From manual to automatic transmissions – and those that lie somewhere in-between – there are many different types of transmissions used today. In fact, there are four main types. However, due to certain similarities between these transmissions, many people find it challenging to determine their car’s transmission type.
There are numerous ways to find out which transmission you have. You can refer to the owner’s manual or use specific details of your vehicle, such as the unique Vehicle Identification Number, to determine this. It’s also possible to identify your transmission by looking at your car’s components.
In this article, I am going to explain everything you need to know about the different types of vehicle transmissions used today. I will also outline eight methods for determining which of these transmissions is used in your vehicle. Read on as I help you figure out which type you have!
What Kind Of Transmission Do I Have?
There are four core types of vehicle transmissions used today. This means that your vehicle will use one of these four types. However, some of these transmissions share many similarities. Due to this, you might be unsure regarding which type of transmission your car uses.
Regardless of why you need to know which transmission you have, there are several ways to determine this. These various methods can be grouped into two types of procedures. The manner you use to determine your type of transmission depends on which of the vehicle’s details you have access to.
The first type of method to determine this is to use details and codes linked to your vehicle. Whether you use your vehicle’s unique Vehicle Identification Number or your transmission’s model number, there are plenty of codes that can reveal your type of transmission. You can even find this out with your car’s make and model information!
However, it’s also possible to determine your type of transmission by physically looking at your vehicle. To accomplish this, you’ll need to be familiar with the four main types of vehicle transmissions. In the following section, I’ll be giving you a brief overview of each of these transmission types.
You might be able to identify the type of transmission in your car with our explanations! However, I’ll also be outlining eight different methods that can be used to determine which type of transmission you have. I’ll be explaining each of these. Regardless of which method you use, you’ll be able to swiftly figure out which type of transmission is fitted in your vehicle.
4 Types Of Vehicle Transmissions
Before I explain the process of determining which type of transmission your vehicle has, let’s consider those different types. After all, understanding the different types is a crucial part of identifying your vehicle’s transmission.
In fact, you might even be able to tell which type of transmission you have through our brief explanations of each. Overall, there are four main types of transmissions used in vehicles, which means that your vehicle will utilize one of these types. Of course, your vehicle’s transmission is a crucial driving component.
Your vehicle’s transmission is a component that works closely with the gearbox. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to drive anywhere – even with your engine running! The type used by your car will ultimately determine how your car shifts between different gears as you slow down or speed up.
This is perfectly highlighted by manual transmissions, which is the first type we’ll be looking at. Read on as we take a look at the oldest type – and once the most widely used type – of vehicle transmission.
Type 1. Manual Transmissions
In 1894, two French inventors unveiled a three-speed manual transmission. This design is still considered the inspiration for many modern manual transmissions. By the 1980s, nearly a century later, five-speed manual transmissions were the most widely used type of vehicle transmission.
There are still many vehicles manufactured today that utilize manual transmissions. Many drivers still consider manual transmissions the most straightforward type. However, a more significant majority of drivers are opting for other transmission types. This is backed by statistics that reveal a majority of the cars on the road today use automatic transmissions.
Cars that use manual transmissions are commonly referred to as ‘stick shift’ vehicles. This name derives from the gear stick, a component used to change gears while the car’s clutch pedal is engaged. Furthermore, the term ‘manual’ refers to this manual procedure of changing the gears while driving by using the gear stick and clutch pedal.
Manual transmissions rely on a fixed set of gears, which the driver manually controls. However, manual cars will vary in the number of gears they have. Typically, the number of gears ranges between three and six. Different manual transmissions are commonly referred to by their number of gears, such as a five-speed transmission, which is perhaps the most common type.
While fewer cars today use this type of transmission, there are still many advantages it offers drivers. Once the most common transmission in high-end racing vehicles, stick shift vehicles have remained popular due to the increased performance and handling.
While high-end cars today have shifted towards semi-automatic transmissions, many drivers still crave that feeling of a flawlessly timed shift of the gears. Luckily, there are still plenty of manual cars on the road. Manual transmissions are highly fuel-efficient, providing drivers with better overall fuel economy.
Type 2. Automatic Transmissions
As mentioned above, automatic transmissions are the most commonly used type today. Vehicles with this type of transmission utilize a specialized computer to shift between gears. Automatic cars do not have the additional clutch pedal that manual cars have, as this is no longer needed to change between gears. These cars only have two pedals for the gas and brakes.
Compared to manual transmissions, automatic transmissions provide drivers with a smoother and simpler driving experience. To do this, the vehicle utilizes a torque converter. This component is responsible for transmitting your vehicle’s rotational energy. Ultimately, this allows the car to automatically shift between gears while you’re driving.
With this type of vehicle transmission, all the complicated gear mechanics happen behind the scenes. All the driver of the automatic car has to do is use the gear selector occasionally. This resembles the gear shift of a manual car. However, instead of numbered gears, there are a series of letters: P-R-N-D-L.
Commonly pronounced as prindle by drivers, these letters refer to driving modes and are listed in the order of their shift sequence. These modes are park, reverse, neutral, drive, and low. However, the ‘L’ is often replaced with an ‘S’ for certain sports models. Generally, the order of the gear shift sequence remains the same across different automatic vehicles.
While automatic cars provide drivers with a simplified driving experience, the complex mechanics used to shift gears are more prone to failure. Furthermore, it is typically more costly to repair vehicles with automatic transmissions. Automatic cars also struggle to match the fuel economy offered by manual transmissions.
Type 3. Semi-Automatic Transmission
As the name suggests, a semi-automatic transmission combines elements of both manual and automatic transmissions. Ultimately, this results in a unique driving experience with vehicles using this type of transmission, which is also known as a dual-clutch transmission (DCT).
Semi-automatic transmissions are most often used in motor racing vehicles. As mentioned earlier, high-end sports cars often use this type of transmission. When compared to automatic vehicles, cars with semi-automatic transmissions typically cost more.
Dual-clutch transmissions are also more complex than even automatic transmissions. Due to this complexity, repairs for this transmission type will be even more costly than with other types. In semi-automatic cars, there are two clutches.
In semi-automatic cars, these clutches are controlled by specialized hydraulics, meaning the driver doesn’t have to use a clutch to change the gears manually.
However, there will be two paddles on the steering wheel to shift between gears in some vehicles. One clutch will control the odd gears, while the other will control the even gears. This means that, while you’re driving in third gear, you can already have the fourth gear selected on the other paddle.
Cars with this type of transmission provide groundbreaking performance. Ultimately, that is why many high-end vehicles use this type of transmission. However, this type of transmission comes with a hefty price tag. Due to this, it is not the most commonly used transmission commercially.
Type 4. Continuously Variable Transmission
CVT stands for Continuously Variable Transmission. In terms of driving experience, a vehicle with a CVT transmission is very comparable to that of an automatic transmission. However, the mechanisms that are used to shift between gears differ between these types of transmissions. In fact, a CVT transmission doesn’t use gears at all!
This type of vehicle transmission only became commercially available in the early 2000s. Furthermore, this type of transmission is the only type that doesn’t actually use gears. Instead, it relies on a complex system comprised of belts and pulleys. This allows it to keep your engine spinning at peak efficiency.
Due to their unique design, CVT vehicles offer the best fuel economy. Generally, cars with this type of transmission have very competitive city and highway MPGs (miles per gallon). Compared to automatic vehicles, CVT transmissions are less prone to breaking down. They’ll also be slightly cheaper to repair than automatic transmissions!
Like an automatic vehicle, there is less input needed from the driver while steering. While some people prefer this, the driving experience isn’t suited to everyone. However, if you’re looking for simple and fuel-efficient driving, then a vehicle with a CVT is a great option!
Identifying Your Transmission Type
Now that we’ve gone through the various types of vehicle transmissions used today, it’s time to take a closer look at how you can identify the type in your car! As we discussed in the first section, there are numerous ways to go about this.
Whether you use a particular identification code or take a physical look under your car’s hood, you’ll be able to identify your transmission type with one of the following methods. In this section, I’ll be outlining eight different methods to identify a car’s transmission type.
#1: Check The Owner’s Manual
When trying to find out more information about your vehicle, you should always consult the owner’s manual. Within your vehicle’s manual, the transmission type will likely be listed. If you’re looking for a confirmation of which transmission your vehicle uses – and more specifics about it – this is a great place to start.
However, there are many vehicles produced with different powertrain and drive options for buyers. Due to this, certain manuals will refer to different types of transmissions. For instance, it may refer to both manual and automatic models of the same overall vehicle.
If you can’t find the physical copy of your owner’s manual, you’ll be able to locate a copy online. To do this, you can visit the main website of your vehicle’s manufacturer and go to the website’s owner section. These manuals are also entirely free to download!
#2: Check Your Vehicle’s Door Sticker
Another simple way to check your vehicle’s transmission type is to consult the sticker located in the driver’s door. Also referred to as door jamb stickers, most vehicles have two stickers located in the driver’s door. However, the placement of these stickers may occasionally vary between cars.
One of these stickers features recommendations for your tires, such as the ideal tire pressure for specific weight loads. The second sticker, however, will list crucial details about your engine and when it was manufactured. This is the sticker you’ll want to look at when identifying your type of transmission.
In addition to your vehicle’s manufacturing date, engine type, and size, this sticker will also state the type of transmission used in the car. If you can’t locate this sticker inside your driver’s doorsill, you might find it near your glovebox. There are also six more ways to determine this!
#3: Use Your Transmission Model Number
With the previous method, we discussed the informational stickers located in the driver’s door of vehicles. On these stickers, there will be a Transmission Model Number. This is often a code on the sticker, which can be identified by a TR symbol.
The Transmission Model Number will also be listed on the transmission itself. This means you can have a look under the hood to locate this code. Once you have located this model number, you can use it to figure out the type of transmission in your vehicle. To do this, you can use a convenient online service.
By going to this link, you’ll be able to use your vehicle’s Transmission Model Number to determine which type of transmission you have. Once you click on the link, you’ll need to select your vehicle’s manufacturer and model. This will allow you to then search your transmission using your unique model number.
#4: Use Your Vehicle’s VIN Number
When figuring out which type of transmission your car has, this method is similar to the one discussed above. However, instead of your Transmission Model Number, you’ll be using a VIN code.
For those unfamiliar with this, every car has a unique identification number. Fittingly, VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number. This code is comprised of 17 different characters, with each character providing specific information regarding a particular aspect of the vehicle.
Typically, the transmission type will be identified by a character between the 4th and 8th digits of your VIN. However, you don’t have to try and manually decode your Vehicle Identification Code. There are far more straightforward ways to do this today, regardless of how old your vehicle is! However, first, you will need to actually find your VIN.
There are a few ways to locate your unique VIN code to determine your transmission type. This information should be listed on the information sticker mentioned above. For more ways to locate this code, this short YouTube video will come in handy!
Once you’ve located your Vehicle Identification Number, you can use a free online service to decode the numbers. This will instantly reveal what type of transmission is used in your vehicle. To do this, you can enter your VIN on Decode This.
#5: Use Your Vehicle’s Model Information
It is also possible to figure out which type of transmission you have by using your vehicle’s make and model information. Once again, there are also many ways to find out the make and model of your car if you aren’t already sure.
For instance, you could consult your owner’s manual or the informational sticker inside the driver’s door. Alternatively, you can use the same website discussed earlier to decode your Vehicle Identification Number. Information regarding your car’s make and model will be included in this.
To do this, you can use the same website discussed in the third method. Alternatively, you can use this information in conjunction with the following method that we will be discussing!
#6: Ask A Dealership For Help
If you’re struggling to determine which transmission your car has, you can always ask a dealership for help. You can contact a local dealership via phone or email to find out what type of transmission you have. However, in order to do this, you will need to provide the dealership with certain details of your vehicle.
What makes this method great is that you’ll be able to use any of the details discussed earlier in this article. This means you’ll be able to use a VIN, your make and model, your information sticker, and more. Depending on which details you have, a dealership can run this through the system and give you specific information regarding your vehicle’s transmission.
#7: Look Inside Your Vehicle
Earlier in this piece, we discussed the different types of vehicle transmissions. Of course, there are four types. Using our descriptions, you should be able to identify your vehicle by simply looking at your car’s interior.
If you have a manual transmission, you will have the eponymous stick shift, which is used to change between gears. There will also be a clutch pedal in a manual car. If you notice these features, it means that you have a manual transmission.
In an automatic car, there will only be two pedals for gas and brakes. The stick used to shift between driving modes will be marked with the P-R-N-D-L markings. However, in a semi-automatic, you will notice the two paddles that control the odd and even gears. If you’re driving a high-end sports car, chances are it might be CVT.
#8: Check Under The Vehicle’s Hood
If you know your way around the hood of your car, you can also take a peek at your transmission components to determine which type is in a car. To do this, you might need to get a bit dirty. That’s because you’ll need to get under the hood of the vehicle to actually look at the transmission components.
Specifically, you’ll be looking at codes listed on the various transmission components. By writing these codes down or taking a photo of them, you’ll be able to determine which type of transmission is being used.
You’ll either need to give these codes to an auto shop or use an online service. However, the chances are that one of the previous methods already helped you determine which type of transmission you have!
There are four types of vehicle transmissions used today. The oldest type, of course, is the manual transmission. Once the most mainstream car transmission, there are still many benefits to this type of transmission. However, a majority of the vehicles on the road today are now automatic. However, there are also semi-automatics and vehicles with a Continuously Variable Transmission.
There are two main types of methods that can be used to determine which transmission you have. The first type involves using details of your vehicle to find this information. The other type involves taking a physical look at your vehicle to determine this information. In this article, I outlined eight overall ways to find out your transmission type.
Hi there! I am Tahir Azam, and this is my blog. WVDOT Automotive is a website dedicated to creating high-quality content for car enthusiasts. I am also an avid car driver. I own and drive a Porsche for my daily tasks. It is the perfect vehicle for my family. I am a proud father of two boys. I spend my mornings and evenings catering to clients at my very own software hub. After getting home, I dedicate a few hours of my time to create an article every day. Well, this is a short introduction about me and I am also a publisher on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading through my articles, and I also hope that I may have helped you choose an upgrade for your vehicle.