars that require complicated start up procedures with switches and other doo-hickeys, most cars have a standardized user interface -- with a steering wheel, two or three pedals laid out in the same order, stalks for turn signals and other selectors, and ignition switches or buttons in an easy-to-access position. If you have a manual transmission, your gear lever probably displays a classic "H" shift pattern, unless you happen to have a dogleg shifter. All of this is pretty standardized, and any deviation from the norm is usually really slight.

So why didn't that ever happen to reverse gear in manual transmissions?

Even as manual transmissions fade from the automotive landscape, we still see massive variation from automaker to automaker. For example, my Volkswagen GTI requires you to push the gear lever down, then to the left, then up; newer Miatas require the same sort of thing. On the other hand, in BMWs you generally move the shifter to a slot to the left of first gear without pushing down. In older cars with 5-speed transmissions, it's generally directly below the fifth gear. Fiat 500s have reverse down and to the right of sixth gear. The strangest one I've ever experienced is in some Fords, Subarus and Nissans -- the reverse gear collar. You have to pull up on a ring below the shift knob before you can move the gear into reverse.

Why the variation? I feel like the placement of reverse gear should be something that people shouldn't need to think about. At this point, the placement of reverse gear in a manual transmission seems to be the only part of the driver interface that isn't constant. Even automatic transmissions have a standard gear order, with reverse always placed under park and before neutral.

At this point, I doubt it'll ever happen; the manual transmission has become too niche for standardization. Being able to select the reverse gear itself will end up being so much of a novelty that the placement of the gear will barely register.

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Why Hasn't Reverse Gear Been Standardized in Manual Transmissions? - Autotrader