How Much Do You Know About Transmissions?

By: Steven Symes
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Are you a motorhead? Do you watch every episode of "Top Gear" or do you just like to think of yourself as a master mechanic? Take this quiz to find out how much you know about transmissions.

What exactly is a transmission? Well, it's the part of your car that moves power to the wheels. In the US, the transmission is the gearbox - it is part of the drivetrain, but not the entire drivetrain. In the UK, the transmission refers to the whole drivetrain, including the gearbox, the clutch, the differential, etc. 

Transmissions use a series of gears to provide torque and speed along to the next part in the system, ending at the wheels, which then move the car either forward or backward - depending on which way you want to go. Transmissions are commonly used in cars, but they do have other uses, such as wind turbines, and most everything with an engine, such as farm equipment, mining equipment, and construction equipment. 

Transmissions use a series of gears to make the car go faster, by reducing the speed of the gear and increasing torque. We've put together a quiz of 35 questions based on the basics of your car's transmission. We challenge you and your friends to get every question right.

Let's get started.

If you don't put on the parking brake for your car with an automatic transmission, what can it damage?

When you put an automatic transmission in park, the parking prawl locks it so the transmission doesn't shift into any of its gears. If you don't put on the parking brake, the entire weight of your car sits on this small, metal piece. Over time, it can break the parking prawl. Or, if another car accidentally taps your bumper, that could lead to the prawl's failure.

If you shift into park before your car comes to a complete stop, what can happen?

Park is a setting you should obviously only use when the car is completely stopped. Putting a moving car, even if it's only going a few miles per hour and is slowing to a stop, into park could result in a very expensive repair. Be patient and just wait until your car isn't moving anymore, then put it in park.

What color is transmission fluid?

If you find red fluid under your car, it's a time to be concerned. Transmission fluid leaks could cause a huge repair bill, plus they signal that your transmission isn't doing well. Don't ignore the problem, because having a professional look at your transmission right away could save you big time.

Why shouldn't you rest your hand on a manual transmission's shifter?

When you push on the stick, it presses the selector fork against a rotating collar, which then presses into the gear you want to select. If you just place your hand on the shifter, you're pressing the selector fork against the collar, which will eventually wear out the selector fork.

What does leaving a manual transmission in gear at a stop light do?

If the transmission is in gear and you're stopped, you must press the clutch all the way in. This means the throwout bearing is pressed against the pressure plate. This is hard on the throwout bearing, and over time will wear it down to the point that it fails prematurely, which you definitely don't want to pay to have fixed.

What's the danger of using your car's clutch in a manual transmission to keep you from rolling back on a hill?

The flywheel and clutch are rotating at different speeds, so if you engage the clutch for too long to, say, hold your car on a hill, that will cause the two to rub against each other the entire time. This means you'll need to replace your clutch sooner, and for no good reason.

If you slam on the gas at a low RPM with a manual transmission, what could happen?

Lugging the engine puts tremendous strain on your transmission. If you're at low RPMs but want to accelerate hard, downshift and then press on the accelerator pedal. You'll move quicker, and you won't lug the engine.

Resting your foot on the clutch pedal as you drive does what?

While it may be tempting to use the clutch pedal as a footrest, you hopefully have a dead pedal next to it for that purpose. Not only will this wear down the clutch, you could be grinding the throwout bearing against the pressure plate, leading to its premature failure. So, just don't do this.

Which of the following isn't one of the three main parts of a planetary gearset?

The planetary gearset is what creates all the gear ratios for a transmission. When necessary, the three major components can hold still, receive inputs, or send energy out of the planetary gearset. Each component does what plays into the different gear ratios.

What is overdrive?

While the name may be misleading, because people think overdrive means it makes the car go faster, this really is just the final gear on an automatic transmission. It's ideal for when you're traveling long distances on the open road, because engine RPMs stay lower, saving on gas consumption.

How many clutches does an automatic transmission contain?

The range of automatic transmission designs really varies, and so does the number of clutches in each one. More modern designs incorporate more clutches, making them more costly and difficult to work on if there's a problem.

To which of the following does the pump in an automatic transmission not send fluid?

The gear pump, as it's called, usually sits in the transmission cover. It gets fluid from the dump, which is typically located at the bottom of the transmission assembly, sending that fluid to the three areas from above. The pump spins at the same rate as the engine.

What automatic transmission component communicates the speed of the vehicle?

If you were to open your transmission, you'd see the governor is a valve. It hooks up to the output, which is how it spins at the same rate as the car's speed. The faster the governor revolves, the wider a spring-loaded valve inside it opens, sending more fluid through the output shaft.

What work do shift valves perform?

Quite literally, the shift valves in your automatic transmission are what engage each gear as needed. Without these components, you'd go absolutely nowhere. The transmission fluid that puts pressure on the valves comes via the governor on one side, and the throttle valve at the other end, creating a push-pull effect that allows for gear changes up and down.

What controls the hydraulic circuits on electronically controlled automatic transmissions?

This newer design, which is catching on quickly with late-model vehicles, really simplifies the layout of the transmission. Thanks to this simplification, the control layout of a transmission can be more complex, which makes them even more responsive and performance-oriented, which is always a good thing.

What do you call it when a transmission constantly upshifts and downshifts during a certain time?

Not only is gear hunting annoying, it can really hurt performance and even put unnecessary wear on your transmission. Modern automatic transmissions use a number of sensors to measure everything from brake pedal action to the vehicle's level, all with the aim of reducing gear hunting as you're driving through hilly territory, on winding roads, etc.

How do transmissions with more speeds help performance?

Every internal combustion engine has an RPM range where horsepower and torque output is optimal, which means the car is more responsive and uses less fuel. The more gears that are in a transmission, the more time an engine can spend in that optimal RPM range, to a point. As with everything, you can get ridiculous with how many gears a transmission has, depending on the vehicle.

Where does the transmission sit in relation to the engine and driveshaft?

This layout is much simpler on cars with rear-wheel drive, but the transmission is the thing that translates power from the engine to work spinning the drive shaft. Without the transmission, a car's range of speeds would be seriously limited.

In a manual transmission, the layshaft is powered by what?

The layshaft is literally a metal shaft with several gears attached to it. The entire assembly spins at the same rate, although the teeth on the gears are in different configurations. Whenever the clutch is engaged, the layshaft spins according to power from the engine.

What is double clutching?

Older cars with manual transmissions and race cars usually require you to double clutch, or they won't shift gears. You can still double clutch on modern street cars, which improves performance, eliminating the abrupt lag in engagement you usually feel when a person shifts without double clutching. This is a fairly advanced technique.

In relation to the other gears in a transmission, which way does reverse gear turn?

A small idler gear is what helps engage reverse gear. Because reverse spins in the opposite direction as the other gears, you couldn't actually engage it while the car is rolling forward. Trying that would make a considerable amount of noise and damage the transmission big time, but reverse wouldn't engage.

What does a synchro do?

A synchronizer or synchromesh is basically a cone-shaped clutch. It engages before the teeth do, which then uses basic friction to get the selector and chose gear moving at the same speed, smoothing out gear changes and boosting performance.

Technically, who first invented the CVT?

Truly, da Vinci was a man ahead of his time. Back before cars were even a reality, he sketched out the designs for a stepless continuously variable transmission. The year was 1490, before Columbus arrived in the Americas!

Which was the first production vehicle sold in the United States with a CVT?

It wasn't until 1989 that the Subaru Justy GL became the first production vehicle in the United States to offer a CVT. Adoption will still slow after that, but CVTs are becoming more common as time goes on.

What do other transmissions have that CVTs don't?

Most CVTs work using a system of pulleys, instead of gears. By nature, there's a never-ending variety of gears, and you won't feel any transitions or shifting, making a CVT incredibly smooth at any speed.

In pulley-driven CVTs, the variable-diameter pulleys must be in what grouping?

Out of those two pulleys is a drive pulley, otherwise called the driving pulley, which connects to the engine driveshaft. The other is the output pulley, which sends energy directly to the driveshaft, which then transfers that to the axles and wheels.

What kind of belt makes a CVT more reliable?

More vehicle manufacturers are turning to metal belts for CVTs. They won't break nearly as often as the rubber belts traditionally used, and they don't stretch out. These belts can also deal with higher torque outputs, plus they don't make the same kind of humming noise you typically hear with CVTs.

What two things drive toroidal CVTs?

Despite looking quite a bit different, a toroidal CVT runs quite similarly to a belt-and-pulley setup. In fact, the rollers, which look like wheels, do the same job as the belts. In case you couldn't guess, the discs then work like pulleys.

Unlike other common CVT designs, hydrostatic setups don't use what principle to transfer power?

Instead of using friction between different parts in the transmission, engine, and driveshaft, a hydrostatic CVT changes the flow of liquid into hydrostatic motors, using variable-displacement pumps. Basically, the movement of fluid creates a spinning motion, which then transfers to the driveshaft.

What is it called when clutches and a planetary gearset are used in a hydrostatic transmission?

This unique setup uses the best of both worlds. When the car is moving at lower speeds, the hydraulic system transmits power. As the car picks up speed, the mechanical system takes over. However, you'll mostly find these in heavy machinery, and not passenger vehicles.

Which of the following isn't a benefit of CVTs?

While CVTs run smoothly and make the most of your fuel, they're not known for handling high-powered vehicles. Versus a regular automatic, they do provide better acceleration, because less power is lost between the engine and drive shaft. Just don't expect to get a Corvette with a CVT.

What is blip shifting?

Being able to blip shift is rewarding, and it smooths everything out. You'll have to practice this technique, as it requires you to blip the gas pedal in the middle of the downshift, matching engine RPM and vehicle speed perfectly.

What have studies shown about manual transmissions and driver behavior?

Because you constantly need to be doing things, selecting gears, pressing the clutch, etc. as you move through traffic, you can't really hold a phone or do other nonsense behind the wheel. Some safety advocates have called for more cars with manual transmissions as a way to cut down on accidents, with studies backing up their initiative.

On which handlebar is a motorcycle's clutch lever, typically?

When you squeeze the shift lever all the way with your left hand, the connection between the engine and rear wheel is lost. It will take some practice to find the friction zone, which happens at some point as you release the lever, much like the clutch pedal on a car.

What does DCT stand for?

Sometimes these are called twin-clutch transmission because they contain two clutches. A DCT is an automatic, although it boasts better performance than your typical automatic transmission, which is why you'll find DCTs in more performance-oriented vehicles.

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