The way to go: auto or manual transmission?

With more truck manufacturers fitting automated manual transmissions into their vehicles, today’s potential buyers are able to select manual transmission, automated manual transmission, or a fully automatic transmission on some models.

Fully automatic transmissions fitted to trucks have been available for a long time and have proved to be highly durable and well suited in the correct application.

Automated manual transmissions are relatively new to the truck market, although they have been successfully used in commercial vehicles since 1977, and with the shortage of good truck and bus drivers, potential buyers of new commercial vehicles are tempted to select automated manual transmissions or fully automatic transmissions.

Automated manual transmissions offer:
• Exceptionally smooth gear shifting. The vehicle is always in the correct gear for the road condition and the load. This maximises vehicle performance and reduces driveline stress and damage, resulting in reduced maintenance costs.
• Quick gear shifting results in the vehicle not losing momentum between gear changes which, in turn, increases vehicle productivity and lowers fuel consumption.
• The risk of clutch damage is reduced as the automated transmission will always select the correct starting gear.
• The driver has the option of driving the vehicle in a manual mode, changing gear manually.  In this manual gearshift mode, the system will still protect the vehicle by prohibiting the driver from selecting a gear that will over-rev the engine or damage the transmission.
• The benefit afforded by the automated manual transmission of allowing the driver to have full focus and concentration on the road and traffic conditions is a major advantage. Having full concentration on the road ahead reduces the risk of being involved in an accident.

In my opinion automated manual transmissions are well suited to most commercial vehicle operations except where the vehicle is continuously in a stop-start situation or where the vehicle is required to continuously manoeuvre and reverse.

Most of the commercial vehicles that are available on the South African market are not fitted with fully automatic transmissions as standard equipment, so if a fully automatic transmission is chosen and has not been fitted on the assembly line, it has to be retro fitted by the manufacturer of the automatic transmission, and the manual transmission removed.

Fully automatic transmissions are well suited for businesses where the vehicle is in continuous a stop-start operation, such as refuse collection. They are easy to drive and offer many of the same benefits as the automated manual transmission. However, the cost of fitting these transmissions is high and past results have shown that a vehicle fitted with a fully automatic transmission is not especially fuel efficient.

When making the choice of which truck transmission to select, ensure that the truck dealer is fully aware of the vehicle operating conditions and then be guided by the dealer.

With the advantages and benefits that automated manual transmission offers truck owners and drivers, I predict that we’ll see a great deal more trucks fitted with these in the future.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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