Can You Off Road in an Automatic?

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Whether to buy a manual or an automatic transmission is a question that car enthusiasts will often argue about. However, when it comes to off-roading, the arguments only get more fierce. Is a manual always better for off-roading, or would it be easier to do it in an automatic? 

You can off-road in an automatic. It has some benefits, is easier to drive, and is better for going very slowly or starting on a hill. On the other hand, a manual is more expensive, not as fun, does not allow engine braking, and does not have good fuel mileage. 

Today, we will discuss some of the main differences between a manual and an automatic and each one’s pros and cons. We will also help you decide which one is better for your off-road adventures. Let us get into it! 

Manual vs. Automatic: What’s the Difference?

There are two types of transmissions for all kinds of vehicles: manual and automatic. Most vehicles in the United States have an automatic transmission. On the other hand, in many other countries, manual transmissions make up most people’s vehicles. 

A manual transmission requires you to manually shift gears while you drive the car. It is also known as a stick shift, and in the United States, it is more common in trucks and luxury vehicles, such as sports cars and other exotic cars. 

For example, when you go up a hill, you might shift to a lower gear to facilitate an uphill drive. When you want to go faster on a flat surface or go downhill, you might shift to a higher gear. You will have to engage the clutch pedal every time you shift gears. 

An automatic car, on the other hand, shifts gears for you automatically. When the car detects that you are going uphill, it will shift to a lower gear; it will shift to a higher gear when you are going downhill. 

When you are going faster, it will also use a higher gear. There is no clutch pedal, only the gas and brake pedals. There are no gears to shift to—when you want to drive, just shift into drive, and when you want to park, shift into park. 

Both manual and automatic vehicles have their pros and cons, both in general and for off-roading in particular. 

Pros and Cons of Manual Transmissions for Off-Roading

This section will talk about the pros and cons of using a manual transmission for off-roading. 


  • Cheaper: This is one of the main reasons people buy manual cars and why they are so prevalent in other countries, especially in developing countries. Except for sports cars, luxury cars, and exotic vehicles, manual cars are generally cheaper to produce than automatic cars. If you are on a budget, you might want a manual. 
  • Better gas mileage: Manuals also have better fuel mileage than automatic cars, which is another reason they are so prevalent in developing countries. While this has been a traditional reason for choosing manual vehicles, nowadays, automatics have improved to the point that they are almost as good as manuals for gas mileage. Nevertheless, every mile counts when you are on a long off-road trip, so do consider this.
  • Gives you more control: Off-roaders like that they are in full control over their vehicles with a manual transmission. You can change to the exact gear you want when going up or down a hill or on unstable terrain. If you need to, you can implement engine braking. You can shift quickly between gears as the terrain changes. 
  • More fun: This is debatable, but many people find a manual transmission to be more fun. It is more challenging, but that is part of the fun. Also, it allows you to do things that you can not do with an automatic, such as use engine braking. 


  • Requires a learning curve: Even driving a manual on regular roads requires a bigger learning curve than an automatic. An automatic is easy to drive. You just shift it into drive and press on the gas pedal to go and the brake pedal to stop. However, a manual requires you to learn how to do a lot more. 
  • More difficult: As mentioned, an automatic is easier to drive. However, with a manual, you have to figure out how to do things like not let go of the clutch too early. Doing so can cause your vehicle to stall. Driving a manual off-road is even more difficult due to the possibility of stalling when going slowly over rough terrain or difficulty starting on a hill. Driving a manual off-road is difficult for everyone but especially if you aren’t used to it.
  • Going slow is difficult: For off-roading, it is important to go slowly sometimes, such as driving on rocks or mud. If you are driving near a cliff, you also have to go slowly, and you also need to stop quickly, which can be a problem with manual vehicles. You will have to slip the clutch continuously, which can damage your vehicle. You may also find yourself stalling or not stopping on time. 

Pros and Cons of Automatic Transmissions for Off-Roading

Here are the pros and cons of using automatic transmissions for off-roading:


  • Can do the same things: Automatic transmission vehicles can do pretty much the same things that manual vehicles can. You won’t be hobbled on your journey. You can go over the same terrain, go up and down the same hills, and still have a blast. 
  • Easier: Although manual vehicles give you more control, there is no denying that automatic vehicles are easier to drive in. You will be able to go slowly without worrying about slipping the clutch or stalling, as the vehicle will do everything for you automatically. There is no extra learning curve if you live in the US or Canada and are used to automatic transmissions.
  • Gas mileage is decent: These days, most automatic vehicles have fuel mileage that is almost as good as manual vehicles. The difference might only be a few miles. Gone are the days when manual vehicles were much better for gas mileage than automatic vehicles. Automatic cars have gotten a lot better and a lot more fuel-efficient over the years. 
  • You can start on hills easily: This is perhaps one of the biggest advantages of an automatic transmission. It makes it easy to start on a hill. When off-roading, you will have to start on hills often. It can be difficult to do so in a manual as you have to get the clutch and the gears just right. With an automatic, it is easy peasy. 


  • More expensive: Automatic vehicles do tend to be more expensive. 
  • Not fun: Again, you can debate this. However, many people find manuals more fun due to the control you have and the more options you have. 
  • They do not allow for engine braking: Although automatics are better for going uphill, they are not as great for going downhill. Instead of using engine braking, you will have to slam on the brake pedal very hard to control your descent. 

This Youtube video goes over some of the pros and cons of using an automatic for off-road vs. a manual:


Yes, you can off-road in an automatic. Some people may prefer it. It has its benefits, but it all comes down to your level of experience with a manual and your personal preference at the end of the day.


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