Snow: Manual vs. Automatic

Discussion in 'Cars in General' started by Slicks, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. Slicks

    Slicks Premium

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    With a small dump of snow Vancouver Island got last night, I got to thinking: When in the snow, which transmission has the advantage? Manual or Automatic, and why?

    I would have to say that the manual transmission would offer the best control and modulation in the snow, but is this universal or only for skilled/experienced drivers and enthusiasts? My personal car is a 5-speed car with AWD, and I find it to drive very well in the snow even with directional all-seasons on it. On the other side, I've driven both 5-speed and automatic company cars in the past two days in the snow and ice. While they were different make/model, I did find the manual to be better to drive.

    So, what do you think? Is this a common consensus among GTPers? Among average drivers?
    Discuss.
     
  2. 1X83Z

    1X83Z Premium

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    Theoretically, manual should be better because you can shift into a higher gear from the beginning to avoid spinning the tires. However, my Volvo had a "winter mode" wherein it would automatically start at a higher gear, accomplishing the same purpose and giving manual no clear advantage. So in that case they'd be equal. Otherwise, I'd pick manual.

    After having driven home just ten minutes ago to falling snow (already an inch) I can say that my automatic SUV is just fine in the snow, though - all-wheel drive is a huge plus.
     
  3. retsmah

    retsmah

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    Are there any automatics that don't allow you to manually select second gear?

    I prefer a manual, easier to predict what it's going to do and in my experience they are smoother on launches and shifts.

    We don't get much snow here, but we had some last night, went out driving in it in the MR2 before it all melted. Lots of fun :)
     
  4. 1X83Z

    1X83Z Premium

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    Probably, but it doesn't work as well as the winter mode thing I was describing. When you select second gear in a manual, all it does is shift up to second gear, meaning the wheels can still slip.

    Some transmissions lock it in second gear, which is a distinct advantage over allowing it to shift up to second gear.

    The snow gear to use is "L" or "1." It slows the car down the most. But, it doesn't allow for a very high top speed - like 35mph - and it destroys fuel economy if you do anything more than, like, 10, because it taxes the engine to all hell. So you can only shift up to "L" if you're at low speeds.
     
  5. Wolfe

    Wolfe Premium

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    My conclusion is that manual is better than automatic in the snow...which really isn't surprising considering the fact that I despise automatic transmissions and will never, ever own a car with a torque converter.

    But as you said, it offers more precise control over how much power you put to the wheels.

    Unless they have some locking mechanism like what M5Power is talking about, selecting "2" doesn't mean that you're always in second gear. It just means that the car can't shift any higher than second gear.
     
  6. a6m5

    a6m5 Premium

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    In a really bad snow, I prefer automatic. This probably proves that I'm not good at acceleration control. :sly: With Automatic, you can just let go of the brake pedal to get the car moving gently, then use the gas pedal.

    I usually don't have problems in snow or ice with my manual shifting car though. I had just one bad experience in icy snow weather. Just one time. ;)
     
  7. Philly

    Philly Premium

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    Never driven a manual, but can't you slowly let out the clutch, allowing some slip, to limit the power to the wheels?
     
  8. Keef

    Keef Premium

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    From my experience with GM and Ford automatics, when you select the a number with the stick (usually 2 or 3) that is not the gear the trans starts in, but that's the highest gear that it will upshift into at speed. I've never seen an automatic that started in 2nd when you chose the number 2, but there are probably some out there.
     
  9. Gil

    Gil Premium

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    Having both, I'd have to say it depends a lot on the layout of the drivetrain.
    A FR vehicle with either transmission may be a challenge in snow due to most of the weight being at the end the driving wheels aren't.

    In FF I would say manual, but with advances in transmission technology, the edge isn't all that big.
    I've driven both in the snow, and for slip control the manual w/experienced driver wins. But, if you are on the freeway with a bunch of amatuers, the auto doesn't require as much concentration, giving you that much more concentration to devote to the idiots that are swarming around you.:lol:

    If I have my druthers, of all my personal cars in heavy snow/ice situations, I will always choose my 4WD Excursion. It has an automatic with regular and tow mode. But the 4WD is the deal maker when it comes to snow/ice.

    I've been stuck in light snow in my FR pick-up with a manual. I had to take it back to my office and wait for my wife to retrieve me in the Excursion, which handled the snow (which became increasingly heavy) like a walk in the park.
     
  10. Duke

    Duke Staff Emeritus

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    Well, in fairness, a 2WD pickup is quite possibly the worst snow vehicle ever made.

    I've driven both FWD and RWD cars in both manual and automatic on snow/ice. Out of the four combinations I wouldn't say that either transmission has a clear advantage on the road. Autoboxes do have the advantage when you get stuck, because it's much easier and less clutch-roasting to rock it R~>D~>R~>D than it is with a stick.
     
  11. Max_DC

    Max_DC

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    Well there are so many factors, like quality of the tires, weight of the car, LSD, yes no, front, mid and rear ? ESP?ASR? DSC? and whatever they call it... I think those things are probably far more important than the transmission. If the rest is exatly the same on two cars, you can't go wrong with manual, since you have more control over the car : you decide , not the automatic tranny...
     
  12. Gil

    Gil Premium

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    Too true! I even had about 200 lb. kitty litter in my bed box at the time!:lol:

    Only 2 of the 8 vehicles here at the "ranch" have FR drivetrains.
    "Big Bertha" is switchable to 4WD.
    Of the FF cars, I like my Camry in the snow best, even though it has pretty dismal ground clearance. This causes it to build up snow in the wheel wells faster than any other car here.

    The best car I had for snow was my 1982 Nissan Sentra. I delivered pizza in that thing for 2 nasty winters, and I was the only delivery driver at that Pizza Hut that never got stuck anywhere.
     
  13. retsmah

    retsmah

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    I've only driven an auto 96 accord a couple times, I thought selecting '2' would lock the transmission into second, but now that I think about it I'm don't know if that's true.

    If not, well, there's another reason automatics are crap :)
     
  14. Gil

    Gil Premium

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    Actually, selecting that option from a stop, keeps the trans from shifting higher than 2nd. You will start in first, as normal.

    As I recall, my T-bird, had two "D"s on the column shift. One was a "D low" and allowed the car to not "spool" up too fast. This for traction control, though, I never had the opportunity to drive the car in truly awful weather.
    I still thought it was a pretty cool option for a car built in 1962.:eek:
     
  15. land sea air

    land sea air

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    my car starts in 2 all the time unless you get more than 3/4 into the throttle at start up or select "2" on the shifter, which will force the car to start in 1st gear, all in all i think the type of transmission matters less than the drive train and the skill of the driver, and it depends on the car for example, i would prefer my Mercedes auto over my friends bmw manual as i find her clutch difficult to engage smoothly but i would take that car over my girlfriends Mercedes diesel in a heartbeat as her low powered engine causes the transmission to hunt for gears sometimes causing the rear end to break loose when its slippery, all three cars are good in the snow though
     
  16. Dave A

    Dave A Premium

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    Manual should be better regardless of drivetrain, not only do you have more control over the gears you choose, on most manual cars you also have control over the clutch.
     
  17. 1X83Z

    1X83Z Premium

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    Indeed true in most cases. Some newer automatic transmissions are making it so that shifting into 2 locks in 2, but most are as you describe above.

    Just about any pickup is pretty bad, but one thing that helps significantly is just to shovel snow into the bed. All that weight keeps the rear end from sliding around. A case in point, this two-wheel drive F-150 SuperCrew:

    [​IMG]
     
  18. JCE

    JCE

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    This is what I think as well. When I had my SE-R 5spd with no traction control I would just start it off in 2nd gear and it'd be ok. Now my Camaro with no traction control and an automatic transmission was a nightmare in ice/snow.
     
  19. YSSMAN

    YSSMAN Premium

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    Comparing drives between the snow that I've experienced since I started driving, I generally prefer the choice of manual transmission for the same reasons others have already stated, mostly because I can control the rate at which the wheels are spinning in front of me.

    For the period of time in which a forest green '95 Toyota Camry was my only ride of choice, that car was absolutely pointless to drive in the snow. Given the extremely touchy throttle, a transmission that has the mental capacity of a Lima bean, and so-so tires made it a pain to drive at any rate in the snow. The only saving grace, IMO, was the addition of ABS, of which neither of my cars have.

    My first winter drive was indeed spent in my '93 VW Fox, and it was indeed an interesting drive. The car hated cold weather, however it did tackle the snow quite well. I managed to get it stuck only once on an absurdly icy hill upon which a delivery van and a school bus had already managed to get stuck on. Although, once I got my tires in the snow, it was just a matter of taking it easy on the throttle, and taking it up the hill slowly.

    Snow driving in my '96 Jetta has been a different story. Although it doesn't mind cold weather, it has been hit and miss in the snow. I'm eager to see how well the car will perform now that my suspension has been fixed (more snow on the way this weekend, I'll update), as I do recall that my first winter with the car was spent with slightly worn tires. Recent snowfall that has happened in Michigan has allowed for some pretty reasonable travel in the car, but as noted before, the lack of ABS is what gets me, and thus has been my biggest issue.
     
  20. Duke

    Duke Staff Emeritus

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    Punctuation, capitalization, and paragraph breaks are all friends you should meet.

    OT: I bought my 3er in late February of '06, and we didn't get any snow after that. Although this winter has been exceptionally mild, I'm looking forward to finding out what it's like in the snow.
     
  21. a6m5

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    Darn. I didn't think I was going to get to test drive in the snow, so soon.

    My car is a Altima 2.5S with the stick, and I attempted to drive to work this morning in the snow. I must take back what I said in my first post about preferring automatics over stick. Stick shift does give you more control over the power applied to the wheel with the cluch(which is still smoking. j/k) and the option to start the car from the second gear.

    I actually made it as far as just 2 minutes from my work, but the company I work for is on top of the hill. Three ways to go in, but all hills. I called my boss, turned around and went home. After seeing that many cars, busses, semis, either stuck, or jackknifed, I should have turned around sooner. :guilty:
     
  22. 1X83Z

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    A good friend of my father's has an E46 325xi which got stuck during our recent blizzards. Doesn't bode well for your rear-drive car, but then you probably don't get the amount of snow we did. Hell, we rarely get that much snow.
     
  23. rotary_freq

    rotary_freq

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    I think having a stick is better, but that's just imo. I'm sure there are plenty of people that always just spin their **** when dumping the clutch in the snow, cause they just don't know any better. I just do it cause it's fun.

    Nothing better than having hundreds of eyes staring at you cause you made a fool of your self on a public road. "OH NOES, HE'S CRAZY!" I just be obnoxious when driving in the snow, it makes people stay away from me, wich in effect makes for a great saftey buffer.