What is a manual transmission?

7 minute read Published on Jun 21, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

What is a manual transmission?

Many people drive their cars on a daily basis but have no idea what’s inside them. For example, a transmission is one of the most important elements of a vehicle, and yet, many motorists don’t know what they do. Below, we outline all there is to know about manual transmission. This way, you will be able to identify if you have a bad transmission, which could help prevent your car engine from being damaged. Keep reading to find out more about what a manual transmission is and how it differs from automatic transmissions.

Car transmissions

Before we discuss manual transmissions specifically, we must first explain what a car transmission does. Think of your vehicle’s transmission as the gearbox of the car, which contains five to six gear sets and several gear trains. Together, these gear sets and gear trains allow the driver to control how much power is exerted by the vehicle. In other words, your car’s transmission is the main control system of the car, and it’s what allows the driver to control the vehicle’s movements.

Please note that similar to how your engine requires oil changes in order to function, your transmission needs transmission fluid. You can find out more about when to change transmission fluid here.

Types of car transmissions

In the modern era, there are three primary types of car transmission systems: manual transmissions, automatic transmissions, and continuous variable transmissions (CVT). Each type of transmission is unique, and they vary in popularity around the world. For example, in Europe, manual transmissions are still the most common, whereas in North America, automatic transmissions reign supreme. We explain how each of these systems works so that you can have an idea of how they differ:

Manual transmissions

First up is manual transmissions. Manual transmissions, also known as standard transmissions or “driving sticks,” were the first type of transmission that was widely used. When a vehicle uses a manual transmission, the driver controls the car via a clutch pedal. This clutch pedal controls the torque. The driver also controls the car by manually shifting between gears when necessary.

Standard transmissions are built in a simple way, but that doesn't make them simple to use if you do not have a basic understanding of gears. Therefore, they have a more significant learning curve than automatic transmissions, especially in North America, where most cars now use automatic transmissions. That said, standard transmissions are extremely durable, lasting longer than most other types of transmissions.

Automatic transmissions

Automatic transmissions are the easiest type of transmission to use. As you might expect, given the name, automatic transmissions change gears automatically as the car moves. This allows the driver to remain focused on the road instead of dealing with the clutch pedal. In essence, once a driver puts their vehicle into drive, the automatic transmission takes over and starts to switch gears as needed depending on the driver’s speed and whether they are accelerating or decelerating.

Just like manual transmissions, automatic transmissions also have gears, the driver is just less involved in shifting them in fact, the driver doesn’t shift gears at all in a car with an automatic transmission. Some automatic transmissions actually have more gears than manual transmissions, containing up to ten gears in one vehicle. Generally speaking, the more gears that are in your car, the more efficiently it will perform at a wide range of speeds. So, if you’re looking for a vehicle that offers good fuel economy, consider a fuel-efficient car with a more comprehensive automatic transmission.

It is worth noting that although automatic transmissions are much easier to drive and might also contain more gears, they are more prone to breaking down. They are not as durable as manual transmission, and due to their complexity, they are also more expensive to repair. Thankfully, depending on the situation, your car insurance policy may cover you for the cost of transmission repairs.

Continuous variable transmissions

One last type of car transmission worth discussing is the continuous variable transmission (CVT). CVTs, which you have heard referred to as shiftless car transmissions, do not use gears, which makes them very different from automatic and manual transmissions.

In lieu of gears, continuous variable transmissions employ a belt-driven design that features two rubber or metal pulleys. The pulleys work in tandem, essentially mimicking what gears do in manual and automatic transmissions. These rubber or metal pulleys can increase or decrease their size to help the car move through a range of gears. One of the biggest perks of continuous variable transmissions is that they can adjust to a much wider range of gears than automatic or manual transmissions. This creates the smoothest possible driving experience.

In addition, CVTs are also extremely fuel efficient, so if you want to minimize your trips to the gas station, buying a car with this type of transmission could be a wise choice. It is worth noting that CVTs are not well-suited to off-road terrain and are known to break down even more frequently than automatic transmissions, making them less reliable than other transmissions.

Is a manual transmission better than an automatic transmission?

When purchasing a new car, many drivers wonder if a manual transmission is better than an automatic transmission. Ultimately, both have pros and cons, which means that the answer to this question will vary between drivers. While some drivers prefer the feel and reliability of a stick shift, others may prefer the ease and convenience of an automatic transmission. Below, we outline the advantages and disadvantages of manual and automatic car transmissions so you can make an informed decision:

The advantages of a manual transmission

One of the biggest advantages of manual transmissions is that they are durable. Manual transmissions tend to last longer than automatic transmissions and, with proper maintenance, do not break down nearly as often.

In addition, manual transmissions give the driver more control over the car. They also get to interact with the car more directly since they are responsible for manually shifting gears as needed. This greater control can be especially useful when driving on off-road terrain or in inclement weather conditions, such as rain or snow.

The disadvantages of manual transmissions

The main disadvantage of manual transmissions is that they can be difficult to learn how to use. Unless you learned to drive in a car with a manual transmission, it can be tricky to get the hang of later in life, especially once you’re used to driving cars with automatic transmissions.

To make matters worse, driving a standard transmission poorly, i.e. shifting gears incorrectly, can have serious repercussions, including damage to your car transmission and engine. For this reason, those who are serious about buying a vehicle with a manual transmission must take the time to learn how to drive one. Beyond possibly damaging your car, driving a car with a manual transmission when you don’t have the skill can make for a far more stressful driving experience. Balancing engine speed and gear shifting can be overwhelming for some drivers.

Further, there are certain types of traffic conditions that manual transmissions are not well suited to, and a prime example of this is rush hour traffic. Driving in stop-and-go traffic with a manual transmission can be an exhausting experience as you will constantly be shifting gears.

So, if you frequently drive in rush hour traffic and are looking to buy a new car for your morning commute, a vehicle with a manual transmission may not be it. Similarly, other manoeuvres, such as parallel parking and reversing, can also be more difficult with a manual transmission, especially if you have to execute either of these manoeuvres on an incline.

Lastly, since manual transmissions are far less common nowadays, your model options will likely be limited if you insist on buying a car with a manual transmission.

The advantages of an automatic transmission

Let’s move on to the advantages of automatic transmissions. The main perk of an automatic transmission is that they are incredibly easy to drive. This means that there is only a very small learning curve, and once you've got the hang of it, operating your transmission should be a hassle-free experience.

In addition, some advanced automatic transmissions contain a higher number of gears than the average manual transmission, which means better performance and fuel efficiency. Speaking of fuel efficiency, automatic transmissions typically shift gears in a way that optimizes fuel consumption, which generally means better fuel economy in cars with manual transmissions.

The last benefit of automatic transmissions is that due to the way they are built, they can be designed to incorporate more safety features. In turn, this can reduce your odds of getting into an accident and may even lower your car insurance rates.

The disadvantages of automatic transmissions

The main disadvantage of automatic transmissions is that they don’t typically last as long as manual transmissions. Due to their complexity, they are more prone to breaking down, and if they need to be repaired, the repair will likely be more expensive. In addition, cars with automatic transmissions typically cost more than cars with manual transmissions.

Further, it’s possible for an automatic transmission to incorrectly shift gears, such as shifting gears at the wrong time. This can disrupt the handling of the car and make your car less fuel efficient. Generally, this is a problem that is confined to other automatic transmissions, e.g. those before the mid-2000s.

Contact BrokerLink

If you want to learn more about how manual transmissions or automatic transmissions work, reach out to BrokerLink today. One of our licensed insurance advisors can explain how these types of transmissions function and whether your car insurance coverage will protect you if your transmission is damaged.

Similarly, a BrokerLink insurance advisor can also explain how AC works, how to fix an AC, or how to check your car radiator or power steering fluid. From there, they will also inform you of whether any related repair costs are covered by your auto insurance company, such as the cost of replacing your car air filter.

The reality is that not all repairs are covered by car insurance, especially ones that are caused by wear and tear or incidents other than collisions. That said, maintaining your car is still extremely important. Oil changes are a prime example of this. You should take your car for oil changes regularly, especially given the low cost of oil changes and the short amount of time that an oil change takes.

For more information on how to maintain or repair your car or how to find a car insurance policy that’s right for you, contact BrokerLink now. We also encourage you to take advantage of the free online quote tool on our website to request a free car insurance quote today.

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