Are you familiar with transmissions? Learn about the types of transmissions available in the German car market and the warning signs of problems they may have so you can correct them quickly before they get worse.
Types of transmissions available
Whether you drive a BMW, an Audi, a Mini or a Volkswagen, the transmission is the key component of your vehicle that provides traction or propulsion. Here are the different types of transmissions offered by these popular brands.
The manual transmission uses a system of gears connected to a clutch and a shift lever. The driver shifts gears after depressing the clutch pedal and releasing the gas pedal. This allows the driver to shift into a higher gear when accelerating or downshift when decelerating. When braking, it is not necessary to downshift one gear at a time (5,4,3,2,1): for example, it is possible to shift from 5 to 3 .
A vehicle can be equipped with several gears (often between 5 and 8), which allow the engine to revolve at different speeds. The higher the speed, the slower the engine revs (engine revolution is counted in revolutions per minute or RPM). The lower speeds therefore give access to more power (they are used when you have to climb a slope), while the higher speeds are necessary, especially on the highway, when you need to maintain a good cruising speed.
- A vehicle with a manual transmission is generally less expensive than its automatic transmission version.
- Sporty driving giving full control to the user.
- Less frequent and less expensive repairs than the automatic version.
- Complicates driving (and learning to drive).
- Requires both hands and both feet because of the gearshift and clutch pedal.
- May cause premature wear of some parts if not used properly.
The automatic transmission is designed differently than the manual transmission. Its gearbox operates through a set of gears, each connected to a drive shaft. The automatic transmission is also equipped with a hydrodynamic torque converter, which is the equivalent of the clutch of a manual transmission. As the name implies, it allows you to shift from one gear to another automatically, without the intervention of the driver.
A vehicle can be equipped with several speeds (often between 5 and 8, or even 10), which allow the engine to rev more or less quickly, thus increasing or decreasing the number of revolutions per minute (or RPM).
There are different technologies for automatic transmissions, including :
The CTV transmission (or continuously variable transmission)
This type of transmission does not use gears with sprockets, but rather variable pulleys connected to a metal belt. The main advantage of this technology is fuel economy.
Dual clutch transmission (or semi-manual)
Designed primarily for performance enthusiasts, this type of transmission can be found under the hood of sporty beauties. The semi-manual transmission optimizes the delivery of engine power at the time of gear change: since the driver does not need to press a clutch pedal to change gears, the period when engine power is not transmitted to the wheels is significantly reduced.
The advantages of automatic transmission
- Facilitates driving (and learning to drive).
- Releases the left foot at all times and the right hand as needed.
- Useful when you have to stop and start repeatedly (like in traffic jams).
- More expensive to buy.
- Higher maintenance and repair costs.
- Complex system connected to electronic components more prone to breakage.
Steptronic: unique to BMW
BMW’s Steptronic technology allows the driver to enjoy a manual transmission (and therefore ultra-sporty driving) when needed, but still benefit from the simplicity of an automatic transmission when required. Giving the driver complete freedom, this intelligent semi-automatic transmission has been a BMW strength for many years.
The SMG transmission
The SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) transmission, also unique to BMW, is a system that allows you to change gears manually directly on the lever: vehicles equipped with this system do not have a clutch pedal. This system works electro-hydraulically and is connected to a computer. It allows you to clutch even faster for better performance.
S Tronic and Tiptronic: unique to Audi and Volkswagen
At Audi, the dual-clutch gearbox is called S tronic. The principle of this robotized gearbox is based on two small gearboxes, one even and one odd, for which the gears are pre-engaged. The result? Smoother and more efficient gear changes than conventional automatic transmissions.
This technology also exists on the Volkswagen side, but is called DSG.
As for the Tiptronic transmission, it can be found in certain top-of-the-line Volkswagen and Audi models. It is especially known for its smooth operation and reliability.
How do you spot a damaged transmission?
Transmissions are often expensive to repair. All the more reason to make sure you get all your BMW, Audi, Mini and Volkswagen maintenance done regularly and pay close attention to any signs that may indicate a problem! Have your vehicle examined promptly by a professional if it shows any of the following symptoms:
- The “Check Engine” light comes on: Since problems with the transmission can lead to problems with other components of the vehicle, it may be the “Check Engine” light that comes on to alert you. If your vehicle is equipped with a relatively recent computer, your mechanic will be able to collect the error codes produced and make an accurate diagnosis. For older models, your mechanic will perform the necessary inspections to determine the source of the problem.
- The vehicle vibrates abnormally: Your car shakes when you drive at low and/or high speeds and during acceleration.
- Shifting gears is difficult: Your vehicle has a manual transmission and you notice an abnormal behavior during gear changes (difficulty shifting from one gear to another, abnormal vibrations felt in the gearshift, squeaking or strange noises when clutching, etc.).
Your vehicle has an automatic transmission and seems to have difficulty shifting gears (the speedometer seems to spend too much time in low or high gear).
- There is a transmission fluid leak.
You notice traces of bright red fluid under your vehicle. This is most likely transmission fluid, which is essential for lubricating gears and other mechanical parts.
Mechanical inspection: essential before buying
If you plan to purchase a used BMW, Audi, Mini or Volkswagen, it is strongly recommended that you call on a specialized mechanic for a pre-purchase mechanical inspection.
Such an operation will allow you to know the exact condition of the vehicle you want. Mechanical, aesthetic, braking system, electronic and safety equipment are among the points that will be evaluated by the inspector. The report produced by the inspector will then allow you to verify if the asking price corresponds to the real value of the vehicle. This will allow you to better negotiate the price if you feel it is too high, or to move to another vehicle that better suits your needs.
Contact us for a pre-purchase inspection or repair.