How Much Do You Know About Automatic Transmissions?


By: J. Reinoehl

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Modern automatics shift smoothly and make driving easier, but some don't even know the basics about what they're driving. Test exactly how much you know about automatic transmissions by taking this quiz!

What should you do before starting an automatic transmission car?

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” –Henry Ford in The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford's Universal Code for World-Class Success.


What is a sign your transmission fluid is leaking?

A puddle of fluid under the car means something is leaking or if it is clear and summer, it could be condensation from the air conditioning unit. Generally, the color of the fluid can help you determine what is causing the puddle.


How frequently should you change the automatic transmission oil?

Automatic transmission fluid breaks down more rapidly than manual transmission fluid. For regular maintenance, most manufacturers recommend you change it every 30,000—60,000 miles. Once you start having transmission problems with a vehicle that has never had the fluid changed, it is generally too late, and you should not attempt to change it at that point.


What takes the place of a clutch in an automatic transmission?

“Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use a Macintosh.” –Steve Jobs in 1985


What does a torque converter do?

One part of the torque converter is attached to the engine, and a second part is connected to the transmission input shaft. The first part moves the transmission fluid, which causes the second part to move.


What tool would be helpful to change the oil in an automatic transmission?

“Money may not buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus.” –Francoise Sagan


What is one way the performance is enhanced on an automatic?

A transmission sensor unit monitors driving and determines how to shift. Most can learn driving habits and work based on the information obtained.


The first automatic transmission invented by Alfred Munro used what as a medium?

“There was a time when people cooed over Ferraris that developed 200 horsepower, whereas today 2.0 liter Escorts can manage that. It's almost impossible to buy a car that won't do a hundred.” –Jeremy Clarkson in Born to Be Riled


Which component of early transmission fluid has been banned internationally since 1987?

Whale oil was initially a much better lubricant than petroleum and was used in automatic transmissions until synthetic ester lubricants were invented in the 1970s. Whaling was banned in 1986.


What kind of gear does an automatic transmission have?

“Lamborghini is refinement, luxury, and perfection.” –Ferruccio Lamborghini


What are planetary gears?

The center gear in a planetary gear system is considered the sun and it turns several other (planets) gears -at once- that are housed inside a ring gear. The output shaft on a transmission is connected to the planet gears.


Which of the following fluids would you use in an automatic transmission?

“There were some people, it seemed, who were incapable of being pleasant about anything. Of course, the cars that such people drove tended to be difficult as well. Nice cars have nice drivers; bad cars have bad drivers. A person's gearbox revealed everything that you could want to know about that person, thought Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.” ― Alexander McCall Smith, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive


What does a gear pump do?

The gear pump works by being off-centered. It prevents fluid from flowing in the directions where the inner gear meshes perfectly with the outer gear and allows fluid to flow on the opposite side where the gears are not meshed.


What does CVT stand for?

“Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory—if the success of the job requires it.” –Henry Ford


If an automatic transmission has a third pedal, what would the three pedals be for?

“The Alfa Romeo GTV6 had the worst gearbox I've ever encountered, and the worst driving position and the worst record for reliability. Nevertheless, I bought one. I knew it was a hopeless basket case but I'd become smitten by the noise its engine made: a rumble in the jungle at low revs and almost an eerie howl as it neared the red line.” –Jeremy Clarkson in Born to Be Riled


In which country would you find more automatic transmissions on the roads?

In European countries and Japan, vehicles with automatic transmissions make up only about 20% of the new cars. Automatic transmissions make up about 96% of new car sales in the United States.


What is another name for a CVT?

“As long as we look to legislation to cure poverty or to abolish special privilege we are going to see poverty spread and special privilege grow.” –Henry Ford, in The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford's Universal Code for World-Class Success.


Which of the following parts monitors the speed of the car in an older automatic transmission?

Electronic vehicle speed sensors monitor vehicle speed in vehicles with electronic transmissions, but non-electronic transmissions still use a governor.


When you are changing the transmission fluid in an automatic transmission, what else should you change?

“Obviously, driving a convertible yellow Porsche raises certain sociological issues. I mean, some people are going to look at me, I know, and think I'm a merchant banker.” –James May on Top Gear November 2, 2003


What is a sealed transmission?

Sealed transmissions are designed to maintain fluids throughout the lifetime of the vehicle (usually only 150,000 miles). These transmissions are designed to limit contamination and prevent people from servicing their own vehicles and thereby damaging them because they add the wrong fluid to the wrong component. Although they are sealed, some come with directions on how to check fluids without the dipstick.


Which part of an engine connects to the automatic transmission?

“If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.” –Henry Ford


When was the first automatic transmission made?

Munro was the first to make the automatic transmission, but it was quickly improved upon by Brazilians José Braz Araripe and Fernando Lehly Lemos in 1932. They sold their semi-automatic transmission idea to General Motors where it was further developed into a fully automatic transmission that began appearing in cars with a model year of 1940.


An automatic transmission usually weighs…

“The only Japanese cars with even a trace of humanity are Hondas, and there's a very good reason for that. There was a Mr. Honda and he did have a vision when he was a small boy. Even today that vision still steers the engineers, and as a result there's a very definite correlation between the S2000 sports cars and those early motorbikes. It's solely because of this link with the past that I like Hondas more than any other Japanese cars.” –Jeremy Clarkson in I Know You Got Soul


How does a CVT work?

Increased speed varies the diameter of the pulleys. Because the increase is steady, the CVT has smoother transitions between gears. The belt connecting the pulleys limits the torque.


The transmission provides a link between what two parts of the car?

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” –Henry Ford in News Journal August 3, 1965


What is the best way to change gears on an automatic?

Any time you change gears on an automatic, the car needs to be stopped with the brake first. It is especially important to stop completely when changing from a forward gear to a reverse gear.


What does a CVT use instead of a gearbox?

“I’m a huge NASCAR fan, but I’m not a gearhead. I’ve never been into fixing cars. It’s not because I don’t like it. I would love to know more. It’s just that my dad never taught me that stuff because my dad wasn’t a mechanic.” –Larry the Cable Guy


Which part helps a non-computerized automatic transmission determine when to shift?

Governors also work as speed limiters. The automatic transmission governor functions similarly to these in that as two weights in it spin faster, they move apart from each other, opening the valve.


What else can you call the transmission?

“Poor quality is remembered long after low prices are forgotten.” –Charles Rolls


What does “torque” mean?

Torque is the twisting force. Transmissions use different gears to increase the amount of twisting force exerted on the wheels.


What is the difference between a transmission flush and a transmission fluid change?

“[A Bugatti Veyron is] quite the most stunning piece of automotive engineering ever created… At a stroke then, the Veyron has rendered everything I’ve ever said about any other car obsolete. It’s rewritten the rule book, moved the goalposts and in the process, given Mother Nature a bloody nose.” –Jeremy Clarkson


If you change the oil in your automatic transmission without flushing it, what percentage of oil in the transmission will be removed and replaced with clean?

A lot of the transmission fluid remains in the housing and the torque converter. Since automatic transmission fluid has cleaners in it, even refreshing some of the fluid is beneficial.


Which of the following is not a good rule to follow when you are driving an automatic transmission vehicle?

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” –Tom Magliozzi from In Our Humble Opinion: Car Talk’s Click and Clack Rant and Rave (2000)


What was the name of the person who invented the first practical automatic transmission?

Unlike Munro, Banker developed a transmission filled with fluid. He was born in the Ottoman Empire with the name Asatour Sarafian.


What is the powertrain?

“Right, it's on. I... think. There's no noise at all, but anyway. Put [the Tesla Roadster] into drive — [it] has a one-speed gearbox. They tried it with a two speed but that kept breaking. So one it is.” –Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear December 14, 2008


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