F250 Manual or Auto?

Submitted: Tuesday, Jun 28, 2005 at 21:30
ThreadID: 122064 Views:3939 Replies:3 FollowUps:2
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Has anyone had Auto transmission problems?
For towing, power and economy is Manual noticably better?

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Reply By: Noosa Fox - Tuesday, Jun 28, 2005 at 23:15

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2005 at 23:15
We have got the Auto and at 120,000 km have had no problems. Wouldn't even consider a manual after the ease of driving the auto.
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Reply By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jun 29, 2005 at 00:44

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2005 at 00:44
Hello Rosco,
Here is ten years of study and my experience of towing Bushtracker with Autos from a Tip I wrote earlier in the year....

I have experimented around for ten years with Automatics and towing in Outback conditions. Now, my experience is limited to two Toyota Automatics, and a Ford F-350 4x4. So, just so you know that is my “frame of reference” in this research, you have to correlate my findings to suit your own tow vehicle if different… And check with your manufacturer on the application of the synthetics I am telling you about… But this is very good advice for the life of your Automatic Transmission in the deserts…

First you need to understand the “why” in this research…. Towing with automatics as a liability in the Bush, is all about heat in the transmission fluid. That is why you see the recommendations of people adding on Transmission Oil Coolers since the 1980’s, and why most towing type vehicles have those on as standard equipment now… In the 60 Series Toyota for instance, in 1987 they had only a bottom radiator oil cooler, and 1988 they had one additional exterior oil cooler in front, and then 1989 on the Sahara they put two on… This was the trend of “discovery” by Toyota with the experience of automatics put into extreme service in the Outback…

As you are slogging along in thick mud or sand or just the added resistance of the corrugation and a headwind when towing, you build up a lot of excess heat. This heat leads to excessive wear. When the heat gets to an extreme, the oil actually foams, then BANG! And you are walking…. No, it is not funny.. People were routinely overworking the automatics doing things like towing a boat in soft sand on the beach. Not paying attention to an overheating light or not having it come on, and oops!!!

So why the synthetics? Well, quite simply put, they are superior as both a transmission fluid in fluid dynamics, and also they will operate at much higher temperatures without foaming. This can save your transmission… The drawback is cost. A 20 litre Drum of Dextron II like these vehicles of mine used is about $65…. A 20 litre drum of Castrol Transmax Z, the synthetic called for in these, is about $285…. Say what???? Yes, definitely not the go for mums automatic running around town… But…. For a Beast travelling the Outback, prone to have a go in the Bush and hard slogging in sand and mud and such, with a Bushtracker on the back…. And you have a different set of values at hand. The truth is that the downfall of an Automatic is that almost no one outside of the major cities can attempt a rebuild of it…. And if they could you might be looking at $4000 and up!! That is why most Bushies on Stations try and stay with the manual transmission. But in my case my wife could not run it. A Hospital Wing, yes, a manual transmission,…… No! Also, I must say that now I am spoiled having my last three personal 4x4’s all with automatics, it sure is nice to drive one handed with a cuppa or whatever cruising along without shifting… Especially in traffic.. And the cost of those synthetic fluids is off-set a little by longer maintenance periods recommended..

I am often asked what about the auto for off-road…. Well the short answer is that it wins the muddy or gravel, slippery hill climbs hands down. In low range, most automatics power shift without a pause. It is the pause that stops forward momentum in extreme mud track hill climbs in 4x4, and no one can shift like an auto. One “Blue” with a manual and miss a gear and you are in trouble, the auto does it all with power on…. And in Low Range it actually “Power Shifts” with power on it that is just the opposite effect of shifting the Manual transmission. The only disadvantages would be in the extreme test of downhill running at a crawl. The manual has a lower gear in low range to crawl down on engine decompression, while the auto has more reliance on brakes, but this is a real extreme you are unlikely to encounter… On highway hills with engine braking, you can downshift the auto the same way as the manual, and watching your RPM’s they are much the same using the engine to slow your downhill run. The manual is better, with more gears… But it can be done to some degree with the auto trans manually downshifting as well.

NOW FOR SOME REAL ENGINEERING GUFF IF YOU HAVE THE CHOICE IN PURCHASE..… The auto advantages overall at least meet or outweigh the disadvantages WITH RESPECT TO EASE OF USE… BUT, there is a “Caveat Emptor” (Latin for Buyer Beware.). Fancy Duh? And you didn’t think the “Last Ranger” could read or write- Ha!) And that Caveat is serious in two parts for the pocketbook…. Firstly, and it is almost true across the board, the Automatic has a big price tag in terms of fuel consumption, about 1-2 Mpg in the American trucks at a minimum, and up to 3-4 Mpg. In the face of higher fuel costs this is a consideration… And secondly if the Automatic ever packs it in to meet it’s Maker, it is about a $4000-$5000 Rebuild in one of the ten largest Cities. Where the Manual has it over: Is a new Clutch, Pressure Plate, and full gearbox rebuild by regular Mechanics for about half the cost and just about anywhere. Also, the Manual will usually growl and whine and Pop out of gear and grind on you, (just like my Missus) for 30,000kms before it packs it in… It gives plenty of notice of impending failure, where the Automatic can completely quit on you with little warning…. The manual Transmission is far better for severe downhill runs, on engine braking with more gears and running to your Tacho (Engine RPM)…. But if you don’t have the manual choice, do not despair. The automatics are nicer to drive, and will last and perform well, but overworked this Tip can save you…

Sooooo, getting back to the topic, take care of your auto trans, with superior performance fluid in the synthetics, with a much higher heat range and tolerances… Good solid advice from one who has pushed them to the limits and beyond. In my testing I have replaced one Toyota transmission with extreme abuse, and one Ford transmission doing the same extreme work… Although with the Ford it took a heavy 6 horse 29 foot Gooseneck off-road to do it… A wrong turn, a big canyon, and no where to turn around at the bottom, off exploring again… Reverse gear in an automatic, overloaded in low range… I managed to kill it testing the limits… Reverse gear plates disintegrating plugging up the radiator transmission cooler, until the unit smoked… But I did make it back limping home… And then custom built up another transmission with the heavy duty towing package upgrades that are available.

I have pushed the limits way out in our own Research and Development beyond what you would probably do, and you are the Beneficiary….. So if you are planning to push the limits, take heed to the advice on the Synthetic Transmission oil…

Lessons learned hard are long remembered… Smart People learn from other peoples mistakes…. Ha! Duh….

Cheers from the “Lone Ranger” at Bushtracker
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Reply By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jun 29, 2005 at 19:41

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2005 at 19:41
Hello again Rosco,
I have had a day to do a little head scratching research for you.. And now a little time to give some more analysis.... Out of the 80 or so Fords we have running we can only recall one Auto Trans problem, that of Bob Lemon I believe it was, and his was a defective one from new... It was replaced on Warranty, a "lemon" for Lemon, we joked with him... But that is the only one we have heard of... At least 80 running with BT...

Additionally, I reviewed the comments in the article that I posted to you in this thread, and the specific part about fuel economy is just about dead on correct...

In particular the paragraph starting with "NOW FOR SOME REAL ENGINEERING GUFF IF YOU HAVE THE CHOICE IN PURCHASE..… The auto advantages overall at least meet or outweigh the disadvantages WITH RESPECT TO EASE OF USE… BUT...." That paragraph is right on and the one before it, on extreme use is also still extremely valid... And about dead right on from ten years of driving Automatics in the Bush...

It comes down to what is available, and when I was considering buying a new Ford myself, after I sold my older 7.3 ltr Diesel F-350, I could not get the Manual with a Dual Cab 4x4 in Australia... I then tried to negotiate with Ford and Order 2 of them, and they still would not/ could not Import the Crew Cab with a Manual...
So, for me, I was attracted to the manual for low rebuild costs if there was a problem and higher fuel economy... But I must admit, nothing drives as good as an Automatic.

In summary Analysis to help you: If my Missus could drive a stick, in the Bush, it gets better fuel economy... But around town and in traffic, the Auto with a cuppa in hand sure is handy... If I traded in my Mack Horse Truck, they are experimenting around with an Allison Auto, and I would consider it... But I would not let the availability deter me from buying either one... If you wanted a Crew Cab, and it is only available in an Auto, be happy... Yes, the manual has a fuel economy advantage, but there is nothing other than that wrong with the auto and it is nicer to drive... OK? It takes a bit more to get the auto going around town, but once at highway speeds the fuel difference is minimal... Hope this has been of help to you. Since I have owned both long term....

Kind Regards. stg
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Follow Up By: macka the wacker - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2005 at 09:52

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2005 at 09:52
Steve, Thinking about going for a manual so that I can have a PTO winch am I being stupid as I will have to go for my manual licence again which I did hold for a number of years. Can you give me the pluses and minuses. F250 of course.
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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2005 at 17:58

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2005 at 17:58
Hello Macka,
Three major considerations:

There is a problem in Australia with getting the manual in the Dual Cab and even in some other models... I tried, even offered to buy two of them if they would bring it in for me but No.... It was only available in the Crewcab with the six cylinder diesel, not the V-8 PowerStroke engine... The manual is in too much demand overseas..

Secondly, getting a Ford at all now is "slim pickens" as they have discontinued importing them until the new model is out... At last count there were only a dozen or so left.... So you better check that out soon.
We are headed for a "dry spell" on getting a new Ford until such time as Ford is able to bring them here from the U.S..... You may have to look into importing your own, or getting one of the U.S. Import Mobs to bring it in for you and convert it here... But that is expensive in time and $$$$. If you were going that route you would have to look at the Dodge with the Cummins engine, or the Chev with the Duramax engine and the Allison transmission...

Thirdly, on your choice of winches, I have adapted and edited Tip # 15 on winches to suit your application, and here goes:
I have 35 years in extreme 4x4 use in extreme conditions hunting deer, elk, bear, in North America, game patrol overland in Africa, and three years in Central America, and Australia, as well as the part time and full time living on yachts where many of the Bushtracker concepts come from… Now some background on the primary security of winches… Again, I will qualify myself so you take this with its due credibility: I have owned around a dozen winches of all three major kinds, on a variety of vehicles including two military vehicles. I currently own four vehicle mounted winches. I have the largest personal 4x4 in Australia, a Dual Cab Mack, with a 20,000 lb hydraulic out the front and a 12,000 lb warn out the back.. (Yea I know I’m crazy, Ha!) I also have two Landcruisers currently, an old 1989 Sahara that I cannot bring myself to part with, that has 330,000 kms on it and has now been fully restored; with a Warn 9000 lb. I also have a 100 Series with a 10,000 lb Warn on the front. My last Ford had a 12,000 lb Warn on it… I have an extreme amount of experience with 4x4 to the limits of possibility in hunting, prospecting, adventure, and exploration; so here is the voice of experience on the matter, and I digress for a moment for the benefit of those that do not fully understand the difference; then I will get into the proper priorities of choosing which is the best…

Winches: There are basically three types. PTO (Power Take Off), Hydraulic, and Electric… PTO is about the strongest, as it will go to and exceed it’s design limits, where hydraulic and electric often stall and do not go to their rated capacity for a number of hydraulic and electrical shortfalls.. PTO is shaft drive to a geared winch. It’s strength however can be it’s downfall. There is supposed to be a shear pin in the shaft and u-joint drive that is the weak point; However, I have broken two of them without the shear pin going… In 1973 I had a 1968 Ford F-250 Military with a PTO winch on the front, and with the front nose down in a bog pulling obliquely I sheared the weld on a u-joint yoke… In 1980, when a 48’ yacht hit the beach and started to break up, we hired a “tank retriever” from the guy that supplies military vehicles to Hollywood and it was there in 5 hours to catch the next low tide… The hull was breaking up and sinking in the surf due to ballast, so we only had the low tide interval to salvage. This was not enough time to unbolt gear, we had to just rip it off with the tank retrievers enormous winch under the headlights of the local Four Wheel Drive Club cheering us on… We did things like ripping out the engine right off mounts, with so much strain up and over the gunnel that when it broke loose it shot up right out of the wreck and landed with a thud on the sand.. Anyway, in the end we broke the bull gear on that winch.. So, PTO is great, but a bit expensive and very hard to route the shaft drive with u-joints from the PTO to the winch on modern vehicles. It is a daunting task to route the solid shaft drive without the high ground clearance of vehicles like Military, older Ford 4x4, Dodge Power Wagons, and such.. Sooo, yes it is strong, almost too strong for its own good, and very hard to put on modern vehicles…

The next is Hydraulic… Now this is great, PTO or belt drive or gear drive, hydraulic pump and flexible hoses to a hydraulic motor on basically the same winch… This however is the most expensive….. And hard to do it right. The hydraulic reservoir on my Mack is large, as the pump moves 72 litres a minute a engine speed of 1000 rpm… On a smaller winch with modest power, the pump can still move 30-35 litres per minute, and it will heat up and smoke the oil if you do not have a big enough tank. This is probably the best winch, if you have room, and a very large pocket book. Mine will go until it actually stalls pulling down dead trees and such to get their fall right with the chainsaw. Some of the good hydraulic winches are under-rated and will go til they stall without breaking anything.. Good, but expensive… And there is the problem of a reasonable tank reservoir so the oil does not heat up too fast..

Now for what is practical, most cost effective, and the Tip for its shortfall: Electric winches are cheap.. They will run until they stall, and seldom break. The will also run without the engine running, where the other two will not.. I have run mine under water, while salt water is a no-no, being electrolyte conductive on its own, I have run mine under fresh water nose down.. Maybe water did not get into the motor, but I have heard other similar reports. Anyway, the biggest short fall is heating up the motor… If you have a long pull, you are limited to a few minutes, as to run time on the motor before it heats up.. With the engine at 1000 rpm, the alternator will catch up charging the batteries while you change out winch points, but the motor takes forever to cool… So here is the Tip: About 100 km in the mountains S.E. of Springsure I was out on the back of a Station in 1997 trying to find a legendary place not seen in many years.. It was a jumble of rocks and caves that only a few old Horsemen knew about called the “Lost City”.. I had a 1.5 tonne off-road trailer full of supplies, on the back of a stretched 75 series Landcruiser with diff-lock, high lift suspension, LSD front diff, 12HT Turbo diesel, and the works.. Fearless!… Or so I thought.. Until I broke through the four inch dry surface crust of sand in the bottom of a little canyon, and sunk into the slosh almost quicksand of an underground river; and sunk up to the floorboards. It took many full length reaches of cable and snatch block to double the power of the 10,000 lb winch, and another recovery cable, set up many times with about 45 minutes of winching, to plough through the mud to firmer ground. Now the average run time to overheating is only about 5 minutes… Major Problem… So I put a 20 litre jerry can of water just inside the bull bar, leaning against the bonnet of the Cruiser, and with a spare small drain valve (like on the water tanks) stuck in the end of jiggle siphon, I had the motor cooler. I jiggle siphoned the water out of the jerry can, and then throttled down the valve so it only just let out a small stream of water onto the Warn winch motor body, dead in the middle so it ran all over the 12v motor. I stopped it after a while when re-setting the snatch blocks for another pull. This gave me the longest and hardest run I have ever heard of with a 12v winch. You might know the drill, shovel ramps, wood in the hole, ploughing mud deep enough to use the front tyres (while turning in gear in low range), they were only a use as rudders.. Ha! While some conservatives would critique this situation as foolish, it is the price to pay once in while for adventure and exploring of the kind that I do…

On getting back home days later, I though surely the winch motor or gear drive was damaged or severely worn, as it all got hot even with the water cooling… So I removed it and shipped it to ARB in Brisbane. They disassembled and inspected it, and then put it back together and shipped it back to me, no parts, only the $132 shop time for inspection. The stretched Landcruiser was eventually retired to ten passenger Tourist buggy on Frazer Island, with the same winch still in place… Ha!

Snow, mud, sand, slosh, the practical cost effective answer is still electric. While hydraulic is superior, it is many times as expensive, and there is the tank problem… There is a unit out there that runs off the power steering pump (which is hydraulic), but I have heard many poor performance reports, slow, lack of rated power, etc… I can’t see how it could run to my demands, as the pump and volume requirements when you are really in the “poo” are quite large.. Soooo, the electric winch, when aided by the water cooling discovery of mine on the motor, is still the best option. On short pulls, for most people, no worries about cooling.. But one major shortfall has always been power (alternator catches up fast as you reset the gear) and overheating if you have accidentally driven onto a crust or swamp or broken through the dried crust of river gravel down into the slush.. Ha! So if you have to do a long pull, the water cooling seems to work where many have burned up winch motors or had to wait an hour for it to cool each time before another winching set, and I will do the water cooling again…

Cheers, your Friend at Bushtracker, stg
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