Why Automatic Cars Can't Be Push-Started - The Missing Link

Why Automatic Cars Can't Be Push-Started - The Missing Link

A few years ago, I found myself on a road trip with my friends, cruising down a scenic route in a rental car with an automatic transmission. We decided to stop at a picturesque spot by a lake. We parked the car, turned off the engine, and got out to stretch our legs. Little did we know that this picturesque stop would become the setting for an unexpected adventure.

Why can't you push start an automatic car? Automatic cars lack the mechanical connection and design features necessary for push starting, as in manual transmissions. If you find yourself in a situation where your automatic car won't start due to a dead battery or a faulty starter motor, it's best to rely on a jump start, tow truck, or roadside assistance to resolve the issue safely and effectively.

  • Manual cars work with push-starting, also known as bump starting, because when the battery is dead or the starter motor is not functioning, the vehicle's momentum can turn the engine over, which then initiates the combustion process and allows the engine to start.
  • Automatic transmissions work differently from manual transmissions in that they use a torque converter to connect the engine to the transmission, rather than a direct mechanical connection like a clutch in a manual transmission. This torque converter does not provide the same ability to engage the engine with the wheels in the same way a manual transmission can when you push or roll the vehicle.

Panic set in momentarily as we realized our predicament of having a car that could not start. We were in the middle of nowhere with a dead battery, and we thought push-starting the car would work. After Googling online, we realized our effort was futile and had to ask the rental company for help.

Thankfully, we had a set of jumper cables in the trunk, and after a friendly passerby stopped to assist us, we managed to jump-start the car and continue our journey. As we drove away from that serene lake, I couldn't help but reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of automatic transmissions.

Here are more details about why you can't push start an automatic car:

  1. Zero mechanical connection: Automatic transmissions use a fluid coupling called a torque converter instead of a clutch to connect the engine to the transmission. The torque converter allows the engine to continue running even when the vehicle is stationary. This is not the case in manual transmissions where the clutch disconnects the engine from the wheels.

  2. Starter motor and electronics: Automatic cars rely on a starter motor to initiate the engine's cranking process. This starter motor requires electrical power from the car's battery to turn the engine over. If the battery is dead or the starter motor is faulty, the machine cannot be cranked manually by pushing the vehicle.

  3. Safety and design: Automatic transmissions are designed with safety features that prevent the transmission from engaging unless the brake pedal is pressed. This is to avoid accidental movement when the vehicle is in gear. Attempting to push start an automatic car without engaging the brake pedal could lead to unsafe situations.

While I appreciate the convenience of automatic cars, that day served as a reminder that sometimes, the simplicity of a manual transmission can be a lifesaver in unexpected situations. So, while I understand why automatic cars can't be push-started due to their design, I also appreciate the versatility of manual transmissions in certain situations. It's a trade-off between convenience and flexibility, and it's always good to be prepared for the unexpected when you're on the road.

The first automatic transmission, the "Hydramatic," was introduced by General Motors in 1939. This innovation marked the beginning of the widespread use of automatic transmissions in cars. You can read more about the history of automatic transmission. An automatic transmission can contain up to 800 individual parts, highlighting the complexity of the system compared to the relative simplicity of manual transmissions.

Modern automatic transmissions, with advancements like continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) and more gears (e.g., 8-speed or 10-speed automatics), have significantly improved energy efficiency. They can even surpass the fuel efficiency of manual transmissions in some cases.

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Author: Sky Hoon
He loved the future of self driving car and cannot wait for one. In the meantime, he loved to read up all about car and components like a computer.
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