When driving a car with a manual transmission, you know that the clutch is an essential part of the vehicle’s operation. It decouples the engine from the transmission, allowing the car engine to move independently.

Cars with automatic transmissions lack a clutch that would otherwise disconnect the engine from the tranny. They use a torque converter (TC) instead. It is a donut-shaped component that is located directly between your car’s engine and transmission. It transfers torque to the wheels of your vehicle. The faster your engine spins, the more torque the TC sends.

To illustrate, suppose that you were stopped at a red traffic light. While your engine idles, it moves slowly and sends a small bit of fluid to the torque converter. Even though the TC uses that fluid to send torque to your wheels, the small amount requires only light pressure on your brake pedal to prevent moving forward. If you were to accelerate, your engine would spin faster and send more fluid to the TC. In turn, the torque converter would send more torque to the wheels. You would need to apply more braking power in order to stop your car.

A Look Inside The Torque Converter

The TC is comprised of three main parts: the pump, turbine, and stator. The pump is made up of fins. Fluid enters the TC through the component’s middle and is flung outward by the pump’s fins as it spins. As the fluid exits, it creates a vacuum that draws more fluid into the torque converter.

The turbine, made up of blades, is attached to your vehicle’s transmission. As the turbine spins, it spins the tranny. The spinning activity is created by the fluid which enters the turbine from the outer perimeter and exits near the middle. However, before it exits, the fluid needs to change the direction in which it is flowing. That causes the turbine to spin.

Between the pump and the turbine lies the stator. It is responsible for changing the direction of the fluid (again) as it leaves the turbine on it way back toward the pump. The manner in which it accomplishes this is abrupt. The stator uses a clutch to connect to your transmission. As a result, it can only rotate in one direction. As fluid comes into the stator from the turbine, its direction is brusquely changed.

The activity taking place within the torque converter plays a dual role while you’re driving. First, it decouples the engine from the transmission, which allows you to bring your vehicle to a stop without letting the engine die. Second, it transmits torque to the wheels as you press down on your accelerator. That allows you to gain speed.

Late-model vehicles have an additional component on the torque converter called a lockup clutch. This allows the left and right sides to lock together, effectively rotating at the same rate. The result is better fuel efficiency and less slippage.

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