When you’re in the market for a new car, one of the non-negotiable features people usually look for is transmission type.

Most people are loyally in favour of either automatic or manual cars, and refuse to budge to the other side, but how do they differ and what role does the transmission play?

How does a car’s transmission mechanism work? The transmission system in a car uses a number of components like a pressure plate, clutch, and flywheel to operate.

At its most basic level, some parts of the transmission system are connected to the engine and the other to the input shaft, and as you change gears, the engine is shifted into power to meet it.

The best way to learn your way around a vehicle is to know how the transmission works, and this differs quite a bit between the two types.

We’re going to delve further into automatic and manual transmission cars to see how their differences and similarities, and come up with a final winner between the two.

The Role of a Car’s Transmission

The Role of a Car’s Transmission

When it comes to a car’s part, there’s none as important as the transmission, as this is what transfers the power of the engine to the wheels.

If you didn’t have a transmission, you’d be sitting there in the stillness, and whether you prefer to drive with an automatic or manual system, you won’t get far without it.

The exact method that the transmission uses to exert this power depends on the car and the type of transmission.

The main goal of this component, though, is to allow the gear ratio between the engine and the wheels to adjust in time with the car’s movements, and change whether you slow down or speed up.

When you stop the car, the transmission system automatically disconnects the engine, which allows you to keep the engine idling even if you’re going nowhere and the wheels aren’t moving.

Without the transmission, you wouldn’t be able to take off as fast you could nor could you drive slowly or at a consistent speed a required, so it’s responsible for a lot of our usual driving habits.

The Different Types

One of the most important features you’ll have to decide on when buying a new car is whether it’ll be an automatic or manual, and in lesser cases, CVT.

Although many people have an idea before they go into it, it’s helpful to understand the finer workings of each type of transmission and how they operate so you know which is best.

The Basics on Manual Transmission

The Basics on Manual Transmission

A manual car is the more basic setup of the two but it’s still a complex system that needs to run perfectly to change gears and keep moving.

An automatic car simply borrows the same setup but does the job for the driver, but in a manual, it’s up to you to shift gears and push in the clutch pedal.

How Does It Work?

In a manual transmission system, you’ll find a set of gears on both input and output shafts.

The gears on the input shaft will engage with the output shaft gears, and a calculation of the ratio between the two will determine what gear the car is moving into.

This is often referred to as the gear ratio and is a common term when discussing manual cars.

When the driver puts the car into a specific gear, they do so with a shift stick or shift level. The shift is connected through a linkage that helps move the gears of the input shaft, and as it does, it’s adjusting the gear ratio.

Depending on how many speeds your car has, it might have up to three linkages, and this allows you to move easily between the different gears and speeds.

To drive a manual car, you push down onto the clutch pedal, which temporarily disconnects the engine from the input shaft.

As you do this, you’re freeing the gears for movement and removing the clutch from the power of the engine. you then select the gear that you want, release the clutch, and then the engine engages once again to push the car forward.

The Lowdown on Automatic Cars

The Lowdown on Automatic Cars

The automatic transmission of a car might seem simple because it’s minimal effort for the driver but it’s one of the more complex mechanisms in your car.

Cars with this type of transmission have a lot of moving parts compared to a manual, and although they operate in a similar way, the automatic sensors do most of the work for you.

How Does an Automatic Work?

Within the engine, there’s a central crankshaft cylinder, and a this turns, it powers up the wheels.

The speed of the engine is determined by how fast this cylinder spins, and this is measured in revolutions per minute, which is why you often hear about a car’s “RPMs”.

The average engine creates just a fraction of the speed that the car can go and this is pretty standard across the board, and it’s up to the vehicle to do the rest.

The vehicle then uses the transmission to increase this speed and monitor it. With this vital part, you’re able to accelerate quickly or keep the engine from blowing out when you’re going fast, and it does it all automatically.

Rather than adjusting the gear shift yourself, there are sensors in an automatic transmission system that tell it when to change gears so it adjusts to the speed you’re travelling.

This is performed with internal oil pressure, and when it shifts, the transmission disconnects from the engine briefly. When driving a manual, you do this yourself by pushing in the clutch, but in the automatic, it’s done for you.

What Are CVT Transmissions?

What Are CVT Transmissions?

A third type of transmission might also be found in hybrid cars and other small vehicles these days, although it’s not quite as popular as manual or automatic varieties just yet.

A CVT or continuously variable transmission is a pulley-based type that works on the same basic principle as the others.

A CVT works with a small drive acting as the primary and a large clutch as the secondary, with a belt connecting them.

When you push the accelerator pedal, the drive contracts and pulls up the belt, while the secondary clutch expands and walks down the belt again.

Along with the working mechanisms being different, the range of gears that a CVT is capable of is also unique.

Unlike others, these transmissions can work through a continuous number of gear ratios so you’re not limited to how you can use it, and it changes through these seamlessly.

Which is Superior?

Which is Superior?

Manual and automatic transmissions each have their pros and cons to consider and ultimately it comes down to the preference of the driver.

To help you determine which is right for you, these are the best and worst that both types have to offer:

Manual Pros

  • Some people believe driving a manual is the safer option because it means they have to stay alert and aware of the road. Because you need to change gears and press the clutch each time you do, there’s less chance you’ll zone out like you can with an automatic.
  • A manual car is considerably cheaper than its automatic counterpart and the cost of these cars tends to be decreasing even more. if you don’t mind driving a manual, it’s a great way to save thousands of pounds while still getting the car of your dreams.
  • To maintain a manual car requires less effort and costs. A mechanic will be able to service and repair any issues for a lot cheaper, and if anything goes wrong under the hood, you’ll be looking at a smaller bill.
  • You might find greater control with a manual as you can decide what gear to use, and this also makes it easier to start and stop as you need.

Manual Cons

  • Learning to drive is much harder in a manual car and for this reason, it’s not the preferred option for younger motorists these days. Some people find it hard to learn the other parts of driving without also learning the clutch and gears, and simply choose to avoid it.
  • Your concentration will need to be at an all-time high with these cars and it’s not as relaxing if you’re into driving for pleasure. You can’t simply put your foot down and drive as you do with an automatic.
  • If you plan to sell your car eventually, you’ll find it hard to secure a buyer interested in a manual. Considering automatic cars have become the most popular choice in the UK, with the number continually growing, it may be difficult to resell.

Automatic Pros

  • Depending on how you drive and the conditions you drive in, you might find automatic cars the safer choice. Without becoming distracted by shifting gears and pushing in the clutch, you can give all of your attention to the road and keep both hands on the wheel.
  • Learning how to drive is easier with an automatic and the overall driving experience is more comfortable. Most luxury cars today come with automatic transmission as standard and it’s now the norm.
  • Driving an automatic car is better in certain situations, like if you live in a hilly area or drive through lots of traffic. There’s less chance you’ll stall at a light or have to try and manoeuvre your way up an incline from park, as the car does it all for you.

Automatic Cons

  • If you’re interested in performance cars, you’ll find that most of these don’t come in automatic transmission options. You may be limited to the type of car you choose if so.
  • Cars with automatic transmission are considered more expensive and less fuel-efficient. A manual car can have better fuel consumption because you’re doing the gear shifting yourself, rather than relying on the car’s components to do it for you.
  • Once you learn how to drive an automatic, you’re not likely to learn how to drive a manual car. If you’re ever in a bind and need to know how to use one, you won’t be able to change the gears.

The Necessity of Transmission

Before you can decide what type of transmission is right for your driving experience, getting an understanding of how they work and their role in the car is essential.

Although automatic and manual cars might seem different, they share a lot of similarities, and knowing the basics of this important system will help you appreciate your car’s movements even more.

Related Questions

The transmission system of a car can impact everything from its price to how easy it is to drive, and when you look around the world, it seems every country has its preference.

If you want to learn more about how manual and automatic cars differ or relate to each other, read on to see the answers to some FAQs.

Why Are Manual Cars Cheaper?

Why Are Manual Cars Cheaper?

Manual transmission cars are cheaper to buy than their automatic counterparts because they’re built with fewer parts and use a simpler design layout.

They can also be cheaper for the individual to own because maintenance and repairs are usually cheaper as well, depending on how well they’re maintained.

Will Manual Cars Die Out?

Manual cars aren’t as popular in the United States and their popularity in the UK is waning, however, Europe is still loyal to this type of transmission.

There are still some who find the benefits that the manual transmission system offers and the performance of the vehicle make the extra work that these cars require worth it.


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