Save fuel and help your motorhome operate at peak performance by learning how to manipulate the transmission’s shifting schedule.
By Brett Wolfe, F252125
The Allison transmission control module (TCM), which is the “electronic brain” that controls shifting and other functions of the transmission, has two different automatic gear-selection modes/programs.
In Economy Mode, the transmission will not downshift even at wide-open throttle until the engine pulls down to peak torque rpm in some applications and 200 rpm lower than Performance Mode in others. In Performance Mode, the transmission will downshift much earlier to maintain higher engine rpm.
Only at higher throttle positions is there any difference, so on flat ground you will not notice any variation between the two modes, except when accelerating from a stop if you are at or close to wide-open throttle.
However, mode selection can make a big difference when traveling over rolling hills. If you drive in such areas while in Performance Mode (particularly with the cruise control on), it is common for the transmission to shift down to fifth gear on the uphill and back to sixth gear on the downhill, repeating this process hundreds of times. In Economy Mode, the transmission will stay in sixth gear unless the hill is so steep or so long that the engine cannot pull it without dropping below peak torque rpm. According to engine manufacturers, the most economical way to climb a hill with a modern turbocharged diesel engine is in a higher gear (lower engine rpm), provided the engine doesn’t overheat.
If, while driving in Economy Mode, you know you will need a lower gear because of the steepness of the grade and/or the engine temperature is rising higher than the thermostatically controlled temperature, use the down arrow to drop a gear (this is what I do) or switch out of Economy Mode. Be sure to switch back into Economy Mode when past the steep section or you will be stopping at a service station for fuel sooner than you expected.
While you are driving in hilly terrain, if your engine begins to overheat, the engine’s horsepower-to-weight ratio is low, or it irritates you to lose a few mph in the name of saving fuel, by all means drive in Performance Mode.
It confuses me to hear people advocate driving in Economy Mode only on flat ground, as there is not 1 percent difference in shift rpm between Performance and Economy modes on flat ground, except when accelerating from a stop if you use wide-open throttle.
Every time you start the motorhome, the transmission is in Performance Mode. This is the default setting. If you push the mode button, it goes to Economy Mode and the light illuminates.
There is no absolute number that can be given to illustrate the difference in fuel economy that will result when driving in Economy Mode. On flat ground where you will be in sixth gear no matter what mode you are in, there will be zero difference. The most significant difference in mileage will occur in rolling hills, where in Performance Mode, particularly if on cruise control, you will start up a hill in sixth gear, go to wide-open throttle in that gear, and downshift to fifth gear still at wide-open throttle, where it is using a lot more fuel. After the hill is crested, the transmission will upshift to sixth, then likely coast a little in that gear unless you are driving with the exhaust brake on. If you are, the exhaust brake will be applied and the transmission will downshift toward the preselected gear, which is generally either second gear or fourth gear. And so the process will continue, with the transmission shifting up to sixth gear on the downhill, back down to fifth gear on the uphill, etc. The problem with this is that a modern turbocharged diesel engine is much more efficient at low rpm with high throttle settings.
Note: In either mode, you are free to use the up and down arrows to proactively choose the correct gear. You cannot screw anything up, even if you downshift to first gear at 70 mph. The transmission circuitry understands that you want to downshift to the next lower gear as soon as the engine rpm will not exceed the preset amount. Then it will downshift again when safe.
By the same token, you can shift between Performance and Economy modes as often as you want with the transmission in any gear when you make the change.
I drive in Economy Mode 99 percent of the time, including in the mountains. I use the up and down shifting arrows to choose the proper gear. I use Performance Mode only to pass another vehicle on a two-lane road, when I am willing to sacrifice a little fuel economy to gain a short-term burst of speed.
Load-Based Shift Scheduling
As more folks discovered how this method of shifting could be used to help save fuel, technicians at Allison Transmission also took notice. To make it easier for folks to accomplish the mode and shift changes, they developed a new feature called Load-Based Shift Scheduling (LBSS). Using advanced estimation technology to calculate real-time vehicle load and operating grade, LBSS automatically selects the appropriate shift schedule for the task at hand. When extra power is required to climb a grade or when the vehicle is heavily loaded, LBSS automatically switches to the Performance shift schedule to provide the necessary power. When the terrain levels out or the load diminishes, the LBSS automatically switches to the Economy shift schedule to achieve maximum fuel economy.
The LBSS feature began to be used by motorhome, truck, and heavy-duty equipment manufacturers at the same time that EPA 10 engines were introduced (January 2010), and it is an optional calibration feature on Allison 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 Series transmission models. Since LBSS is a calibration feature and not a physical part, it may be available for older Allison transmissions equipped with A51, A52, or A53 TCMs (introduced July 2008).
For more information about LBSS or to determine whether it is available for your coach, contact your motorhome service center or an Allison dealer or distributor. To find the nearest Allison dealer or distributor, visit www.allisontransmission.com and click on the “Sales & Service Locator” link, or call (317) 242-5000.