How Does Tiptronic Transmission Work? 3 Facts for Future Auto Technicians

Auto technicians know automatic transmissions are heavier than manual systems

With as little as 2% of young Canadian drivers now learning to drive stick, automatic transmission is very much the standard for most Canadian cars. For those that can drive both, however, choosing what type of transmission to go for often comes down to a straight choice between convenience and performance. While automatics are easier to drive, stick shifts often offer better handling, control, and fuel efficiency.

But what if there was a way to get the best of both worlds? Tiptronic transmission systems allow drivers to enjoy the intuitive, computer-based gear shifting system of an automatic, while also allowing them to shift to a manual setting whenever they feel like experiencing a more controlled, sportscar style performance. While still mainly available as an option on high end luxury models, the system is becoming more popular, and auto mechanic students may well find themselves repairing more and more tiptronic cars as their careers progress.

Curious about how tiptronic transmissions work? Here’s what you should know.

1. The First Auto Manufacturer to Use Tiptronic Transmission was Porsche

While different forms of semi-automatic transmission systems have been around since the 1930s, the first tiptronic transmission debuted on the 1990 Porsche 911. The German automaker developed the system as a way to deliver an automatic version of their flagship car without compromising their reputation for outstanding performance.

Public response was overwhelmingly positive, and the company has continued to refine and improve its system over the years. Auto mechanic college students who know their sports cars might also be familiar with a number of other manufacturers’ variations on the tiptronic system, such as BMW’s Steptronic and Chrysler’s Auto/Stick.

2. Auto Technicians Will Find Tiptronic Systems Very Different from Regular Transmissions

Tiptronic transmissions are built to operate the same way as automatic systems, with the car’s onboard computer manually shifting gears. In order to engage the manual functions, the system will have either an additional gate within the gear lever or buttons mounted on the steering wheel.

When the manual mode is engaged, the driver overrides the computer and takes control of the gears themselves. This allows the driver to enjoy some of the benefits a stick shift system provides, such as the ability to up shift sooner while going uphill.

A tiptronic system will usually have safeguards in place to ensure drivers don’t go above the RPM red line and damage the engine, while the manual shifting function will also turn itself off after a certain period of inactivity.

3. Auto Technicians Know That Tiptronics Have Many of the Same Problems as Automatics

While tiptronic transmissions offer certain advantages over ordinary automatics, auto technicians soon learn that the system isn’t perfect. For one thing, a tiptronic transmission needs to have the same heavy components as an automatic, increasing the car’s curb weight and diminishing its performance.

The torque converter on tiptronic transmissions, which the driver uses to shift gears, also tends to be less responsive than a traditional clutch, while an ordinary manual system offers better fuel economy than most tiptronic vehicles.

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