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Truck Driver Training – Automatic or Manual?

Oct
11,
2012
12
Allen Smith of AskTheTrucker

Allen Smith of AskTheTrucker

By: Allen Smith
Original Post: 10/08/2008
Updated: 10/11/2012

Many of those who are considering a career in professional truck driving are investigating the possibilities of obtaining their CDL training in a commercial motor vehicle with automatic transmission, rather than the standard manual transmission.

Before you begin your truck driver training, there are important factors that I believe you need to be aware of before you completely choose a CDL training course which is “auto trans” training only.

In the real world of trucking, you are more than likely going to be placed in a manual vehicle, so if you have been trained in an automatic, and took your driving test in an automatic, when you “hit” the real world of professional truck driving, you may find yourself “lost” when your new employer places you in a 10-speed standard.  Also, it is highly possible, that even if you train in an automatic, when it is time for you to go and take the CDL road driving test, chances are it will be performed in a manual transmission tractor.

What then? Unless your school and the testing facility has agreed that you can use the automatic for your test, you may be in for a surprise with your CDL road test.

Secondly, most of the nearly 750,000 trucking companies in the United States operate with manual transmissions. You would be greatly limiting yourself by having an automatic transmission restriction on your CDL license. It would be best to learn by manual and have the knowledge to operate both kinds of transmissions. With experience, shifting through the gears will become so second-nature, that soon you will not even be thinking about it and you will soon forget about automatics.

The FMCSA set new standards on rules concerning CDL and CLP testing procedures. One of these rules brought about the action of placing an “automatic restriction” on your license. These new rules fall under the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986.  This Act was established to “improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers of large trucks and buses are qualified to operate those vehicles and to remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the highways.”  The Act retained the individual State’s right to issue a CDL license, but established minimum national standards which each State where they must still meet these standards when issuing a CDL.

One of these new standards is the issuing by the State of the “E” restriction on the commercial driver license. (States may have additional codes for additional grouping of endorsements, as long as such codes are fully explained on the license.)

Under the minimum national standards, the “E” restriction is defined as: “If the driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, then an “E” no manual transmission restriction is placed on their license.”   (Reference: Commercial Driver’s License Program (CDL/CDLIS).

Should you choose to receive your CDL truck driver training in a CMV with an automatic transmission, you will find yourself limited to truck driving jobs with those very few trucking companies that actually operate any trucks of this kind.

The reason for considering CDL training in auto trans only, is certainly largely due to apprehension on the part of the CDL student. Medical issues are a different factor and certainly understandable, but “apprehension”  should play no part in your CDL training process.

Do not let your presentiment limit you to the availability of truck driving jobs. With the right attitude, desire and commitment, anyone can learn how to operate a CMV with a manual transmission, both safely and professionally.

You can do it.

© 2012, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.

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By: Allen Smith

Allen Smith is a 37 year veteran who started at an early age in a household goods family moving business. He began driving straight trucks in 1977 and moved to the big rigs in 1982. His experience within the industry includes; owner operator, company driver, operations manager, and owner of a long distance HHG moving business, taking many of the long haul moves himself when needed. Allen Smith, a truck driver advocate who is driven by the desire to help others succeed within an industry where injustice, unrewarded sacrifice, and lack of respect and recognition exists. Allen and his wife Donna are hosts of Truth About Trucking ”Live” on Blog Talk Radio. Other websites include AskTheTrucker, TruckingSocialMedia, NorthAmericanTruckingALerts, TruthAboutTrucking, and many Social Media websites. In 2011 Allen and Donna hosted the first Truck Driver Social Media Convention, designed to create unity and solutions for the trucking industry. This is now being extended through the North American Trucking Alerts network as those within the industry join forces for the betterment of the industry. Allen strongly supports other industry advocates who are also stepping up to the plate to help those who share honesty, guidance and direction. He believes that all those involved in trucking need to be accountable for their part within the industry, including drivers, carriers, brokers, shippers, receivers, etc… The list of supporters and likeminded people grow daily, networking together and sharing thoughts and ideas for the betterment of trucking. He has coined the popular phrase "Raising the standards of the trucking industry"

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12 Responses to Truck Driver Training – Automatic or Manual?. - Post a Comment

  1. Desiree

    Truck Driving seemed perfect for me because I get into my work and I don’t stop. I rarely even got up to use the bathroom from my desk. I was totally sick of all the office politics and gossip though. Ladies and Gentlemen, trucking can be as petty as junior high school. Worse than an office I’ve worked in with a bunch of hormonal chicks! I don’t want to jump ahead to much but my next piece of advice is this be careful who you mouth off to because you might run into them again down the road! In my life sometimes a former nemises reaapears and I am their boss but in the case of JJ, we ended up going to the same training company and although 5 people specifically requested to go to a different orientation than him hoping against hope to never see him again, it was inevitable that eventually we would cross paths.

  2. Eric Briddle

    Please advise, in your opinion, which Regionals have the best recent graduate programs offering the best pay and, possibly, trucks with automatic transmissions. I offer a clean MVR and Background.

  3. Allen Smith

    Hi Eric:

    I’ve never driven an automatic, but I do know that U.S .Express operates them…I can’t be for certain, but I believe CalArk, TransAm and USA Truck has them also….CalArk does not accept recent grads, but the other 3 do – going automatic will limit your job search greatly….as far as the best? You will hear good things and bad things about any company…..that is just the nature of the business…..If I had to pick between the 3…I would try TransAm….but again….with some of these OTR companies…..you can never be sure of what you are going to get.

    good luck,
    Allen

  4. Truck School

    Thank you so much, nice info for me. Very engaging and well written with good info for people to think about!

  5. Rollo

    Hey Allen, ref the E limitation, I believe that is not the case for Michigan. http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,4670,7-127-1627_8669_53324-213070–,00.html At least I certainly hope not. I am just about finished up with my training at Great American Trucking School in the ghettos of Detroit LOL. We are training on 10 speed manuals but my understanding is that the State Examiner uses an automatic. Nobody here seems to be aware of any automatic only limitation? Also bought your book and info back in 2010 and it was super informative…do you still have high marks for Schneider?

    • Allen Smith

      Hi Rollo:

      Yes,the restrictions can vary from State to State, so each State would have to be checked out.

      Although each individual terminal can differ in the way they operate, overall I still consider Schneider as good of a starting place as any. Very large company with a large freight base. Choosing the “right” company to start with is a choice that can only be made by “you” because so many variables come into play … what is the new driver looking for, wanting and needing from a company?

      You have to start somewhere and begin building the driving experience and Schneider is as good of a place as any other in my opinion.

      Good luck

    • Rollo

      I think you mentioned you were a pilot? I’ve flown commercially for a number of years…been in aviation for well over 20. ATC and pilot. Had to leave for family reasons and am hoping to return one day, but for now I need to pay the bills…as in yesterday, and unlike aviation which despite the promising pilot shortage…still remains a tough costly market to crack…trucking seems wide open…as long as I play it smart…thanks again for the extra pair of eyes…
      so for now… trading my wings for a fifth wheel

  6. Hill Roger

    Never driven an automatic truck either but I definitely would like to drive an automatic truck mainly on a highway.

  7. Michael Avant

    I trained on a 10 speed. I learned how to shift but I hate it. It is a pain in the butt to drive a standard. I am going with Schneider. I will ask them for an automatic. I hope I get one.

  8. April

    I want everyone to know that double-clutching and learning to handle the CMV with all its length and learning all of the pre-trip information is a huge thing to undertake, and I failed on two separate occasions, both times because I could not for the life of me use the manual transmission.
    The fact that automatic transmissions exist is a wonderful way to make the profession available to people like me who need the machine to automatically do its thing, so that we can focus on the road.

  9. mark j 56yrold in Mn

    I would like to know as i decide to start my trucking career, now that it has been nine years since Allen posted this informative article, are there is there an increasingly amount of automatic trucks being used by trucking companies? Are they buying automatic trucks a lot, or is it still a trickle. I just inquired at a school I might use, and he said they get better gas mileage, do wear out as fast, and are safer because the drivers are more attentive to what’s around them and are happier, which means they may stay with a company (or a trucking career) longer (reducing co. costs further. In other words When will the added cost of an automatic truck outweigh all the hassles that come from a company using manual trucks still? As you have probably guessed by now, I hate shifting in cars already, and will never ever buy another manual one. I would have been a truck driver a long time ago if it wasn’t for the shifting part.
    thanks in advance

    • mark j 56yrold in Mn

      “…do wear out as fast..”

      i meant don’t wear out as fast… gosh i hope that’s true too, what do i know, i believe what he told me 😉

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