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The Semi Transmission Debate: Automatic vs. Manual

A clear line has been drawn between automatic and manual transmissions in the trucking industry. Most drivers have strong opinions about which semi transmission is better, with arguments ranging from safety to convenience.

The majority of trucks have manual transmissions, but that’s beginning to change. More trucks are coming off the assembly line with automatic transmissions. In fact, we expect most new trucks to be automatic within the next five years. As the trucking industry shifts toward less shifting, it’s important to know the pros and cons of each semi transmission.semi transmission debate

Semi Transmission Pros and Cons

  • Safety – the safety of drivers and others on the road is one of the most important considerations when contemplating a semi transmission. Automatic and manual transmissions handle conditions differently, and drivers often argue that automatics don’t perform as well on snow and ice. It’s possible to switch trucks over to manual operation in wintry conditions, but drivers must be able to operate in both modes.
    Driver performance can also be impacted by a truck’s transmission. Automatic trucks allow drivers to focus more on the road and less on shifting gears. This can help them remain aware of their surroundings, but it can also lead to boredom. Some drivers feel that manual transmissions keep them more engaged and less likely to lose focus or fall asleep on long hauls.
  • Drivability – transmissions can greatly impact a truck’s functionality. Automatic transmissions tend to create more electrical problems and wear trucks down faster. Mechanics are often more familiar with manual transmissions, so repair work can take longer for automatics. However, as automatic transmissions become more common, these issues will grow to be less problematic.
  • Recruitment – semi transmission selection can play a big role in new driver recruitment. Most up-and-coming drivers didn’t grow up using stick shifts. Automatic transmissions can be less intimidating and more attractive to younger drivers. They typically enjoy the ease of operation and find the job less stressful.
  • Fuel Savings – an automatic semi transmission usually provides better fuel economy than a manual. However, this isn’t always true when traveling through mountains and up steep hills. Drivers who are skilled at shifting can achieve fuel savings in this terrain, but they must shift at the best times (which can be hard to do).

Weighing Both Sides
The semi transmission debate can be argued both ways. Some opinions are rooted in personal preference, while others boil down to safety and savings. It’s important to consider how these factors could affect the longevity of your business, especially as automatics become more common. For additional information on this and other trucking-related topics, contact our Transportation Risk Services Team.

This article originally appeared in the 2019 | ISSUE ONE of the SilverLink magazine, under the title “Automatic vs. Manual: The Semi Transmission Debate.” To receive a complimentary subscription to the SilverLink magazine, sign up here.

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