Encylopedia Hoonatica: This is how a transmission works

The US Auto Industry YouTube channel is one of my favorite corners of the Internet. Wonderful old videos populate its pages. This is a vision of the automotive world from decades ago. Some of those videos are educational films that show how a specific part of an automobile works. Spinning Levers is just such a film, and though it was produced in 1936 it’s information is perfectly useful today.

You know how a number of the parts in your vehicle work. Or at least you have a basic understanding of how it all fits together. One of those components is most certainly the transmission. A gearbox is basically just what its name implies; a place that houses a number of gears that allow for your vehicle to operate at a range of speeds. We’re not discussing CVTs or single-speed electric vehicles here. You have multiple gears to get you moving and keep you rising through the wide range of speeds you’ll need on your drive.

Watch the video above and the mystery of the manual gearbox will fade. It’s easy to see how a combination input and output shafts work in concert with a number of different gears to translate engine forces into forward (or reverse) movement.

17 Comments

    1. Wow, you couldn’t be more right about that!

      I’ve only ever opened up an automatic once in my life, and (being a quick hands-on, visual learner) I grossly underestimated the amount of disassembly notes I needed to take. After grenading two AMC four-speed manuals that weren’t up to the task of a 360 V8, I decided to take a good THM400 and replace its transfer case with a tail shaft from a 2WD unit. Holy hell, I never dreamed there were so many parts in that thing. After “reassembly” and installation, I think it worked for about 3 miles before dying. It was a good lesson for a young shadetree mechanic, but probably contributed to my disdain for anything other than a true manual (which are comparatively simple).

      1. A pal took his automatic transmission (Jeep Cherokee, I think) to the practitioner of black arts who had the best reputation for rebuilding them. He had a chance to ask for a brief explanation as to how they worked, to which the reply was, “I have no idea. I’m a very meticulous and efficient worker and all I do is take them apart, inspect for wear, and put them back together according to specifications.”
        And I’ll be damned if the thing didn’t work like a charm when he was done.

        1. “Meticulous and efficient” are not my strong points. “Distractible and impulsive” are closer to the truth, and those traits obviously don’t make for a good transmission repair technician.

  1. That’s not how my transmission works! Not since I got out of the Scout market anyway. In keeping with today’s “Hooniverse Asks:” I’m going to go with this video about dual clutch transmissions from a while back.

    I love that I live in the age of YouTube. For millennia humans learned from watching each other do stuff, and then we moved into printed books, which none of our wiring was really meant for. Now we have visual learning again. I can watch a video about the entire engine and transmission of my 2017 motorcycle rendered in stunning 3D models, or these two helpful souls tear down a VAG Direct Select Gear transmission in real space.

        1. Yep, like that but there are boxes now with conventional clutches and electronic control

      1. City Bike (dot com) had an open forum for questions about the new retro Honda Super Cub and I wanted to know if it would have a two-speed DCT option available, with one clutch for each forward gear. It’s not outside the realm of possibility; Honda is putting DCTs in everything, and it almost makes sense in a scooter.

  2. “We’re not discussing CVTs…”

    Wait a minute! One of these got me to work this morning. It may very well get me home this evening, too:

    1. One of these got me to work this morning. “ How did it trick you into that and how much work did you have to do ?

      1. Yes, made of plastic. Even after forty-odd years it’s hardly broken at all around the edges and is certainly not held in place only by virtue of the widest fender washers I could find for spanning what’s left of the material. After all, it’s the shield from the parts car, the better of the two.

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