Vehicle Servicing and Parts
 
Automatic Transmissions: Valves and Modulators

To shift properly, the automatic transmission has to know how hard the engine is working. There are two different ways that this is done. Some cars have a simple cable linkage connected to a throttle valve in the transmission. The further the gas pedal is pressed, the more pressure is put on the throttle valve. Other cars use a vacuum modulator to apply pressure to the throttle valve. The modulator senses the manifold pressure, which increases when the engine is under a greater load.

The manual valve is what the shift lever hooks up to. Depending on which gear is selected, the manual valve feeds hydraulic circuits that inhibit certain gears. For instance, if the shift lever is in third gear, it feeds a circuit that prevents overdrive from engaging.

automatic transmission shift circuit
The shift circuit

Shift valves supply hydraulic pressure to the clutches and bands to engage each gear. The valve body of the transmission contains several shift valves. The shift valve determines when to shift from one gear to the next. For instance, the 1 to 2 shift valve determines when to shift from first to second gear. The shift valve is pressurized with fluid from the governor on one side, and the throttle valve on the other. They are supplied with fluid by the pump, and they route that fluid to one of two circuits to control which gear the car runs in.

The shift valve will delay a shift if the car is accelerating quickly. If the car accelerates gently, the shift will occur at a lower speed. Let's discuss what happens when the car accelerates gently.



P & D Autos:
Stone Street
Bunbury
Western Australia
6230
Phone:
(08) 9791 6300
Fax:
(08) 9791 6455
Post:
PO Box 2275
Bunbury 6231
Email:

As the car speed increases, the pressure from the governor builds. This forces the shift valve over until the first gear circuit is closed, and the second gear circuit opens. Since the car is accelerating at light throttle, the throttle valve does not apply much pressure against the shift valve.

When the car accelerates quickly, the throttle valve applies more pressure against the shift valve. This means that the pressure from the governor has to be higher (and therefore the vehicle speed has to be faster) before the shift valve moves over far enough to engage second gear.

Each shift valve responds to a particular pressure range; so when the car is going faster, the 2-to-3 shift valve will take over, because the pressure from the governor is high enough to trigger that valve.

Electronically Controlled Transmissions

Electronically controlled transmissions, which appear on some newer cars, still use hydraulics to actuate the clutches and bands, but each hydraulic circuit is controlled by an electric solenoid. This simplifies the plumbing on the transmission and allows for more advanced control schemes.

In the last section we saw some of the control strategies that mechanically controlled transmissions use. Electronically controlled transmissions have even more elaborate control schemes. In addition to monitoring vehicle speed and throttle position, the transmission controller can monitor the engine speed, if the brake pedal is being pressed, and even the anti-lock braking system.

Using this information and an advanced control strategy based on fuzzy logic -- a method of programming control systems using human-type reasoning -- electronically controlled transmissions can do things like:

  • Downshift automatically when going downhill to control speed and reduce wear on the brakes
  • Upshift when braking on a slippery surface to reduce the braking torque applied by the engine
  • Inhibit the upshift when going into a turn on a winding road

Let's talk about that last feature -- inhibiting the upshift when going into a turn on a winding road. Let's say you're driving on an uphill, winding mountain road. When you are driving on the straight sections of the road, the transmission shifts into second gear to give you enough acceleration and hill-climbing power. When you come to a curve you slow down, taking your foot off the gas pedal and possibly applying the brake. Most transmissions will upshift to third gear, or even overdrive, when you take your foot off the gas. Then when you accelerate out of the curve, they will downshift again. But if you were driving a manual transmission car, you would probably leave the car in the same gear the whole time. Some automatic transmissions with advanced control systems can detect this situation after you have gone around a couple of the curves, and "learn" not to upshift again.


Copyright © 2007 - , P & D Autos, Western Australia. All rights reserved.