I apologize for my delayed response to your article about UltraShift automated transmissions published in the August issue of Truck News.
Just recently, I got off a relatively new International ProStar equipped with a 13-speed UltraShift automated trannie so I can understand the excitement these transmissions may cause in a casual driver.
Unfortunately the reality turns out quite different, when you drive these things seven days a week.
I have been driving the same truck you drove at Purolator, an International 9200i with 10-speed UltraShift, for over two years in linehaul now.
One can get use to the slightly different driving technique with an automatic relatively quickly, and even the occasional erratic shifting or jerking clutch on older units.
The built-in delay of clutch engagement, however, becomes more problematic. In other words, the response of the truck to its accelerator is too slow.
This becomes quite hazardous when you try to fit in front of approaching traffic.
The reduced maneuverability of all automatics is another issue which becomes critical, especially in the winter.
I experienced situations when I got stuck with my tractor in snow, or on an icy patch and had to call for a tow truck in situations where getting out with a standard truck would have been a piece of cake.
Many reviews cite the fuel economy of automated transmissions without providing any concrete data to support their claim. I have not noticed any fuel savings at all.
One mid-size, Ontario-based carrier has been a strict user of automatics in its linehaul operations for several years. Yes, it is true, it may have helped driver recruitment.
The automatics attracted many less skilled, inexperienced drivers. The company experienced an escalation of accident rates, and an increase of rollovers. The carrier’s CVOR was downgraded and it lost customers.
During the recent slump in the trucking industry, the company was forced to re-evaluate its hiring strategy.
Now it employs more experienced drivers, but it faces increased resentment from its drivers against its automatic trucks. Many drivers (including myself) are willing to drive automatics only in the summer and will take winter off, or switch to another carrier on a standard truck because the automatic transmission’s reduced maneuverability is simply too dangerous in winter.
Automatics are a safety concern for two reasons. Firstly, it allows those people that should not be driving at all, to drive trucks. Secondly, there is an issue of reduced alertness during linehaul operations.
Thiffault and Bergeron, researchers from the University of Montreal have demonstrated that increased monotony of long trips impacts safety by reducing driver’s alertness. There is nothing more monotonous than driving an automatic!
Paul Kauler Via e-mail
Editor’s note: Thanks for the response. Automated transmissions aren’t for everyone, but most drivers I’ve spoken to – even the most cynical of them – have warmed to the technology over time. It goes without saying that hiring standards should never be compromised, no matter what driver aids are put in the cab.
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