Adaptive Transmissions and Relearning
For a lot of people, the inner workings of an engine are a mystery – and so is the ability to peer under a hood and get an idea of what’s going on. But the days when our grizzled old grandpa could remove a transmission, fix it up, and replace it are long gone, thanks to the rise of electronics that monitor and adapt to how an engine runs. This is especially common now in diesel engines.
Today’s transmissions are much more complex than they used to be. A few decades ago, transmissions were commonly only 3-4 speeds, so while they did require some training to understand, they weren’t a complete mystery. Now, though, you can easily find 6-, 7-, or even 10-speed transmissions, each of which adds a layer of mechanical complexity. In addition, the role of electronic management in the engine has grown, too – so now overlaid on any transmission is a “smart” computer system, capable of adaptive learning using the data it collects while you drive.
What is Adaptive Learning?
Adaptive learning is exactly what it sounds like – it’s an electronic system that learns from your driving habits, and automatically adapts how the vehicle runs to best accommodate you. The system allows transmission shifts to be smooth and comfortable with light loads, and quick and confident when there is a heavy demand on the engine. Over time, as more information is picked up by the sensors, the learning only gets more refined and accurate.
Why Should I Want Adaptive Learning?
Far from saying anything about your driving style, the adaptive learning process is actually quite a benefit to your transmission as a whole. It decreases wear on the entire drivetrain, increases the lifespan of the internal moving parts in your transmission, boosts your fuel economy and performance, and overall just makes your driving experience better. It will help shifts be smoother and nearly unnoticeable during quick trips to the grocery store, but also ensures you have the best power and confident shifts possible when hauling trailers out for weekend camping trips. Put simply, it creates an optimal gear shift, in any situation.
So How Does It Work?
Built into a new engine are multiple sensors, for collecting data on things like throttle position, fuel pressure, mass airflow readings, and so on. The transmission control module (TCM), part of the electronic system of the vehicle, will adjust the timing of ongoing and offgoing clutches automatically, in conjunction with the pressure going to those clutches. This makes the shifts feel more smooth or more purposeful as needed.
Using Transmission Relearns
Over time, the TCM learns the specific settings of the engine as you drive it. But whenever any mechanical or electronic component is changed in relation to the transmission, it will throw off the data, sometimes catastrophically – and so, a transmission relearn is required.
Initiating a transmission relearn is fairly straightforward. Specialized diagnostic tools enable the TCM to learn the volume of fluid and amount of time it takes to apply each individual clutch pack, and then based on these initial values, the TCM keeps a memory of the quality and timing of each shift it makes and adjusts these base numbers accordingly throughout the life of that transmission. Doing this, we can get greater longevity out of the transmission and better feeling in the shifts.
This isn’t something you can skimp on, either. Relearns are mandatory anytime the TCM is changed or the transmission is replaced or modified, because if left under the old settings, the transmission could completely fail within just a few hundred yards. Even if it continued to run, the shift quality would be wildly inconsistent for the rest of the transmissions lifespan, to the point that it would severely impact driveability.
They may be a little more specialized when fixing, but in the long run, adaptive learning technology has immense benefits to your transmissions life. If you’re thinking about updating your transmission, just remember to keep it in mind!