In the world of motoring – both for personal transportation and for sport – there's a slight fear of the unknown. It's particularly common amongst casual drivers, and especially those that understand just the basics of engineering. If a car's broken, it's broken, and it needs repairs. That is their level of car maintenance and understanding, and it's one that tends to serve people fairly well for most driving.
However, there's a second type of driver out there – the inquisitive, mechanically-interested driver, who goes out of their way to ensure that they know all there is to know about how their vehicle can operate. They read repair manuals, look into performance products for their vehicles, and even keep their car in good running condition by repairing and caring for it manually, in place of a mechanic.
To these drivers, both enthusiasts and people that simply care about their cars, knowing about how a car functions isn't a scary prospect, but one that's pursued. Because of this, we're going to explain an important component of any car's operation today – the torque converter. Torque converters are seen in every type of vehicle today, and they serve an important purpose – sending power to its wheels.
Despite the huge amount of advances in vehicle comfort, styling, and electrical equipment, the base function of any car – generating power by burning gasoline – has changed very little in the last few decades. Cars of the 1970s share just as much with their counterparts today as they do older ones – a clear sign that despite the advances in technology, the world of motoring has changed very little.
Essentially, there are two aspects to any car, both of which have remained unchanged for several decades. The first it the power generation – a process that's carried out by the engine itself, which burns gasoline supplied by a fuel pump and supporting tank. The second is the transfer of power from the vehicle's engine to its wheels, and finally downwards onto the road the car is driving on.
This requires the use of an intermediary piece, known to most as the torque converter. As part of a vehicle's transmission and power application system, a torque converter transfers power from cars' engines down to the wheels themselves, spinning them, locking their grip to the tarmac, and giving the car the downward and forward power required to turn horsepower into forward motion.
It's a tough job, and one that requires the support of many other pieces. A torque converter is helped by the car's clutch and other turbine machinery, which allow it to turn the power of an engine into a forward motion. This is done by balancing load and turbine movement, often through using motion oil to balance to the torque converter as power is sent from the engine and down to the wheels.
It's worth noting that torque converters are only ever used in automatic vehicles – in a manual car, the clutch takes on the part of the torque converter, and is controlled manually. In short, this allows a car's engine to turn while the wheels aren't turning, acting as an intermediary that either gives the engine the power to run without power going down to the wheels, or stalling due to non-movement.
The more fluid – generally a combination of oil and others – that's pumped into a torque converter, the greater the amount of torque it subsequently transfers to the wheels. This is how acceleration is carried out in a simple automatic vehicle. As the accelerator is pushed further, more torque is given by the torque converter, whereas no acceleration results in a decrease in fluid send to the converter.
For most drivers, this understanding of a torque converter is all that's required in order to keep their car running smoothly, and their automotive knowledge satisfied. However, for performance car fans and track day enthusiasts, it's often desirable to upgrade or modify their torque converter. A variety of manufacturers offer race or sports torque converters, many of which can improve performance.
These include lightweight, significantly stronger torque converters from manufacturers like B&M or Hughes Performance. These torque converters are generally more efficient at transferring power to the wheels from the engine than their standard counterparts. This doesn't result in higher power at the engine level, but it does reduce loss of torque or horsepower between the engine and the wheels.
These torque converters are also more durable than their standard counterparts, able to withstand an aggressive race or sports setting. This makes them less likely to fail under heavy load, as is often the case with high-power sports cars. Many also include variable stall levels, letting car owners change the point at which their vehicle's engine stalls, changing their car's acceleration and RPM curve.
Often, these torque converters require an additional aftermarket camshaft and other engine pieces in order to function properly. If you're relatively new to car modification, it's best to speak to a skilled, experienced mechanic. They can help you pick the right torque converter-camshaft combination.
As an essential piece of most modern automatic vehicles, the torque converter serves an important role – keeping your engine's power on the road. While outside the realm of standard car knowledge, knowing how your car's torque converter works can help you improve its performance, reduce loss of power between the engine and the vehicle's drive train, and increase its overall longevity.