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Which transmission is better for towing, a manual or automatic?

This question is almost irrelevant, because new pickup trucks only come with a manual option with the Ram trucks. Since the truck of choice for hotshotting is a pickup truck, this means those wanting to shift their own gears will be looking at Ram or older models of Ford or GM.

Our Hightail Hotshotting fleet includes both automatic transmissions and manual, so we can give you, our impression.

First off let’s look at the advantages of the automatics. By their automatic nature, an automatic give you a more pleasant driving experience. Identical trucks with an automatic will also typically have a slightly higher GVWR or payload rating. In a drag race likely, the automatic shifting will result in a faster acceleration than manually shifting the gears. As well all the higher trim packages, with the comfort features, come only in automatic transmission options. So why would anyone want a manual transmission?

Bottom line - A manual transmission will out tow any automatic through the mountains, and do so less expensively, and for many more years. 

Automatic transmissions have more loss of torque, ending up at the rear wheels due to the parasitic power loss of the transmission. When climbing a hill, an automatic transmission may hunt gears or down shift, while the manual equipped truck holds the gear, and keeps climbing. On one steep hill, we routinely travel up from a dead stop, and our automatic 6 speed will make 3rd gear and stay there until the top of the rise. The manual truck makes 4th gear, and shifts into 5th gear near the rise, accelerating the entire time. 

Automatic vs Manual is like other tools like cameras. In the right hands the manual allows the skilled operator to make decisions, rather than leaving it to a computer. The hot shot driver can decide when to shift up or down shift to keep the RPM in the peak torque range.

Another factor is when heading down the hill, a heavy load can be controlled very effectively with a manual transmission. Using engine compression, and an exhaust brake, the driver can hold a gear and virtually come to a stop, without ever using the factory brakes on the truck or trailer. 

What about longevity? All mechanical parts wear out eventually. However, about the time an automatic transmission requires a rebuild, the manual transmission will require a new clutch.  It’s less than a third of the cost, and in and out of the shop in a fraction of the time. 

Our manual transmission hot shot truck also makes an additional 2-3 mpg over the automatic counterpart, meaning substantial savings at the pump.

Seems like a no-brainer to opt for a manual transmission if you are a hot shot carrier, right? Well, some things to consider is the effect that direct power to the rear wheels has, and what you should expect. 

Manual VS Automatic Towing

Without the automatic taking some of the pressure, you can get axle wrap especially when towing heavier loads. This means your pinion yoke and u-joints can wear out fast. The solution is installing traction bars that stabilize your rear axle and eliminate wheel hop when towing. 

With all this torque going direct to your rear axle, you will also notice your tires on the rear axle will wear much faster than the fronts, and faster than the rears on an automatic. Soft rubber on snow tires means we burn through a pair of snow tires back there in about two months. 

So which trucks do I prefer to drive?

Overall, I personally prefer the automatics, with the heated leather seats, and being able to reach for my coffee instead of the stick shifter. If I am hotshotting to Seattle and back, I’d rather skip the leg workout in stop and go traffic as well. However, for control, safety, and savings, when I’m towing through the Rockies, the manual is the king. 

If you would like to speak with Erik in more detail, please give him a call at 604-728-3037 or email him at erik@hightailhotshot.com.