Automatic transmissions have been in use since 1940 when GM released the Hydra-Matic transmission. It was a simple four-speed automatic with reverse. The reason this was such a big deal was that manual transmissions were much more of a hassle to drive back then. There were no synchros on the gears, so shifting took serious effort at times to get it right. Automatics have come a long way in recent years.
It was not long ago that an automatic was restricted to a 1:1 final drive. This has changed in recent years as more and more cars are coming with not only overdrive but multiple overdrive gears. This allows the engine RPMs to drop even lower without bogging it down. It does this by slowly increasing the gear ratio, so the engine will always have enough torque.
This one may seem counter-intuitive, but it is true. There are many manufacturers taking this approach. One of the first was Volkswagen with the introduction of their DSG transmission. What these are is essentially a manual transmission, clutch and all, that is controlled by the car’s computer. These are still fairly new technology, so they do not shift as smoothly as traditional automatic transmissions do. They also can have issues shifting at the right points, but as the technology evolves expect this to get better.
Auxiliary coolers are becoming a common sight on new cars as well. In the past, you had to add one on if you needed it, but most people never did. The only times when there was any real benefit was if you were doing a lot of towing, but now they come stock. With today’s cars making more power than ever before they are also producing more heat. The transmission needs an auxiliary cooler to keep from burning the fluid. This is important since burnt fluid will burn up automatic transmission parts very quickly.
Automatic transmissions have come a long way since they were introduced in 1940 and are now often more efficient and longer lasting than manuals thanks to the fact that they are increasingly computer controlled.
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