The most common use is in motor vehicles, where the transmission adapts the output of the internal combustion engine to the drive wheels.
Such engines need to operate at a relatively high rotational speed, which is inappropriate for starting, stopping, and slower travel. The transmission reduces the higher engine speed to the slower wheel speed, increasing torque in the process. Transmissions are also used on pedal bicycles, fixed machines, and where different rotational speeds and torques are adapted.
A transmission has multiple gear ratios (or simply "gears") with the ability to switch between them as speed varies. This switching may be done manually (by the operator) or automatically.
Directional (forward and reverse) control may also be provided. Single-ratio transmissions also exist, which simply change the speed and torque (and sometimes direction) of motor output.