Transmission Technology and Safety Advancements

by Don Elliott on May 17, 2012

Plenty has changed in the way speed and torque is transferred from the engine to the wheels since General Motors first introduced the Hydra-Matic transmission in 1940. The Hydra-Matic replaced the “third pedal”, the manual clutch, with a system of automatically changing gears using hydraulic pressure. The Hydra-Matic transmission was also battle tested in the heavy tanks used in World War II.

Early manual transmissions relied on close ratio between the speed of the engine and the rotation of the drive shaft to maintain smooth shifting. Synchronous gearing eliminated most of the grinding and lurching typical of those old shifters, making gear changing almost effortless, adding used car value with each new innovation.

The automatic transmission has become the norm on North American highways. According to J. D. Power and Associates, 92.3% of new cars and light duty trucks sold are automatics. There was a time when every driver learned how to drive a manual transmission, just in case they ever had to drive in an emergency situation. Many of today’s young drivers have never seen a manual shiftor crank windows for that matter.

Lately, we have been seeing semi-automatics and paddle shifters being manufactured for general public use. Fully automatic transmissions use a torque converter instead of a clutch to signal the changing of the gears. Semi-automatics and continuous variable transmissions (CVT) retain the use of a clutch but rely on the cars computer to maximize the gear selection or belt drive position to actively shift without engaging the clutch manually.

Paddle shifters are a bit of technology borrowed from the auto racing industry. When driving a racecar, it takes both hands to keep control of the steering function. Shifters were added to the steering wheel as paddles or buttons activated by the thumb or fingers to change gears. The Mini Cooper was an early adopter of paddle shifters to enhance the racecar feel of their popular cars.

Lucky for us, innovation within the car’s transmission has also made newer cars much more difficult to steal. Automotive locksmiths have to be familiar with more than just the key when working on the car’s security system. When a locksmith attempts to tamper with the ignition system they have to be extra careful. If done incorrectly, it can prevent the car from starting and could disable the transmission in some cars.

As an additional a safety feature, the brake must be pressed before the car can be shifted out of park. And, unless the car is in park, the key cannot be removed. On manual transmissions, the clutch must be pressed before the car will start. These safety features are good for consumers, unless you lose your keys so make sure you always have spare available.

Automatic transmission technology will overshadow the joys of driving a manual transmission. Human reflexes are incapable of running through the gears as efficiently as the computer, making the automatic transmission the choice going forward (and in reverse)!

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