History of Transmissions: Automatic vs Manual!

If you have ever wondered what the differences are between a manual or automatic transmission, there are several things you should know about how the system works. The way you use a vehicle and the type of driving you do can make a difference on which type of transmission you may want. Here is a quick description of the types of transmissions and what they can do for you.

Manual-TransmissionWhen the idea of a gas-powered engine first began, the system needed a mechanism that would transfer power from the engine to the wheels. After a number of system designs were tried, the first working transmission and drivetrain was designed in 1877. The transmission was a manual style, requiring the driver to manually shift gears to operate the system. Because of its rough design, the original drivetrain required regular repairs to keep it running.

The drivetrains of these early vehicles were much simpler in design, using reduction gears to operate the shaft and pulleys of the system. The pulleys used leather belts to run the system and the early designs were a simple high and low gear design. The leather belts often wore out, requiring regular repairs and replacement of the gears and belts.


Many changes in design have been made over the decades since the original drivetrain was designed. In an attempt to increase productivity and make driving easier, designers began working on the idea of an automatic unit. A semi-automatic design was created and used in a General Motors vehicle in 1937 and the designs continued to improve until a genuine automatic drivetrain was installed in a 1948 Oldsmobile. The Hydro-Matic was designed by an engineer from GM and the design staff continued to redesign the system over the years. Automotive technology changes helped to improve the way the drivetrain operated and more designs were created by various automotive manufacturer’s including the Powerflite, Torqueflite, Jetaway and more.

Americans seem to prefer the automatic units with over 80 percent of new cars sold with the newer drivetrain while European drivers seem to prefer the more hands-on style. Ford-Mustang-Automatic-TransmissionIt is much easier to drive an automatic system and some areas of the country require that you take your drivers test with a manual system, even if you will be operating an automatic, just to prove your proficiency in operating the more difficult drivetrain system. The modern system allows you to operate the vehicle from a column shift or floor shift without the need of using a clutch to engage the drivetrain.

The differences between the two types of systems have more to do with the type of driving that you do. If you are looking to get more power from your engine, the manual style still gives you better acceleration from 0-60 mph while the automated style tends to be easier on the gears and requires less repair and maintenance. The size engine you choose also has a lot to do with the drivetrain. Smaller engine sizes would be better off using the manual style to achieve power going up hills and for passing vehicles, while larger engines do not require as much hands on activity.

Another reason for choosing one over the other could be any physical handicaps the driver may have. In order to operate the manual system, you need to be able to depress the clutch with your foot while operating the stick shift with your hand. Some drivers may not have the physical ability to do this, while other drivers just prefer the simplicity of the easier system. Both systems have specific benefits while repairs could very between the two.

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