How Automatic Transmissions Work

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By definition, an overdrive has a faster output speed than input speed. It's a speed increase -- the opposite of a reduction. In this transmission, engaging the overdrive accomplishes two things at once. If you read How Torque Converters Work, you learned about lockup torque converters. In order to improve efficiency, some cars have a mechanism that locks up the torque converter so that the output of the engine goes straight to the transmission.

In this transmission, when overdrive is engaged, a shaft that is attached to the housing of the torque converter (which is bolted to the flywheel of the engine) is connected by clutch to the planet carrier. The small sun gear freewheels, and the larger sun gear is held by the overdrive band. Nothing is connected to the turbine; the only input comes from the converter housing. Let's go back to our chart again, this time with the planet carrier for input, the sun gear fixed and the ring gear for output.

Ratio = 1 / (1 + S/R) = 1 / ( 1 + 36/72) = 0.67:1

So the output spins once for every two-thirds of a rotation of the engine. If the engine is turning at 2000 rotations per minute (RPM), the output speed is 3000 RPM. This allows cars to drive at freeway speed while the engine speed stays nice and slow.

Move the shift lever to see how power is transmitted through the transmission.