How does a Mustang’s Overdrive Work? Blog

How does a Mustang’s Overdrive Work?

Going back twenty five years, overdrive was a highlighted feature on the Mustang. Embarking in 1984, all Mustangs were ultimately tooled with an overdrive gear. Prior to that, select transmissions had it, but were only available if you wrote a larger check. It was a big deal to have overdrive back then, as it wasn’t an industry standard (it was something to separate a vehicle from the competition), but more importantly, it greatly enlargened fuel efficiency. Nowadays, you very likely will not see ‘overdrive’ talked about (or advertised) to the extent it was back then. Why? Today, Ford has standardized this feature across their fleet, and due to this, overdrive is infrequently ever highlighted as part of the vehicle’s feature list (it will still be in the brochure, but no longer a key feature like it was in the 80’s). However, this does not mean having an overdrive has lost its importance in the Mustang world! Like it did back then, overdrive gears give our beloved Pony cars some fuel efficiency. How exactly does it work? Let’s delve into it below, beginning by explaining the concept of overdrive, and then continuing with the functionality of it inbetween manual and automatic transmissions.

What is Overdrive?

As mentioned, overdrive is a feature of all modern transmissions that when used, decreases fuel consumption. The quicker an engine spins the more fuel it will require. The swifter a vehicle is moving, the quicker the engine has to spin to propel it, right? Well, what if there is a way to decrease the engine RPM’s, but maintain overall vehicle speed? This would clearly lead to better gas mileage, and is exactly how an overdrive gear works. Essentially, an overdrive gear is a special gear that when engaged, rotates the output shaft of the transmission at a higher rate than the engine. For example, a driveshaft that is rotating at two thousand RPM whereas the engine is rotating at one thousand five hundred RPM is being overdriven by 33%, or a ratio of 0.67. All Mustangs produced with an overdrive transmission have had an overdrive ratio ranging inbetween 0.625 and 0.725. Again, this means the engine is rotating at 62.%-72.5% (the specific ratio depends on the year and transmission in question, as overdrive ratios are non-variable) the speed of the output or driveshaft. So, say the ratio is 0.625 for this particular case, for every turn the driveshaft makes, the engine has only rotated 0.625 times. Conversely, for every rotation of the engine, the driveshaft is spinning

1.38 times. By using overdrive, we have successfully lowered the engine RPM’s, thereby saving gas, but have maintained cruising speed.

Overdrive in a Manual Transmission

The way overdrive works in a manual transmission is actually very elementary, it is just another gear installed inwards the transmission, on the cluster, that when selected, has a gear ratio of less than one. To reiterate, the gear ratio is the ratio inbetween input revolutions and output revolutions, measured relative to input. Thus, when reading a gear ratio of Two.95:1, it is to be interpreted as the engine spins Two.95 times for every one revolution of the transmission gear. Input speed is Two.95 revolutions, output speed is one revolution. When talking about overdrive gears, they will have a ratio of less than one (meaning output is swifter than input).

The highest gear available on your manual transmission will be the overdrive gear (either 5th gear or 6th gear). To engage overdrive, all you need to do is shift into the highest gear.

Overdrive in an Automatic Transmission

Unluckily, the way an automatic transmission uses overdrive is not fairly as simply as a manual transmission, simply based on the fact that automatic transmissions are more complicated lumps themselves! An automatic transmission uses a torque converter to transmit power via the engine and transmission, whereas a manual transmission Mustang uses a direct clutch. Without diving too deep into the workings of a torque converter, a basic overview is very likely needed.

A torque converter is used to transmit power from the engine to the transmission, as mentioned above. However, the style it does so is entirely different than a typical clutch setup. Torque converters rely on fluid couplings inbetween two halves to transmit power. The impeller half is connected to the engine, whereas the turbine half is connected to the turbine shaft (which connects to the transmission). As the engine revs up, the impeller side spins (recall, impeller side is directly connected to engine), pushing transmission fluid (a special oil) over to the turbine side. Due to some very cool physics and engineering (which we will not discuss here), the turbine side rotates, which rotates the turbine shaft and subsequently turns the transmission.

With that said, the good news is, it gets simpler from here. The significant parts are: 1) impeller is connected to engine, and spins at same speed; Two) impeller thrusts fluid to turbine side, which rotates turbine at a different speed. Wait a minute, this looks like the classic formula… input is greater than output, therefore the converter is slipping. When overdrive engages in an automatic transmission, it rectifies this converter slip by locking the converter (i.e: converter turns at engine speed) and then engages special planetary overdrive gears within the transmission.

Having written all that, I suppose that overdrive within an automatic transmission does not work very differently than a manual transmission. The concept is the same – use a special gear that when driven, has greater revolutions than is applied. The complicating factor for automatic transmissions is the torque converter (the ‘middleman’).

When should you use Overdrive?

As often as you can! The more you can use overdrive, the more gas you can save. Automatic Mustangs will robotically manage this for you. When the conditions are right (vehicle speed and flow), it will automatically engage. In fact, overdrive is enabled by default on automatic cars. There is a button to by hand override it (usually near the shifter, or on the shift treat itself), but unless you are towing (with a Mustang?) or are travelling through very steep terrain, there is no benefit to disabling it. In fact, it will hurt fuel economy.

The same applies to manual-shift cars. When cruising, use it as often as possible, when the circumstances dictate. Obviously, it will not be effective to cruise in overdrive at thirty MPH, but when approaching highway speeds, undoubtedly shift into OD.

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