If your car starts to have trouble with its transmission, you will probably need to know which kind it has. Once upon a time, this was quite easy to establish since most cars used manual transmission – but this is no longer the case.
There are now several different types of transmission, and even knowing the make, the model and the year of your car might not be enough to tell you which kind you have – so to help, here we look at the question, what transmission is my car?
If you want to learn more about the types of transmission that are currently found in modern cars, you can check out this video before reading on.
What are the different types of transmission?
Things have moved on a lot since the old days when manual transmission was more or less the only option. Manual transmission has become increasingly rare in the US, so let’s have a look at the different types that now exist.
1. Manual transmission
The traditional type of transmission is manual transmission, consisting of a stick with which you manually change the gear. Each time you change gear, you need to engage the clutch, usually with your foot, to separate the transmission from the engine.
This type of transmission gives you the greatest control over the gear you choose, and manual cars are arguably the most fun to drive. However, since automatic transmission is more convenient and comfortable, manual is no longer so common in the US.
To identify a manual transmission car, look for a stick with numbers for the gears, usually from one to four, five or six, plus reverse.
2. Automatic transmission
Automatic transmission takes care of changing gears for you, so all the driver needs to think about is accelerating and braking. With less to think about, this makes driving much easier, and automatic transmission is now the most common type in the US.
Since the car takes control of changing gears for you, automatic transmission offers good fuel economy.
On the downside, automatic transmission is much more complicated than manual transmission, it costs more, and when it goes wrong, it costs more to fix.
You can identify an automatic transmission by a stick with settings for Drive (“D”), Neutral (“N”), Reverse (“R”) and usually a few other positions.
3. Semi-automatic transmission
Semi-automatic transmission (SAT) is a hybrid of manual and fully-automatic transmissions, and in simple terms, it allows the driver to change gears manually but without the need to use a clutch (which is automatic).
You can tell a SAT car from a manual one since it will have a similar stick for changing gears but no pedal for the clutch.
4. Dual-clutch transmission
Dual-clutch transmission is a relatively new system that allows a driver to drive in fully-automatic mode or to change gears using paddles on the steering wheel.
These cars are convenient to drive while giving you all the control of a manual transmission system if you prefer it. However, they are complicated and can be expensive to fix if they break down.
5. Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
Continuously Variable Transmission uses a completely different system to traditional transmission systems because there are no gears. CVT cars offer the best fuel efficiency, accelerate smoothly since there are no gear shifts and are much quieter.
The best way to identify one of these vehicles is through the manufacturer’s logo that identifies it as a CVT car.
How to find which transmission your car has
Even if you know which of the above types of transmission your car has, you still might need to know more specific details since there are different types, even within these categories.
If you need to know exactly which type you have, here’s how to find out:
1. Check the owner’s manual
If you know where it is (usually in the glove box!), your user’s manual should be your first port of call.
Inside, you will find the relevant information about the type of transmission you have – as well as further details about the transmission fluid, how often to change the fluid, how often to change the filter and so on.
2. Tag on the driver’s door
If you can’t find the user’s manual – or you never received one when you bought a used vehicle – check on the inside of the driver’s door. There, you should find a tag with information about the vehicle’s year, its country of origin, the type of engine, and the type of transmission.
3. Check the hood or on the transmission oil pan
The information on the door tag doesn’t always contain the necessary details about the type of transmission, so some other places you can check include under the hood and on the transmission oil pan.
You may be able to locate a code – which your local mechanic will be able to read for you.
4. Use the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
All cars must have a unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and this number contains information about the vehicle, including where it was built, the manufacturer, the brand, the engine size and more. It also includes information about the transmission type.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to read the information directly from the code, but by using the site decodethis.com or taking it to a local mechanic, you will be able to find out the information you are looking for.
You can find the VIN on the metal plaque on the dashboard that is visible through the windshield on the driver’s side. You can also find this number on the inside of the driver’s door, and it should also be recorded in the car’s registration/insurance/finance papers.
You should be looking for a code consisting of 17 numbers and letters.
Several ways to find out which transmission you have
As you can see, there are several ways you can find out which transmission you have in your car. If you only need to know whether it is manual, automatic, semi-automatic, dual-clutch or CVT, you can usually do this by eye.
Otherwise, for further details on the specific type, by checking the user’s manual or the tags within the vehicle, you should be able to establish which kind of transmission you have in your car.