Using the principle of mechanical advantage, transmissions provide a speed-torque conversion (commonly known as "gear reduction" or "speed reduction") from a higher speed motor to a slower but more forceful output.
Most modern gearboxes either reduce an unsuitable high speed and low torque of the prime mover output shaft to a more stable lower speed with higher torque, or do the opposite and provide a mechanical advantage (i.e increase in torque) to allow higher forces to be generated. Some of the simplest gearboxes merely change the physical direction in which power is transmitted.
Many typical automobile transmissions include the ability to select one of several different gear ratios. In this case, most of the gear ratios (simply called "gears") are used to slow down the output speed of the engine and increase torque. However, the highest gears may be "overdrive" types that increase the output speed.
Transmissions are also used in agricultural, industrial, construction, mining and automotive equipment. In addition to ordinary transmission equipped with gears, such equipment makes extensive use of the hydrostatic drive and electrical adjustable-speed drives.
Regardless of where they are used, these simple transmissions all share an important feature: the gear ratio cannot be changed during use. It is fixed at the time the transmission is constructed.
For transmission types that overcome this issue, please see Continuously Variable Transmission, also known as CVT.
Furthermore, the engine provides its highest torque outputs approximately in the middle of its range, while often the greatest torque is required when the vehicle is moving from rest or traveling slowly. Therefore, a system that transforms the engine's output so that it can supply high torque at low speeds, but also operate at highway speeds with the motor still operating within its limits, is required. Transmissions perform this transformation.
Most transmissions and gears used in automotive and truck applications are contained in a cast iron case, though sometimes aluminium is used for lower weight. There are three shafts: a mainshaft, a countershaft, and an idler shaft.
The mainshaft extends outside the case in both directions: the input shaft towards the engine, and the output shaft towards the rear axle (on rear wheel drive cars- front wheel drives generally have the engine and transmission mounted transversely, the differential being part of the transmission assembly.) The shaft is suspended by the main bearings, and is split towards the input end. At the point of the split, a pilot bearing holds the shafts together. The gears and clutches ride on the mainshaft, the gears being free to turn relative to the mainshaft except when engaged by the clutches.
The former type is commonly found in many forms of racing cars, older heavy-duty trucks, and some agricultural equipment.
Manual transmissions dominate the car market outside of North America. They are cheaper, lighter, usually give better performance, and fuel efficiency (although the latest sophisticated automatic transmissions may yield results slightly better than the ones yielded by manual transmissions). It is customary for new drivers to learn, and be tested, on a car with a manual gear change. In Malaysia, Denmark and Poland all cars used for testing (and because of that, virtually all those used for instruction as well) have a manual transmission. In Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, the UK , Ireland, Sweden, France, Australia, Finland and Lithuania , a test pass using an automatic car does not entitle the driver to use a manual car on the public road; a test with a manual car is required. Manual transmissions are much more common than automatic transmissions in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.
Most modern North American, and many larger, high specification German cars have an automatic transmission that will select an appropriate gear ratio without any operator intervention. They primarily use hydraulics to select gears, depending on pressure exerted by fluid within the transmission assembly. Rather than using a clutch to engage the transmission, a fluid flywheel, or torque converter is placed in between the engine and transmission. It is possible for the driver to control the number of gears in use or select reverse, though precise control of which gear is in use may or may not be possible.
Automatic transmissions are easy to use. In the past, automatic transmissions of this type have had a number of problems; they were complex and expensive, sometimes had reliability problems (which sometimes caused more expenses in repair), have often been less fuel-efficient than their manual counterparts (due to "slippage" in the torque converter), and their shift time was slower than a manual making them uncompetitive for racing. With the advancement of modern automatic transmissions this has changed.
Since their inception, automatic transmissions have been very popular in the United States, and some vehicles are not available with manual gearboxes anymore. In Europe automatic transmissions are gaining popularity as well.
Attempts to improve the fuel efficiency of automatic transmissions include the use of torque converters which lock up beyond a certain speed, or in the higher gear ratios, eliminating power loss, and overdrive gears which automatically actuate above certain speeds; in older transmissions both technologies could sometimes become intrusive, when conditions are such that they repeatedly cut in and out as speed and such load factors as grade or wind vary slightly. Current computerized transmissions possess very complex programming to both maximize fuel efficiency and eliminate any intrusiveness.
For certain applications, the slippage inherent in automatic transmissions can be advantageous; for instance, in drag racing, the automatic transmission allows the car to be stopped with the engine at a high rpm (the "stall speed") to allow for a very quick launch when the brakes are released; in fact, a common modification is to increase the stall speed of the transmission. This is even more advantageous for turbocharged engines, where the turbocharger needs to be kept spinning at high rpm by a large flow of exhaust in order to keep the boost pressure up and eliminate the turbo lag that occurs when the engine is idling and the throttle is suddenly opened.
There are also sequential transmissions which use the rotation of a drum to switch gears.
Bicycles usually have a system for selecting different gear ratios. There are two main types: derailleur gears and hub gears. The derailleur type is the most common, and the most visible, using sprocket gears. Typically there are several gears available on the rear sprocket assembly, attached to the rear wheel. A few more sprockets are usually added to the front assembly as well. Multiplying the number of sprocket gears in front by the number to the rear gives the number of gear ratios, often called "speeds".
Hub gears use epicyclic gearing and are enclosed within the axle of the rear wheel. Because of the small space, they typically offer fewer different speeds, although at least one has reached 14 gear ratios.
Usual jamming includes: worn teeth, damages caused by a faulty chain, damage due to thermal dilatation, broken teeth due to excessive use of power when pedalling and lubrication flaw caused by negligency.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) should not be confused with the Infinitely Variable Transmission (IVT) (See below).
The other mechanical transmissions described above only allow a few different gear ratios to be selected, but this type of transmission essentially has an infinite number of ratios available within a finite range. The continuously variable transmission allows the relationship between the speed of the engine and the speed of the wheels to be selected within a continuous range. This can provide even better fuel economy if the engine is constantly running at a single speed. The transmission is in theory capable of a better user experience, without the rise and fall in speed of an engine, and the jerk felt when changing gears.
Most (if not all) IVT's result from the combination of a CVT with an epicyclic gear system (which is also known as a planetary gear system) that facilitates the subtraction of one speed from another speed within the set of input and planetary gear rotations. This subtraction only needs to result in a continuous range of values that includes a zero output; the maximum output/input ratio can be arbitrarily chosen from infinite practical possibilities through selection of extraneous input or output gear, pulley or sprocket sizes without affecting the zero output or the continuity of the whole system. Importantly, the IVT is distinguished as being 'infinite' in its ratio of high gear to low gear within its range; high gear is infinite times higher than low gear. The IVT is always engaged, even during its zero output adjustment.
The term 'infinitely variable transmission' does not imply reverse direction, disengagement, automatic operation, or any other quality except ratio selectability within a continuous range of input/output ratios from a defined minimum to an undefined, 'infinite' maximum. This means continuous range from a defined output/input to zero output/input ratio.
The directly connected portion of the power travelling through the EVT is referred to as the "mechanical path". The remaining power travels down the EVT's "electrical path". That power may be recombined at the output of the transmission or stored for later, more opportune use via a second motor/generator (and energy storage device) connected to the transmission output.
The pair of motor/generators forms an Electric Transmission in its own right, but at a lower capacity, than the EVT it is contained within. Generally the Electric Transmission capacity within the EVT is a quarter to a half of the capacity of the EVT. Good reasons to use an EVT instead of an equivalently-sized Electrical transmission is that the mechanical path of the EVT is more compact and efficient than the electrical path.
The EVT is the essential method for transmitting power in some hybrid vehicles, enabling an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to be used in conjunction with motor/generators for vehicle propulsion, and having the ability to control the portion of the mechanical power used directly for propelling the vehicle and the portion of mechanical power that is converted to electric power and recombined to drive the vehicle.
The EVT and power sources are controlled to provide a balance between the power sources that increases vehicle fuel economy while providing advantageous performance when needed. The EVT may also be used to provide electrically generated power to charge large storage batteries for subsequent electric motor propulsion as needed, or to convert vehicle kinetic energy to electricity through 'regenerative braking' during deceleration. Various configurations of power generation, usage and balance can be implemented with a EVT, enabling great flexibility in propelling hybrid vehicles.
The Toyota single mode hybrid and General Motor 2 Mode hybrid are production systems that use EVTs. The Toyota system is in the Prius, Highlander, and Lexus RX400h and GS450h models. The GM system is the Allison Bus hybrid powertrains and are in the Tahoe and Yukon models. The Toyota system uses one power-split epicyclic differential gearing system over all driving conditions and is sized with an electrical path rated at approximately half the capacity of the EVT. The GM system uses two different EVT ranges: one designed for lower speeds with greater mechnical advantage, and one designed for higher speeds, and the electrical path is rated at approximately a quarter of the capacity of the EVT. Other arrangements are possible and applications of EVT's are growing rapidly in number and variety.
EVT's are capable of continuously modulating output/input speed ratios like mechanical CVT's, but offer the distinct difference and benefit of being able to also apportion power from two different sources to one output.
Hydraulic drive systems can be used as an extra transmission between motor and f.i. wheels.
The torque converter in most American cars is a hydrodynamic transmission, placed ahead of the automatic transmission.
It was possible to drive the Dynaflow transmission without shifting the mechanical gears.
Hydrodynamic transmissions tend to be inefficient due to energy losses in the fluid.