What Transmission Do I Have?

One of the most frequently asked questions by drivers is what transmission do I have?. A great number of these people only get to ask this question when they notice that their transmission has a problem.

A couple of decades ago, the only available transmission had a gear stick and three pedals. Knowing how to work the clutch and shift gears then was a rite of passage. Currently, cars come with various types of transmissions with each having its own advantages and disadvantages.

These multiple transmission types, leave the average person confused. One of the reason is that their functionality on the surface seems quite similar. However, the truth of the matter is that they are very different.

The transmission is a device that transfers the power produced by the engine to the wheels. It significantly determines how the car moves and how fast. Those who have been asking “What transmission is in my car?” have come to the right place.

This article will cover some of the most common transmission types.

Manual Transmission

Commonly referred to as the “driving stick,” in the United States, it features a clutch and an adjustable gear selector. Just as the word suggests, it uses the gear lever and the clutch to select and engage the gear ratios.

On the other hand, the clutch separates transmission and the engine. It is a coupling device that makes it possible to change gears while the engine is running.

2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray in 7-speed manual transmissionManual transmission. Image from wikimedia

The manual transmission basically has everything going for it. It is reliable, inexpensive and has great fuel economy. Moreover, it gives the driver more control, low net weight and supports the push to start functionality.

The only downside to this type of transmission is that it is the most difficult to use.

Automatic Transmission

This is the most common type of transmission available on our roads today. It changes gears automatically relieving the driver the hassle of manually handling the clutch and shifting gears.

Automatic transmission. Image from wikipedia

Though this sounds pretty simple, there is much more going on behind the scenes. The in-built computer controls a series of clutches and brakes and a planetary gear set.

Having a large number of gears is desirable because it facilitates a smoother acceleration.

A such, there is a gentle learning curve and a simplified driving experience. The trade-off is mechanical complexity, and high maintenance cost, and low fuel efficiency.

Dual-Clutch and Semi-Automatic Transmission

These two are similar in the sense that they are a hybrid of the manual and the fully automatic transmissions. They try to make the most of the two worlds. However, this is where the similarities end.

dual clutch automatic

Porsche’s PDK gearbox is one of the best dual-clutch automatics. Image from telegraph.co.uk

A semi-automatic transmission achieves the convenience of the automatic while running under a mechanical layout of a manual transmission. It has inbuilt actuators that adjust the clutch and change gears.

Semi-automatics are cheaper than fully automatic transmissions, they have a higher fuel efficiency, and a low net weight. These performance benefits are inherited from the manual transmission.

It also offers a comfortable driving experience close to that of a fully automatic. The problem with this type of transmission is that it has awkward gear changes.

The dual clutch transmission (DCT) is a relatively new player in the market, with the potential to revolutionize the industry.

It focuses on making the best of the two worlds in a manner that the semi-automatic transmission has not managed to.

DCT features a manual transmission that uses electronically controlled mechanical gears to set the relevant ratios. It also has a valve body or a hydraulic control unit; a feature that the semi-automatic lacks.

This ensures smooth gear changes.

However, what really sets the DCT apart is its “dual” aspect. There are two separate clutches for the even and odd gears; an aspect that facilitate exceptionally fast shifts.

As such, the driver can operate the gears manually via the steering wheel paddles or can opt to stick to the fully automatic mode.

In terms of the upsides, the dual clutch transmission does tick all the boxes.

The only downside is that its control module and other components are prone to electronics failures and consequently expensive repairs.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Toyota electronic continuously variable transmission (2010-10-16) 04

Continuously variable transmission. Image from wikipedia

CVT is the epitome of driving experience characterized by a smoother ride, higher power, and a superior fuel economy. It beats most of the other transmissions in their own game.

Instead of using gears, it employs an evolutional technology of pulleys and belts to create a limitless range of ratios.

This means that when you floor the accelerator, you will not feel the nudging motion caused by shifting gears. All you will feel is a smooth but rapid increase in speed with minimal changes in engine sound.

People often mistake this for lack of power, however, it is usually faster than the fully automatic counterpart.

The only downside is that the seamless and smooth acceleration with no gear shifts and engine sound to accompany it, makes some drivers feel like they are operating an appliance.

So, what transmission is in my car? How to look up?

 Credit: obdstation.com

Now it is time to address your most burning question, “What Transmission Do I have”? An easy way to do it is to check the owner’s manual in the glove box. This manual contains valuable information about the car including the type of transmission.

If you can’t find the manual, try to look at the white door card or tag found at the driver’s door.

This tag has various vehicle information that includes, the country of origin, year of manufacture, engine type, and the transmission.

Another option is to grab your flashlight and go under the hood to look for part numbers. Pay close attention to the transmission oil pan and take note of any numbers stamped on it or the transmission itself.

Visit your local auto part dealer to help you identify the type of transmission these numbers reference.

Vehicle Identification Number – VIN NUMBER

Another great way to establish the type of transmission is to carry out a Vehicle Identification Number Lookup.

This is a 17-character number that uniquely identifies the transmission type, factory installed engine, where it was built, among other details.

The VIN can be found at on the door tag on the driver’s door, or on a metal dash plaque found on the dashboard.

You can definately identify your VIN number with most of the car diagnostic tool.

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