What Is The Difference Between D3 And D4 In A Car? All Details

Automatic transmission cars are taking over the dated manual ones, providing a more convenient and comfortable sense of driving.

The knowledge of the gear system, including D – Drive, R – Reverse, P – Park, and N – Neutral, is basic and a must for all drivers regarding an automatic transmission.

However, a preprogrammed transmission has more options to offer you.

You likely once observed unfamiliar indicators, such as D3 and D4, written on your gearbox and wondered what they were and their purposes.

The information given here will clear your concerns about the difference between D3 and D4, which will help you to maximize the vehicle performance in each situation.    

What Does D3 & D4 Mean In A Car? 

difference between d3 and d4
D3 And D4

D3 and D4 indicate two modes of shifting gears in automatic transmission cars.

Although an automatic gearbox takes the major charge of shifting gears during your ride, each gear position delivers certain functionality.

But what is the difference between D4 and D3?

If you lack understanding of these features in your gear system, you might not be able to use its competence and reach optimal driving satisfaction fully.

Hence, contemplation of each gear boosts your confidence in controlling the gear lever when driving.


D3 means Drive 3 mode or the third driving gear. It directs the vehicle heading forward and engages up to the first three gears in the transmission system.

Today’s automakers equip automatic gear systems with four to six forward gear options. Some advanced models own up to ten gear shifts.

When the lever is in this position, it locks the transmission in the third gear as the highest setting regarding how many gears it has. .

Instead of automatically shifting to other ones, it climbs up by each gear from D1, D2, and D3 as you raise the gas – this is also its gear limit.  

D3 is commonly available in many automatic cars with an exact indicator marked right on the handle.

Meanwhile, the others get the (+) and (-) symbols beside the D – Drive, meaning the switching upward/downward the gear, respectively.


While D3 instructs the car to drive forward with three gears engaged, D4 delivers the same order yet allows it to go up to the fourth gear.

It finds the most appropriate position for acceleration during a ride by combining 1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd gears, and 4th gear in use.

More gear selections mean a higher ability to switch automatically from 1 to 4 – which is its gear restriction.

Hence, I can obtain a higher speed limit due to greater gear change when shifting into D4.

The fourth gear provides an approximate speed of 70 mph on average, as it varies by vehicle and manufacturer.     

What Is The Difference Between D3 And D4?

difference between d3 and d4 batteries
Difference Between D3 And D4

Not only the number of gears utilized but D3 and D4 also provide dissimilar benefits in practical driving conditions.

While D3 is helpful in a stop-and-go driving scenario, it is more advantageous to use D4 for riding at leisure.

What’s the difference between D3 and D4? The general information above has just explained this regarding terminology.

It also differs in terms of technical operation and functional purposes in practical drives.

Because using only gears 1, 2, and 3, the D3 plays a role as an engine brake when it generates a wider RPM range at a lower speed.

Consequently, shifting into D3 reduces the possibility of hitting excessive speed whether you are deliberately or unintentionally pressing the accelerator.

Therefore, I found my car more responsive when driving in busy environments requiring constant brakings, such as dense traffic in cities or towns.

It also assists me in keeping my car moving steadily on passing a slope.

By contrast, it is more ideal for driving in D4 than D3 if you cruise through flat and long terrain.

Technically, the higher gear produces greater torque than the lowest gear. In fact, the level of torque generation in D4 scores more than in D3 by roughly 46%.

If D3 gives optimum capabilities at a speed of less than 30 mph, D4 is superior when you drive more than 40 mph.

Besides being faster than the third gear, D4 seems more versatile in normal conditions, either on or off the highway.

Due to the fact that each gear delivers a specific power, it is necessary to understand how these designations vary and meet different needs in various driving situations.

Reading until now, you are supposed to be certain about the question: what’s the difference between D4 and D3 in a car?

After all, you are able to acquire optimal satisfaction while getting your car performed in the most stable and efficient state.

Is Driving In D4 Or D3 Best? 

It depends on the particular driving scenario you are in.

Comprehension of the difference between D4 and D3 enables you to decide which is the proper gear selection when it comes to real-life driving.

Given you drive on an expressway or outside the city with less braking, feel free to put your car engine in the fourth gear position without too much stress on the transmission.

With the 4th gear engaged, I am able to rev up more smoothly and comfortably, thanks to higher torque. Moreover, locking the gear to the fourth contributes to improved fuel economy.

Regarding the D3 option, it comes in handy in other situations besides city driving:

  • Climb up/Descend hills: D3 shows its significant functions when I drive uphill or downhill. It gives my vehicle more power for movement and traction on a steep incline.

Meanwhile, the lower gear can relieve a considerable burden on the braking pad against gravity and reduce dangerous overheating.   

  • Slippery Roads: Rainy or snowy weather causes slippery surfaces, making my automobile more prone to uncontrollable gear slips. Engaging the gearbox in a D3 setup is recommended for greater traction and, thus, better safety.
  • Heavy-duty works: Having a car packed with loads or wanting to tow a trailer behind, you’d better pay close attention to control the vehicle’s speed and avoid pressing brakes too constantly.

Shifting into D3 offers an increase in engine RPM and support to the braking system through the capacity of the engine brake.

Can I Switch Between D3 And D4 While Driving? 

difference between d3 and d4 volvo
Switch Between D3 And D4 While Driving

Yes. The automatic gearbox allows flexible gear change; thus, shifting the lever between these two positions or the other driving gears is possible without stopping.

In addition to a more involved driving experience, switching gears back and forth optimizes vehicle performance in each situation, not to mention less risk of worn-out braking components (like a squeaking brake, spongy brake, or corroded rotors).

Depending on the actual driving condition, it calls for different choices of gear shifts. If you are in stop-n-go traffic, you should limit the top speed at the third.

The good reason is to cut down the tension on the car brakes, then extend its longevity eventually.

Meanwhile, running in D3 offers no better use when your car is on the highway or in normal driving conditions.

Although it does not harm the engine, staying at high engine RPM for such flat and long terrain is unnecessary.

Moreover, D4 requires less fuel consumption in those scenarios, making it more ideal gear to engage.

It is advisable to slow down your vehicle whenever you intend to switch to any other gear selection so it creates time for the transmission to adjust to new settings.

Also, you should not shift the handle into D3 if traveling at high speed, but change to a higher gear first and slowly drop to the lower one.

In case you move the shifter but the gear doesn’t change, click here to get my tried-and-true solution.


When Is It Appropriate To Drive In Low Gear?

As said above, locking the gearbox in a low gear enables the engine to generate a larger RPM range at a lower speed.

Hence, it is best suited when you require a downshifting and quick acceleration response simultaneously.

D3 is a proper gear when faced with not-so-free environments. For instance, heavy traffic, constant red light, hilly terrains, harsh weather, etc.

Is Driving In D3 Bad For Cars?

There is no exact answer, as it depends on the specific context.

The gear handle located in D3 may become a problem for your gas mileage if you drive faster than 30 mph.

Otherwise, setting D3 in appropriate situations, as listed above, you benefit from various advantages of driving in the third gear.

They include better throttle response, a longer-lasting brake system, more traction under unfavorable road conditions, and more proactive speeding control.   

Do I Need To Drive In D Or D3?

Typically, any car should start in Drive mode at first. With this selection, the gears can be shifted automatically among all available options with the help of hydraulics.

In common cases, it is a stress-free and sufficiently reliable driving mode for most drivers.

However, if you demand another level of response when approaching a particular driving condition, it needs to shift to another gear.

Specifically, hitting D3 is necessary when driving through slippery roads or around the city.   


It is critical to all gear designations in a car, as it directly affects the vehicle’s performance and the driver’s satisfaction.

The deeper your knowledge of your car’s capabilities, the more greatly you deploy it.

Once you understand the difference between D3 and D4, you can confidently select the proper choice of gear change while driving.

Not only more comfortable and safer but also less chance of troublesome mechanical breakdown or wasted depreciation.

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