As a young driver, the word transmission did little more for me than provide me with delayed-onset anxiety.
I still remember my dad coming home after a long Sunday afternoon of hard work saying: —it's the transmission, " with an unambiguous look of defeat in his eyes.
I knew very little about cars at 16 — but I did know one thing: dad was not happy about the bill. Still — as he always had — Pops took it like a man and did whatever he had to do to get that bill paid (I'm okay without knowing the details).
Aside from being the butt-end of the occasional joke handcrafted by my high-school girlfriend's father, I was never too beat up about not being able to drive stick-shift. Many swore —I just had to learn — as a man, " but — to me — it always seemed needlessly time-consuming. Why spend all my extra time learning how to operate a manual transmission if I'll never drive a manual vehicle?
Though the responses were always very articulate and very helpful, they never managed to convince me; so for the past decade, I've stuck with my automatic transmission and (thankfully) my quality-of-life hasn't suffered one bit. Truly, it's been a stall-free, smooth ride for the past 10 years and I couldn't be more grateful for my used 2003 Grand Am and its phenomenal automatic transmission.
As such, I felt it necessary to explain the inner-workings of these outstanding examples of machination and innovation -- although, simply, because —they don't require you to know anymore than the basics!
Perhaps the single-most complex component of your automatic vehicle, the automatic transition is generally comprised of several mechanisms:
First and foremost: the gear sets.
1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, etc. We all know what a gear is — but how do they work? These gears are responsible for transmitting the necessary power to your wheels, thus powering your vehicle. Similar gears are found in Manual transmissions but you have to switch between them yourself: hence the shifter!
Second: the hydraulic system.
In order to switch back and forth between gears automatically, a hydraulic system is needed to provide the necessary lubrication and power. These components make the automatic transmission a great deal more complex than manual transmissions. Considering the hydraulics present in the engine component, the auto transmission essentially requires a specially-formulated —hydraulic oil, commonly referred to as an ATF, —found here. The pump responsible for transferring the lubricant throughout the transmission first draws oil from a reservoir. Next, the hydraulics pressurize the in-compressible oil which inputs the required force to operate a transmission.
Third: the Torque converter
Taking place of the —clutch " used in manual transmissions, a torque converter is designed to transfer power. These allow for much easier transitions for —stop-and-go " driving commonly experienced in the city. It also keeps your engine running, maintaining the current gear instead of stalling.
Fourth: the computer
Most modern automatic transmissions are powered by a computer. The computer monitors and reads various information from the above components, and keeps tabs on engine temperature and other important fluctuations in engine components.
While, certainly, each of these components may be further broken down and examined, I've operated my automatic vehicle under a blanketed understanding that ignorance is bliss — these components are designed to work extremely efficiently and for a long time. That's why they're so expensive!