Toyota's manual transmission patent could save fuel, help newbies

Finally, an automaker recognizes that manual transmissions still have room for improvement.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
2 min read

New automatic transmission systems can place the vehicle into neutral while coasting to confer additional fuel economy benefits. A new patent from Toyota attempts to do the same thing, but with a manual transmission, which makes it all sorts of complicated.

Toyota was granted a patent last week for a "Controller for vehicle and control method for vehicle," which is a super vague way of saying Toyota patented a system that allows for engine-idle coasting with a manual transmission. It carries a few other benefits, too, which could both prolong engine life and help newbies from trashing their engines by accident.

The system works like this: A controller is capable of operating a manual transmission's clutch and gearbox. When it's determined that coasting is possible, it will automatically disengage the clutch, so the engine will drop to idle while the car coasts. It will also engage shift lock pins that prevent drivers from shifting to too low or too high a gear after coasting concludes.

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Here's a rough diagram explaining how Toyota's system works in conjunction with a traditional manual transmission. Hope you remember your engineering lessons!


That's where it could help new drivers. If the system can lock out gears based on road speed, it could prevent drivers from over-revving or lugging the engine by selecting the incorrect gear. It could also, theoretically, prevent drivers from grabbing the wrong gear when shifting at redline, which has the chance to blow the powertrain sky-high.

But why stop there? If the car can automatically disengage the clutch, it means Toyota could theoretically add stop-start technology to manual transmission vehicles without requiring the driver to move the shift lever to neutral. It could also reliably add safety systems like autonomous emergency braking, which would otherwise stall a vehicle's engine as it came to a stop.

Toyota's patent doesn't go into extensive detail regarding use scenarios, but if the controller is capable of locking out gears and disengaging the clutch on its own, any of the aforementioned benefits could be possible. Benefits could spread far and wide, affecting more than just pure fuel economy.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz have similar systems with their automatic transmissions. BMWs can drop to idle engine speeds while the vehicle is coasting, and Mercedes' system permits total engine shutdown while coasting for even better efficiency. Never has an automaker tried to apply this kind of clutch manipulation technology to a manual transmission, which has always remained free from the grasps of advanced economy or safety technologies. It's just a patent, so nothing may come of it, but it shows that the manual transmission isn't ready to head off into the sunset just yet.

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