Automatic Semi Truck Transmissions vs. Manual Truck Transmissions

As a truck driver, you likely know that a transmission ultimately powers your semi truck. You can either slow down or speed up by using the truck’s gearbox. Whether driving a semi truck or their passenger vehicle, some people tend to enjoy and prefer the complete control they get by driving a vehicle with a manual transmission. On the other hand, some people prefer the simplicity and ease of an automatic semi truck.  

Did you know that every truck driver usually has their own opinion regarding which is better: the highly popular automatic semi truck or the conventional manual transmission? While both types of transmissions have their staunch loyalists, there are certain benefits and drawbacks to both.

If you are a semi truck driver who’s also an owner-operator, then you have this big decision to make, especially when upgrading your semi truck. The debate between a semi truck automatic vs. manual transmission is an old one. However, it is worth noting that many times, the preference often comes down to which style makes a truck driver feel more comfortable.

A semi truck automatic vs. manual transmission for semi trucks: So, what is your preference? Although manual transmissions are considerably more prevalent in semi trucks than cars, there is certainly a movement towards automatic transmissions. This is why many drivers prefer an automatic semi truck.

Automatic Transmission in Semi Trucks

It is worth noting that the most common kind of automatic transmission uses hydraulic power in order to shift gears. The device seamlessly combines a torque or, sometimes, a fluid coupling converter with suitable gearsets, providing the desired gear range for the vehicle. Did you know that automatic gearboxes are one of the newest options available on the market for semi-truck transmission types?

Rather than featuring the old 3-pedal manual transmissions, note that an automatic gearbox just has two pedals. You don’t need three as there is no clutch pedal. A semi-truck automatic transmission uses sensors in order to determine when it is time to shift gears and changes them with internal oil pressure.

Also, it is worth noting that semi truck automatic transmissions usually include the latest planetary automatic gearboxes as well as dual-clutch transmissions. 

Manual Transmission in Semi Trucks

A manual transmission in semi trucks is a gearbox that allows the trucker to choose from different gear ratios in order to drive the truck. Did you know that lower gear ratios provide more torque but less speed? On the other hand, higher gear ratios provide less torque with higher speed.

So, we can say that a manual transmission puts trucking into the hands of the truck drivers. If you manage a fleet and have plenty of experienced drivers, it is best to go with manual transmissions.

Comparing Semi Trucks with Automatic Transmission vs. Manual Transmission

Semi truck automatic vs. manual transmission: Which one should you choose? Let’s see how they stack up against each other.

Reliability and Repairs

Did you know that automatic transmissions in most semi trucks might cause more electrical issues and problems than conventional manual transmission? It is worth noting that manual transmissions were standard in semi trucks for several years. This is why fewer semi truck mechanics and repair professionals are familiar with automatic transmissions.

This means that if you have semi trucks with automatic transmissions, repairs may potentially take a longer time as you will need to find a local semi mechanic or professional who understands automatic transmissions.

Fuel Expenses

You will be pleased to know that in most cases, semi trucks with an automatic transmission have a better fuel economy compared to trucks with manual transmissions. This can save you a considerable amount over the course of one year.

Only seasoned truck drivers who have a semi truck with a manual transmission may be able to match the fuel economy of an automatic semi truck.

Safety and Road Handling

You may know that semi trucks with automatic transmissions don’t handle ice or snow as well as semi trucks with manual transmission. This is why many automatic semi trucks allow drivers to switch to manual mode if required.

However, keep in mind that to improve handling in winter weather, the truck driver has to be very experienced in shifting and operating a semi truck with a manual transmission. However, many drivers enjoy the ease of driving that an automatic semi truck provides. This is because they can better focus on traffic.

How to Drive a Semi-Automatic Truck?

Do you want to drive a semi-automatic truck? You can do it in a couple of simple steps.

Step One

First, press the foot on the brake, and then insert the key into your truck’s ignition. After that, pull both the paddle shifters back towards you to place your truck in neutral. Start the truck’s engine with your foot on the brake.

Step Two

Carefully disengage the truck’s parking brake, pulling back on the right paddle in order to place your truck in first gear.

Step Three

Now let the foot off the brake pedal and gently apply some pressure to the gas pedal in order to accelerate. After that, pull back on your right paddle in order to shift up through the gears. To shift down, you can pull back on your left paddle.

Step Four

To place the truck into reverse, you have to press the reverse button with the truck in neutral and your foot on the brake. You can pull both the shift paddles back towards you to return to neutral. Note that you can apply pressure to your truck’s brake pedal and then downshift all the way to first gear if you would like to slow and stop your semi truck.

With your foot on the brake and the truck stopped, pull both shift paddles towards you and put the truck into neutral. When the truck is in neutral, you can apply the parking brake and then turn off your truck’s engine.

Are there any Automatic Semi Trucks?

There are many automatic semi trucks on the market. For example, the Kenworth T680 is a great semi truck that employs a suite of modern technologies and design features, elevating your driving experience and performance to new heights of efficiency, safety, and satisfaction.  

Interior of a new Mack automatic semi truck.

Did you know that this truck features predictive neutral coast ability, predictive cruise control, as well as 11 or 13 L engines with a twelve-speed automatic transmission? Another example of a semi truck is the International Lonestar.

Read Also: Truck Parking – A Trucking Problem

Why Automatic Trucks are Rising in Popularity

It is no secret that there are many reasons that the trucking industry worldwide is slowly but deliberately switching to automatic semi trucks from manual trucks. A semi truck automatic transmission makes sense, especially when you consider the current state of the industry as well as the troubles it is facing.

More Control

There is no doubt that veteran or experienced drivers like to be in control of their trucks they are driving. Note that part of that control usually comes from the trucker deciding when to shift gears either down or up.   

You may know that a main complaint about earlier versions of the automatic semi trucks was that these trucks accelerated very slowly. Keep in mind that the computer runs efficiently through the gears. Also, drivers may have the option of manually shifting faster in order to gain momentum. Many drivers were feeling a little held back by the automatic process. The good news is that advances in technology have ameliorated their concerns.

Fuel Economy

It is worth noting that one of the most significant expenses in the modern trucking industry is fuel costs. Automatic semi trucks are excellent at maximizing fuel efficiency. With the computer efficiently running the gears, note that the fuel savings can be considerable.


Semi trucks with automatic transmissions are easier to drive. Also, industry experts think that when you take the focus off shifting, you can move it to what is happening on the road. This is why automatic transmissions are considered much safer than manuals. Many people also argue that an automatic semi truck is the better choice, especially in heavy traffic.  

Did you know that in heavy traffic, a semi with a manual transmission can be quite tedious? This is likely to cause stress on drivers. You can alleviate this stress with an automatic transmission.

What to Consider when Evaluating the Best Semi-truck Automatic Transmission?

Here are some key factors that you should consider when deciding which is the most effective semi-truck automatic transmission.

  • The truck should shift between gears swiftly, without taking too much time
  • The cost must be reasonable
  • The truck should have good handling
  • It should come with a power-take-off operation
  • It should be serviceable with reasonable repair and maintenance costs
  • The external cooler should not be required
  • The truck shouldn’t require special fluids

Final Thoughts

While automatic and manual transmissions have their unique benefits and drawbacks, the trucking industry is gradually shifting toward automatic semi trucks as they provide more control, better fuel efficiency, and ease than manual transmissions.