What’s the difference between all of these transmissions?

Manual? Automatic? CVT? DCT?

It’s hard to imagine it today, but there was a time where you couldn’t choose the type of transmission your car had. Instead, you were presented with a single choice – the standard  transmission. This key part, known to most of us now as a manual transmission, has evolved alongside the automobile.

Today, customers have a wider set of options when they are looking to purchase a car. Depending on how you drive, selecting the right or wrong type of transmission could leave you loving or hating your new ride.

What exactly are the differences? We reviewed the four most common transmission options to help make sure you’re not “transmissing” anything.

Manual (or Standard) Transmission

A manual transmission is the original way of shifting gears in a car. The name is no joke – you’re manually helping the car shift gears through the use of a stick and clutch (a third pedal). This means that in addition to paying attention to the road, you’re also intimately engaged with the car’s operation on a mechanical level. Your hands and feet are continuously moving to shift up or down, depending on acceleration or deceleration.

Given the extra work, why would you want to purchase a vehicle with a manual transmission? Previously, there were advantages, like a lower purchase price, better fuel economy, and inexpensive repairs. However, technological advances with newer transmissions have erased most of these benefits. More often than not, those purchasing a car with a manual transmission might just be buying it for the fun.

Automatic Transmission

When it comes to the ease of learning, no transmission comes close to an automatic. This system takes out all the guesswork and breaks it down into letters: Park, Reverse, Neutral, Low, and Drive. Just push the button on the shifter and slide to the preferred mode of operation. Behind the scenes, the car’s computer helps to move all the necessary gears, clutches, and brakes. The biggest downside to an automatic transmission is the cost, both at the time of purchase and of that related to future repair.

Continuously Variable Transmission

The continuously variable transmission, a.k.a. CVT, provides an automatic experience without any gears. No gears! No pausing! By using a combination of belts, pulleys, and sensors, a CVT optimizes performance by adjusting these pulleys in size to rev up the engine as needed. It can seem weird on your first try, as there’s no traditional feel of gears shifting. There also isn’t the same roar of the engine with a CVT. And your bank account will benefit because a CVT has one of the best possible fuel economies.

Dual-Clutch Transmission

A dual-clutch transmission switches extremely fast between gears and offers exceptional performance for the driver. Your ride, with upshifts close to 60 milliseconds, gets a massive upgrade. You can also switch to automatic during most of your drive, alternating to paddles for shifting (typically on or behind the steering wheel) when the winding roads call for it.

The downsides of a dual-clutch transmission? They’re large, heavy, and expensive. It can be thousands of extra dollars to add a DCT to a car over a CVT or automatic transmission. But if you’re looking for premium performance, this transmission system certainly fits the bill

Shifting Into Gear

If you want to drive without thinking much (outside of paying attention to the road), you should go with an automatic. If you want to feel the road, go with a manual. Beyond that, consider a dual-clutch or continuously variable transmission if you’re more concerned about performance or efficiency.

Selecting a transmission, above anything else, is about making a statement about the vehicle you want to drive.