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Old 11-30-2004, 07:15 AM   #1
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Manual Transmission Versus Automatic

Having lived in Montana for 7 1/2 years and towing a 19' Globetrotter with Ford F-150 4X4 with Auto Transmission during those years I can testify to the increased pucker factor when descending tall mountain passes.

I now own a 31' Sovereign and tow with a 5-Speed F-250 4X4 and have to say that I'm a lot more comfortable on the downslopes.

While an Automatic is to be preferred for normal road towing - it seems to me that a 5-Speed is the way to go for high country camping. Am I all wet or do other have the same view?
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Old 11-30-2004, 07:31 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtjim
I now own a 31' Sovereign and tow with a 5-Speed F-250 4X4 and have to say that I'm a lot more comfortable on the downslopes.

While an Automatic is to be preferred for normal road towing - it seems to me that a 5-Speed is the way to go for high country camping. Am I all wet or do other have the same view?
With the automatic downshift in Tow-Haul mode with my Allison, even though I have a diesel, there is no "pucker factor" descending steep grades. My recent 25 Classic is at least as heavy as your 32 and I find that very little braking is required even coming down a series of steep switchbacks.

I actually find that sometimes the Allison gets a little too much in a hurry to downshift on a series of small steep ups and downs near home. I end up cancelling Tow-Haul mode briefly to get out of the lower gear.
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Old 11-30-2004, 07:35 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtjim
While an Automatic is to be preferred for normal road towing - it seems to me that a 5-Speed is the way to go for high country camping. Am I all wet or do other have the same view?
The older I get, the less I am inclined to drive a manual transmission.

I have driven Chevy, Dodge, and Ford one ton's in the recent past, and have found that the auto tranny of all three give adequate engine braking on down slopes (disregard any added benefit of an exhaust brake here).

In the dark ages, when I found myself in the mud, the muck, and the mire, I observed that an automatic transmission would distribute power more evenly (slowly?) when pulling out of a "slippery" situation, having less of a tendency for a "one wheel loss of traction" and the subsequent digging of a hole to the axel.

On the other hand, there is a certain satisfaction of sashaying through the gears, enjoying the throb of the exhaust, and the feel of a warm floor shift knob in your right hand.

If Freud were alive today he would probably savor analyzing FWD Diesel GearHeads - or RV'ers.

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Old 11-30-2004, 10:29 AM   #4
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Jim

I believe there are two issues to speak of. ( Got to keep apples with the apples and oranges with the oranges. )

The first is the 250 is a larger platform and that in its self makes a differance in the handling over the smaller 150 as you blase down the hill with anything in tow.

The second is the 4 speed being fazed out in favor of the 5 speed.

If I was told to change only one item at no cost to me on our 115" '77 D150 two wheel drive ( 360 / 12 bolt 3:55's / OEM buckets & etc ) it would be a new style 5 speed over the NP 4 speed, not for an automatic. And I would keep the cast B & M shifter handle ( if it fits ).

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Old 11-30-2004, 11:26 AM   #5
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While I'm relatively certain that today's automatic transmissions when coupled to diesel engines are greatly improved, I have ordered manual transmissions in the last three F-350's I've owned because I tired of having to rebuild them every forty thousand miles. Having used nothing but a manual now for so long, I would hesitate somewhat to go back to an automatic. I also really appreciate the control I have over the truck and the load with the manual. I also appreciate the slightly better fuel mileage that manuals provide. Of course, my trucks pull all sorts of loads other than our 31' LIMITED as I go about the business of ranching. Every day, one of the trucks is pulling some type of trailer whether it be an equipment trailer, cattle trailer or hay trailer. I really appreciate the manual transmissions and have gotten long life out of the transmission and clutches. One of my trucks now has over 200,000 miles without a problem.
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Old 11-30-2004, 06:59 PM   #6
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Interesting you only cite downgrade. There should be little or no difference between auto and manual except for the number of gears and driving habits in that circumstance. The way I see it. downgrade pucker factor is one of speed and not transmission type.

Where the automatic transmission is going to be a big asset in slick or winter conditions is in its better control of torque to the wheels at very very low speed and startup. It takes a lot of skill to provide that kind of control with a manual and clutch. It is much easier to get rolling on ice with an auto than with a manual and much easier to creep with an auto than with a manual.
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Old 11-30-2004, 09:52 PM   #7
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Yeah but.......

I don't think that I'll being towing my camper in snow and icy conditions.
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Old 12-01-2004, 08:26 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leipper
Interesting you only cite downgrade. There should be little or no difference between auto and manual except for the number of gears and driving habits in that circumstance. The way I see it. downgrade pucker factor is one of speed and not transmission type.

Where the automatic transmission is going to be a big asset in slick or winter conditions is in its better control of torque to the wheels at very very low speed and startup. It takes a lot of skill to provide that kind of control with a manual and clutch. It is much easier to get rolling on ice with an auto than with a manual and much easier to creep with an auto than with a manual.
Well, I cited downgrade because I had the worst towing experience of my life going west on hwy 14 west of Ranchester, WY in the Big Horn National Forest.

Smoking Brakes and absolutely no engine/transmission drag whatsoever going down hill for what seemed like an eternity. And I was going as slow as I could with foot on brake only. I only talk about what excites my sphincter muscle and that surely did. That experience convinced me that I did not want an automatic transmission ever again for Mountain driving. (now the new Allison Transmissions are different).

As far as getting going on ice and snow - That's why I prefer 4X4 Towing vehicles.
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Old 12-01-2004, 09:37 AM   #9
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I can see where having a manual transmission for down hill grades would be helpful in slowing down. Having to pull the mountains, I have wished for a manual as well. It's those brakes smoking that makes me pucker!
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Old 12-01-2004, 12:57 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtjim
Smoking Brakes and absolutely no engine/transmission drag ... And I was going as slow as I could with foot on brake only.

As far as getting going on ice and snow - That's why I prefer 4X4 Towing vehicles.
in those conditions requiring going that slow, the only alternative to an auto is a manual in neutral - and that would need the same braking.

I agree with the 4x4 idea as that option not only gets more wheels involved but also usually includes a low range which can help provide engine braking at very low speed.

steep grades and slick roads don't go with towing no matter what you have to tow with IMHO. I remember one trip where a guy that passed me on the Willamette Pass did a 360+ and ended up nose first in the bank. I watched semi's that passed me north of Klamath Falls swaying all over the road for miles ahead. That was a 400 mile trip at 15 mph or less (mostly) and hindsight says we should have parked for a couple of days.

oh well, now we know. I just hope we can heed the lesson next time we have to get somewhere in those conditions.
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Old 12-01-2004, 01:46 PM   #11
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my 5 speed stick cummings would not slow me down coming off the mountains until I put an exhaust brake on it. It is a lot of piece of mind for me and I don't worry about tranny temps.
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Old 12-04-2004, 09:57 AM   #12
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Thumbs up Mountain Driving Advice

I was towing our camper coming down the mountain at Lassen Peak. It was a steep grade with switchbacks. My brakes started smoking and I pulled over at a turnout to let them cool. An older man in a pickup pulled over to ask if I needed help. He was a retired long haul trucker and left me with this sage advice, "always go down a hill in the same gear it took to go up." I have used that advice to good advantage and not had any problems since, whether on paved mountains roads or gravel forest roads.

I find the discussion of manual transmission versus automatic transmission very interesting. I drive a smaller SUV, a '99' GMC Jimmy. I did not have the option of a manual transmission for that purchase. I have a 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider with a five speed transmission (unfortunately it can't haul my 19' Bambi) and find I have much better control with the manual transmission in difficult driving conditions (mountain roads or snow and ice) than with the automatic. I wish some of the smaller SUV were offered with the manual transmission option.
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Old 12-04-2004, 11:13 AM   #13
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A manual tranny provides a positive lock between wheels and engine, allowing good compression braking. Most automatics permit slippage, dramatically reducing the effect of compression braking.

However, most vehicles list a higher tow rating when equipped with an automatic. I assume the manual transmission is lighter duty, or perhaps the clutch is a limiting factor.

It does seem like automatics fail too often when used for towing. I'm thinking this is mostly a heat and/or maintenance issue.

I know nothing about diesels or the Allison transmission.
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Old 12-04-2004, 01:39 PM   #14
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Thumbs up prefer manual in hills

The thing I like most about a Manual trans for towing is the ability to avoid a lot of the forced downshifting of an automatic trans in rolling hilly terrain, which happens when it senses a falloff in speed accompanied by an increase in throttle pressure. You can't get much past half throttle in an automatic trans without the damn thing either unlocking the torque converter or dropping a gear, whereas you often can make it over a moderate rise with a manual, without having to downshift, because you can apply enough additional throttle to get you over.

In addition, many of the newer six shooters have a closer spread of gears near the top to allow a better match of rpm to load on long uphill grades.

Of course this doesn't apply to diesels which apparently never have to leave overdrive....
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