What Does My Transmission Do?

Most people get into their car everyday and drive to the various places they need to go with little thought to how what is going on under the hood makes their mobile lifestyle possible.  In most cases, the only time we become curious about what makes our cars go is when something goes wrong and we are facing a costly repair bill.  Understanding how your car works and what the different components do can help you identify a small problem as soon as it starts, thus potentially helping prevent those costly repair bills.

To increase your familiarity with one of your car’s most important and costly components, the transmission, here is a primer on what the transmission does and how it does it.

The Basics

All machines, including car engines, are made up of something that generates power and something that enables that power to be applied in a productive way.  Many machines rely on a power transmission system for power application and in your car, this is the transmission.  Automotive transmissions are made up of several parts including the gears that enable you to drive at different speeds and the shaft the takes the energy from the engine and transfers it to the axles.

The primary job of the transmission is two-fold.  As stated above, the transmission transfers the energy from the engine to the axles which enables to car to move.  However, motor vehicle engines rotate at a very high speed which makes stopping, starting, or driving slowly impossible without some way to transform the high rotational speed produced in the engine to the slower rotational speed required by the wheels.   The transmission is responsible for this transformation, changing the energy created in the engine in such a way that the car can operate at both low and high speeds.  Transmissions contain multiple gears that enable this transformation which can be controlled manually, by the operator, or automatically by the automobile.

Manual vs. Automatic

The majority of vehicles in the U.S. are either manual or automatic transmissions.  This designation refers to how the transmission shifts from one gear to the next which enabling the car to travel at different speeds.  With a manual transmission, the driver must engage the clutch and physically shift the transmission into the appropriate gear.  Drivers must know when to shift and what conditions require which gear in order to operate a manual transmission effectively.  The driver presses the clutch pedal in order to disengage the gears so that the car can safely be shifted into the next gear.  Releasing the clutch re-engages the gears.

Automatic transmissions do all this work for the driver, shifting the transmission into the appropriate gears as the car accelerates and decelerates.  The driver only needs to shift from park into drive or reverse; the car will do the rest.

Whether your car has an automatic or manual transmission, you need to maintain the transmission by regularly changing the transmission fluid and taking the car in for service any time you feel gears slipping or making unusual noises.  Protect your investment in your automobile by protecting this crucial component.


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