How Do I Know What Kind of Automatic Gearbox I Have?
Are you aware of the exact type of automatic transmission that your car has? Were you even aware that there are several distinct and different types of automatic transmission out there? If you always assumed that automatic transmission units were basically the same thing, then today’s blog post is one you should definitely read.
First, we’ll introduce the main types of automatic transmissions that exist, and then we’ll offer tips on how to know for sure which type of transmission it is that you have. For those not in the know about what’s driving their car’s gear shifts, this should be an informative read.
What Types of Automatic Transmissions Are There?
Broadly speaking, there are 5 types of automatic transmissions that are commonly used in the automotive industry at the time of writing. The 5 transmission types are:
- Torque Converter
- DCT (aka DSG)
An intelligent manual transmission (or iMT) is a system where there is no clutch pedal for the driver to use, but up and down shifts still have to be done with a gear lever. These are invariably more affordable, and some claim also make for a better, smoother performance because a competent driver can time shifts more in tune with his/her specific driving style.
An automated manual transmission (AMT) uses an automatic clutch to perform gear shifts, making it a little costlier than the iMT, but the big bonus is that the driver doesn’t have to perform any gear shifting either up or down. An AMT can be built with a manual mode, however, if needed.
Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs) are a popular choice for city-friendly hatchbacks and small sedan models, especially hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles. CVTs offer very smooth and seamless shifting, but the main trade-off is performance. These are used most often for base-level, small-engine cars with slow acceleration and not much horsepower.
The most common choice for OEMs is a torque converter system that offers decent balance of smoothness and performance. It’s faster than a CVT, but not as finely tuned as a DCT. On the other hand, it’s smoother and calmer than a DCT. It applies well to a multitude of different vehicle types.
DCT (aka DSG)
This is the more advanced option, known as a DCT or dual clutch transmission. If you are lucky enough to drive a VW-brand unit, you may hear it called a direct-shift gearbox, or DSG. These make use of advanced sensors to perform seamless shifts using two clutches with one delivering the current gear ratio while the other simultaneously prepares for the next one it believes you’ll need according to sensor data. These are transmissions for high-end high-specification cars.
How Do I Know Which Type of Automatic Transmission I Have?
Ask When Purchasing
The most important thing to do is ask about the transmission when you’re buying the car. If you’re buying at a dealership, this should be simple as the salesperson will have all of the mechanical information to hand — or at least they should do. It can be trickier if you’re buying from a private seller, but if that’s the case you can use ideas below to get a clearer picture of what the transmission is.
It’s important to ask about the transmission when purchasing your car because the truth is that the type of transmission should match your driving needs. For instance, those who do a lot of motorway driving don’t benefit greatly from a CVT, and would be better off with either a DCT or a torque converter.
Check the Owner’s Manual
As with many things on your car, you can find just about any mechanical or technical detail about the vehicle by looking in your owner’s manual. It’s always a good idea to keep the manual stored in your car, but owing to the fact that manuals seem to be getting bigger and bigger these days, people have started putting them in drawers and cupboards at home. That’s fine, but always keep it somewhere safe where you can find it again.
Check the Door Jamb Sticker
Another great way to check for sure what type of transmission you have is to have your mechanic or dealership take the VIN from the door jamb sticker (if they don’t have it elsewhere) and run it through their system. The VIN can be used as a code to get all kinds of details about your vehicle, and it can tell you virtually anything you want to know about the car, mechanically speaking at least. If you want to know about service history and more, a vehicle background check is often a better idea.
Alternatively, depending on the car model, you might also find key information you need — including the transmission — on another sticker located under your car’s bonnet. Lift the bonnet and have a look around to see if you can spot one.
Check the Sales Receipt for Your Vehicle
When you buy a car from a dealership, there should be a detailed description of the car’s specification that comes with your invoice documents. That should include all mechanical parts and features, which includes the type of transmission you have. It’s always good to scrutinise this information anyway to be sure that the dealership has sold you what they told you the car was.
Conclusion: Does It Really Matter, In the End?
Some of you still might be wondering what relevance it has to know precisely what type of transmission you have in your car. In fact, the value of this knowledge isn’t necessarily specifically linked to the transmission itself, but rather to how well you know your own car.
When you have to deal with dealerships and mechanics, it always pays to have as much knowledge at your disposal as humanly possible. It will help you prevent situations where a wily mechanic might attempt to misinform or overcharge you for work done. If you know about your own transmission, you can better identify and understand symptoms of problems when they occur, and you’ll have a lot more confidence going into those situations with a mechanic.
So, now you know about your specific transmission, do what you can to learn about other key components and systems in your vehicle: engine, tyres, fuel injection, brakes, and so on. Every nugget of knowledge you get is a great help!