Are automatic transmissions reliable

Gearshift or automatic: strengths and weaknesses

Automatics only drive lame ducks? The old prejudices about high consumption and poor driving performance are only partially correct today. Modern automatic converter transmissions and dual clutch transmissions are no longer inferior to manual transmissions, and they can do many things better. The advantages and disadvantages of the different types of gearboxes.

As is well known, nothing is more persistent than prejudice. But there is actually no longer any reasonable reason to shift gears by hand yourself. There are now great automatic alternatives that can do everything from sporty to fuel-saving.Manual transmission usually consist of two gear shafts with several pairs of gears, which are mounted on the shaft so that they can be moved laterally. Two suitable gears are brought into frictional connection for each gear via shift claws. The advantages of the manual gearbox are its high efficiency (good performance, low consumption), compact dimensions and low manufacturing costs - a decisive advantage: the gearbox does not cost any extra charge.

An overview

Aautomatic transmission is basically structured like a manual transmission, but the actuation of the clutch and the gear changes are automated. These gears are relatively inexpensive - and still mostly not worth the money. With its optimized switching points, it saves a bit of fuel, but the interruptions in tractive power when changing gears are annoying - especially with weak small cars. Often these transmissions are now being replaced by dual clutch transmissions that shift much faster and more comfortably.

Thecontinuously variable CVT transmission on the other hand, changes the gear ratio without shifting - just like the variator on a scooter. The background noise is pleasant when driving at a leisurely pace, but when accelerating spontaneously the engine howls unpleasant acoustically. The greatest advantage of the continuously variable transmission is the jerk-free acceleration without interruption of tractive power and without shifting. In addition, the speed of the internal combustion engine can always be set to the currently optimal speed, depending on whether the driving is sporty or economical.

The conventional one drives thereConverter automatic much more comfortable. Modern representatives of this design usually keep the speed at a very low level. With strong acceleration, the individual gears are turned out higher, but the engine does not remain at a constant high speed. The consumption is usually slightly higher than that of comparable manual transmissions.

This is a favorite for manyDouble clutch or direct shift transmission. In principle, there are two manual transmissions that manage the even and odd gears. The appropriate gear is positively connected to the drive wheels via a clutch for each part of the transmission. When changing gears, the clutch of one part opens while the other closes at the same time. It can be switched automatically (or manually by hand) without interruption of tractive effort under load, which enables great acceleration values ​​if required.

Advantages and disadvantages of different gears

Different countries, different transmissions: In North America, according to data from Automobilwoche and PwC, the automatic converter dominated in 2014 with over 73 percent of 17,028,399 installed transmissions. In the EU it was only 16.7 percent of 16,685,457. A full 68.1 percent chose a manual transmission. However, experts are predicting the automatic trend for many other countries. We show the distribution of the different types of transmission and explain their strengths and weaknesses.

Gear type

Spreading Europe

Spreading North America



Manual gearbox:In Europe standard transmissions for small and medium-sized cars, mostly 5 to 6 gears. No extra charge

68,1 %

7,8 %

High efficiency with good driving performance, no additional consumption, compact dimensions.

Uncomfortable operation with manual shifting and coupling, interruption of tractive effort during shifting.

Automatic transmission:In principle a normal gearshift in which the gears change automatically. From € 300

2,9 %

0,1 %

High efficiency without additional consumption, compact dimensions, inexpensive automatic function.

Interruption of tractive effort during the shifting process, long shift pauses, possibility of incorrect operation.

Stepless CVT transmission:Thanks to a variable gear ratio range, the engine almost always runs in the ideal speed range. From 1000 €

1,9 %

15,0 %

No switching breaks, very comfortable.

Acoustically takes getting used to (speed is decoupled from the speed), howling when accelerating strongly.

Automatic converter:Classic automatic variant with torque converter and mostly 6 to 9 gears. On average around 2000 €

16,7 %

73,7 %

High driving comfort, no interruption of tractive power, smooth gear changes, good in trailer operation.

Relatively high surcharge, generally slightly higher fuel consumption, large space requirements.

Dual clutch transmission:Also called direct shift transmission. Two automated partial transmissions, each with its own clutch, mostly 6 or 7 gears. From 1500 €

10,4 %

3,4 %

No interruption of tractive power, very fast gear changes, no additional consumption, compact dimensions.

Technically complex, therefore a relatively high surcharge.

our recommendation

  • The higher driving comfort, especially in traffic jams or in city traffic, are very good arguments for an automatic.

  • Old prejudices should not lead to wrong purchase decisions.

  • For most vehicles from the middle class, an automatic (regardless of whether it is a dual clutch transmission or an automatic converter) fits very well.

  • An extensive test drive is the best way to see the advantages and disadvantages.

  • Attention, automated manual transmissions are often not ideally matched and, due to the slow gear changes, are only suitable for very relaxed drivers.

  • With a brisk driving style, small cars with gearshifts are usually better equipped than with the inexpensive automated transmissions.

  • A vehicle with a torque converter automatic transmission is recommended for frequent trailer use, as this is the only way to enable wear-free starting with the torque converter clutch.

  • The same applies to frequent trips in the mountains, where the approach is often on inclines.

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