Automatic Transmissions and Class 8 Trucks: Are We Better with Them or Without?

Most truckers have strong opinions about automatic transmissions versus manual transmissions in their trucks. Some drivers find that driving an automatic makes their job easier, while others just can't get used to driving a big rig without shifting gears. Some of the pros and cons come down to personal preference, while others are a matter of safety.

Reliability

Semi trucks with automatic transmissions generally have more electrical problems than those with manual transmissions. They are also known to wear out trucks at a much faster rate than good drivers who drive manual transmissions. Another issue is that fewer semi truck mechanics are familiar with automatic transmissions than manuals, so it may take longer to have the transmission repaired.

Safety

One of the issues that drivers have noted when driving trucks with automatic transmissions is that they don't handle well in winter weather conditions, particularly ice. The trucks can be changed to manual mode for winter driving, but the driver must know how to shift the truck properly to drive the truck in manual mode.

Some automatic transmissions have had issues shifting when they are not supposed to, causing the driver

Fuel Economy

Trucks that are equipped with automatic transmissions usually provide better fuel economy overall than standard big rigs. This is not the case when routes take drivers over mountains and up steep hills. Drivers who are experienced at shifting can get about the same fuel economy as an automatic transmission, but most drivers don't shift at the best time and better fuel economy can be achieved by automating the transmission.

Driver Performance

Truckers seem to be divided on the issue of fatigue and paying attention to the road. Automatic transmissions give drivers one less thing to think about while they are driving down the highways. This can be a good thing because the drivers can be more focused on their surroundings and the traffic around them. It can also be detrimental because drivers tend to get bored on long trips and shifting can help them stay focused on the task at hand.

Some drivers feel that automatic transmissions allow inadequate drivers to get their commercial drivers licenses and pass company driving tests when they are not good enough drivers to navigate the freeways safely. Other drivers feel that driving a truck with an automatic transmission allows them to focus more on the road because they don't have to think about shifting.

Most drivers seem to be most comfortable with the trucks they are used to driving, which means that drivers with years of experience generally prefer manual transmissions. These drivers are less likely to get in accidents and have problems on the road, but this probably has more to do with their experience on the road than the type of truck they drive.

Overall Impressions

For drivers that have hauled loads driving tractors with both manual and automatic transmissions, many agree that most of the advantages of an automatic transmission come into play when driving in the city. Drivers have to shift more when they are in the city dealing with traffic and stoplights, so they get more benefits from an automatic transmission than drivers who are out on the open road. Driving through treacherous road conditions including steep hills and ice requires skill and concentration as a driver, regardless of the type of transmission in the truck.

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