The tables have turned for automatics, making them the preferred tow-vehicle choice for plenty of holiday makers.
Tow-vehicles with automatic gearboxes were once shunned as being inferior to their manual contemporaries, and although many people are stuck with this notion, advancements in electronic auto gearboxes have turned the tables in recent years, seeing automatics take the lead as the go-to tow vehicles of choice. Additional technology such as Tiptronic gear shifting and pre-programmed drive modes that adjust automatic shift points to suit terrain and drive style have enabled autos to far outshine old-fashioned clutch and shifter vehicles.
There is, however, a degree of personal preference involved, and it’s important to note that manual transmissions are the preferred option for off-road driving and on difficult declines. The exception to this is driving on soft surfaces, such as on sand, where any loss of momentum must be avoided. Slower shifting manual drivers can easily lose momentum and get bogged, whereas the seamless changes of automatics result in little to no loss of momentum. And by utilising manual-override functions (such as Tiptronic), auto drivers can stay in low gears for slow crawls and steep tracks.
However, it is important to note that an excess of heat from high revs — perhaps caused by poor use of manual override or by cruise control struggling up hills with a heavy load — can cause automatic gearbox failure, which is a sure way to ruin a trip. Keep your gearbox in good condition by having the fluid checked regularly, and having it flushed and replaced when need be. Do this in spite of dealer claims that their gearboxes are the best, completely sealed and will never leak fluid; they all can.
Transmission coolers can help combat the heat build-up that’s exasperated by a heavy load. Not all automatics have a sufficient transmission cooler for towing, so it’s worth checking with the dealer or previous owner. It’s sometimes necessary to upgrade the transmission cooler as an option when purchasing — it’s a good idea to do your homework as to whether your chosen vehicle is one of these.
Ultimately, there’s no definitive best when it comes to gearbox choices on tow-vehicles. Think about what’s best for you and go with it.