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Where & How Computers Fit into Your Transmission & Why it Matters

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In the fifties, sixties, seventies and even into the eighties, cars did not have computers or computer chips. Transmissions and gear controls did not rely on computers. They relied on automatic or manual controls to shift into gear. Then companies started installing onboard computers and computer chips in the mid- to late eighties. Now onboard computers and computer chips are standard in every car you can purchase in the last decade.

So, where are these computers and chips located in your vehicle? How are they related to your transmission? How do they interact and control your transmission when such actions were never needed before? Finally, why should it matter to you what a computer/computer chip does with your transmission? All of the answers to these questions follow, and it is important to know the answers when your transmission is in need of transmission services or repairs.

Find Your ECU or OBD-II

Depending on the year, make and model of your vehicle, you may have either an ECU or an OBD-II computing device. The latter is more often used just for on-board diagnostics (hence, the OBD acryonym). These computers are typically located under the glove box, under the front passenger seat, or under the hood closest to the windshield and between the wiper blades. Surprisingly, they are not very close to the transmission, but they still receive input data from the transmission and, in some cars, control the actions of the transmission as well.

How They Relate to Your Transmission

If your transmission is having problems and is in need of repair, wiring from your transmission sends signals to the computer, which then signals your dash by lighting up the little sign that says "check transmission." If you continue to ignore this signal, eventually the computer leaves the "check transmission" light on all the time.

The diagnostics computer will continue to actively monitor the condition and efficacy of your transmission as it switches gears. In many vehicles, the computer will also record the problems the transmission is experiencing every time it switches gears. This provides valuable information to your mechanic when he/she is trying to diagnose the problem with your transmission.

Additionally, some cars do not have a transmission at all. Fully electric vehicles do not. Some newer vehicles have a dual clutch system, allowing drivers to switch back and forth between a manual and an automatic transmission. In a dual clutch system, you are more likely to have a lot more repair problems because of the switching between systems. Regardless of the presence of a transmission or lack thereof, the on-board computer can still provide useful data about issues with power, power converting, and getting the right amount of power to the engine to make your vehicle go in the correct gear for the speed you need.

Why it Should Matter

Car computers matter a lot these days. If something goes amiss in your vehicle, the computers know it sooner and faster than you do. The computers prevent a lot of breakdowns and added expenses when you are signaled by the computers and you take the time to address the problems right away. 

In regards to your transmission, it is one of those key components that makes your vehicle go. Without the transmission, you cannot stop, start, go in reverse, or even pick up speed. Even when your alternator, your starter, your timing belt, your battery, your ignition switch, and your engine are all working fine, the car will not move (or move well) without the transmission. Having an on-board computer tell you that something is wrong with the transmission helps you get the vehicle into the shop before the transmission drops out the bottom of your vehicle leaving you with a hefty repair bill.

To learn more about your transmission, contact services such as Huntington Beach Transmissions.