If you clicked on the link to this article because you didn’t know much about electronic transmission controls and wanted to know more … you are in the right place. No matter if you want to know more about these systems for your daily driver or your weekend warrior, we aim to clear up any gray areas and explain what these systems do.
Over the past decade, we’ve gotten so many questions about electronic transmission controls that we decided to start a mini-series of articles to cover the different systems available and the most popular applications. To make sure we get the facts correct, we enlisted US Shift, a leader in electronic transmission controllers for do-it-yourselfers and racers alike.
What This Series Will Cover
In most publications, routine article series have catchy little clickbait titles in hopes the work goes viral. That’s just not our style. We’re here to give our readers the bare facts when it comes to technical pieces, and this series will be no different. We’re going to call the series Electronic Transmission Controllers 101, and add the prime topic of each article at the end of the title. Here’s our projected rundown for future articles in this series:
- ETC 101: Controllers For 4R70W / AODE Transmissions
- ETC 101: Controllers For E40D / 4R100 Transmissions
- ETC 101: Controllers For 4L60E / 4L65E Transmissions
- ETC 101: Controllers For 4L80E / 4L85E Transmissions
- ETC 101: Controllers For The 6R80 Transmission
Modern transmissions and drivetrains have become so complex and efficient, they are simply engineering marvels. The brain of any electronic drivetrain is what the industry calls the Transmission Control Module (TCM). You’ll see this referenced when talking about the factory controls that rely on factory-installed firmware and input from factory sensors. We mention this to explain that the factory has to program their firmware to satisfy the majority of their customers, from sixteen years old to sixty. As you can imagine, there is a lot of area for specific improvement for different driving applications in factory software.
“At US Shift, we design our products for the street rod builder, drag racer, off-roader, tuner, or enthusiast that enjoys better performance,” said Jake Chandler. “We also have a unique perspective on transmission control that others may not have. We’re not just programmers or electronics experts, but also transmission experts.”
Why Do Modern Transmissions Use Electronic Controls?
It wasn’t that many years ago that three-speed automatic transmissions were standard equipment in most cars. Today we are seeing cars and SUVs with 7-, 8-, and even 10-speed transmissions. For vintage car enthusiasts, a 10-speed automatic transmission sounds like six or seven speeds too many. That was true when engines were putting out less horsepower but today’s engines are squeezing out massive amounts of power and are required to increase fuel economy at the same time.
This is where the addition of more gears and advancements in technology help with fuel economy and better performance at the same time. Being able to control things like shift timing played directly into the hands of electronic controllers. Hydraulic controllers have a difficult, if not impossible time trying to manage shift timing and shift quality along with fuel efficiency.
The days of controlling hydraulic line pressure inside automatic transmissions while using mechanical throttle position controls to shift up to the next gear are over. Decisions on gear changes in the transmission are now made by the electronic transmission control module. This is not to say that hydraulic fluid doesn’t work to control the transmission’s clutches and bands, because these still use hydraulic line pressure. However, shifting is much more accurate and efficient with electronic controls.
“Our systems allow you to modernize older vehicles, making it possible to utilize a later model electronic transmission which drastically improves drivability, performance, and fuel economy,” assured Chandler.
We questioned Chandler about the benefits of US Shift’s electronic controllers. “We’ve been specializing in standalone transmission control since 1997,” he said. “In many cases, the cost of a modern, strong, electronically controlled transmission and US Shift system is much lower than the cost of upgrading a non-electric transmission to handle the horsepower levels of today’s high-performance engines. We are lifelong gear heads who know what it’s like to work within a budget,” he added.
If cost is negligible and not a significant issue, our next thought centered around the degree of installation difficulty. “The design of US Shift controllers and wiring harnesses are optimized to simplify installation and troubleshooting,” he responded. “Our systems are designed specifically for ease of installation, with the do it yourselfers in mind. Generally, a full installation can be completed in four to six hours or less.”
How Electronic Transmission Controllers Work
Most modern transmission controllers use information from multiple sensors in the vehicle, as well as information from the engine control unit (ECU) to calculate how and when to change gears in the transmission. Many of the modern ETCs are complex designs that use inputs and make calculations based on so many parameters there is an endless amount of possible shift behaviors.
We’ve discussed better fuel economy, reduced engine emissions, and shift reliability with these new electronic modules, but there is also an element of safety. Along with the typical lockout for Park/Neutral starting, controlling the transmission shifting also provides for improved vehicle handling. This is why you see so many road racers and autocross drivers using aftermarket controllers. The programmability offered by ETC units allows the modern automatic transmission to be used with appropriate characteristics for each type of application.
achieve better fuel economy, reduced engine emissions, greater shift system reliability, improved shift feel, improved shift speed, and improved vehicle handling. The immense range of programmability offered by a TCU allows the modern automatic transmission to be used with appropriate transmission characteristics for each application.
In the most basic terms, the transmission controller will check the position of the shifter. When in the Park position, the module will allow the engine to be started. Once the Drive position is selected, the control module will use the inputs and programming to determine when to upshift automatically. The factors going into these decisions include vehicle speed, throttle position (TPS), among many others. US Shift’s stand-alone transmission control units use inputs that simplify installations and allows certain transmissions to be utilized in any type of vehicle. This includes non-ECU-equipped vehicles like carbureted engines and mechanical diesels.
About Baumann Electronic Controls And US Shift Products
Baumann Electronic Controls (BEC) has been developing automatic transmission products since Karl Baumann began developing performance transmission modifications in the late 1980s. By 1997, he was working as a part-time business owner (at BEC) and full-time electrical engineer. Two years later his start-up company was so successful he stopped being a part-time businessman and turned his focus solely to BEC’s growing clientele. Baumann’s flagship products are the US Shift electronic transmission controllers, the Quick 2, Quick 4, and Quick 6 systems. BEC also offers shift improvement valve body components for select transmission models.
According to Chandler, the Quick 2, 4, and 6 controllers “contain advanced diagnostics with specific codes that will often point directly to the problem.” This removes the guesswork and simplifying troubleshooting for the user. He also claims the controllers generally outlast the application. “Our systems are designed with OEM quality at a minimum and usually better than OEM components, and are designed to last the life of the vehicle.”
“These systems are fully adjustable using either the built-in interface or our proprietary tuning software,” Chandler explained. “This provides control over shift points, torque converter clutch lockup, and shift firmness.”
The Quick Series Controllers
From an enthusiast standpoint, US Shift’s Quick controllers are based on value per cubic dollar. Getting the most bang for the buck. Fitting into that role nicely is the company’s Quick 2 controller, which Chandler calls “the most cost-effective transmission controller on the market today.” He justified this claim by saying, “the features and benefits of the Quick 2 controller are comparable to much higher-priced units.”
The Quick 4 controller is also priced competitively against other controllers in its class. Made for street rod builders, drag racers, off-roaders, or tuners that are looking for performance at a fair price, the Quick 4 fits that space.
The Quick 2 and Quick 4 controllers currently support GM’s 4L60E, 4L65E, 4L70E, 4L80E, and 4L85E transmissions. For the Ford applications, the AOD-E, 4R70W, 4R75, E4OD, and 4R100 transmissions are supported.
Quick Controller 2 or 4:
Both the Quick 2 and Quick 4 controllers feature a simplified setup that lets users install and drive immediately. No complicated setup or “self-learning” time-consuming processes. The shift quality improvements are realized instantly with consistent quality shifts and performance to boot. These units are compatible with aftermarket torque converters as well.
Adjustments can be made from the main menu with easy-to-understand instructions. A computer with US Shift’s Shiftware software provides an easy-to-use interface where shift timing, shift firmness, torque converter clutch engagement, calibration tables switching, and adjusting speed sensor settings amongst other adjustments can be made.
Making Adjustments In Shiftware:
Quick 6 Controller
Finally, the Quick 6 controller is US Shift’s most powerful, fully-featured, and easy-to-use controller to date. Currently supporting the electronic 6R80 transmission, this controller enables the use of an electronic 6R80 transmission on a wide variety of vehicles that lack the OEM capability. The Quick 6 architecture is specifically designed for the modern clutch to clutch transmissions and contains patented self-tuning technology that automatically adjusts shift pressures to their ideal rates.
These applications include classic cars, trucks, or motorhomes. It can also be used to enhance a modern vehicle’s performance by taking over control from the OEM computer, allowing the user to directly adjust shift points, firmness, torque converter engagement, and more. Chandler explained that more transmissions will be supported in the future, such as GM and Ford’s 10-speed transmissions with GM’s 6L80, GM 8L90, Ford’s 6R140, and the 5R110 under consideration.
Stay tuned for more articles in this series coming in the next few months. For more information on the US Shift controllers right now, visit them online at www.usshift.com.