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What Is a Transmission Control Module (TCM)?

Transmission Control Module

Whether you’re a motor head or simply rely on your vehicle to get you around town, it’s crucial to know a bit about how your ride works. While you by no means need to be a licensed technician, having a general knowledge of the pieces that keep your car, truck, or SUV moving forward helps you to better understand some of the common problems you might encounter while you’re on the move. One vital piece you should try to understand is the transmission control module, a part of your vehicle that it simply cannot operate without.

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What A Transmission Control Module Is

As you might expect, your vehicle’s transmission control module works alongside both the engine and the transmission to keep you and your passengers moving forward. When you’re moving forward, this is the part that’s responsible for calculating the right time and place to change the current gear in order to make your driving experience the best it can possibly be.

Aside from this primary responsibility, this control module may also send OBD2 codes to your car’s computer if it happens to detect any malfunction or other issues with your car’s transmission. These codes appear in the form of the check engine light on your dash, effectively alerting you that something may not be quite right under the hood.

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Why It’s Important

Because it provides a vital link between your transmission system and your engine, the control module is obviously a vital part of your driving experience. Without a properly working module, your car would be unable to change gears when needed, which could ultimately lead to not only a subpar driving experience but also serious mechanical issues that require expensive repairs. These timely changes also help to improve the overall efficiency of your vehicle, so you’re able to get a better mile out of each gallon of fuel you add to your tank.

These parts are also designed to improve the shift quality of your transmission system. This means shifting between gears is a smoother, easier process that is easier on the gears. Your gears won’t experience as much wear and tear, keeping your transmission in better shape for longer.

Furthermore, the part's ability to send codes to the car’s computer serves as an excellent way to identify transmission problems before something goes really wrong under the hood. This, too, can help to prevent serious damage and expensive, time-intensive repairs in your future.

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Manual vs. Automatic

Needless to say, this part functions just a bit differently in manual transmissions than with automatic transmissions as it’s responsible for timing gear changes. In fact, this part is entirely obsolete in manual transmissions. In a manual, drivers are expected to switch their vehicle’s gears as needed by hand, making the detecting powers of the control module completely unnecessary. Therefore, if you’re a proud driver of a manual, this is probably a part you don’t need to worry about.

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Signs of a Failing Transmission Control Module

These parts are built to last, but over time your transmission control module might possibly succumb to a combination of heat fluctuation, overuse, and other day-to-day forces. This could leave the part in poor condition and prevent it from performing its duties reliably.

Some of the most common signs of a bad transmission or control module include:

  • Stalling between gear changes

  • Failure to change gears

  • Transmission not downshifting when you’re at a stop

  • The car is stuck in neutral

  • Transmission not upshifting when you accelerate

Any of these issues could be considered dangerous as well as inconvenient and could have some serious consequences for your engine over time. Therefore, if you’ve experienced any of these problems, it’s always a good idea to have a certified technician check out your transmission control module to ensure things get running smoothly again.

Transmission Fluid Temperature Sensor

Transmission Fluid Temperature Sensor (TFT) estimates the temperature of transmission fluid. It provides input to the control module to change shift patterns for softer moves and also provides over-temperature safety by locking the torque converter in automatic transmissions. The Throttles Position Sensor is used to gauge how open the throttle valve is into the engine's intake manifold and therefore controls the quantity of airflow.

What Does a Speed Sensor Do?

It measures transmission output or wheel speed. The ECM uses this information to change engine functions such as ignition timing, air/fuel economy, transmission shift points, and to create diagnostic routines.

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