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Electric Car Transmissions

Electric Car Transmissions

Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular as more environmentally friendly and technologically advanced alternatives to traditional gas-powered cars. However, many prospective EV buyers still have questions about how these futuristic vehicles work, especially when it comes to the mechanics under the hood.


One common area of curiosity is around transmissions. Do electric cars have transmissions like gasoline vehicles, and if so, how do they work? This is an important question, because the transmission plays a pivotal role in delivering engine power to the wheels. Understanding transmission design differences can provide insight into EV performance, efficiency and maintenance requirements.


In this article, we will provide an in-depth look at electric car transmissions. We’ll explain how they differ from traditional transmissions, the benefits they offer, maintenance tips, and what future EV transmission tech may look like. Whether you’re an EV owner, enthusiast or just curious, read on to learn more about this important but often misunderstood component.



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How Do Transmissions Work in Gas Cars?

In gasoline powered cars, the transmission is a critical component that allows the engine to operate efficiently across a wide range of vehicle speeds. The transmission contains a series of gears that provide different gear ratios between the engine and the drive wheels. At low speeds, a low gear ratio gives the engine more leverage to accelerate the vehicle. At high speeds, a higher gear ratio reduces the engine’s RPMs, allowing it to operate more efficiently and economically.

As the vehicle accelerates and gains speed, the transmission will automatically shift up through the gears, usually when the engine reaches a preset RPM threshold. This progression of gear ratios keeps the engine operating in its optimal power band as speed increases. The shifts between gears are made smoothly by electronically controlled clutches and bands within the transmission.

The number of forward gears in a conventional automatic transmission usually ranges from 5 to 10. More gears allow for smaller steps between ratios, improving performance and fuel efficiency. Manual transmissions generally have fewer gears but give the driver more direct control over gear selection.

In summary, the transmission in a gasoline car serves the vital function of matching engine output to road speed. Without a transmission, engines would be limited to a narrow speed range and acceleration performance would suffer.

 

Do Electric Motors Need Transmissions?

Electric motors provide maximum torque output starting from 0 RPM. This means they can provide full power whether at a standstill or already moving. Gasoline engines, on the other hand, only reach peak torque within a narrow RPM range, usually between 2,000-6,000 RPM. This requires the use of a transmission with multiple gears to keep the engine operating in its optimal range as the vehicle speeds up or slows down.

The immediate and continuous torque output of electric motors removes the need for multiple gears to regulate engine speed. As a result, most electric vehicles use a single speed gear reduction transmission. This simplifies the drivetrain, reduces weight, eliminates shifting between gears, and allows the motor to operate efficiently across all vehicle speeds.

Some key differences in how EV motors deliver power make multi-speed transmissions largely unnecessary. The torque curve, lack of shifting, and efficiency gains are why single speed gearboxes are the norm for electric vehicles.

 

Benefits of Single Speed Transmissions

One of the biggest benefits of single speed transmissions in EVs is their simplicity and reliability compared to traditional multi-gear transmissions. With fewer moving parts and no complex gear shifting mechanisms, single speed EV transmissions have far less that can go wrong.

This simplicity translates into reduced maintenance requirements. Multi-gear transmissions need regular fluid changes, inspections, and eventual rebuilds as wear items like clutches degrade over time. EV single speed transmissions are sealed units with lubrication that lasts the life of the vehicle in most cases, eliminating much of the routine maintenance required for gas car gearboxes.

The single gear reduction ratio is optimized for an electric motor’s operational RPM range, providing smooth and uninterrupted acceleration and power delivery. The motor can provide full torque from a standstill, so there is no need for different gears to match engine power output to wheel speed.

Without complex gear shifts, power delivery is seamless and linear. The motor rpm rises and falls proportionally with vehicle speed, avoiding the surging and lagging sensations caused by shifting in a gas vehicle. This gives EVs a uniquely smooth and responsive driving feel.

 

Some EVs Have Multi-Speed Transmissions

While most electric vehicles utilize a single speed transmission, some high performance EVs actually have a 2-speed transmission. This type of multi-speed gearbox is optimized to provide improved efficiency and driving dynamics.

The purpose of adding a 2-speed transmission in performance oriented EVs is to allow the electric motor to operate within an optimal RPM range in both low and high speed driving. At lower speeds, the transmission can use a lower gear ratio to provide strong acceleration from a stop. At higher speeds, it can shift into a taller gear that reduces motor RPMs and noise while cruising.

An example of an EV with a 2-speed transmission is the Porsche Taycan. Its transmission seamlessly shifts between gears without any interruption to power delivery. The first gear provides rapid acceleration, while second gear is tuned for quiet, efficient high speed travel. Other high end EVs may follow suit and add multi-speed gearboxes as well.

The transmission in performance EVs with multiple gears still shifts automatically, so there is no manual shifting or clutch pedal required. But the extra gear allows the drivetrain to take better advantage of the electric motor’s power band and efficiency curve.

 

Purpose of EV Transmissions

While simpler than traditional transmissions, EV transmissions serve a few key purposes:

 

Regulate Torque: The electric motor in an EV generates tremendous torque, which needs to be regulated to avoid spinning the wheels. The transmission acts as a torque converter, taking the high rotational force of the motor and converting it into controllable wheel torque.

Allow Optimal Motor RPM: Electric motors have a range of RPMs where they operate most efficiently. The transmission gear ratio allows the motor to stay in its optimal RPM range while the wheels spin at road speeds.

Reverse Direction: EV transmissions can reverse the direction of rotation to allow the vehicle to move backwards. Some even have a dedicated reverse gear.

So in summary, the transmission is still crucial in an EV, it just serves some different functions than in a gas vehicle. The simple, single speed design takes advantage of the electric motor’s broad power band.

 

Transmission Maintenance Tips

While electric vehicle transmissions are simpler and more reliable than gasoline vehicle transmissions, they still require some maintenance to keep them operating properly. Here are some important transmission maintenance tips for EV owners:

 

Fluid Changes

The transmission fluid in electric vehicles still needs to be changed periodically. Most manufacturers recommend changing the transmission fluid every 50,000-100,000 miles. Refer to your owner’s manual for the recommended service interval. Fresh fluid keeps the transmission lubricated and prevents wear.

 

Leak Checks

During routine inspections, check under the vehicle for any signs of fluid leaks near the transmission. Leaks can lead to low fluid levels which can damage the transmission. Catching leaks early makes them easier and less expensive to repair.

 

Inspections

Have a certified technician inspect the transmission during scheduled maintenance visits. They will check the fluid level and condition, change filters if equipped, and look for any potential problems. Routine inspections help spot issues before they lead to transmission failure.

 

Proper maintenance keeps your EV’s transmission in top shape. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for optimal performance and reliability.

 

Do EVs Have Fewer Transmission Problems?

Since electric vehicles have a simpler single-speed transmission, many assume they will have fewer issues and require less maintenance. But does the data support this?

According to surveys of EV owners, transmission problems are extremely rare. In Consumer Reports’ 2022 Auto Reliability Survey, transmission issues were reported in less than 1% of all EVs from model years 2018-2022. This is compared to an average of 6% for gas vehicles over the same period.

Part of the reason is that a single speed transmission is much simpler, with fewer components that can fail. The lack of a clutch or torque converter also eliminates some common failure points. There’s no risk of worn clutches or bands since there is no shifting between gears.

The electric motor provides consistent torque and power, reducing strain on the transmission compared to the varying output of gas engines. With smooth power delivery, there is less harsh engagement of gears. The transmission fluid also sees lower temperatures in most EVs.

Of course, EVs still require periodic transmission fluid changes and inspection to prevent premature wear. But overall, the minimal repair rates reported by EV owners confirm their transmissions are extremely durable and hassle-free compared to gas vehicles.

 

Regenerative Braking and Single Speed Transmissions

Regenerative braking is a key feature that complements single speed EV transmissions. When the driver lifts off the accelerator or hits the brake pedal, the electric motor switches into generator mode. This slows the vehicle down by converting momentum into electricity, which is fed back into the battery.

With a gas engine, the kinetic energy is lost as heat during braking. Regenerative braking allows EVs to recapture a significant portion of this energy, extending their range. This process essentially replicates engine braking in an ICE vehicle when going downhill, but is much more efficient.

By slowing the vehicle using regenerative braking, the single speed transmission does not need to downshift gears to provide engine braking. The regen braking handles this electronically, allowing the transmission to remain in its optimal gear ratio.

The combination of regenerative braking and a single speed transmission means the EV motor can keep operating at peak efficiency. There is no need for complex gear shifting to balance engine braking against energy efficiency. Regen braking provides all the necessary deceleration when needed.

Some automakers even allow drivers to adjust the aggressiveness of regenerative braking. More regen provides stronger deceleration, allowing the driver to engage one-pedal driving. This driving style rarely requires touching the brake pedal in normal conditions.

Overall, regenerative braking is the perfect complement to a single speed EV transmission. It handles all the engine braking needs electronically, maximizing efficiency.

 

Future EV Transmissions

While single and two-speed transmissions currently dominate the EV market, automakers and suppliers are actively developing more advanced multi-speed transmissions for future electric vehicles. As battery technology continues improving, extending range between charges, there will be less need to maximize efficiency at all times. This creates the opportunity for transmissions with more gears tailored for performance.

Dual clutch transmissions (DCTs) with 5-7 speeds are being adapted to handle the high torque output of electric motors. DCTs provide faster, smoother shifts than a single clutch automated manual transmission. Hyundai and Porsche already utilize DCTs on some EV models today. Other manufacturers like Mercedes are working on multi-speed EV transmissions as well.

More gears allows the motor to operate in its most efficient rpm range when cruising on the highway or accelerating from a stop. The transmission computer can then seamlessly shift as needed to maintain optimal efficiency. Performance oriented EVs could also take advantage of close gear ratios to improve acceleration.

As battery sizes continue to increase, we will likely see a gradual transition to EVs with 5+ speed transmissions. This unlocks more flexibility in gearing and shift points to balance efficiency and driving enjoyment. While not as important today, future EV transmissions will play a larger role in advancing electric vehicle capabilities.

 

Buying an EV

When shopping for an electric vehicle, it’s important to consider the transmission design. While most EVs have a single speed transmission, some high performance models may have a multi-speed gearbox. This can impact acceleration, top speed, and efficiency.

For daily driving needs, a single speed transmission is often ideal. It provides smooth, seamless acceleration without any shifting. The torque from the electric motor is enough to get the vehicle up to highway speeds.

However, EVs with a multi-speed transmission have advantages for performance driving. The extra gears allow the motor to stay in its optimal RPM range when accelerating hard or traveling at very high speeds. This maximizes motor output and efficiency.

So if you are looking for an EV focused on sporty driving, seek out models with a multi-speed gearbox. The transmission is optimized to keep the electric motor in its peak power band across a wider speed range. Just know that the extra transmission complexity could potentially impact long-term reliability.

For most buyers though, a single speed EV transmission will provide a smooth, quiet driving experience without the maintenance of a traditional multi-gear transmission. Consider your driving needs and preferences when deciding which design is right for you.

 

Driving an EV

Driving an electric vehicle with a single speed transmission requires some adaptation from drivers used to gas vehicles with multiple gears. The key difference is that there is no need to manually shift gears as speed increases. The electric motor provides full torque from a standstill, so acceleration happens smoothly in a single gear.

With no gear changes to handle, drivers can simply focus on modulating the throttle for speed. Fast acceleration is achieved by pushing the pedal down more, without waiting for the transmission to downshift. Letting off the throttle smoothly slows the vehicle down. Many EV drivers enjoy the seamless, uninterrupted power delivery.

However, it takes some time to get used to the linear acceleration. Drivers should accelerate gently from stops to avoid spinning the wheels. The instant torque also means speed can creep up quickly on the highway. Going downhill, it’s important to let off the throttle and use the regenerative braking to control speed.

Overall, driving an EV with a single speed transmission is a very different experience than a gas vehicle. The key is adjusting driving style to the smooth, continuous acceleration. With some practice, drivers can learn to take advantage of the performance benefits of the simplified transmission.

 

EV Transmission Efficiency

When it comes to transmission efficiency in EVs, single speed gearboxes tend to be more efficient than multi-speed transmissions. According to data analyzed by engineers at Tesla, their single speed transmission sees efficiency peaks of 97-98%. Comparatively, a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission in a gas powered car may have peak efficiency around 90-95%.

The increased simplicity of a single speed EV transmission means lower mechanical losses from fewer gears meshing. There is also no need for energy-draining hydraulic pumps and valves that operate automatic shifting in traditional transmissions. By avoiding multiple gear shifts, a single speed transmission has lower friction losses associated with each shift event.

In multi-speed EV transmissions, the goal is typically optimizing efficiency at low speeds versus high speeds. For example, the 2-speed transmission in the Porsche Taycan has a gear ratio for optimal acceleration and a taller gear ratio for cruising at high speeds. However, the additional gearset still represents a tradeoff in complexity and weight to achieve those efficiency gains.

Overall, single speed EV transmissions offer excellent efficiency for most driving scenarios. Multi-speed EV transmissions only sometimes improve efficiency enough to offset their increased complexity. As electric motor and transmission tech continues improving, single speed gearboxes will likely remain the preferred choice.

 

Conclusion

In summary, electric vehicles do have transmissions, but they differ significantly from the complex multi-speed gearboxes found in gasoline-powered cars. The main differences are:

 

  • EVs mostly use a single speed gear reduction transmission that simply reduces the high RPM motor speed to the wheel speed.
  • Without an engine power band to work with, EVs don’t require multiple gears to optimize acceleration and efficiency.
  • The wide operating range of electric motors removes the need for gear shifts, allowing for smooth linear acceleration.
  • Single speed EV transmissions are simpler, lighter, and require less maintenance than traditional multi-speed automatics.
  • Some performance EVs utilize 2-speed transmissions for improved high speed efficiency.
  • EV transmissions still need fluid changes but at greatly extended intervals compared to gas vehicles.
  • Understanding the transmission differences helps consumers better evaluate EVs and their maintenance needs.

 

While not as complicated as gas car transmissions, EV gearboxes play an important role in transferring power from motor to wheels. As electric vehicles continue gaining market share, drivers need to learn about how the underlying technologies differ from traditional automobiles.

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Questions About EV Transmissions

transmissions rather than multi-speed transmissions typical in gas-powered vehicles. The electric motor in an EV provides torque over a very wide operating range, eliminating the need for multiple gears to keep the motor in its optimal rpm range. The single-speed transmission allows the motor to transmit power efficiently to the wheels.



Electric motors provide strong torque output from 0 rpm, so they do not require multiple gears to stay in an optimal rpm range like gas engines. The broad torque band allows a single gear ratio to efficiently transmit power without needing to shift gears. Multi-speed transmissions add weight, complexity and points of failure without significant benefit. Some high performance EVs have a 2 speed transmission, but mainstream models maximize efficiency with a single gear.

Yes, the transmission on an electric vehicle sold in Canada still requires periodic fluid changes and inspection, but at greatly extended intervals compared to gas vehicles. Typical fluid change intervals are 50,000+ miles for EVs rather than 30-60k miles on gas vehicles. The transmissions are very robust and only have a single gear, minimizing wear and tear.



Most electric vehicles in Canada use special synthetic transmission fluid designed specifically for EV applications. Common brands are Castrol Electric Vehicle Transmission Fluid or Mobil EV Fluid 1024. The fluid must provide excellent thermal properties to handle the heat from high torque electric motors while maximizing efficiency.



Yes, Canadian-spec electric vehicles with dual motor all-wheel drive typically have a separate single-speed transmission connecting each motor to the front and rear axles. This eliminates the need for a central differential while allowing precise torque vectoring between the two axles. The transmissions are compact and require no active maintenance.



Electric vehicle transmissions sold in Canada’s varying climate have proven to be exceptionally reliable. The simple single-speed unit has few parts to fail. The special synthetic fluid withstands extreme cold temperatures in winter as well as heat from powertrain components without breaking down. Proper fluid changes are still required.



Yes, electric cars sold in Canada do have a parking mechanism (or park gear) as part of their single-speed transmission. This is necessary to lock the output shaft and hold the vehicle securely in place when parked. It works similarly to a gas vehicle – selecting Park activates a toothed locking plate to prevent transmission rotation.



Unfortunately you cannot push or tow start an electric vehicle with a dead battery in Canada. The transmission is designed to be powered by the electric motor only, with no ability to input mechanical power from the wheels to spin the motor. A dead traction battery requires a jump start from another power source.



Most electric car transmissions sold in Canada do not require any software updates. The single-speed transmission is a fully self-contained mechanical device with no computer controls or programming. It simply transmits power from the electric motor to the wheels at a fixed gear ratio without needing any software calibration over time.

Yes, replacing an electric car’s single-speed transmission in Canada is significantly cheaper than replacing a multi-speed transmission in a gas-powered vehicle. Typical EV transmission repair costs range from $1800-$2500 while gas vehicle transmission swaps often exceed $4000. The simpler design also allows for faster replacement work to get your electric car back on the road.

Absolutely, the transmissions in electric vehicles sold in Canada require far less routine maintenance than gas vehicles. An EV transmission has only a single gear with no clutches or bands to adjust. Fluid change intervals are measured in the hundreds of thousands of kilometers rather than the tens of thousands in most gas cars.

Yes, the simple design of electric vehicle transmissions makes them much easier for dealership technicians to service compared to complex gas vehicle transmissions. The small number of wear items and lack of precision adjustments enables faster diagnosis and repair. Dealer techs require little specialized training to competently maintain an electric car’s transmission.



There is almost no demand for aftermarket transmission parts for electric vehicles in Canada. Unlike gas vehicles, EVs have very few transmission components to wear out or break. The exceptional reliability of OEM components means there is little need for performance upgrades or replacement parts from third parties.



Typically, no. Electric vehicle battery warranties in Canada are longer than the warranties on accompanying drivetrain components. Most EVs have 8 year/160,000 km battery warranties but only 5 year/100,000 km transmission warranties. However, transmissions rarely need repair even out of warranty due to exceptional longevity.



No, the single-speed transmission in an electric vehicle sold in Canada has no capability to aid in recharging the traction battery while driving. However, EVs can still recapture energy through regenerative braking. When coasting or braking, the electric motor can act as a generator to send electricity back into the battery, extending driving range.

As of 2023, no major automaker offers a high performance electric sports car with a multi-speed transmission for sale in the Canadian market. Models like the Lucid Air Dream Edition and Tesla Model S Plaid utilize single-speed transmissions to rocket from 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds. Dual motor EVs optimize traction off the line instead of complex gearboxes.



Some specialty training is recommended but full certification is not required for most dealership technicians to service electric vehicle transmissions in Canada. The fundamentals are similar but best practices, fluid types, safety procedures when handling high voltage components, and diagnostic routines should be learned before working on EVs.

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