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How Manual Transmissions Work

First Gear

The picture below shows how, when shifted into first gear, the collar engages the blue gear on the right:

a simple auto transmission

In this picture, the green shaft from the engine turns the layshaft, which turns the blue gear on the right. This gear transmits its energy through the collar to drive the yellow drive shaft. Meanwhile, the blue gear on the left is turning, but it is freewheeling on its bearing so it has no effect on the yellow shaft.

When the collar is between the two gears (as shown in the first figure), the transmission is in neutral. Both of the blue gears freewheel on the yellow shaft at the different rates controlled by their ratios to the layshaft.

From this discussion, you can answer several questions:

  • When you make a mistake while shifting and hear a horrible grinding sound, you are not hearing the sound of gear teeth mis-meshing. As you can see in these diagrams, all gear teeth are all fully meshed at all times. The grinding is the sound of the dog teeth trying unsuccessfully to engage the holes in the side of a blue gear.
  • The transmission shown here does not have "synchros" (discussed later in the article), so if you were using this transmission you would have to double-clutch it. Double-clutching was common in older cars and is still common in some modern race cars. In double-clutching, you first push the clutch pedal in once to disengage the engine from the transmission. This takes the pressure off the dog teeth so you can move the collar into neutral. Then you release the clutch pedal and rev the engine to the "right speed." The right speed is the rpm value at which the engine should be running in the next gear. The idea is to get the blue gear of the next gear and the collar rotating at the same speed so that the dog teeth can engage. Then you push the clutch pedal in again and lock the collar into the new gear. At every gear change you have to press and release the clutch twice, hence the name "double-clutching."
  • You can also see how a small linear motion in the gear shift knob allows you to change gears. The gear shift knob moves a rod connected to the fork. The fork slides the collar on the yellow shaft to engage one of two gears.

In the next section, we'll take a look at a real transmission.

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