An automatic transmission is a type of automobile transmission that can automatically change gears as the vehicle moves.
The most popular form is the hydraulic automatic transmission. Similar but larger devices are also used for heavy-duty commercial and industrial vehicles and equipment.
Besides the traditional hydraulic automatic transmissions, there are also other types of automated transmissions, such as a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Despite apparent similarity to other transmissions, traditional automatic transmissions varies significantly in internal operation and driver’s feel from CVTs. In contrast to conventional automatic transmissions, a CVT uses a belt or other torque transmission scheme to allow an “infinite” number of gear ratios instead of a fixed number of gear ratios. A semi-automatic transmission has a clutch like a manual transmission, but controls the clutch through electrohydraulic means. The ability to shift gears manually, often via paddle shifters, can also be found on certain automated transmissions (manumatics such as Tiptronic), semi-automatics (BMW SMG, VW Group DSG), and CVTs (such as Lineartronic).
The obvious advantage of an automatic transmission to the driver is the lack of a clutch pedal and manual shift pattern in normal driving. The primary disadvantage of the most popular hydraulic designs is reduced mechanical efficiency of the power transfer between engine and drivetrain. This can result in lower power/torque ratings for automatics compared to manuals with the same engine specs, as well as reduced fuel efficiency in city driving. Advances in transmission have narrowed this gap considerably, but clutch-based transmissions (manual or semi-automatic) are still preferred in sport-tuned production cars, as well as in many auto racing leagues.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT), also known as a shiftless transmission, single-speed transmission, stepless transmission, or pulley transmission, is an automatic transmission that can change seamlessly through a continuous range of effective gear ratios.
A belt-driven design offers approximately 88% efficiency, which, while lower than that of a manual transmission, can be offset by lower production cost and by enabling the engine to run at its most efficient speed for a range of speeds.
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