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Manual or Auto for off-roading

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29 Jun 2020 12:31 #224227 by JodieMarie22
I am toying with the idea of getting an older Jimny for off-roading fun.
I am torn between buying standard and modding myself or buying one already modded, which is harder than I thought because while the modded ones all look similar, they appear to take very different routes to get there. I have also been surprised by the amount of Automatic Jimny’s that are available and I had not really considered an Auto previously. I have also seen more than a couple of manuals advertised with transmission issues, a lot of which seem to be the VVT models.

Does anyone have any experience of off-roading in both auto and manual and know any less obvious advantages or disadvantages of either or a personal preference? Reliability would be my key concern.
I will be an off-roading beginner so like the idea of not having a clutch to fry but also don’t know if the auto transmissions overheat or need the cooling beefed up.
I’m not too worried about fuel consumption or road manners

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29 Jun 2020 12:44 #224230 by 300bhpton
This is a big debate. But the reality is, there are Pros and Cons on both setups and ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

Before getting to the off road bit. I do feel a small engine vehicle and only 4 gears is not very good on road. The older Jimny's especially lack the low end grunt of a V8 Land Rover or Inline 6 Jeep. So a 4 speed auto I think is a heavy on road compromise with a 1.3-1.5 litre na petrol engine.

As for off road. Auto's can be easier in some regards and you do not need to worry about slipping the clutch or stalling. You can also use more left foot braking (can do this with a manual too) if you are running open diffs and no TCS.

Auto's I think are better if you are on rocks as the torque converter means you can have drive without hardly moving. A manual would require you to slip the clutch.

The downside to the auto is lack of engine braking. The Jimny with a small cc engine doesn't do this as well as other 4x4's, but an auto will feel like it runs away more so on steep descents and uneven ground. They can sometimes feel like they lack a little control.

I've had a Jeep XJ 4.0 with the auto. I actually thought it was superb. But it must have done something to aid engine braking. My current 4.6 V8 Range Rover is also auto. However this has a switch that lets you lock the torque converter up in low and offers much better engine braking. The Discovery 2 does this automatically when in low range. Older Land Rover's do not and I have not enjoyed driving them off road as much as ones that can lock the torque converter up.

No idea if any of the Jimny's have this ability. But it may be a decider for me.

Autos are also good as you can keep the power on and even change gear on steep ascents without taking the power from the wheels. The downside is, you also can't lock them into a single gear very easily. i.e. you can't pull away in 3rd low and prevent it wanting to kickdown. In some scenarios such as deep sand or dunes this can have a negative effect.


Ultimately though, for me. As much as I appreciate how good an auto can be off road. I think I get more enjoyment from a manual. There is certainly more low speed control with one. Where you can drive along on tick over or just over. In an auto as soon as you hit a bump it'll want to stop unless you squeeze the pedal a little.


I'd say, if it's possible go and test drive an auto and see how you get on with it. :)
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29 Jun 2020 12:47 #224231 by Reason2doubt
New to offroading myself as of last year.

I watch a lot of things online which say Auto is the way to go (predominantly people from Australia). Not sure if that is really that applicable in the UK given our off-roading scene is a little different over here (not really sure about the auto Jimny's either). I went for a manual and made sure I had a little 4wd manual selector too so that I could learn how it works/feels when driving.

Heard similar things about transmission issues of newer model Jimny's - I picked up a 1999 Jimny which seems to be very substantial and rock-solid (in terms of gearing/transmission). I've had some learning curves that have undoubtedly beaten the parts up mechanically but they continue on with no issues.

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29 Jun 2020 13:17 #224233 by Lambert
I have one of each. The manual in Dreadnaught and the automatic in Spare Jimny. The automatic is much nicer and less frantic to drive in all conditions. The only slightl issue is the lack of engine braking even compared to the general lack of any in the manual so you do have to cover your brakes on really long down hills but you would be to a lesser extent anyway so hardly a deal breaker. Generally though for just creeping about I definitely prefer Spare Jimny and would happily use her all the time if she weren't so new and shiny.

Dreadnaught (black 2011)

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29 Jun 2020 13:44 #224235 by JodieMarie22
Many thanks for the quick replies.
I had not even thought about the engine braking.
So it’s less than perfect in the Jimny and a small issue on the Auto.
I like the sound of the Auto being more relaxed, as this is a project to have fun with.
I think I may let fate decide and put no weight on whether it is a manual or Auto cost or preference wise and just see what turns up.

From what I have seen for sale so far the Autos generally look to be in better overall condition than the manuals but that may just be a fluke,

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29 Jun 2020 20:28 #224253 by Grima
You can smell your doing it wrong with a manual plus a clutch is easier to replace. If you burn out an auto your stuck & expensive. autos are press & pray. In a manual you need feet like a tap dancer. Its all about vehicle familiarisation. Autos are easier to learn with but manual is full control for me ( that's because I am old )

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29 Jun 2020 21:01 #224256 by Soeley
I couldn't tell you which is better off road, for me I just prefer driving manual on road, it's part of the driving fun for me.

If you haven't come across Ronny Dahl on Youtube, he's worth a watch.

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29 Jun 2020 22:51 #224260 by Gadget
I normally drive manual cars, but my Jimny is auto and I love it. Makes driving in heavy traffic so much more enjoyable. Good off-road too, gives you really fine control. It doesn't have much engine braking, but as it's a gen4 it's got hill descent, so not something I really miss.

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30 Jun 2020 03:49 #224265 by zukebob
My first 4 offroad vehicles were manual. My 5th was a jeep with an automatic. After my first Jeep auto, every subsequent 4WD I purchased I tried to get with an auto transmission. The reasons have been covered fairly well with the previous posts.

I started out with nothing & still have most of it left
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04 Jul 2020 13:26 #224475 by JodieMarie22
Cheers zukebob, that’s exactly the kind of feedback I was after. We too have always been biased towards manuals for other types of driving for the increased involvement and satisfaction.
When green-landing or mud plugging I can kind of see it is more a case engage the correct gear for the conditions ahead and drive through the problem at hand which an auto can easily cover?
No horror stories of auto transmissions overheating either so reliability seems ok.

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05 Jul 2020 04:31 #224516 by zukebob
I'm glad that my comment was helpful but you touched on what is a caveat in using an auto transmission off-road. Heat can be a killer of auto transmissions. It shouldn't be a problem if you act accordingly. I can give an unfortunate example from one of my fellow SJCP club members. I'm not sure exactly what happened but he lost his 4WD low range. He decided to continue in 4WD high range which caused his transmission to overheat........to the point of his ATF boiling out of the fill tube. Some people would argue that this is an example of weakness. It is really a matter of trying to force your car to do something that you shouldn't. I go back to my comment of acting accordingly.

I would always suggest that someone using an automatic add a transmission temperature gauge. If you see that the driving you do causes the heat to go higher than it should, add an external cooler. Doing these things should take care of any problems short of abuse.

In spite of this caveat, my personal opinion remains unchanged. For off-road use, my preference is an auto.

I started out with nothing & still have most of it left

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05 Jul 2020 08:50 #224519 by Lambert
That is true 9f a manual too, if you dont know how to drive you will kill your car in very short order. I have learned the hard way that by not having any mechanical sympathy it is entirely possible to literally boil power steering fluid in the lines on a Subaru at exactly the same moment as the brake fluid boils just a you are leaving the back straight at Croft. No steering, no brakes and a tyre wall behind a gravel trap is a very edifying experience.

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