‘If you can’t shift, you can’t drive!’ — Readers react on transmission transition in driver training

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Updated Mar 31, 2021
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Following Overdrive Equipment Editor Jack Roberts’ dissection of the current state of things as it relates to the automatic transmission in the realm of truck-driver training and driver recruiting, readers voiced no small amount of opinion on the appropriateness of automatic-only capabilities for CDL drivers and the future of driver training.

Reactions ran a full gamut of downright praise of what contemporary automatic-capable transmissions can do to ease the burden on the joints of the lower extremities to thoughts like this one, from Chris Nichols on Overdrive‘s Facebook page: “If you can’t shift, you can’t drive!” 

More common sentiment recognized the value of automatic shifting in certain conditions. Former owner-operator and current company driver Daniel McCreary, also commenting on Facebook, noted his fleet was utilizing Volvo iShift transmissions with drawbacks, as he saw it, in mountainous terrain. “You can’t grab two gears at once,” he said, but then added, “they’re killer for city driving” with its frequent starts and stops.

Jason Jackson noted he’d been in a few different trucks with various versions of an automatic or automated transmission over the years, the first two of which were “horrible” and “glitchy,” respectively. His current iShift, however, he wouldn’t “get rid of” if you paid him to. “I’ll out-pull anything up mountains … at 80,000 lbs.,” he said. “I do it all the time.” 

As for the recruiting piece — Roberts’ original piece had wondered whether more uptake of automatic transmissions might help fleets combat their problems finding reliable drivers — any driver who trains only to drive with automatic transmissions would be doing his career a disservice, noted owner-operator Cody Blankenship. “If one company recruits a driver and he trains on an automatic, then decides to go to another company, what will he do if they run standards?” 

The recruiting side of the equation took a backseat to questions of maintenance costs and vehicle control and safety, ultimately, among Overdrive readers.

PODCAST: Is more uptake of automatic transmissions by fleets large and small the future of the industry? If you’re using a mobile device, tap the image to call Overdrive and weigh in on your preference in transmissions and how it suits your operation. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423.PODCAST: Is more uptake of automatic transmissions by fleets large and small the future of the industry? If you’re using a mobile device, tap the image to call Overdrive and weigh in on your preference in transmissions and how it suits your operation. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423.

Dave Nichols, echoing others, praised auto transmissions on the why-work-hard-when-you-don’t-have-to front, but he also pointed to another benefit: “Clutches are the problem [with manuals]. Green drivers go through them like candy bars.”

 McCreary, however, suggested the maintenance-cost benefit could well tilt back in the other direction, depending on the situation. “All in all, I’d have either automated or manual trannies, if I owned trucks again, depending on whichever I could get the best deal on. Having a truck that stays out of the shop outweighs any other consideration, in my book.”

As for safety and completeness in training, most weighed in on the side of manual learning. As Blankenship said, “drivers need to be trained to handle a truck,” to really and fully control it, in order to be a truly safe driver. 

Here’s Jim Kennedy, commenting at OverdriveOnline.com: “In my opinion, a driver who is unable to drive [without an automatic transmission] is not in control of their vehicle. Simple and to the point. The truck manages what gear the vehicle is in, because the driver is unable to do so. Management purchases automatics to allegedly save money and to give back to the drivers, right? Maybe it’s time we re-think some points…”

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