What is Semi-Automatic Transmission?

Semi-automatic transmissions are a nice middle ground between manual and automatic transmission—blending ease and precision on the road.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Semi-automatic transmissions are the perfect blend of manual and automatic transmissions, with all the ease and convenience of automatics while still maintaining the precision and control of a manual.
Since their debut in Europe circa the early 1930s, semi-automatic transmissions—also known as automatic manual transmissions and clutchless manual transmissions—have remained a staple of the automotive world. But how exactly do they work, and just what makes them special?
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What is a semi-automatic transmission?

Semi-automatic transmissions blend elements of both manual and automatic transmissions, giving drivers increased precision when it comes to handling and changing gears. But just what makes them unique? 
Basically, a semi-automatic transmission is like a manual transmission without a clutch. Instead, electronic sensors are triggered when the driver is using the gearbox, and they then depress an automatic clutch. This automated clutch (also called a hydraulic motor) makes shifting gears infinitely smoother for the driver. That’s right—no more stalling!
MORE: How to drive stick or manual cars

The pros and cons of semi-automatics

As with every type of vehicle, semi-automatics have both their pros and cons. Take a closer look at the ones associated with semi-automatic transmissions, as opposed to their manual and automatic counterparts:
Type of transmission
Pros
Cons
Semi-automatic
Smoother driving experience, particularly when shifting gears; blends the control of manual transmissions with the ease of automatic transmissions to give drivers the “best of both worlds”; great for drivers often caught in stop-and-go traffic
Prone to malfunctions and failures; expensive to repair; costs more to maintain overall.

Semi-automatic vs. Automatic: what’s the difference? 

Generally speaking, semi-automatic transmissions have more in common with their manual counterparts than their automatic ones. Despite the advantage of an automatic clutch, your driving experience in a semi-automatic will feel more similar to that of a manual
In a semi-automatic, you’re still responsible for shifting gears—in fact, shifting is what triggers the electronic sensors in your gearbox to depress the clutch for you. You may still encounter uncomfortably hard or sudden stops in a semi-automatic since your car’s sensors need time to process and react to your commands. 
On the other hand, many drivers actually favor the control that comes with shifting gears manually—and the smoother ride that comes with it. 

Automatic transmissions

In an automatic car, the gears will always shift for you. That’s the point of an automatic! It takes away the manual effort involved in getting your car into gear, which is required in semi-automatics and manuals. 
All you have to do is get in your car, put it in “drive,” and hit the road! There’s no need to worry about shifting as you accelerate or brake suddenly. Nonetheless, a common complaint among automatic transmissions is their overall “jerkier” ride experience when shifting, since you’re relying on your car’s computer and sensors to get the job done. 

Why do manufacturers use semi-automatics? 

Given that semi-automatics have drawbacks like costly
car repairs
and maintenance without the added benefit of removing manual shifting from the equation, you might be wondering: why do manufacturers use semi-automatics, anyways?
Manual transmissions will simply never go out of style. The semi-automatic preserves the “pure” driving experience associated with manual transmission—it allows drivers complete control over the gearbox. 

How to find affordable car insurance 

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FAQ

Semi-automatic transmissions are popular in supercars, race cars, and high-end sports cars for their blend of manual precision and automatic convenience.
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