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Vehicle transmission: What is the difference between manual and automatic transmission?

The gearbox is the heart of the drivetrain of any car. It optimally matches engine speed and drive speed, thus ensuring the best possible driving performance. In cars, manual transmissions or modern automatic transmissions are primarily used for this purpose. At the latest when buying a new car, buyers are therefore faced with the question: automatic or manual transmission? We have compared automatic and manual transmissions and explain the technology and function, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of transmission.

Read more: The gearbox code: What does the code mean and where can it be found on the gearbox?

Automatic transmission and manual transmission – function and differences

Internal combustion engines such as petrol or diesel can only be operated optimally within a narrow speed range. In order for the car to start smoothly and still reach a high speed, the engine and drive speeds must be adjusted again and again. In this way, the wheels of the car can turn slowly when starting off and quickly when driving on the motorway, while the engine always operates within a certain speed range.

This necessary adjustment of the rps can be carried out either by automatic or manual transmission. Vehicles with a manual gearbox require more effort from the driver, who has to depress the clutch and engage the gears by hand using the gear stick. In this case, the clutch separates the engine from the gearbox to allow the gear to be changed. It also enables a smooth start. An automatic transmission, on the other hand, performs all operations automatically.


This is what a modern automatic transmission can do

Automatic transmissions relieve the driver of the need to engage gears and operate the clutch. The automatic transmission automatically selects the appropriate gear or continuously adjusts the speed to the requirements. For many drivers, the automatic gearshifts considerably increase driving comfort. Other drivers, on the other hand, appreciate the better control and sporty feel of shifting gears manually, and prefer a car with a manual transmission.

Nowadays, modern automatic transmissions are often superior to manual transmissions. Little wonder, then, that the share of manual transmissions in Germany has been steadily declining over the past decades. Whereas early automatic transmissions had higher fuel consumption than manual transmissions, today the automatic is often ahead in terms of fuel consumption. Jerky gear changes with the automatic transmission are also a thing of the past today.

Different automatic transmissions at a glance

Different types of automatic transmission are installed in cars, depending on the model and manufacturer. The simplest design is an automated manual gearbox, in which a normal manual gearbox is automatically controlled via technical components. The classic torque converter automatic, on the other hand, is a true automatic transmission, as it has been installed in cars for a long time. A torque converter based on the hydrodynamic principle enables comfort without power interruption.

Dual-clutch transmissions are among the more modern representatives of automatic transmissions. They have two gearboxes inside, each with its own clutch. Since the required gear is already engaged in the respective sub-transmission, dual-clutch transmissions enable sporty gear changes with the automatic. Another transmission type is the CVT transmission, which works continuously and without traction interruption, but takes some getting used to acoustically.


Advantages and disadvantages of manual transmissions

Manual transmissions are operated by the driver by hand. This type of transmission is one of the classics in automotive engineering and is associated with both positive and negative characteristics.


Advantages manual transmission

  • Price: The manual transmission can be produced cheaply due to its simple design, which lowers the purchase price of the car. The repair is also cheaper compared to the automatic.
  • Control: The manual transmission gives the driver good control of the car by allowing him to determine shift points and gear selection himself. Sporty drivers appreciate the manual transmission.
  • Weight: Manual transmissions often have a lower weight thanks to their simpler design. The dimensions of manual transmissions are also smaller.

Disadvantages of the manual gearbox

  • Comfort: Many drivers find shifting gears uncomfortable. The gearshifts can also cause distraction from the traffic.
  • Power interruption: Manual shifting by clutch and gear selection provides an interruption of the tractive power.
  • Incorrect operation: Manual transmissions can be operated incorrectly, which can damage the car. This includes shifting or incorrect clutch operation.

Advantages and disadvantages of automatic transmissions

Modern automatic transmissions relieve the driver of the need to shift gears manually. In addition to various advantages, however, the automatic transmission is also associated with negative characteristics.

Advantages with automatic transmission

  • Driving comfort: Automatic transmissions offer significantly greater comfort, as gear changes are fully automatic. The driver can concentrate better on the traffic.
  • Shift behaviour: Modern automatic transmissions shift smoothly and without interrupting traction. With dual-clutch transmissions, vehicles can even be driven sportily.
  • Efficiency: The automatic transmission of modern vehicles enables high efficiency. The engine is always operated in the correct speed band.

Disadvantages of the automatic

  • Costs: The automatic transmission is technically more complex and therefore more expensive. When buying a car, it is not uncommon to pay a surcharge for the automatic transmission.
  • Repairs: If automatic transmissions are defective, the repair is sometimes more complicated due to the technical components installed. This also increases the repair costs.
  • Gear selection: Not all automatic transmissions allow the selection of certain gears by shift paddles or gear lever. Some drivers miss this control over the car.


Questions about the gearbox – Automatic and manual gearbox FAQ

  1. What is more economical automatic or manual transmission? – How much fuel vehicles consume is often a question of usage, modern automatic transmissions can also be economical.
  2. Do e-cars have a gearbox? – Electric cars also have some kind of gearbox to adjust the speed and to select forward and reverse gear.
  3. Which is more durable automatic or manual transmission? – Both types of transmission are durable if handled correctly, but automatic is often more expensive to repair.


Buying tips – Find automatic and manual transmissions at Autoparts24

If a vehicle’s gearbox is defective, an expensive repair is not always worthwhile. Sometimes mechanical components inside automatic gearboxes are destroyed, or shift components of manual gearboxes are largely worn out. The installation of a used gearbox is often an inexpensive way to continue using the vehicle.

Autoparts24 offers a large selection of manual and automatic transmissions for many vehicle models. Thanks to the practical search via vehicle manufacturer and model, or also via the registration number of the vehicle, you can find suitable transmissions for your vehicle without much effort. Before buying, you should always check the engine type and the original number of the vehicle transmission.

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