What Is Overdrive? | The Drive


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Since the health of our planet became a major societal focus decades ago, automotive engineers have been on a mission to find a balance between performance and efficiency. In the past, the two characteristics typically sat in opposition, but several technological advancements have blurred those lines. Transmissions, for example, have evolved to be more efficient, less clunky, and snappier than ever.

When the automatic transmission debuted in the early ‘20s, the 1920s that is, the number of gears it had could be counted on one hand. Today, however, you’d need a friend to count the 11 gears in the triple-clutch transmission that Honda is currently developing. Along that path of innovation, the concept of overdrive was introduced. 

Overdrive is a transmission gearing that lowers the engine’s revolutions per minute (RPM) at select times to bring on numerous beneficial effects. How this occurs and what it does requires expanded explanation, so grab your blue light glasses and spend some time with The Drive’s gregarious info team as we explore what’s happening with your car’s overdrive.

What Is Overdrive?

Overdrive is gearing in a car that lowers the engine’s RPM during high-speed highway or country road driving. The word overdrive refers to the gearing ratio being superfluous on top of the gearing that produces the peak amount of power. Therefore, it is overdriven. Although it was previously a manually activated feature on older transmissions, overdrive is essentially commonplace in all transmissions today.

What Does Overdrive Do? 

The point of overdrive is fuel efficiency. If the car can move faster while relaxing the engine, the car’s efficiency improves. Additionally, with the engine’s reduction in workload, the car is consequently less noisy and ride comfort improves. Less stress on the engine, less stress on you, and it is also great for the car’s longevity and reliability.

How Does an Overdrive System Work?

In overdrive, the gearing makes it so that the input shaft is rotating slower than the output shaft and the car is overdriving beyond its peak power point. In a manual car, the vehicle is put into overdrive (top gear) using a clutch and a stick shifter. In an automatic transmission, the car automatically shifts itself into overdrive. 

Gearing of Modern Cars With Overdrive

To better understand how gear ratios in modern vehicles work, we’ve laid out examples from a Honda Civic with a manual transmission and a Ford F-150 pickup with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

2020 Honda Civic Coupe Si, Manual Transmission

1st Gear: 3.643 (number of times the input shaft rotates to rotate the output shaft once)

2nd Gear: 2.080

3rd Gear: 1.361

4th Gear: 1.024 (nearly direct drive)

5th Gear: 0.830

6th Gear: 0.686 (overdrive)

Reverse: 3.673

Final Drive: 4.35

2021 Ford F-150, Automatic Transmission

1st Gear: 4.696

2nd Gear: 2.985

3rd Gear: 2.146

4th Gear: 1.769

5th Gear: 1.520

6th Gear: 1.275

7th Gear: 1.000 (direct drive)

8th Gear: 0.854

9th Gear: 0.689

10th Gear: 0.636

Reverse: 4.866

FAQs About Overdrive

You have the questions, The Drive has the answers.

Q: Does Overdrive Make You Go Faster?

A: In general, overdrive gears are beyond the point of peak power, so no, overdrive does not make you go faster.

Q: Is It Bad To Use Overdrive All the Time?

A: Neither your manual transmission nor your automatic transmission would work if stuck in overdrive all the time.

Q: Does Overdrive Save Gas?

A: The intent of overdrive is to reduce strain on the engine at high speeds and make for more efficient driving. So, yes.

Q: Is It Okay To Tow in Overdrive? 

A: Because every vehicle is different, this question should be answered by reading your car’s owner’s manual.  However, in general, it’s probably not a good idea to tow in overdrive because the transmission could overheat and cause damage.

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