What does a transmission do?

7 minute read Published on Mar 19, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

What does a transmission do?

If you drive a car in Canada, then it’s important to understand what your car transmission is. This way, you can identify if you’re dealing with a bad transmission, which could help prevent your car engine from being damaged, Continue reading to learn more about vehicle transmissions, including how they work and when to change the fluid in them.

What is a car transmission?

The transmission is one of the most important parts of any vehicle. A transmission is made up of a gearbox, in which there are five or six gear sets, as well as multiple gear trains. These gears and gear trains allow the driver of the vehicle to control how much power is exerted. In essence, the transmission is the main control system of the car.

There are three main types of transmissions found in cars today: manual transmissions, automatic transmissions, and continuous variable transmissions (CVT). Each type of transmission is designed for a different type of driving. That said, most cars have either automatic or manual transmission, with North America favouring the former.

Manual transmissions

Manual transmissions are the original transmissions. You may also hear this type of transmission called standard transmission or “driving stick.” These names all refer to the same type of transmission. When a car has a manual transmission, the driver uses a clutch pedal to control the torque that is transferred from the engine to the transmission. They must also manually shift between different gears as needed. Technically speaking, standard transmissions are the simplest type of transmission that you will find in a car. They are also very durable and often have longer lifespans than other types of transmissions. That said, they are more challenging to use so the learning curve is greater than with an automatic transmission.

Automatic transmissions

Moving on to automatic transmissions. Where manual transmissions are considered a challenge to operate, automatic transmissions are not. They are the easiest type of car transmission to learn to use. In fact, there is almost no learning curve. As per the name, this type of transmission automatically changes gears as needed while the vehicle is moving. This allows the driver to focus solely on the road rather than fumbling around with the clutch. Once a driver puts their vehicle into drive, the transmission takes over and will switch gears on behalf of the driver according to the car’s speed, acceleration and deceleration.

As you now know, all transmissions have gears, including automatic transmissions. You may not be aware of them to the same degree as you would be with a standard transmission because you do not have to switch between them manually. However, automatic transmissions, just like manual ones, have multiple gears. Automatic transmissions may even have more gears than their manual counterparts, containing anywhere between five and ten gears.

Generally speaking, the more gears your transmission has, the better it will perform while driving at a range of speeds and the more fuel-efficient it’s likely to be. If you want to know what good fuel economy looks like, click here. You can also find a list of fuel-efficient cars here.

The main downside with manual transmissions is that they are more complex since they do the work for the driver. This makes them more prone to mechanical problems, and if a breakdown occurs, they can be more expensive to fix.

Continuous variable transmissions

Lastly, this discussion of the various types of car transmissions would not be complete without mentioning continuous variable transmissions (CVT). CVT transmissions, also known as shiftless car transmissions, differ from standard and automatic transmissions in that they don’t use gears to produce different speedings. Instead, they rely on a belt-driven design that is made up of two rubber or metal pulleys. The pulleys work together, imitating what happens when gears are engaged. The pulleys can increase and decrease their sizes, specifically their diameters, which allows the transmission to move through an unlimited range of gears.

Thus, another key difference between CVT transmissions and standard or automatic ones is that these transmissions can facilitate many more gears - technically, a continuous or unlimited number of gears. Beyond the higher number of gears, which makes for a smoother, more optimal driving experience, the other main benefit of a CVT transmission is that they are extremely fuel efficient. However, the drawbacks are they are not well suited to off-road terrain, they are known to break down more frequently than other types of transmissions due to their complexity, and they do not offer engine braking.

Despite all of the advantages that CVT transmissions offer, they are the least common type of transmission on this list. Therefore, if you wish to buy a car with one, it’s going to require some research. Generally, CVT transmissions are most popular with Japanese and European automakers.

How do car transmissions work

It’s one thing to understand what a car transmission is, but how do they work? Just like understanding how AC works can potentially help you fix an AC issue, understanding how your car transmission works can also help you avoid or fix a transmission problem.

The good news is that no matter what type of transmission you have inside your car, the gearboxes function very similarly. The gearboxes in a car typically include a gear lever, which is responsible for selecting and enabling the gears to make contact with one another. The only difference here is that in a manual car, the driver physically operates the lever via the clutch pedal, whereas in an automatic car, the lever is engaged automatically.

When the gear lever is engaged, the gear moves the clutch plates into place. From there, the clutch plates put the larger gears in contact with one another. These larger gears are what are connected to the car’s differential. Once this process is complete, anytime the car is moving, the lever can now enable whatever gears it wants at different times.

The importance of transmission fluid

You probably know by now how important the different fluid types are in a car. For example, oil changes are required frequently, as is checking the power steering fluid and topping it up. Fluids serve various purposes in a car, but they are primarily designed to lubricate the various parts to ensure they move smoothly and function as they should.

Thus, we cannot discuss car transmissions without talking about transmission fluid. Transmission fluid is the substance that is used to lubricate the bearings and metal parts inside the transmission gearbox. From there, it prevents these parts from grinding together as they move, which prevents wear and tear.

Your car's transmission type determines what type of transmission fluid you will need. There is an automatic transmission fluid and a manual transmission fluid. There are also specific types of fluid for CVT and dual-clutch transmissions, as well as other specialty fluids.

How to check the transmission fluid in your car

From time to time, it’s good practice to check the transmission fluid levels in your car. This is due to the fact that your car relies on this type of fluid, among others, to function efficiently. By checking your transmission fluid on a regular basis, you will not only ensure that your car is running smoothly, but doing so can make you aware of minor problems before they become big ones.

To check your transmission fluid, review the owner’s manual for your car. This manual will include all sorts of important information, such as whether your car engine should be turned on when you check the transmission level and the average interval of time between fluid changes.

Typically, the process of checking transmission fluid begins by popping the hood of your car. From there, you should be able to locate the transmission fluid dipstick using the manual. It is often under the hood near the oil dipstick. Speaking of oil, find out how long an oil change takes and how much an oil change costs here.

Remove the transmission fluid dipstick from the hood, clean it, and check the level as indicated on the dipstick. If the dipstick indicates that the fluid levels in your car are below what they should be, you will need to top it off. This is a relatively easy process if you already have transmission fluid on hand. Just make sure not to overfill it, as an excess of fluid could damage the transmission.

If you aren’t comfortable topping up the transmission fluid in your car on your own, take it to a mechanic near you. Mechanics are experts at performing all types of car maintenance for road trips and various seasons like winter and summer. They know how to top up all fluids in your car, replace the car air filter, and more.

How often should transmission fluid be changed?

When to change transmission fluid is a common topic people wonder about. The answer to this question is that it varies. For this reason, checking your manufacturer's recommendation should be the first order of business. These recommendations can vary widely between different makes and models of cars, recommending a change every 30,000 miles to a change every 100,000 miles.

Contact BrokerLink

If you still have questions about how car transmissions work, whether you have an automatic transmission, standard transmission, or CVT transmission, contact BrokerLink today. In fact, if you have questions about any part of your vehicle, such as your car radiator, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Although general wear and tear on the transmission or radiator will not be covered by car insurance, damage caused by theft, collisions, and other risks may be covered. Speak with a fully licensed insurance broker today to learn all there is to know about auto insurance and the different ways that it is designed to protect drivers.

A few of the different types of car insurance coverage that a BrokerLink insurance advisor can help you find include:

What are you waiting for? If you’re ready to begin your car insurance journey, reach out to BrokerLink today. A BrokerLink insurance advisor will not only answer your questions; they will take the time to understand your needs and find coverage within your budget. They can also provide you with an obligation-free quote. All BrokerLink car insurance quotes are accurate, reliable, and completely free of charge. It’s a win-win! Give us a call or use the online quote tool on our website to get started now.

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