Are Automatic Transmissions Better For Your 4×4?

Taking your car off road can be both enjoyable and stressful. The added strain on the components of your car can always weigh on your mind and detract from the breathtaking scenery you encounter along the way. One of the components of your vehicle that will invariable be subjected to the most strain is your transmission and this raises a contentious question: are automatic transmissions better for your 4×4 than a manual transmission? Whilst the answer to this question is primarily a matter of preference, this guide serves to outline several advantages of an automatic transmission in a 4×4 vehicle.


The primary cause for the invention of automatic transmissions is convenience. Changing gears constantly is somewhat of an arduous task for many drivers and this is only exacerbated off road. Steep hill climbs are a common obstacle in off road tracks across Australia and gear selection is paramount. Selecting the wrong gear in a manual can result in the engine losing power and even stalling. This can become a safety hazard as a stalled vehicle could very easily roll backwards to devastating effect. Furthermore, accelerating from a standstill on steep hills can place a great deal of strain on a manual transmission, a clutch and a handbrake amongst other things. The effects of this are outlined below.

  • Clutch

A clutch is an important part of a manual car that engages the gearbox and the engine. They are, however, prone to overheating and slipping – particularly when under considerable pressure. Pressure of this nature is commonplace off road and inexperienced drivers particularly, have the tendency to ‘ride the clutch’ when taking off. Riding the clutch refers to the acceleration of the car when the clutch is not fully engaged. Doing so generates a great deal of heat and this is only worsened when the car is in 4wd. Clutches are expensive to replace and can be a distinct weakness in a manual 4×4.

  • Handbrake

As well as being reliant on the clutch, starting a manual car on a steep, off road hill will place enormous pressure on the handbrake. Handbrake starts are necessary in both automatic and manual cars, however many modern automatic transmissions have various safeguards that assist in hill starts. Manual cars lack these features and as such, the handbrake might have to be engaged to the fullest possible extent under some circumstances and doing so with any frequency can degrade the handbrake cable a great deal. This is generally somewhat of an easy fix, however it can be quite inconvenient.

All of these components are placed under considerably more strain much of the time in a manual, as opposed to an automatic in which the advanced transmission effectively disperses the power in a manner such that minimal pressure is placed one the vehicle. This adds convenience and safety to your off road expeditions.

Technological advancements

Manual gearboxes were a common feature of the early four-wheel drives and the introduction of automatic 4x4s was met with some scrutiny. It is arguable that there was good cause for this, as technology at this time was relatively undeveloped; particularly in comparison with today’s technological features. Old automatic transmissions were often prone to overheating or reducing the engine’s power, as well as increasing fuel consumption and this made many 4×4 enthusiasts wary of them. Fortunately, modern automatic transmissions are quite the opposite. They are durable, and provide the most effective gearshifts so as to optimise the power generated by the engine and provide a smooth and comfortable ride. Additionally, a good modern automatic 4×4 will have a better fuel efficiency than its manual counterpart.

Whether or not you choose an automatic transmission is a matter of preference and driver experience. It is undeniable however, that there are a multitude of advantages to choosing an automatic transmission for your 4×4.


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