Our cars have a lot of moving and non-moving parts and it's hard to keep track of them all. We want to make sure we get the right part. This is especially important for major auto parts like the transmission. This article will help you answer the question, "What transmission do I have?" by defining what a transmission is, explaining why you need to know its number, and by going through a couple different methods and websites you could use to help find out.
What Is a Transmission?
Let's define what we're talking about and get some background.
The transmission is the gearshift or "PRNDL" depending on whether or not you drive stick. The Automatic Transmission Rebuilder's Association (ATRA) defines a transmission as "a mechanical component designed to transmit power from a vehicle’s engine to the drive axle which makes the wheels drive the vehicle."
What Transmission Do I Have?
A transmission can be manual or automatic. Manual transmission vehicles are distinguished by the clutch pedal and the typical 1-5 gears on the gear shift. Automatic transmission vehicles have no clutch pedal and instead sport the gears known as Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Low (and D1, D2, S, +/-, etc.).
Automatic transmission depends on a special fluid, called Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF), to change gears by using hydraulic means. Manual transmission, as the name suggests, allows the driver to change gears by mechanical means.
The transmission can be its own part or it can be combined with other parts as it is in a transaxle. The transaxle is a combination of the vehicle's transmission, axle, and differential. Transaxles are typical of front-wheel or four-wheel-drive vehicles and non-transaxles (separate transmissions and differentials) are typical of rear-wheel drive vehicles.
There is considerable diversity in the models of transmissions available as with almost any other major auto part. Transmissions are identified by their number which can take many forms.
Here are some examples of transmission numbers:
What transmission do I have? It might well be one of these, but, now that we have some context, we are better equipped to learn how to find out.
Is There a Need to Know What Transmission You Have?
The major reasons why you should know your transmission number is for repairs, transmission issues, and vehicle modifications/upgrades. If you don't have the right part, it will not work out for you.
Some telltale signs of transmission problems are listed here:
The transmission number would be helpful to the mechanic or repair shop, so they can get a better sense of how to fix it or find you the right replacement if it comes to that. We'll answer "What transmission do I have?" in the section after "Replacements".
If you are looking to mod or upgrade your car, then the transmission number (and all other part numbers) will be essential. While you may not be looking for a replica, you need to find compatibility between other transmissions and your car. You need to know if the transmission you want will work in the vehicle. The transmission number can also help you (and those who you ask for advice) find out more about compatibility.
How to Find Out What Transmission You Have
To help save some trouble, let's look at methods you can use to find out your transmission number online first and then move to other methods.
The Easiest Ways
Not everyone has the owner's manual, but if you do, then check there. It should have information on the type of transmission, type of ATF to use (if automatic), and how often you should change the fluid. If you don't have it or you don't find it in there for whatever reason, then you're not out of the game yet!
Remember ATRA? They made a useful online tool for you if you have an automatic transmission. Go to
and enter your vehicle's make, model, and year.
The limitations are that this tool does not include all vehicle makes and has information only for vehicles made between 1974 and 2013. You may also need to know your vehicle's engine size. This can be found on vehiclehistory.com or in your owner's manual if you have it.
These are probably the easiest ways to find out, but no guarantee that they will work.
Check The Vehicle Itself
Unless it has been scratched off or removed, a card on the driver's side door has information. What transmission do I have? It may be listed there. If you don't have the card on the driver's side or it doesn't have the information about the vehicle's transmission, then grab a flashlight and prepare to check underneath the vehicle.
You might not have much to go on with regard to the transmission, but you still have its complementary parts like the transmission pan. In an automatic transmission vehicle, the transmission pan holds the ATF and allows for easy access to the transmission fluid and filter.
Get a look under the vehicle and try to find the transmission pan (you can do a search online to see what it should look like). Make note of its number and then go to an auto mechanic or auto parts store and ask them which transmission the transmission pan corresponds to. You may find this online by visiting this site.
Figure It Out With The VIN
This is the last resort. Try all options above before you try this because there are a lot of complexities associated with the VIN. It doesn't mean this last resort is difficult, but it may be the most annoying.
What you need here is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of your vehicle. Your car insurance is likely to have it. You can also check the card on the driver's side, the lower left corner of the dashboard in front of the steering wheel, the manual, or search vehiclehistory.com - the website we saw under "The Easiest Ways".
So, what transmission do I have? Once you have your 17-digit VIN, make a note of the eighth and tenth digits. They represent the engine and year, respectively. Once you have those, you can ask your auto mechanic or auto parts store clerk what transmission you have or search for it online. A great place to search is decodethis.com
This method will very likely work if your vehicle is of this make:
This method will likely work if your car is of this make:
This method will probably not work if your car is of this make:
We talked about what a transmission is, talked about why you might need to know its number, and gave at least six different methods of answering the question, "What transmission do I have?"
We learned that the transmission is the mechanism that changes gears to allow the engine to run in a way to best accommodate the driving situation. Gears can be changed manually with mechanical force or automatically with hydraulic force. We also learned about the transaxle which incorporates the differentials and axles into the transmission to make front-wheel and/or four-wheel-drive cars.
You may need to know your transmission number to repair a faulty transmission (see above for indications of a faulty transmission). You may need to know it to find out if another transmission would be compatible with the vehicle you are trying to mod or upgrade.
You can answer the big question, "What transmission do I have?", by trying the owner's manual or ATRA's website. If that doesn't work, then you can try checking the card on the driver's side window or the part number of the ATF-containing transmission pan and finding its complementary transmission.
If even that doesn't work, then find your vehicle's VIN and either search for its transmission online or give the eighth and tenth digits to your mechanic or auto parts clerk.
None of these methods is 100%, but chances are that if one of them doesn't work, the other one might. Now, let's get that transmission number and make sure we keep that important information right next to our insurance!