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Say Goodbye to Manual Transmission Trucks

Manual transmission trucks are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Only a few automakers produce them anymore, and driving one is becoming something of a lost art, too. If they were animals, they’d be on the endangered species list. Let’s take a long last look at these once-commonplace creatures before they’re entirely gone.

What Is a Manual Transmission Truck?

The reality is that some younger drivers may not even know what a manual transmission truck is. So let’s start with the basics. 

A manual transmission, also called a standard transmission, has a stick, or lever, that you move to physically change gears. Besides the brake and accelerator, there’s a third pedal called a clutch, which disengages the engine from the drive train. You push the clutch with your left foot and shift from gear to gear with your hand.

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Our Truck is a manual, but its no longer made

How Do Manual Transmissions Differ from Automatic Transmissions?

These days, most transmissions shift automatically and require no action on the driver’s part. This innovation came along in the late 1940s and took off quickly because it made driving much easier.

Automatic transmissions have a device called a torque converter between them and the engine. This is a fluid filled device that allows the engine to spin but not turn the gears until it revs up. This is how automatic transmission cars can come to a stop in gear.

Automatic Transmission Torque Converter
A torque converter cutaway sits between automatic transmissions and the engine.

A manual transmission vehicle does not have this but has a clutch in place of the torque converter. The clutch is manually activated and should not slip, this means that if the vehicle comes to a stop in gear the engine will stop (stall) too.

Manual Clutch
A manual transmission has a set of springs and pads that can are controllable by the operator to disconnect the transmission from the engine.

For decades, though, the transmission type in your car or truck was an option. Many models were available with either an automatic transmission or a manual one.

Pro Tip: We uncovered how Transmission Fluid Color and Odor may give warning signs that something is wrong with your vehicle.

Tom from Mortons on the Move driving truck down road.
Manual trucks can give you more control over your truck’s performance.

What Are the Benefits of Manual Transmission Trucks?

Even though manual transmission trucks are a dying breed, many drivers still believe they have some benefits. They like how they have more control over a truck’s performance. After all, you can shift when you want to, not when a computer decides. This can be helpful when you’re towing, especially going up and down hills. They are also more durable and easier to work on because there are fewer parts.

There are other traditional arguments in favor of manual transmission trucks, but some no longer hold true. One is that they have a lower sticker price, and the other is that they use less gas or diesel. 

It’s a fact that trucks with standard transmissions used to cost a bit less. Nowadays, however, there are very few transmission options at all. As for fuel savings, modern automatic transmissions are much more efficient because of improvements in technology.

Close up of black truck parked on grass.
Learning to drive stick shift is not easy! An automatic transmission takes the pressure off driving a big truck.

What Are the Disadvantages?

Some say that manual transmission trucks turn driving into a chore. They certainly require more effort–and more limbs, too. You have to use your right hand to shift gears and your left foot to press the clutch. If you’re not accustomed to it, it’ll seem like a lot more work, especially in stop-and-go traffic situations. 

Also, not all drivers know how to operate a manual transmission or even feel comfortable doing so. If your traveling partner is not on board with it, that means you don’t have a relief driver. And teaching someone to drive stick is no easy feat! 

Off-road driving has both pros and cons with manual transmissions. Pros are the control it offers allowing you to retain torque and power when needed. The cons are that shifting in precarious situations and steep hills can be hard and possible cause you to slip or get stuck.

Pro Tip: Whether you have a manual or automatic transmission, take your truck on your next camping adventure by following these steps to Turn Your Pickup Into a Camper With a Truck Bed Tent.

Why Are Manual Transmission Trucks Becoming a Thing of the Past?

There are still people who prefer to drive a stick, but their numbers are shrinking to almost nothing. It’s all about economics, and the fact is that manual transmission trucks are a hard sell. 

Thirty years ago, trucks with standard transmissions accounted for about 30 percent of all sales. They’ve declined ever since as automatic transmissions have gotten better and become the standard. 

Chevy and GMC dropped the manual transmissions for their full-size trucks in 2008, and Ford followed suit three years later. The medium-duty Ram 2500 reached the end of its line as a manual transmission truck in 2018 when.

Truck towing camper trailer down the highway.
Manual trucks are becoming harder to come by on the market.

Do Any Manufacturers Still Make Manual Transmission Trucks?

Since then, your options for manual transmission trucks have included only midsize trucks. Until 2019, those choices included the Chevy Colorado, the GMC Canyon, and the Nissan Frontier. Now there are only two options, and both are geared toward off-road enthusiasts. These are the only two new manual transmission trucks available today.

Black GMC truck parked at campsite with trailer.
Only GMC and Chevy produce new manual transmission truck.

Jeep Gladiator

A six-speed manual transmission comes standard with Jeep’s only pickup, but only with the Sport and Sport S models. It’s paired with a 285-hp 3.6L engine, which offers up to 442 lb-ft of torque. The Gladiator has a bed length of 5 ft. Towing capacity is 7,650 lbs and the maximum payload is 1,600 lbs.

Jeep Gladiator Review // Would you spend the money??

Toyota Tacoma

The Tacoma TRD Pro has a six-speed manual transmission as an option. It comes with the standard four-cylinder engine or a more powerful 3.5L V6. It’s a four-door double cab with a 5-ft bed. This version of the Tacoma is available as AWD and has a max towing capacity of 6,400 lbs. The payload capacity is 1,155 lbs.

Pro Tip: If you like adventuring over rough terrain, you may be wondering Are Toyota Tacomas Really as Good at Overlanding as They Say? Let’s find out!

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Review: Charmingly rugged | CarGurus

Our Manual Transmission Truck: 2011 Ram 5500 Flatbed 

We’ve got a manual transmission truck ourselves, but it wasn’t really by design. Because of our passion for overlanding, we wanted a rugged truck that would easily handle our customized truck camper. 

That led us to a 10-year-old flatbed Ram 5500 that was originally built as a dually for commercial use. We found it on Kodiak Island, Alaska, and had it ferried to the mainland. We hadn’t driven a stick shift in a while, so there was a slight re-learning curve. It’s not fast, but it will go pretty much anywhere we point its oversized, military-grade tires.

We're Building An Overland Truck Camper Rig! - A Happy And Sad Update From The Mortons On The Move

Is It Worth It to Own a Manual Transmission Truck?

These days, the drivers holding on fast to manual transmissions are mostly sports car drivers. They love them because it puts them more in control of their car’s performance. With trucks, there’s not really a compelling reason for them unless they’re simply what you’re used to. 

Do you favor a manual transmission? Tell us why in the comments below!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Sal Cas

Sunday 6th of February 2022

Prefer manual transmission because it allows you to pick gear you need when driving on highway and or off road.

Brian Nystrom

Monday 20th of December 2021

While manual transmissions have gotten much harder to find here in the US, (they're all I've driven for 45+ years), they still dominate the European market and others around the world. That said, I suspect that the move to hybrid and electric vehicles is what will ultimately doom manual transmissions, once battery capacities are high enough to make them practical for all vehicle types. However, that transition will take decades. I've found that while EPA ratings for automatics are sometimes higher, that's not necessarily the case in real-world driving. I've consistently exceeded the EPA ratings by a significant margin on all of my manual transmission vehicles over the years. I live in a snow-belt state and plan to stick with manuals as long as I can, as the increased level of control and road feel is worth the occasional minor inconvenience. It's a shame that many drivers are so isolated from their vehicles that they expect them to do almost everything for them. Driving as a skill is almost an anachronism these days.

Dave Cissna

Monday 29th of November 2021

I have driven stick vehicles for years.. They are not all that complicated. I taught all of our children, neighbors and friends kids and three of our grandchildren. Not to mention a son-in-law. Using our Jeep CJ-8 in low range is the key. Clutch/gas from a full stop is the most difficult issue to learn. In low range, the student can't kill the engine . . . even with a startup in third. And, when they finally get to 4th, we're only going 15 mph.

The biggest reason for us in keeping a stick is control. The next is push starting. Manufacturers used to put pumps in those automatics whereby they would turn the engine over. This and a good many other things have gone by the wayside. Now you can push an automatic transmission equipped vehicle coast to coast without the engine turning over. My wife drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland with an automatic. But, she can still hop in my '83 Jeep Scrambler and "row the gears" with the best of them. I'll stand by "old school," it just works.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 29th of November 2021

All good points! Its fun driving our 6 speed but I have a feeling it will be our last manual :(

James Davis

Wednesday 24th of November 2021

Dual clutch transmissions are the best of both worlds, all the benefits of automatic and manual combined.

Al Kiepura

Wednesday 24th of November 2021

I actually prefer my automatic 6 speed in my Ford 250. The tow/haul option works great as well as the full manual clicker for when in rough terrain. Only modifications to the truck was the installation of larger brakes and 6K air bags in the back that keep the headlights from bouncing up and down when towing my 9500 lb. 5th wheel. My '14 car on the other hand is a 6 speed manual 4 door sedan. I just ordered a new '22 sedan also equipped with 6 speed manual as cars are a dying breed not only for manuals but this particular manufacturer is also phasing out ICE engines. I'm keeping both cars and the newer one won't be driven much, destined to be a collectors model. Love your blog, stay safe you two and happy travels! Al.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 29th of November 2021

Thanks Al!