For many new truck drivers in Ormond Beach, Florida, one of the most intimidating parts of becoming a trucker is learning how to drive using a semi truck's manual transmission. With the growing popularity of automatic transmissions in new semi trucks, many are wondering if learning to drive a manual is even a necessary skill at all. All of this begs the question: should you buy a used truck with an automatic, or should you stick to the tried-and-true manual transmission? To understand this debate, it helps to know the differences between manuals and automatics in semi trucks and the advantages and disadvantages each one has.
Chances are you learned on and feel comfortable with a manual transmission if you're an experienced truck driver or have been in the industry for more than a few years. There are many reasons manuals were, and still are, used on commercial trucks. Some of the chief advantages of manual transmissions in semi trucks are:
- Manual transmissions are simpler and less costly to replace or repair than automatics. They can often cost thousands of dollars less to fix in the shop because they have less parts and electronic equipment.
- Manual transmissions are more reliable than automatics over time. While most automatics never see problems with the electronics or shifting mechanisms, occasionally these problems do occur - and when they do most drivers wish they 'd opted for the "dumb" manual instead.
- Manuals offer more control over what the truck is doing than automatics do. When driving a manual, the only time the truck shifts is when you explicitly shift it yourself. Automatics, even in manual mode, can still "override" the driver and shift up or down.
- Many drivers believe manuals make you more engaged and connected to the driving process than automatics do. This is a contentious point, but it's hard to deny that manuals take more mental attention and work than automatics.
For newer drivers or those driving for fleets, you probably have at least some experience driving a truck equipped with an automatic transmission. More and more trucks each year are being spec'd with automatics instead of manuals, and there are a few good reasons why:
- For many drivers and fleets, the biggest advantage of manual transmissions is fuel economy. They can optimize fuel consumption far better than manuals because automatics never miss or skip shifts.
- Automatic transmissions are easier and quicker to learn than manual shifting. With the rapid growth in the trucking industry in the past decade and the growing need for new drivers, companies are doing what they can to make it easy for drivers to get into a trucking job quickly.
- Modern automatic transmissions often offer better performance than comparable manuals. An automatic can improve acceleration, control in high-traffic conditions, and hill ascents and descents.
- Many drivers believe that automatics reduce driver fatigue and allow them to pay more attention to the road around them, since they no longer need to worry about constantly shifting gears. This benefit is especially big in areas with lots of traffic such as city roads and highways with heavy construction.
Which Transmission is Right for You?
It can be tough to decide between trucks with automatics or manuals, especially when every driver and fleet owner has their own opinion. Many experienced drivers see automatics as a crutch for incompetent newbies, while manufacturers and fleet owners see manuals as inefficient and outdated.
The only way to really choose which one is right for you is to try them both and see which one you like more. You shouldn't be intimidated to learn a manual transmission if you're a new driver. It's a good skill to have that will make you a more capable and valuable employee or a more experienced owner-operator. Most CDL schools still teach new drivers on manual transmissions, so there are plenty of opportunities for you to learn.
On the other hand, if you're an experienced driver who wrote off early automatics because of their complexity and cost, it might be time to give them another look. Newer automatics can shift faster and more accurately than even the most experienced driver, and their mechanical advantages - such as torque converters to prevent rollbacks on hill starts and the ability to keep your foot on the throttle through gear changes - can pay for themselves in increased productivity and economy.
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