One of my hobby projects involves cars. Up until now I had a quick and dirty "one class" implementation of engine+gearbox+wheels, but I thought that this is ugly, and I want to go a bit more realistic. Sadly I couldn't find much on Google (either wrong search terms or there really isn't anything that is what I want). It seems like

Setup in scene: Four wheelcolliders attached to a big boxcollider.

Things that I want in the system:

Separate classes for engine, clutch, gearbox, differential and wheels (and whatever else does stuff with torque). Throttlecontrol with revlimiter (works!), steering (works too!), brakes (not yet made, but also not very complex and will likely work).

  • First thing I tried:

Mainly this rotates around how I tell the engine that the wheels are actually using or giving (engine braking) power to the system. so first I created all the classes each with their own updatemethod (not called directly by mainloop, but from a fixedupdate of a controllerclass). updatemethod of engine calculates engine torque from throttle, torque curve (animation curve) and engine friction. This is then used to speed up the virtual crankshaft which has its own inertia. But before speeding up the shaft, I decided to put some feedback torques on the engine torque, so if the wheels can't keep up, the engine can't speed up, or even slows down. Such a feedback torque is added for example by the gearbox, which in turn also has feedback forces from the differential and with that the wheels. The wheels calculate the torque needed to spin up to the speed of the shaft coming out of the gearbox and then it propagates all back to the engine over a few updates.

Problem was, the torque feedback didn't really do engine braking, but catapulted it to several million RPM in a split second. Dividing the feedback torque by 1000 did work, but then the car didn't move at all. So this is fail number 1.

  • Fail number 2:

Okay screw this, I thought, and tidied up all the stuff. This doesn't use several updatemethod anymore, but recursive updating. Basically I call update on the engine, which in turn then calculates what torque it has available. With that it tells the transmission that it has t torques at r RPMs. The gearbox changes the values according to the current gear and then again puts the values into the differential. The differential SHOULD split the torque between its outputs. To do this I calculate how much torque the output (in this case wheels) would need to speed up to r RPMs. I do this for each output and make a list of it for each output. I also save the sum of these values. With this I can get a value of 0...1 for each output, that determines how much torque each output gets in its updatemethod. Its basically an intelligent differential that gives the output which needs more torque, more torque. I guess modeling a real differential would involve some more complex stuff. Now the torque is at the wheels and gets put into the motorTorque property of the wheelcollider. Up until here it works. If I throttle up and then let go of it the wheels start turning backwards. It's basically another feedbackloop just like with the first try. So also fail

  • And fail 3:

Instead of returning the torque that's left, I tried backpropagating the RPMs to the engine instead. So I apply torque, and get RPMs back. But again everything tries to move the car in the opposite direction that I want it to go.

Here is where I'm out of ideas. I want a relatively realistic drivetrain, that is modular and can do enginebraking. A bought asset will most probably not solve my problem, and I also want to understand how it works, and not just use it.

Does anybody have experience with how to properly model a drivetrain?

If I forgot to mention something, please ask.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I tried to recreate car physics with an actual motor engineer... My advice? Don't try to recreate something the unity engine does not have the physics to accommodate. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnemlock
    Feb 21, 2018 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ i didnt mention once that i tried to use the physics engine. i was asking for instructions how to simulate the physics. \$\endgroup\$
    – fredlllll
    Feb 28, 2018 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


One suggestion I could think of is to restructure how you think of the math, and also working from the outside in.

So first, have it so that your input directly controls the wheels - not very realistic, but it will allow for you to see what happens with the physics of the wheels spinning against the ground without an excessive amount of variables determining how they spin. Once you've dialed in the parameters necessary to make realistic wheel physics, then we can start to focus on the internals of the vehicle.

First off, when it comes to the gearboxes that the wheels are attached to, I would recommend starting simple. Only use a gear ratio calculation to determine how fast the wheels go based on the input - no feedback yet, not until the whole system has some sort of functional framework.

The drive shaft should just be 1:1 for early testing purposes - assume a perfect system for now, and we can dial in different values later.

For the engine, I'd recommend making it little more than a fancy calculator - give it input, and it outputs a value that determines how quickly the driveshaft spins, and how that spins the gearboxes.

Then, use a gear ratio to drive the wheels. I would recommend not giving the components such as the gearbox, engine, and driveshaft collision, or any physics at all - I would recommend just animating them according to how quickly they should be spinning. Their collisions could end up making the car behave in ways you don't particularly want it to.

Moving forward, you can start to rely on the Unity physics engine a little more - but to be perfectly honest, I would recommend only giving physics to your wheels, and just calculating the final torque imparted upon them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ i dont need any animation or moving parts or collisions, all i need is a way to make a kinda realistic drivetrain. that also includes feedback from the wheels to the motor (and optionally to a differential) through the gearbox. the motor only gets a torque value as input. its rotational speed should be dictated by the feedback from the tires. just applying torque to the tires will make them spin infinitely fast if they dont touch anything \$\endgroup\$
    – fredlllll
    Feb 28, 2018 at 18:46

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