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Lemon Vehicles: Why Do I Have Car Transmission Issues?

The use of different — but not strictly “new” — motor vehicle transmission technologies has increasingly been at the root of lemon law and other consumer claims over the past several years. These claims involve a variety of complaints that could indicate a car with transmission problems, a vehicle that could experience, among other things: delayed acceleration, lunging and lurching, disengagement, and illumination of the check transmission light.

We have come to expect technology to improve over time, so what is behind this troublesome trend? This post takes a look at the issue.

What is a transmission?

First, it’s helpful to understand what a transmission is — especially if you are an engineering layman like me. Because engines turn over at a high rate, there is a need to vary the speed and torque converted to the wheels for starting, stopping, driving at slower speeds, and driving in reverse. The transmission is a set of gears (or gear ratios) that allows for this, as well as a disconnection, during which the engine runs “at idle.”

Manual transmissions accomplish the disconnection by the driver’s use of a clutch, and the manual selection of a new gear with the gear shift lever. The traditional automatic transmission, introduced almost 80 years ago, changed gears by exchange of fluid through a hydraulic coupling—essentially two turbines facing each other—that occurred proportionally to how fast the engine was turned over by application of throttle (i.e., pressing the gas pedal.)

This mechanical engineering blog describes this process as being akin to one powered fan blowing air into the face of an unpowered fan, and so causing the fan blades to move, except that in place of air, you have transmission fluid.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The traditional automatic transmission generally runs evenly from starting and through the gear shifts. So why change it? The answer lies in fuel efficiency. The traditional automatic transmission consumes more fuel than manual transmissions due to a loss of efficiency during the coupling process, as well as added weight, and sometimes, fewer gears.

Manufacturers have sought to retain the convenience of automatic shifting while improving upon fuel efficiency in a couple of different types of automatic transmission technologies, described below. If you have a car with transmission issues, it may involve one of these transmissions.

Dual-Clutch Automated Manual Transmission

This is the more widespread of the newer automatic transmission types. It is described as an “automated manual” system because it basically functions the way a manual transmission does, except that the gear shifts are run by computer controls. “Dual-clutch” refers to the fact that this system incorporates a second clutch, which is intended to make shifting operation smoother than with a single clutch. These systems often also sometimes allow gear shifts by the driver using paddle shifters, but without manual application of a clutch.

This system is known by several branded names, such as Ford’s Powershift Transmission, the Volkswagen Group’s DSG (“Dual-Shift Gearbox”) system, and the third party ZF transmissions used in some Jeep, Chrysler Dodge and Fiat models.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Rather than using a set number of gears, CVTs use a belt driven system that allows for continuously variable transmission of power from the engine. These systems may or may not use a clutch. They might have some of the loss of efficiency associated with gear change that is seen in the traditional automatic transmission, but they make up for it by allowing the engine to run at the most efficient speeds while shifting to adjust to road conditions.

CVTs are also run largely by computer systems. Their software uses dynamic inputs, such as speed, and rate and position of gas pedal application, to determine which gear ratios to employ.
We see CVTs today in a wide range of brands, mostly in smaller and lower-powered vehicles, notably in Nissan’s XTRONIC system.

Why do these systems cause problems?

You can go into deep technical discussions of the possible causes of problems in dual clutch and CVT systems that afflict a car with transmission issues, but, in a nutshell, most problems boil down to a failure of the computer system in the car to accurately anticipate and select the appropriate gear ratios in between shifts. However, if these systems make lemon cars with transmission problems, why don’t manufacturers change them?

This is where problems in corporate culture take effect. There is tremendous sales and marketing pressure to build more fuel-efficient vehicles that still deliver the features customers want. It is also true that federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards absolutely require that automobile manufacturers limit emissions across their product line-ups.

However, there is no excuse for putting out products that have a quality level so low as to produce something like the Ford Powershift issues or the similar problems in Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Dart, Fiat 500L, Acura TLX, Nissan Pathfinder and Altima, among many others.

It would be one thing if these problems were isolated, but the prevalence across different brands — even as other brands seem to have employed these technologies with a higher degree of quality — suggests that some of these automakers may be willing to accept that they are distributing a car with transmission issues, if it allows them to meet their sales targets, even if they have to fight or settle some lawsuits along the way. The only way this behavior can change is if enough consumers stand up against it.

Follow-up

Here is a list of automotive products employing dual clutch transmissions or similar systems:

  • Volkswagen Group “DSG”
  • Audi TT
  • Audi A3
  • Audi S3
  • Audi A4
  • Audi S4
  • Audi S5
  • Audi A5
  • Audi A7
  • Audi A8
  • Audi Q3
  • Audi Q5
  • Audi R8
  • Bentley Continental GT
  • Bentley Bentayga
  • Bentley Flying Spur
  • Volkswagen Golf, GTI, GTD, GTE, TDI, R32, R
  • Volkswagen Jetta GLI, TDI
  • Volkswagen Eos
  • Volkswagen New Beetle
  • Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible
  • Volkswagen Passat
  • Volkswagen CC
  • Volkswagen Tiguan 2011
  • ZF 9-Speed Acura NSX
  • Acura TLX
  • Acura MDX
  • Fiat 500X
  • Chrysler 200
  • Range Rover Evoque
  • Land Rover Discovery
  • Sport Honda Pilot
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Honda CR-V
  • Jaguar E-Pace
  • Dodge Dart
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Dodge Ram Promaster
  • Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4 (2014–present)
  • BMW 335is
  • BMW M3
  • BMW M4
  • BMW Z4 Sdrive35i
  • Ferrari California
  • Ferrari 458
  • Italia LaFerrari
  • Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
  • Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA 25033
  • Dodge Dart
  • Fiat 500
  • Ford Focus
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Volvo S60
  • Volvo V50
  • Volvo C30
  • Hyundai EcoShift Dual Clutch
  • Hyundai Veloster
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
  • Nissan GTR
  • Porsche PDR System
  • Porsche Cayman
  • Porsche Boxster
  • Porsche Panamera
  • Porsche Macan
  • Porsche Carrera
  • Porsche 911

Here is a list of automotive products employing CVTs or similar systems:

  • Nissan XTRONIC system
  • Nissan Altima
  • Nissan Cube
  • Nissan Maxima
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Nissan Versa
  • Nissan Murano
  • Infiniti QX60
  • Infiniti JX35

Having Car Transmission Issues?

If so, it may be because your can came from the manufacturer with a defective transmission. If so, lemon law entitle you to compensation for the vehicle, depending on the details of your case.

For assistance understanding complex car transmission issues and determining whether your car is a lemon, please contact Goldsmith West for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys are here to help

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