What is a Powertrain?

O. Wallace

A powertrain is a system of mechanical parts in a vehicle that first produces energy, then converts it in order to propel it, whether it be an automobile, boat or other machinery. The average person is most familiar with the powertrain of their car, which creates energy in the engine, which is transferred to the transmission. The transmission then takes the power, or output, of the engine and, through specific gear ratios, slows it and transmits it as torque. Through the driveshaft, the engine’s torque is transmitted to the wheels of the car, which, when applied to road, moves the car. Simply put, a powertrain is made up of an engine, a transmission and a driveshaft.

A car's transmission is the part of the powertrain that transfers mechanical energy from the engine to the drive shaft.
A car's transmission is the part of the powertrain that transfers mechanical energy from the engine to the drive shaft.

For all intents and purposes, a powertrain is basically made up of a part that produces energy, some sort of a part that converts it to torque, then the part that sends that energy to the element that transfers that power to the road, water, air, etc. In basic explanation of what a powertrain is, one might include vehicles that don’t have wheels as well. It may seem simple, but depending on the vehicle or machine, powertrains can be extremely complicated systems. The engine producing the power may be chemically or manually powered, such as in a gasoline fueled internal combustion engine or a windmill. It may even be nuclear powered.

A car’s powertrain produces energy, converts that energy to torque, then sends that rotational energy to the drivetrain.
A car’s powertrain produces energy, converts that energy to torque, then sends that rotational energy to the drivetrain.

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In the field of engineering better engines and powertrains, scientists and engineers are developing different methods of producing the energy by experimenting with a variety of alternative fuels such as biodiesel and synthetic fuels, as well as fuel cell technology. Different types of combustion are also being developed, as well as how that power is transferred into a mode of propulsion for the vehicle. Of course, the main objective in designing a powertrain is in providing adequate propulsion with minimal use of fuel, and now, in an increasingly environmentally minded world, byproducts or pollution.

Depending on what sector of the public a manufacturer is attempting to appeal to, a powertrain on a truck might be described as “hefty,” whereas a hybrid commuter car powertrain may be hyped for how little power is needed to provide a cheap, but adequately powered vehicle. An automaker’s “powertrain warranty” often is a part of negotiations in the showroom, and is different from a “bumper to bumper” warranty.

Increasingly, automakers are making their powertrain warranty a selling point on their vehicles by providing up to a ten year powertrain warranty, meaning all or some of the parts of the powertrain are covered for ten years. Of course, with all warranties, the fine print may exclude certain aspects of the powertrain.

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Discussion Comments

anon213713

What is covered in a powertrain warranty on a 2009 Toyota Corolla with about 30,000 miles on it?

anon163192

is the electric power steering covered in the powertrain warranty by general motors?

anon11720

Is a starter motor covered in a Powertrain Warranty by Ford?

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