Do manual transmissions outperform automatics when towing?

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Towing isn't an activity you should approach haphazardly. Tooling around with a trailer attached to the back of your truck presents challenges for steering, turning and maneuvering in general. In addition, if you don't properly hitch and load the trailer, you could pose a serious threat to yourself and other motorists. But even proper towing takes its toll on your vehicle. The added weight and mass of your trailer and load demands extra work from your car or truck. Toss in testy terrain, and towing could quickly slice time off your vehicle's life.

Having an appropriately powered towing car or truck is one of the first steps to protecting your vehicle from towing wear and tear. Before hauling anything, be sure to check your owner's manual for the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). That designates the maximum amount of cargo weight the vehicle is designed to carry. Certain internal features of your vehicle can also make a difference in reducing towing strain on your vehicle. Of course you'd want a powerful engine for the task, but what about the transmission? Would an automatic or manual transmission be better suited for towing?

There isn't a clear-cut winner in the towing transmission debate. Expert opinions generally tip the scales slightly in favor of the automatic, but drivers seem to prefer manuals. Whatever the individual inclinations, there are some pros and cons on both sides of the argument.

­Some auto experts advocate automatic transmissions for safety reasons. Since the driver doesn't have to search for the correct gear, automatic transmissions can make shifting gears a much simpler process. Some cars with automatic transmissions are also equipped with a tow/haul mode that can come in handy. However, if you're towing off-road on uneven ground, manual transmissions can trump automatic ones. Along with the increased engine efficiency, automatic transmissions give the driver more control in precarious driving situations. (On that note, we should also mention that towing on difficult terrain or in bad weather should only be done by highly experienced drivers.)

The size of your load can also play a role in which type of transmission is more favorable. Usually, vehicles with automatic transmissions will have a greater allowable cargo load than those with manual transmissions. This is because towing large loads with a manual can damage the clutch from shifting gears. Nevertheless, if you're towing with an automatic, you may want to look into transmission coolers to prevent the transmission from overheating due to the added weight [source: etrailer].

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