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What Is an Automatic Transmission? Types, Advantages & Disadvantages

automatic transmission

Because we use vehicles so much, most people don’t think twice to consider what allows the vehicle to move. Even so, vehicles are highly complex and contain a number of high-tech parts that allow your vehicle to run safely and conveniently.

One of the most important parts in many vehicles today is an automatic transmission. An automatic transmission means you do not have to change gears, which makes driving a lot easier. Because of the convenience of automatic transmissions, as much as 95% of cars sold in the US have automatic transmissions.

Just because automatic transmissions make driving easier does not mean that you should ignore the internal mechanisms of the automatic transmission. More so, automatics are right for all drivers. It’s important that you know how automatic transmissions work so that you can properly select a vehicle based on your wants and care for your vehicle.

This guide will help you learn what an automatic transmission is, how it works, and what you can do to care for your vehicle.

car and road divider

How Does It Work?

Driving an automatic vehicle is easy. You just put the vehicle in drive and go. Although driving these vehicles is simple, the inner workings of an automatic transmission are not. Many parts work together in order to make driving an automatic a breeze.

The most simplified way of understanding an automatic transmission is that the transmission includes sensors. These sensors determine when the transmission should shift gears. The gears will then be changed using internal oil pressures.

In most automatic transmissions, the two most important parts are the torque converter and the planetary gear sets. Of course, there are many other parts that make an automatic transmission work, and the exact way it works depends on the automatic transmission type.

So, this is a really simplified way of understanding how an automatic transmission, but there are a lot more parts and technicalities going on behind the scenes.

automatic transmission
Image Credit: Piqsels

What Are the Different Types of Automatic Transmissions?

Part of the reason we gave such a basic explanation of how automatic transmissions work is that there are five different types of transmissions. The type of transmission you have will determine how the internal mechanisms work together to make your vehicle go.

Here’s a closer look at the different types of automatic transmissions and how they work:

different types of automatic transmissions
  • iMT: iMT stands for intelligent manual transmission. It is the most affordable transmission option. This changes the clutch automatically, but you will have to change the gear shifts on your own. iMT transmissions typically result in smoother and overall better performance than a standard automatic transmission.
  • AMT: AMT stands for automated manual transmission. It has a clutch and gear shift, but it also comes with a manual mode.
  • CVT: CVT stands for continuously variable transmission. CVT and the rest of the transmissions we look at are more expensive than the past two. CVT offers the smoothest drive and gives really great mileage.
  • Torque Converter: Torque converters are the most popular kind of automatic transmission. They offer decent fuel efficiency and performance, but they aren’t super cost-efficient.
  • DCT: DCT stands for the dual-clutch transmission. It offers the quickest gearbox and shifting is smooth. Unfortunately, DCT is the most expensive.
Automatic Transmissions
Image Credit: Dibjo, Pixabay

Where Is It Used?

Automatic transmissions are always found in automatic vehicles, just like manual transmissions are found in manual vehicles. The vast majority of vehicles on the market today are manufactured with automatic transmissions because they are easier to drive, and most individuals prefer automatic transmissions as a result.

Automatics are especially found in the United States. You will see them a lot in big city locations since manual transmissions can be difficult to drive in stop-and-go environments. Likewise, automatic transmissions are very popular among new drivers and teenagers. In contrast, most car fanatics prefer manual transmissions.

Advantages of an Automatic Transmission

There are quite a few benefits of selecting an automatic transmission. Most notably, they are very easy to use. You don’t have to worry about the clutch or changing the gear. Especially for teenagers and new drivers, automatic transmissions are the easiest to drive.

Automatics are especially advantageous when driving in stop-and-go traffic. Since you don’t have to worry about changing the gears, automatics are great for urban living.

Automatic transmissions are also widely available. Once again, the vast majority of vehicles sold in the US are automatics, which means you won’t have any trouble finding these vehicles. Whenever you want to sell your automatic, it also has a higher resale value since more people prefer these transmissions.

automatic transmission
Image Credit: Gorlov-KV, Shutterstock

Disadvantages of an Automatic Transmission

Even though there are a lot of advantages to automatic transmissions, there are some downsides too. Most of the disadvantages are related to price. For example, automatic transmissions cost more money upfront than manual since they include more parts and have a higher desire on the market.

When it comes to repairs, automatic transmissions are more expensive. Once again, the number of items within the transmission means you will end up paying a lot more for repairs, in addition to the transmission in and of itself.

To further make automatic transmissions less cost-efficient, most automatics are less fuel-efficient than manuals. Though the gap is closing, you still get more bang for your buck when using a manual transmission.

mechanic draining the old automatic transmission fluid
Image Credit: PongMoji, Shutterstock

car and road divider

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is an automatic or manual transmission right for me?

Whether an automatic or manual transmission is right for you depends on your desires. If you want the easiest driving experience, an automatic transmission will be best. However, a manual transmission may be right for you if you are a car fanatic or care more about cost-efficiency than convenience.

How do automatic transmissions work?

Automatic transmissions work by using a variety of parts that work together. Whenever they work together, sensors will set off different valves to change the gear automatically.

How can I extend the life of my transmission?

The number one way to extend the life of your transmission is to make sure your transmission fluid is good. It should be black in color, and it shouldn’t be low. Take your vehicle to a mechanic if you believe there are any transmission problems occurring or if you need new transmission fluid.

a mechanic checking a worn out car
Image Credit: Qilin’s prance Filmmaker, Shutterstock

What are signs that my automatic transmission needs to be seen by a professional?

If your transmission is making weird sounds, such as humming or clunking, there may be something wrong with your transmission. Likewise, a check engine light and abnormal accelerations are signs that something is the matter with your transmission. Take your vehicle to a mechanic if you believe your automatic transmission is acting up.

car and road divider


An automatic transmission allows you to drive the vehicle without changing gears yourself. Instead, the transmission automatically changes gears using sensors and other parts for the most convenient driving experience possible.

Automatic transmissions are best for individuals who don’t have much driving experience or those who want the easiest vehicle to drive. It is especially good for beginners and those driving in the city.

Even though there are a lot of benefits of driving an automatic, there are some downsides. For example, automatics are more expensive and have lower cost efficiency. If these drawbacks are too concerning for you, go with a manual instead.

Featured Image Credit: RomanR, Shutterstock


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