Good Bye Manual Transmission

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Many a day I lament the fact I do not have a car with a manual transmission.  Fortunately, I still get to drive the odd vehicle with a manual transmission at work but I feel my skills waning.  I am also sorry to see there are even fewer reasons to purchase a car with a manual transmission.

 

One of those reasons used to be fuel economy.  Take a look at the fuel economy ratings of any vehicle that is available with both manual and automatic transmission and you will likely see that the automatic version will either equal or better the manual transmission version in fuel economy ratings.  What is the deal here?

 

The manual transmission was always the mileage king but transmission technology has not stood still.  As with almost every other vehicle system electronics and computers have heavily

invaded your vehicle’s transmission.  Electronics alone is not enough to topple the manual’s superior efficiency.

 

Most manual transmissions have five separate gear ratios.  Many performance models have six gear ratios.  The typical automatic had only four gear ratios until fairly recent developments.  Now five and six are common with eight making a break through.

 

The more ratios the better?  Yes.  The multiple ratios allow the engine to run close to ideal at all speeds.  Ideal for both economy when the driver wants economy and power when the driver wants power.  Now that the automatic transmission has as many or more ratios than the available manual transmission, having a computer choosing the correct ratio at the right time can better the efficiency of a human being in charge of gear selection.

 

Surely these new automatics are complex.  They add to the original purchase price but it seems that they are more in demand when purchased as used vehicles so the extra cost can be justified because of higher resale value.

 

Many of these new automatic transmissions have a feature that the Kootenays demand.  Namely a manual mode.  Manual mode gives the driver a way to select each of the gear ratios on demand.  This allows selection of the correct gear to descend at the posted speed limit with limited braking.  This is something I wish my vehicle could do.

 

Some of these manual modes even make the driver feel like he is truly in command.  Paddles on the steering wheel respond instantly to up and down shifts.  The shifts are smooth yet crisp.  Engine revs are matched giving that sound and feel of a perfect shift with absolutely zero skill.  The driver will never grind a gear or slip the clutch.

 

Are these new transmissions expensive to maintain?  Many of them have no maintenance schedule.  The fluid is designated to last a lifetime with no definition of what that lifetime is.  Some of these units monitor themselves and a light will come on when service is due.  There are still many that require regular fluid and filter changes.

 

Using the correct transmission fluid and meeting or exceeding the recommended severe service schedule is of utmost importance.  Waiting until your transmission is exhibiting recalcitrant behavior before servicing it is a very costly mistake.  Transmission repair is generally very costly.

 

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