Standard Transmission

A standard transmission or manual transmission is the traditional type of transmission used in automobiles. The manual or standard transmission consists of a series of heliacal gears, synchros, roller bearings, counter shafts and gear selectors. The main clutch assembly is used to engage and disengage the engine from the transmission. Heliacal cut gears are used to select the ratio desired the sector fork move gears from one to another by using the gearshift knob. 

Synchros are used to slow the gear to a stop before it is engaged to avoid gear grinding, the counter shaft hold the gears in place and against the main input and output shaft. A stick shift transmission has no torque converter so there is no need for a transmission cooler. A stick shift transmission needs a simple fluid change for proper service. (there is no transmission filter in a stick shift transmission).

Transmission Shifter
Transmission Shifter

Most manual transmissions have one reverse gear and four to six forward gears. Some cars also have eight forward gears while thirteen to twenty-four gears are present in semi trucks. To differentiate among the available standard transmissions, they are addressed by the number of forward gears. For example, if the standard transmission has five gears, it will be referred to as 5-speed standard transmission or 5-speed standard.

Standard Transmission Configuration
Typical Standard Transmission Configuration

Inside the transmission shafts contain all forward and reverse gears. Most transmissions contain three shafts: input shaft, output shaft and counter or lay shaft. Other than standard transmission, there are other transmissions like continuously variable transmission, automatic transmission and semi-automatic transmission. In the manual transmission, a pair of gears inside the transmission selects the gear ratios. Whereas, in an automatic transmission, combination of brake bands and clutch packs control the planetary gear which selects the gear ratio.

If there is a provision to select a gear ratio manually in automatic transmissions, the system is called a semi-automatic transmission. The driver can select from any of the gears at any point of time. In some automobiles like racing cars and motorcycles that have standard transmissions, the driver can select the preceding or the following gear ratio with no clutch operation needed. This type of standard transmission is known as sequential transmission. In this transmission the clutch is still used for initial take off.

Clutch and Flywheel Assembly
Clutch and Flywheel Assembly

The main clutch plays the role of a coupling device which separates the transmission and the engine. If the clutch is absent and the car comes to a stop the engine will stall. In automobiles, the clutch can be operated with the help of a pedal located on the floor of the vehicle. In an automatic transmission instead of a clutch, a torque converter is used to separate the transmission and engine.

Stick Shift Patterns
Typical Stick Shift Patterns

A desired gear can be selected by a lever which is usually located on the floor in between the driver and passenger seat. This selector lever is called the gear lever or gear selector or gear shift or shifter. This gear stick can be made to move in right, left, forward and backward direction. When the gear is placed on the N position or neutral position, no gear will be selected. To move the car in the backward direction, the R gear or reverse gear should be selected.

Standard transmissions are more efficient and less expensive to produce than automatic transmissions. A Standard transmission is about 15% more efficient compared to an automatic transmission. Standard transmissions are generally stronger than automatic transmissions and off road vehicles take advantage of a direct gear selection so they can withstand rough conditions. Less active cooling is also required in manual transmission system because less power is wasted.

Popular Problem Checks

Car will not go into gear:

Car goes into gear but it fades out or is slipping

  • Clutch is worn out and needs replacement
  • Clutch is oil soaked from a external engine oil leak
Car makes grinding noise while operating or shifting gears

  • One of the roller or thrust bearings has failed
  • The gear synchro is worn out not forcing the gear stop before it is engaged causing a grinding gear.
  • A counter or main shaft bearing has failed causing misalignment of the gears
Troubleshooting Noise and Problems

  • If the vehicle is running and a whirring sound is heard, then it goes away when the clutch is depressed, the transmission input bearing has failed.
  • If the transmission is quiet in neutral but when you depress the clutch a squeaking noise is observed, a clutch throw out bearing has failed.
Tips: Never let little noises go unattended; a small noise can cause a large noise and transmission operation failure. Never overload a vehicle or tow beyond the capacity this can cause premature transmission failure.

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Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published (Updated 2013-08-16)