How Torque Converters Work

From How stuff works If you've read about manual transmissions, you know that an engine is connected to a transmission by way of a clutch. Without this connection, a car would not be able to come to a complete stop without killing the engine. But cars with an automatic transmission have no clutch that disconnects the transmission from the engine. Instead, they use an amazing device called a torque converter. It may not look like much, but there are some very interesting things going on inside. In this article, we'll learn why automatic transmission cars need a torque converter, how a torque converter works and what some of its benefits and shortcomings are. .Auto Videos »

Torque converters make automatic transmission possible.

The Basics

causing more torque to be transmitted to the wheels. so keeping the car still requires only a light pressure on the brake pedal. the amount of torque passed through the torque converter is very small. This is because when you step on the gas. which completely disconnects the engine from the transmission. Manual transmission cars use a clutch. the engine speeds up and pumps more fluid into the torque converter. If the engine is turning slowly. Automatic transmission cars use a torque converter. you would have to press harder on the brake to keep the car from moving. If you were to step on the gas pedal while the car is stopped. Just like manual transmission cars. which allows the engine to spin somewhat independently of the transmission. cars with automatic transmissions need a way to let the engine turn while the wheels and gears in the transmission come to a stop.The torque converter is situated between the engine and the transmission. Inside a Torque Converter . such as when the car is idling at a stoplight. A torque converter is a type of fluid coupling.

there are four components inside the very strong housing of the torque converter: ● Pump ● Turbine ● Stator ● Transmission fluid The housing of the torque converter is bolted to the flywheel of the engine. The fins that make up the pump of the torque converter are attached to the housing. pump As shown in the figure below. As it spins. The cutaway below shows how everything is connected inside the torque converter. fluid is flung to the outside. so it turns at whatever speed the engine is running at. so they also turn at the same speed as the engine. stator.The parts of a torque converter (left to right): turbine. How the parts of the torque converter connect to the transmission and engine The pump inside a torque converter is a type of centrifugal pump. much as the spin cycle of a washing machine flings water and clothes to the outside of .

which basically moves your car. It is this directional change that causes the turbine to spin. . which enters the turbine from the outside. which is connected to the transmission. You can see in the graphic below that the blades of the turbine are curved. The fluid then enters the blades of the turbine. a vacuum is created that draws more fluid in at the center. The turbine causes the transmission to spin. has to change direction before it exits the center of the turbine.the wash tub. As fluid is flung to the outside. This means that the fluid. The pump section of the torque converter is attached to the housing.

it would slow the engine down. The Stator The stator resides in the very center of the torque converter. In order to change the direction of a moving object. you can see that the fluid exits the turbine moving opposite the direction that the pump (and engine) are turning. . the fluid causes the turbine to spin. you must apply a force to that object -. So as the turbine causes the fluid to change direction. moving in a different direction than when it entered. but in the opposite direction.it doesn't matter if the object is a car or a drop of fluid. This is where it connects to the transmission. The fluid exits the turbine at the center. Its job is to redirect the fluid returning from the turbine before it hits the pump again. If the fluid were allowed to hit the pump. If you look at the arrows in the figure above.The torque converter turbine: Note the spline in the middle. And whatever applies the force that causes the object to turn must also feel that force. This dramatically increases the efficiency of the torque converter. wasting power. This is why a torque converter has a stator.

it can spin only in the opposite direction. Because of this arrangement. entering the pump already moving in the same direction as the pump. A one-way clutch (inside the stator) connects the stator to a fixed shaft in the transmission (the direction that the clutch allows the stator to spin is noted in the figure above). There is a point. At these speeds. around 40 mph (64 kph). causing the stator to freewheel on its one-way clutch so it doesn't hinder the fluid moving through it. the fluid still ends up moving in the direction that the turbine is spinning because the turbine is spinning faster in one direction than the fluid is being pumped in the other direction. but not as fast as it was going to start with in the other direction. the stator cannot spin with the fluid -. This improves the efficiency of the torque converter. At this point. The stator has a very aggressive blade design that almost completely reverses the direction of the fluid. Benefits and Weak Points . the fluid returns from the turbine.The stator sends the fluid returning from the turbine to the pump. This is similar to what happens in the turbine: The fluid is being flung out the back in one direction. at which both the pump and the turbine are spinning at almost the same speed (the pump always spins slightly faster). Something a little bit tricky happens when the car gets moving. If you were standing in the back of a pickup moving at 60 mph. so the stator is not needed. the ball would still be going forward at 20 mph. which is connected to a one-way clutch inside the stator. Note the spline. the fluid actually strikes the back sides of the stator blades. Even though the turbine changes the direction of the fluid and flings it out the back. forcing the fluid to change direction as it hits the stator blades. and you threw a ball out the back of that pickup at 40 mph.

this clutch locks them together. When the two halves of the torque converter get up to speed. Modern torque converters can multiply the torque of the engine by two to three times. the free encyclopedia ZF torque converter cut-away . eventually moving at almost the same speed. At higher speeds. Torque converter From Wikipedia.In addition to the very important job of allowing your car come to a complete stop without stalling the engine. Ideally. the transmission would move at exactly the same speed as the engine. This effect only happens when the engine is turning much faster than the transmission. some cars have a torque converter with a lockup clutch. the transmission catches up to the engine. the torque converter actually gives your car more torque when you accelerate out of a stop. eliminating the slippage and improving efficiency. though. This is part of the reason why cars with automatic transmissions get worse gas mileage than cars with manual transmissions. To counter this effect. because this difference in speed wastes power.

1 Torque converter elements ○ 2. thus providing the equivalent of a reduction gear.4 Lock-up torque converters ○ 2. Contents [hide] ● 1 Usage ● 2 Function ○ 2. a torque converter is able to multiply torque when there is a substantial difference between input and output rotational speed. .2 Operational phases ○ 2. allowing the load to be separated from the power source.5 Capacity and failure modes ● 3 Manufacturers ○ 3. such as cars.A cut-away model of a torque converter A torque converter is a fluid coupling that is used to transfer rotating power from a prime mover.2 Past ● 4 See also ● 5 References ● 6 External links [edit] Usage ● ● Automatic transmissions on automobiles. Forwarders and other heavy duty vehicles. and on/off highway trucks. Like a basic fluid coupling. buses. such as an internal combustion engine or electric motor. to a rotating driven load. However.1 Current ○ 3.3 Efficiency and torque multiplication ○ 2. the torque converter normally takes the place of a mechanical clutch.

The application of the clutch locks the turbine to the impeller. For example. [edit] Operational phases A torque converter has three stages of operation: ● Stall. the torque converter can produce maximum torque multiplication if sufficient input power is applied (the resulting multiplication is called the stall ratio). this stage of operation would occur when the driver has placed the transmission in gear but is preventing the vehicle from moving by continuing to apply the brakes. and the stator. Although not strictly a part of classic torque converter design. At stall. each set being designed to produce differing amounts of torque multiplication. Under this condition. which is mechanically driven by the prime mover. For example. causing all power transmission to be mechanical. almost all modern forklifts. The load is accelerating but there still is a relatively large difference between impeller and turbine speed.g. many automotive converters include a lock-up clutch to improve cruising power transmission efficiency and reduce heat. these have taken the form of multiple turbines and stators. in an automobile.. The stall phase actually lasts for a brief period when the load (e. Most commonly. the converter will produce torque multiplication that is less than what could be achieved under stall conditions.● ● Marine propulsion systems. vehicle) initially starts to move. Modifications to the basic three element design have been periodically incorporated. The prime mover is applying power to the impeller but the turbine cannot rotate. the stator is mounted on an overrunning clutch. In a torque converter there are at least three rotating elements: the impeller. winches. which prevents the stator from counter-rotating with respect to the prime mover but allows forward rotation. thus eliminating losses associated with fluid drive. [edit] Function [edit] Torque converter elements A fluid coupling is a two element drive that is incapable of multiplying torque. which is interposed between the impeller and turbine so that it can alter oil flow returning from the turbine to the impeller. In practice. however. and railway locomotives. ● Acceleration. under normal conditions. The classic torque converter design dictates that the stator be prevented from rotating under any condition. construction equipment. as there will be a very large difference between pump and turbine speed. hence the term stator. while a torque converter has at least one extra element—the stator—which alters the drive's characteristics during periods of high slippage. which drives the load. The Dynaflow used a five element converter to produce the wide range of torque multiplication needed to propel a heavy vehicle. The . Industrial power transmission such as conveyor drives. relied solely upon the converter to multiply torque. drilling rigs. especially in applications where higher than normal torque multiplication is required. the turbine. the Buick Dynaflow automatic transmission was a non-shifting design and. producing an increase in output torque.

the returning fluid will reverse direction and now rotate in the direction of the impellor and turbine. some of the fluid's kinetic energy will be lost due to friction and turbulence. it is usually at this stage of operation where the lock-up clutch is applied. This action causes a substantial increase in the mass of fluid being directed to the turbine. leading to a significant loss of efficiency and the generation of considerable waste heat. During the stall and acceleration phases. producing an increase in output torque. The turbine has reached approximately 90 percent of the speed of the impeller. in which torque multiplication occurs. the stator will likewise attempt to counter-rotate as it forces the fluid to change direction. . The key to the torque converter's ability to multiply torque lies in the stator. a torque converter's turbine and stator use angled and curved blades. [edit] Efficiency and torque multiplication A torque converter cannot achieve 100 percent coupling efficiency. The matching curve of the turbine blades helps to correctly direct the returning fluid to the stator so the latter can do its job. which allows the turbine to be stalled for long periods with little danger of overheating. The loss of efficiency as the converter enters the coupling phase is a result of the turbulence and fluid flow interference generated by the stator. In modern designs. generally increasing efficiency during the acceleration phase and low efficiency in the coupling phase. In the classic fluid coupling design. Torque multiplication has essentially ceased and the torque converter is behaving in a manner similar to a simple fluid coupling. Unlike the radially straight blades used in a plain fluid coupling. the returning fluid will be redirected by the stator so that it aids the rotation of the impeller. Under the same condition in a torque converter. is commonly overcome by mounting the stator on a one-way clutch. The blade shape of the stator is what alters the path of the fluid. At this point. an effect that is prevented by the one-way stator clutch. the blade geometry minimizes oil velocity at low impeller speeds. Since the returning fluid is initially travelling in a direction opposite to impeller rotation. causing the converter to generate waste heat (dissipated in many applications by water cooling). an effect which will attempt to forward-rotate the stator. Unavoidably.amount of multiplication will depend upon the actual difference between pump and turbine speed. the energy and volume of the fluid returning from the turbine will gradually decrease. forcing it to coincide with the impeller rotation. The result is that much of the energy in the returning fluid is recovered and added to the energy being applied to the impeller by the prime mover. ● Coupling. the stator clutch will release and the impeller. the stator remains stationary due to the action of its one-way clutch. The shape of the blades is important as minor variations can result in significant changes to the converter's performance. However. In modern automotive applications. The classic three element torque converter has an efficiency curve that resembles ∩: zero efficiency at stall. This effect. turbine and stator will all (more or less) turn as a unit. as well as various other design factors. often referred to as pumping loss. a procedure that tends to improve fuel efficiency. will be most pronounced at or near stall conditions. periods of high slippage cause the fluid flow returning from the turbine to the impellor to oppose the direction of impeller rotation. causing pressure on the stator to likewise decrease. Once in the coupling phase. as the torque converter approaches the coupling phase. instead of impeding it. and as previously mentioned.

Since the turbine blade geometry is a crucial factor in the converter's ability to multiply torque. drag racing automatic transmissions often use converters modified to produce high stall speeds to improve off-the-line torque. raising the temperature of the fluid and reducing overall efficiency. Changing the blade geometry of the stator and/or turbine will change the torque-stall characteristics.5:1 for most automotive applications (although multi-element designs as used in the Buick Dynaflow and Chevrolet Turboglide could produce more). and is generated only when the converter is at or near the stall phase of operation. The Buick Dynaflow utilized the torque-multiplying characteristics of its planetary gearset in conjunction with the torque converter for low gear and bypassed the first turbine. the nearly universal use of a lock-up clutch has helped to eliminate the converter from the efficiency equation during cruising operation. trade-offs between torque multiplication and coupling efficiency are inevitable. as well as the overall efficiency of the unit. The effect of this was to vary the amount of torque multiplication produced by the converter.8:1 to 2. Generally speaking. In automotive applications.Even with the benefit of the one-way stator clutch. as it always generates some power-absorbing turbulence. it also increases the slippage within the converter. where steady improvements in fuel economy have been mandated by market forces and government edict. however. and to get into the power band of the engine more quickly. The maximum amount of torque multiplication produced by a converter is highly dependent on the size and geometry of the turbine and stator blades. a valve would switch the stator pitch to a different angle of attack. For example. Some loss is due to the presence of the stator (even though rotating as part of the assembly). Most of the loss. is caused by the curved and angled turbine blades. Highway vehicles generally use lower stall torque converters to limit heat production. but automotive applications such as Buick's Triple Turbine Dynaflow and Chevrolet's Turboglide also existed. increasing torque multiplication at the expense of efficiency. using only the second turbine as vehicle speed increased. in which the blades' angle of attack could be varied in response to changes in engine speed and load. The unavoidable trade-off with this arrangement was low efficiency and . the characteristics of the torque converter must be carefully matched to the torque curve of the power source and the intended application. If the driver abruptly opened the throttle. the stator caused the converter to produce a moderate amount of multiplication but with a higher level of efficiency. which do not absorb kinetic energy from the fluid mass as well as radially straight blades. While torque multiplication increases the torque delivered to the turbine output shaft. whereas low stall ratio converters tend to provide less possible torque multiplication. For this reason. a converter cannot achieve the same level of efficiency in the coupling phase as an equivalently sized fluid coupling. or heavy marine power transmission systems are capable of as much as 5. A design feature once found in some General Motors automatic transmissions was the variablepitch stator. At the normal angle of attack. and provide a more firm feeling to the vehicle's characteristics. there is a trade-off between maximum torque multiplication and efficiency—high stall ratio converters tend to be relatively inefficient below the coupling speed. Typical stall torque multiplication ratios range from 1. Such multiple-element converters are more common in industrial environments than in automotive transmissions. Some torque converters use multiple stators and/or multiple turbines to provide a wider range of torque multiplication. Specialized converters designed for industrial.0:1 multiplication. rail.

resulting in damage to the elastomer seals that retain fluid inside the converter. Because the furnace brazing process creates a small radius at the point where a blade meets with a hub or annular ring. N is the impeller speed (rpm). and D is the diameter(m). and virtually no power loss. As an aid to strength. [edit] Lock-up torque converters As described above. as well as the ability of the converter to dissipate heat (often through water cooling). and in a motor vehicle. [edit] Capacity and failure modes As with a basic fluid coupling the theoretical torque capacity of a converter is proportional to . some of them potentially dangerous in nature: ● Overheating: Continuous high levels of slippage may overwhelm the converter's ability to dissipate heat. where r is the mass density of the fluid (kg/m³). fuel consumption will drastically . and are now nearly universal in automotive applications. This feature was also present in some Borg-Warner transmissions produced during the 1950s.[1] In practice. the pump and turbine may be further strengthened by a process called furnace brazing.eventually these transmissions were discontinued in favor of the more efficient three speed units with a conventional three element torque converter. This will cause the unit to leak and eventually stop functioning due to lack of fluid. In high performance. Overloading a converter can result in several failure modes. thus preventing the stator from rotating during the coupling phase. impelling losses within the torque converter reduce efficiency and generate waste heat. ● Stator clutch seizure: The inner and outer elements of the one-way stator clutch become permanently locked together. racing and heavy duty commercial converters. most automotive converter housings are of welded construction. reliability and economy of production. which triggers seizure. effectively changing the converter into a purely mechanical coupling. unlocking when the throttle was floored for quick acceleration or as the vehicle slowed down. In the late 1970s lock-up clutches started to reappear in response to demands for improved fuel economy. seizure is precipitated by severe loading and subsequent distortion of the clutch components. but adds to the cost of producing the converter. in which molten brass is drawn into seams and joints to produce a stronger bond between the blades. which locked up the converter at cruising speeds. Most often. A converter with a seized stator clutch will exhibit very poor efficiency during the coupling phase. Industrial units are usually assembled with bolted housings. the maximum torque capacity is limited by the mechanical characteristics of the materials used in the converter's components. It fell out of favor in subsequent years due to its extra complexity and cost. introduced in 1949. this problem is commonly avoided by use of a lock-up clutch that physically links the impeller and turbine. galling of the mating parts occurs. In modern automotive applications. The first automotive application of the lock-up principle was Packard's Ultramatic transmission. The result is no slippage. hubs and annular ring(s). a design feature that eases the process of inspection and repair. Eventually. resulting in a corresponding increase in efficiency. a theoretical decrease in turbulence will occur.

distribution. Stator clutch breakage: A very abrupt application of power can cause shock loading to the stator clutch. ballooning will cause the converter housing to rupture. used in vehicle. or operating a torque converter at very high RPM may cause the shape of the converter's housing to be physically distorted due to internal pressure and/or the stress imposed by centrifugal force. When this occurs. [edit] Manufacturers [edit] Current ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Allison Transmission. such a failure will result in a significant loss of efficiency. used in British Rail Class 35 Hymek locomotives. used in British Rail Class 52. used in automobiles [edit] Past ● ● ● ● ● Lysholm-Smith. the effect is similar to a severe case of transmission slippage and the vehicle is all but incapable of moving under its own power. used in automobiles Twin Disc.● ● ● increase. Converter overheating under such conditions will usually occur if continued operation is attempted. and used in some British Rail Derby Lightweight diesel multiple units Mekydro [2]. In extreme cases. In an automobile. resulting in breakage. construction. Packard. or may break up into fragments. used in automobiles Subaru. catastrophic destruction of the converter will occur. used in many diesel locomotives and diesel multiple units ZF Friedrichshafen. the stator will freely counterrotate the pump and almost no power transmission will take place. used in some British United Traction diesel multiple units . Voith. producing symptoms similar (although less pronounced) to those accompanying stator clutch failure. the pump and/or turbine blades may be deformed. military and specialty applications BorgWarner. Blade deformation and fragmentation: Due to abrupt loading or excessive heating of the converter. Alf Lysholm. used in the Ultramatic automobile transmission system Rolls-Royce (Twin Disc). and still used in German locomotives. very abrupt application of load. refuse. used in automobiles Jatco. separated from their hubs and/or annular rings. At the least. used in bus. Ballooning: Prolonged operation under excessive loading. Under extreme conditions. marine and oilfield applications Voith Turbo-Transmissions. resulting in the violent dispersal of hot oil and metal fragments over a wide area. named after its inventor. fire.

At this point. as opposed to normal fluid couplings. a turbine. This greatly increases the efficiency of the overall design. The hydraulic fluid exits the turbine at its center. One particular advantage a torque converter has over a conventional fluid coupling — and what makes it ideal for use in automatic transmissions — is the fact that it can multiply the amount of torque it generates as the engine provides more power. moving in the direction opposite to how it was forced in by the pump. A torque converter is installed in automatic transmissions and does the job a clutch would do in a manual transmission. the stator. A torque converter consists of three mechanical parts — a pump. which is allowing the power created by the engine to be distributed to the wheels. given how the pump and turbine never spin at exactly the same speed. At very low speeds torque can be multiplied two or three times by a torque converter. The turbine then spins at close to the same speed as the engine. which is similarly located in the center of the converter. direct hydraulic fluid outward to the turbine. is the reason that manual transmission vehicles tend to get better fuel mileage than those with automatic transmission. is that. Inside the pump are many fins. as the pump spins. It is part of the family of mechanisms known as fluid couplings. reverses the direction of the fluid a second time. but only occurs at relatively low speeds.A torque converter is a mechanical device. used mainly in automobiles. A real-world example of this is the comparison of the relatively light pressure that must be applied to a brake pedal to keep a car stationary while idling. some power is always wasted. and the fluid no longer changes direction. the stator begins to freewheel at a particular speed. and spins at the same speed as the motor. and a stator. The spinning of the turbine causes the transmission to rotate and drive the wheels. because the pump and turbine begin moving at almost exactly the same speed. which use hydraulic fluid to transmit mechanical power. but in the opposite direction. Depending on the precise specifications of the torque converter. that transfers the rotating power generated by an vehicle's engine to the transmission. The pump is attached to directly to the engine. One of the major downsides to torque converters. when compared to the increase in pressure needed to keep it still when gas is also applied. which. along with its typically heavier weight. This. .

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