Trucking has a long tradition of using manual transmission. An obvious reason for this is that manual transmissions have been around far longer than automatic transmissions. But when automatics were introduced, they were more expensive, didn’t allow the same degree of fine control as manual, and were less fuel-efficient. These factors prevented their wide adoption in the trucking industry. However, improving technology is changing this with the result that more trucking fleet owners are buying trucks with automatic transmissions.
The Case for Automatic Transmission
- Fuel efficiency. Improved engine technology using computers and sensors has increased fuel efficiency to the point where commercial or owner operator trucks with automatic transmission outperform their manual transmission counterparts.
- Less distraction. Manual transmissions can have as much as 18 gears. For beginners in particular, using them takes some of their attention off the road. Sometimes a second or two of inattention makes the difference between getting into an accident or avoiding one.
- Less fatigue. Manual shifting requires more concentration and physical effort than automatic transmission. This causes mental and physical fatigue, which adds up over the course of a typical day on the road. Fatigue causes mistakes and reduces driver stamina.
- Easier to use in heavy traffic. One big benefit of automatic is the ease of driving in stop-and-go traffic. This makes the truck driver’s life much easier in many situations, such as rush hour traffic, city driving, and driving through construction zones.
- More attractive to new drivers. There is a truck driver shortage as more trucking veterans retire. However, most young people today have little or no experience with manual transmissions. This is because stick shifts in cars are fast disappearing. Automatic transmissions in trucks greatly simplify the learning process for CDL students. This makes truck driving a more attractive career for young drivers.
In the hands of highly proficient drivers, manual transmission still has the edge on slippery road surfaces and while traversing steep mountain roads. However, this is a moot point as these types of highly skilled drivers continue to leave the truck driving work force.
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