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Old 01-07-2010, 01:38 PM   #1
tbyrne's Avatar
Drives: 1993+1998 Z-28s - past cars
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Fall River, MA
Posts: 434
Torque Converters Explained

A little info to explain what a torque converter does -

A torque converter is a fluid-coupling device that also acts as a torque multiplier during initial acceleration.

The torque converter consists of four primary components:

Cover --- the cover (also referred to as a front) is the outside half of the housing toward the engine side from the weld line. The cover serves to attach the converter to the flywheel (engine) and contain the fluid. While the cover is not actively involved in the characteristics of the performance, it is important that the cover remain rigid under stress (torsional and thrust stress and the tremendous hydraulic pressure generated by the torque converter internally.)

Turbine --- the turbine rides within the cover and is attached to the drive train via a spline fit to the input shaft of the transmission. When the turbine moves, the car moves.

Stator --- the stator can be described as the "brain" of the torque converter, although the stator is by no means the sole determiner of converter function and characteristics. The stator, which changes fluid flow between the turbine and pump, is what makes a torque converter a torque converter (multiplier) and not strictly a fluid coupler.

With the stator removed, however, it will retain none of its torque multiplying effect. In order for the stator to function properly the sprag must work as designed: (1) It must hold the stator perfectly still (locked in place) while the converter is still in stall mode (slow relative turbine speed to the impeller pump speed) and (2) allow the stator to spin with the rest of the converter after the turbine speed approaches the pump speed. This allows for more efficient and less restrictive fluid flow.

The sprag is a one-way mechanical clutch mounted on races and fits inside the stator while the inner race splines onto the stator support of the transmission. The torque multiplier effect means that a vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission and torque converter will output more torque to the drive wheels than the engine is actually producing. This occurs while the converter is in its "stall mode" (when the turbine is spinning considerably slower than the pump) and during vehicle acceleration. Torque multiplication rapidly decreases until it reaches a ratio of 1:1 (no torque increase over crankshaft torque.) A typical torque converter will have a torque multiplication ratio in the area of 2.5:1. The main point to remember is that all properly functioning torque converters do indeed multiply torque during initial acceleration. The more drastic the change in fluid path caused by the stator from its "natural" return path, the higher the torque multiplication ratio a given converter will have. Torque multiplication does not occur with a manual transmission clutch and pressure plate; hence the need for heavy flywheels, very high numerical gear ratios, and high launch rpm. A more detailed discussion of torque multiplication can get very confusing to the layman as high multiplication ratios can be easily considered the best choice when in fact more variables must be included in the decision. Remember, the ratio is still a factor of the engine torque in the relevant range of the torque converter stall speed, i.e.: a converter with a multiplication ratio of 2.5:1 that stalls 3000 rpm will produce 500 ft.-lbs. of torque at the instance of full throttle acceleration if its coupled to an engine producing 200 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm. However, if this same engine produces 300 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4000 rpm, we would be better off with a converter that stalled 4000 rpm with only a 2.0:1 torque multiplication ratio, i.e.: 300 x 2.0 = 600 ft.-lbs. at initial acceleration. Of course it would be better yet to have a 2.5:1 ratio with the 4000 rpm in this example (provided his combination still allows the suspension to work and the tires don't spin.) This is just a brief overview as the actual scenarios are endless.

Impeller pump --- the impeller pump is the outside half of the converter on the transmission side of the weld line. Inside the impeller pump is a series of longitudinal fins, which, drive the fluid around its outside diameter into the turbine, since this component is welded to the cover, which is bolted to the flywheel. The size of the torque converter (and pump) and the number and shape of the fins all affect the characteristics of the converter. If long torque converter life is an objective, it is extremely important that the fins of the impeller pump are adequately reinforced against fatigue and the outside housing does not distort under stress.

Stall speed --- This is the what everyone looks at when they are looking for an aftermarket converter. It is the rpm that a given torque converter (impeller) has to spin in order for it to overcome a given amount of load and begin moving the turbine. When referring to "how much stall will I get from this torque converter", it means how fast (rpm) must the torque converter spin to generate enough fluid force on the turbine to overcome the resting inertia of the vehicle at wide open throttle. Load originates from two places (1) From the torque imparted on the torque converter by the engine via the crankshaft. (This load varies over rpm, i.e. torque curve, and is directly affected by atmosphere, fuel and engine conditions.) (2) From inertia, the resistance of the vehicle to acceleration, which places a load on the torque converter through the drive train. This can be thought of as how difficult the drive train is to rotate with the vehicle at rest, and is affected by car weight, amount of gear reduction and tire size, ability of tire to stay adhered to ground and stiffness of chassis. (Does the car move as one entity or does it flex so much that not all the weight is transferred during initial motion?).

The majority of modern torque converters also include a lock-up feature through the use of a torque converter clutch. The highly pressurized fluid flowing through the transmission is channeled through the transmission shaft as the speed of the vehicle nears forty miles an hour. When this happens, the torque converter clutch or a metal pin, physically ‘locks’ or connects the turbine to the impeller. The pin remains connected until either the vehicle slows down below forty miles an hour or a gear-shift occurs. This feature was developed and incorporated into the modern torque converter to improve the highway fuel economy.

Note: While referring to the resistance of the vehicle to move while at rest, the torque converter's stall speed and much of its characteristics for a given application are also affected by the vehicle's resistance to accelerate relative to its rate of acceleration. This resistance has much to do with the rpm observed immediately after the vehicle starts moving, the amount of rpm drop observed during a gear change and the amount of slippage in the torque converter (turbine rpm relative to impeller pump rpm.) A discussion involving how resistance to acceleration affects a torque converter involves more theory than fact and must involve all the dozens of other variables that affect rpm and slippage. The primary thing we want to remember about torque converter stall speed is that a particular torque converter does not have a "preset from the factory" stall speed but rather its unique design will produce a certain range of stall speeds depending on the amount of load the torque converter is exposed to. This load comes from both the torque produced by the engine and the resistance of the vehicle to move from rest. The higher this combined load the higher stall we will observe from a particular torque converter, and conversely, the lower the load, the lower the stall speed. Naturally, if the engine is not at wide open throttle we will not expect to observe as high a stall speed as we would under a wide open throttle.

Another point concerning engine torque is that we are only concerned with what we'll call the "relevant range" of the engine torque curve when discussing initial stall speed. This means if our particular torque converter chosen has a design that should produce a stall speed in a range of say 2000 to 2600 rpm given the application then we would refer to this as the relevant range of our interest in the engine's torque curve for this particular torque converter. In other words, only the torque characteristics of the engine torque in this rpm range will affect the amount of stall speed we actually observe. If we are using a high horsepower/high rpm engine that does not make much torque before 3000 rpm, it does not matter that the engine makes excellent torque over 3000 rpm if we are trying to use the torque converter in this example because its relevant range is 2000-2600 rpm and we would expect to see poor stall (2000 rpm or less) due to the poor torque produced by the engine in this range.
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