How Does a Manual Transmission Work

How does a manual transmission work? In principle, it helps to think of a 10-speed bicycle. A car's transmission has gears, just like the bicycle. The transmission engages and disengages the different gears so that the car can go faster.

Changing Gears
A manual transmission is connected to the engine through the clutch. The clutch rides on the input shaft, which turns at the same speed as the engine. The gearshift lever controls three rods, which each end in a fork. Pushing the shift lever into first gear pulls the rod and fork for first gear back, allowing the gear to turn. The same process occurs when you shift into a higher gear.

Reverse is the exception to this rule; it has a small idler gear. The reverse gear always turns in the opposite direction of the rest of the gears. If you try to put the vehicle in reverse while the vehicle is moving, you would not be able to do it. The teeth on the gears will never mesh, because they're moving in opposite directions. All you'll do is grind the gears and potentially damage the transmission.

Neutral Gear
When the car is in neutral, all of the gears are disengaged, allowing the car to roll freely. With some antique cars, you may need to double clutch, or put the clutch in neutral before selecting a higher gear. This isn't necessary on modern cars, because transmissions have synchronizers. Synchronizers maintain contact between the gear collar and the gear's teeth, allowing the gear to get up to speed so you can shift without grinding.

If your transmission grinds when you change gears, or if it will not go into gear, there is a good chance that the synchronizers are bad. You can still drive the vehicle by double clutching. Check local mechanics, or specialty shops such as Mr. Transmission, and compare prices to rebuild or replace the transmission. Depending on your location and the year, make and model of your vehicle, it may be cheaper to rebuild the transmission than to replace it. The cost depends on the nature of the problem and how easy it is to track down parts for your car.

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