End of the Manual Era for Full-Size Trucks

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The era of the shift-it-yourself full-size pickup seems to have come to an end. There was once a time when trucks of all sizes included a manual transmission option almost by default, with all of the domestic and Japanese manufacturers providing gearboxes ranging from tow-focused units with granny-low first gears all the way up to five-speed overdrive trannies. Try to use an online configurator to build a similar type of half-ton pickup today and you’ll find yourself completely out of luck.

End of Manual Full-Size Trucks Era

This dusty-looking old photo of a manual transmission full-size truck maybe the only reminder that stick shifts used to be commonplace in trucks.

What has pushed automaker away from providing manual half-ton trucks? The last of the breed fled the scene around the 2009 model year, when Ford and Dodge both reshaped their flagship models and introduced a series of mechanical and platform changes to the F-150 and the Ram 1500, respectively. Careful examination of historical records will reveal that 2009 also represented the high water mark of the fuel efficiency movement, when truck companies and consumers alike realized that fuel prices weren’t going to be dropping any time soon. Government pressure and uncertainty regarding future Corporate Average Fuel Economy Regulations (CAFE) and whether light trucks would be included in the future overall tabulation was also nearing a fever pitch at this particular point in time.

What does the disappearance of manual pickup transmissions have to do with fuel mileage? Absolutely everything. Simply put, by moving to advanced six-speed automatic transmissions manufacturers were able to dial-in a level of economy previously impossible in the full-size truck segment. Double overdrive gears could sit beside low-range ratios suitable for getting a trailer or cargo bed payload moving forward, and precise software management of shift points and engine speeds could work towards achieving the most efficient operation possible.

2012 Ram 3500

Want a full-size manual pickup? This Ram 3500 is one of your few remaining options.

There is one area of the full-size truck market where manual transmissions continue to pop up, and that’s when taking a look at three-quarter and full-ton tow rigs. Dodge, for example, continues to offer the choice of either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox when ordering the Ram 3500 with a Cummins turbodiesel engine.  Although not all manufacturers agree (GMC does not offer a full-ton with a manual, for example), some executives remain convinced that the ability of the driver to shift into the appropriate gear for a given uphill or downhill grade is an important consideration when purchasing a pickup.  Of course, manual gear selection is an increasingly common feature in automatic units, which could eventually negate this particular argument.

There is still a market for big rigs with traditional standard transmissions – especially since these vehicles are exempt from EPA fuel mileage reporting requirements – but it’s getting smaller with each passing model year.

With the new, powerful automatic transmissions, will consumers notice the lack of manual transmissions?

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Filed Under: TundraHeadquarters.com


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  1. Brian J says:

    Sadly, I think the manual trans is all but gone except for enthusiast cars. Automatics are almost expected by consumers, and are now turning better fuel economy numbers than their manual counterparts. I love rowing my own gears, but my Tundra’s 6 speed trans is so efficient, smooth, and seamless between gears it almost seems a waste to have a manual. if I had a manual, I would not shift as soon as my Tundra does nor would I hold the high gears at moderate speed the way the automatic does (5-6th at 40mph). So in no way would I get the mpg numbers I currently get in my truck with a manual. Still, it would be fun!

    As far as holding gears in a manual on long downhill descents: I was driving down I-24 in TN descending from the mountains into Chattanooga at 75 mph with cruise on. As my speed increased, I was surprised and impressed that the transmission dropped to 5th gear and held my speed perfectly. I never had to touch the brake (I was unloaded, but still interesting demonstration of Toyota shift logic). Today’s shift logic is superior to yesteryear. Manual transmission, look out! Your day is numbered!

    • Brian,

      Here in Colorado, most drivers do a lot of downshifting to spare brakes wear and tear plus overheating. Having the truck automatically shift is not only convenient, but it should save you some money on replacing your brakes less often.


      • Anonymous says:

        Yes but this also gives up mileage when the shift points are not set correctly as my 07 Tundra. I live in Vermont and find it absulutly annoying when traveling down a hill and the damn thing just shifts down for no good reason. To cure this problem I’ve learned to drive my truck in the manual mod all the time and it has increased my fuel economy be 2 MPG.

  2. mk says:

    Only good thing about manuals is on sports cars and motorcycles still. Most manual tranny trucks or cars barely got better mpg back in the day but today, most automatic trannies get as good if not better than manuals. I’d never buy a manual tranny vehicle nowadays even say in a camaro unless the price difference was like 2 grand or more in savings getting a manual tranny.

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