Transmission Trivia for Truck Fans


By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Zocha_K/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

If you have any passion for not just trucks but how trucks work, you should probably know a little something about the transmission that makes them work. Most people think manual when they think trucks, but that's not always the case anymore and automatic transmissions are catching up in terms of performance, speed and fuel-efficiency. But still, for a purist, there's nothing quite like the way driving with a manual transmission feels. It really makes you part of the drive, lets you feel the road better as you move in a way that someone who only knows automatic transmissions will never really understand. But hey, that's not the ride everyone wants! Automatic is just so much easier to use and there's no risk of dealing with that awful grinding sound that lets you know you messed up and you messed up bad. 

From its effect on your truck's torque to overall power output and just the way it interacts with your engine and gets those wheels spinning, your transmission is an integral part of your truck's system, and more people really need to appreciate the work that it does as well as how it does it. So if you're a transmission expert or just learning how the gears click together, it's time to take the quiz and show your stuff!

Do you know which of these isn't a type of gearbox?

Odds are if you're driving, you're using an automatic gearbox, a synchromesh gear box, or a non-synchromesh. The first is obviously automatic while the second two are manual. Non-synchromesh requires you to double-clutch to shift. There's no such thing as longitudinal, though.


What kind of transmission did the Ford Model T have anyway?

Ford introduced the Model T back in 1908 with what it called a three-speed planetary gear transmission. Today, it gets a gear knocked out of the mix because one of those three is reverse and we wouldn't count that.


Another name for a continuously variable transmission is what?

Continuously variable transmission is also known as shiftless transmission and is a kind of automatic transmission that easily shifts through gear ratios. It uses a belt-driven design that's still less effective than automatic but makes up for it by being cheaper and better at allowing an engine to operate at its highest RPMs.


What's a good rough estimate of the market share of manual transmissions in the US?

The market share for manual transmissions is under 4% in the US and it seems like few people are even aware of how to drive a manual transmission car anymore. That said, manual transmissions are generally cheaper to make and more fuel-efficient and better-performing than automatics.


Which one of these things makes automatic transmission more costly than manual?

The TCU or transmission control unit adds more cost to an automatic transmission, as a manual doesn't require one. The TCU uses senses and data from the engine control unit to operate the transmission, which means it needs software and proper calibration as opposed to the simple mechanics of a manual transmission.


Which of these trucks used to use the Borg-Warner T-56 transmission?

Usually shortened to the T-56, the Borg-Warner T-56 transmission was first built for the Dodge Viper in 1992 and then found its way into the Dodge Ram among many other vehicles. Ram was one of the only trucks that used the transmission, but you could also find it in Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, Aston Martins and more.


What was the first automatic transmission used by Ford called?

Ford developed the Ford-O-Matic transmission at the end of the '40s for market in 1950. By 1958, the company had opted to call it the Cruise-O-Matic but it was essentially the same transmission. Of course, for Mercury models, the company went with the name Merc-O-Matic.


In the '80s and '90s, what company made the M5OD transmission found in Ford Broncos, Rangers, F-150s and more?

The M5OD transmission was made by Mazda and stood for Mazda 5-speed with Over Drive. It was a manual transmission available for light-duty and medium-duty vehicles. The 2011 Ford Ranger was the last truck to make use of it.


What transmission are you going to find in a 2020 Chevy Silverado?

Chevy's newest trucks are outfitted with an Allison 10-speed transmission, which seems to be a response to RAM's increased torque. As a GM rep said, they may offer more torque "but that’s academic if you can’t put all of that torque to the ground."


Do you know which vehicle had the first nine-speed automatic transmission?

Automatic transmission makers keep adding more speeds to them. Four and six used to be the norm, but in 2014 Jeep Cherokee became the first to have a nine-speed, and you can find 10-speed all over the place today, including in Chevy and Ford trucks.


Do you know what connects a manual transmission to your engine?

The clutch is what connects the transmission and the engine in a vehicle. In basic terms, the clutch works by connecting or disconnecting rotating shafts. One is for the engine and one for the wheels. The clutch controls the slippage between the always-spinning engine and the only-spinning-when-you-want-them-to wheels.


How many gears can a truck have?

For the most part, the highest number of gears you'll ever see in a semi-truck is 18. Pickups often have 10 these days and not all semis need 18, but they can be helpful for when a truck is hauling a massive trailer that weighs tons and they're trying to go down or up a hill safely.


When you hear grinding in a manual transmission, what could you be hearing?

Part of the reason manual transmission fell out of favor is that when people use them incorrectly, they produce a terrible noise and can be damaged more easily than automatics. Anything from a lack of transmission fluid to a worn clutch to the collar literally grinding the gears could cause those sounds.


Do you know what your tachometer does?

The tachometer on your dashboard measures the revolution per minute, or RPMs, of the spinning crankshaft in your engine. The name comes from the Greek word "tachos" which means speeds. The tachometer is pretty key for knowing when to shift gears.


When the collar in your transmission engages with a gear, how do they stay together?

Gears are wheels with teeth on them and have been made that way for centuries. When the collar slips over the gear, it holds in place by meshing teeth together to create a pretty firm and solid meshing of the two.


In which country are you likely to find more manual transmissions than in the United States?

Manual transmissions are still hugely popular in most other countries around the world, including places like Italy, China and Japan. Part of this is an economic factor as they're cheaper to buy and many countries don't have the same income to spend on cars, so a cheaper option is always better.


Due to the potential for runaways, what kind of transmission would be bad in a heavy truck going down a hill?

Planetary gear automatic transmission is generally fine in cars, but in a heavy truck it could spell disaster. If the clutch slips as a truck is heading downhill it will cause the truck to accelerate and that can, and has, lead to fatalities.


If you don't have a manual transmission, then which of these are you also not going to have?

No need for a clutch pedal in your truck if you're driving automatic. If you know manual, though, then you've experienced the third pedal alongside the gas and the brake that operates the clutch in the vehicle.


When you're shifting down, how many RPMs should you be looking for to do it properly?

Ideally, you want to downshift when the tachometer reads 1 or about 1,000 RPM. That's just going to be better on your transmission overall and better for your fuel economy. Once you're really good at driving stick you can feel when's a good time to shift more than by just reading the tachometer, though.


How long does the average clutch last?

Don't take this as gospel and consult your truck's manual to know for sure but, in general, a clutch is good for at least 60,000 miles these days. That said, some only make it about half that distance and some are good for more. Your mileage may vary, literally.


If you're changing your clutch, what else should you change?

If it's time to change the cutch you may as well take care of the whole transmission. You could use some new transmission fluid and, while you're in there, take the time to clean up the flywheel as well so everything runs smoothly.


What can cause transmission fluid to go milky?

Transmission fluid is often described as milky although, to be fair, it's still pink in color so it's more creamy than anything and will often look like Pepto Bismol or strawberry milk. That said, a coolant leak is the most likely culprit here.


Where will you find the redline?

Your tachometer lists numbers from 0 up to 14 and then, beyond that, you'll have numbers up to 17 in red. Above 14 is your tachometer's redline where you're pushing your engine beyond its safe operating boundaries and are risking damage.


Which one of these is a line of transmissions designed by GM?

GM designed the Turbo Hydromatic line of transmissions. It was the evolution of the Hydromatic which the company developed in the 1940s and had installed in nearly all of its vehicles throughout the 1950s.


Which transmission is inside a 2019 Chevy Colorado?

The Chevy Colorado has been rocking the 8-speed automatic GM 8L90 transmission since 2015. The same transmission can be found in the Camaro, the Cadillac CTS, the Yukon Denali and the Corvette Stingray.


Which gear has the lowest speed output?

The gears of your manual transmission go in order from 1 to whatever number you may be rocking. There's no secret to this one, the lowest gear has the lowest speed output, so if you're in no serious hurry stay in first gear.


Which transmission is generally more powerful, a manual or an automatic?

Because of how an automatic transmission works, with things like the transmission control unit assisting how it functions, it will never be able to provide as much power as a manual. In fact, a manual transmission can give you around 15% more power.


What can a driver do to avoid the red line?

When you hit the redline, it means you're at a dangerously high level of engine RPMs. You could stop or slow down to solve that problem and, of course, shifting gears is also an option to reduce strain on the engine.


Can you just brake to stop from your top gear in a manual transmission truck?

When you're in top gear and at top speed in your truck and you want to stop, you need to brake to slow down first, then apply the clutch, downshift and brake again, then apply the clutch until you stop.


What does an automatic transmission have instead of a clutch?

In an automatic transmission vehicle, the torque converter is a fluid coupling that does a job similar to a clutch of allowing the engine to keep working while the gears spin independent of the engine until you're in a new gear.


How do you double-clutch?

Outside of racing, it's unlikely you'd ever need to double-clutch these days, but it was more common in the past. The idea is to hit the clutch to disengage the transmission, rev the engine to get the RPMs where they need to be, then hit the clutch a second time to shift.


What is a shift pattern?

Every gear shift has a pattern on it. Many of them resemble an H or a tree of some kinds. This shift pattern represents the layout of the gears in your transmission and operates like a map so you know how to shift.


When you need high speed but low torque, what gear do you want?

A higher gear is all about higher speeds, but it sacrifices torque, which is a rotational force. The torque is important in a truck if you're hauling something heavy or towing a large trailer behind it, so you won't need that high gear for a job like that.


In which country was the first manual transmission developed?

The first manual transmission dates back to 1894 when it was invented by a pair of French inventors named Louis-Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor. The first automatic transmission was credited to Brazilian inventors in 1932.


What is manumatic transmission?

The name manumatic makes it sounds like it's manual and automatic transmission at the same time, but it's not exactly. It's automatic transmission with a limited option to override and shift manually.


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