September 14

How to Figure Out What Type of Transmission You Have

Last Updated on September 23, 2022

A vehicle’s transmission is one of the most expensive components to repair, but also one of the most obscure to most people. Many don’t know what kind of transmission they have, and maybe that includes you. If so, let’s change that. In this article we explain how to figure out what type of transmission you have.

For starters, the transmission is the part of the vehicle that transfers power from the engine to the wheels. It’s a gearbox, and the numerous gears engage or disengage in order to deliver the amount of power dictated by the pressure applied to the gas pedal.  

You may be tempted to think that if the vehicle has only two foot pedals—an accelerator and a decelerator—then, it’s an automatic. If the vehicle has a third foot pedal—a clutch—then it’s a manual. However, at least 10 different types of transmissions exist in modern vehicles

What Type of Transmission Do You Have?

types of transmissions infographic

1. Manual Transmission

The first vehicles were equipped with a manual transmission. This type requires the operator to engage the clutch, and move the gear shift lever located in the cab’s side console. Shifting the lever changes which gears are engaged in the transmission. The clutch releases all gears from being engaged. If you were to change gears without engaging the clutch, the results would be a loud, metal-on-metal screeching sound and damage to the gears. 

2. Intelligent Manual Transmission (IMT)

The IMT has a gearbox just like a manual transmission and the operator has to move a lever to shift gears. However, there is no clutch pedal because this transmission doesn’t require one to safely shift gears. Instead, the driver maintains control over which gear the vehicle is in—which is why many drivers of vehicles with manual transmissions enjoy “driving stick,” but without the nuisance of having to use a clutch pedal. 

3. Automated Manual Transmission (AMT)

An AMT also doesn’t have a clutch pedal. Instead, sensors and actuators act as the clutch and shift gears. The transmission is connected to the car’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU), which engages the actuators. These in turn operate the gearbox and clutch. Gear shift patterns are pre-programmed to a preset rpm range. And although gear shifts are automated, the transmission can also be operated manually. 

4. Automatic Transmission 

An automatic transmission eliminates the clutch pedal and moves the responsibility of changing gears from the driver to the vehicle. Gears automatically shift when the driver reaches certain speeds. On some vehicles with automatic transmissions, the driver can override the automatic settings via buttons or paddles on the steering wheel.

5. Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

A CVT uses a metal belt instead of a series of gears, allowing continuous acceleration. When transmissions change gears, there is a drop in rpm and a drop in power. However a CVT accelerates linearly. And since it can achieve a greater ratio than transmissions with gears, it offers a smoother ride. 

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6. Semi-automatic Transmission

The semi-automatic transmission is similar to a manual transmission, except electronic processors and sensors perform the work of the clutch pedal. Without a clutch pedal, shifting becomes less complicated. Shifting also becomes smoother, because the transmission adds precision to the timing and torque. 

7. Dual-clutch Transmission

A dual-clutch transmission is an automatic transmission that comes with two clutches. The transmission is divided into two separate parts—one for the odd-numbered gears and one for the even-numbered gears—and each part has its own clutch. The purpose behind splitting the transmission into two sections is to make shifting smoother and quicker. This transmission also has the added benefit of being more fuel efficient

8. Sequential Transmission

A sequential transmission is a manual transmission that comes with a clutch pedal. Gear changes are made using a lever (or shifter) just as on a manual transmission. However, the shifter doesn’t go through the “H pattern” found on manuals. Instead, gears are in a single row, and the driver just pushes forward on the lever to shift up and pulls back to shift down to neutral and then into reverse. Once in first gear, the driver doesn’t need the clutch to change gears. They can do it with just the shifter.

9. Tiptronic Transmission

The Tiptronic transmission is an automatic transmission with the ability of operating in two modes: full automatic and manual control (also called Tiptronic). The driver can implement the Tiptronic feature by shifting a lever inside the cab. When in Tiptronic mode, the driver can select the gear in which they want the transmission.

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Learn your transmission type

There are several ways to find out what kind of transmission is in your vehicle. 

learn your transmission type infographic
  • Check the owner’s manual. Information, such as the type of transmission, transmission fluid recommendations, and fluid change intervals, can be located in the manual. Find “Transmission” in the manual’s index, and then proceed to that page.
  • If you can’t find the information in the manual, check the vehicle’s identification plate. All vehicles have two identification plates. One is located on the top of the dash near the windshield. The other is located inside the driver’s door near the bottom. These plates include important vehicle information such as the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number), engine information, and transmission information. Transmission information is represented by the letters “TR” followed by a code. Take that code to your dealership, and they can look up the part. 
  • If you don’t trust that information—or you just like to get your hands dirty—you can get under the vehicle, find the transmission, find the transmission part number, write it down or photograph it, and then tell your dealership who can look up the part. 
  • If you don’t have that much confidence in your skills, or simply don’t want to do the work, you can take it to your dealer. For the price of a vehicle inspection, your dealership may look under the hood and look up the part number to discover what kind of transmission is in the vehicle.
  • You can look up transmission information online via an online parts store, but you need to know more than just the make, model, and year of the vehicle. The same model vehicle could potentially be equipped with different transmissions depending on the vehicle’s driveline (which includes engine information) and trim level. You can find this information in the owner’s manual. 

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