Transmissions and transaxles are a vital part of the mechanics of your vehicle in that they transfer power or torque from your engine to its wheels. Without a transmission, your engine will be spinning pumping out energy that cannot be used.
A term transmission is often used to describe both a transmission and a transaxle; however, there is a notable difference between the two. A transmission sits lengthwise in the direction of the vehicle and is found in virtually any car that has rear wheel drive. A transaxle is a transmission but is situated perpendicular to the vehicle, typically under the engine and the front hood. This was not always the way, as the vehicle industry was long dominated by rear wheel drive American cars, but companies like Volkswagen (Rabbit), Toyota, Nissan started slicing up the market in the 1970s with front wheel drive compact vehicles that addressed concerns for fuel efficiency amidst rising fuel costs.
Typically your vehicle will have a transaxle that contains the gears and differential to move your car by way of transferring power from the engine. As efficient as these engines are now, the transmissions have to work just as hard using a balance of torque and power to produce movement and speed. Regardless, the reliability of transmissions have progressed dramatically over the years and will often outlive the car engine.
The main issue with transaxles in modern times is towing power. As cars have generally become smaller, the need for towing trailers of all types has not reduced at all; thus, complications can arise with working overworking your transmission by pulling extra weight. Your transaxle produces torque (or power) and speed, but the two have an inverse relationship. As one increase, the other decreases. For example, driving up a hill requires more power because of the weight of your vehicle. Driving on a level road will require less torque but more speed. Attaching a trailer to a car will put an extra amount of pressure on your transmission to produce torque, even in typical grades of the roadway. So you can see how that would make your transaxle or transmission more susceptible to repairs or maintenance.
The gears of your transmission are also quite forgiving and can go a lifetime without issue. However, vehicles with standard gear shift transmissions are certainly more susceptible to repairs simply because of human error – poor or abrupt gear changing while not coordinating with the clutch smoothly.
The transaxle transmits engine torque to the drive shaft and subsequently the joints on the wheels. These mechanics of the vehicle produce a lot of tension and heat and friction and are significantly more susceptible to repairs over time. A busted CV joint is going to leave you stranded so pay attention to new sounds from your transaxle, drive shaft or wheel joints, as this may be a clue to seek an immediate diagnosis.
Did you know?
“The Model T had no transmission, as we know it. There was a gearbox, but it only offered one speed. You would push the shift forward to take the vehicle out of neutral and engage the drive train. To go in reverse, you would depress a pedal on the floor.”