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Old 10-30-2017, 11:05 AM   #1
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Automatic Transmission Operation

Over the years I have heard/read operating techniques for towing with an automatic transmission. And, over the years, I have experience with towing light to medium (10-12K lbs) weight trailers on a recreational basis with 1/2 ton SRW, 3/4 ton SRW, and 1 ton DRW. I have developed my own idea/theory of how to operate my automatic transmissions while towing. I offer this theory here for discussion and I’m open to re-education and change of mind. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

We have all been told that you should not tow with “overdrive” selected. Makes sense to me that being in “too tall a gear” for the power needed at the moment causes the transmission to work harder and as a result create internal heat. Also in this condition, the torque converter may not be “locked up”. Under high demand power applications/requirements such as long uphill grades you want the torque converter locked up for optimum power transfer from engine to wheels. I think the illusive thing here with automatic trans. operation is, “when” is the torque converter “locked up”? I know there are some after market monitors/computers that can be hooked up and will let you know exactly when the torque converter is fully “locked up”. Not having that computer and not knowing when the torque converter is locked up, here is my theory and hence my operational technique that has to date seemed to serve me well:

First let me state that while towing, I select/engage the “tow mode” for the transmission. Now....my theory: transmission fluid temperature is directly relational to the amount of “work” the transmission is doing. As such, I have had trans. temp. gauges installed on my present and past tow vehicles. Generally speaking, trans. towing temps. (of any load on LEVEL ground) will usually settle into a slightly elevated temp from the temps. when NOT towing. As you begin to “pull an uphill grade”, the trans. temp begins to raise indicating the extra “work” the trans is doing. When the temp gets towards the top end of the “normal” temp. range, I will manually drop the trans. down to the next lower gear. In doing so, I IMMEDIATELY see a drop in trans. temp indicating to me that I have now fully “locked up” the torque converter and now am in the optimum high power demand condition for power production and maintaining as normal as possible trans. temperatures. This has been how I have operated my automatic transmissions for towing and, to date, have not had any transmission related failures.

Now, here is my other theory about selecting/using “D” or “Overdrive” while towing. While monitoring the Trans. Temp as I have mentioned above, if there is a “level” stretch of land or a slight “downhill” grade, I will shift into “D” (or Overdrive) mode while monitoring trans. temp. If the trans. temp stays “cool” indicating the trans. is not working hard, I’ll leave it in Overdrive to get engine RPM down hence lower gas/fuel consumption. Then as we begin a noticible uphill grade or I see the trans. temp is beginning to raise, I’ll drop it out of “Overdrive” into the next lower gear and continue monitoring trans. temp.

Believe it or not, I kind of enjoy engaging my mind like this while driving and feel as though I am connecting with the mechanical aspects of my drive train.

There, I have put myself out there with my operating technique/therory. Please, for my continued education, tell me your thoughts on the pro’s and/or con’s of my procedures. Thanks!
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Old 10-31-2017, 05:34 AM   #2
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I used to monitor all this stuff when I first started towing because I had a smaller truck and it felt like it was at it's limit. My solution was to buy a tow vehicle that was too much truck for my trailer and now I just hook it up and go without worrying because I know it is designed to do what I am doing. Your theory is sound and probably does help protect the driveline components. I personally however enjoy the more carefree driving style.
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Old 10-31-2017, 06:56 AM   #3
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The more current model year trucks with the computer controls for the transmission and engine do what you mention automatically. We have had 2 RAM duallies with the 6.7 diesel and Aisin trans, currently a 2016. We just hook up our @8k 5er, put it in drive, and go! When you are driving, just when you think it should upshift or downshift it does. Between that and the exhaust brake, it makes the towing experience more enjoyable.
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Old 10-31-2017, 05:03 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donnandon View Post
The more current model year trucks with the computer controls for the transmission and engine do what you mention automatically. We have had 2 RAM duallies with the 6.7 diesel and Aisin trans, currently a 2016. We just hook up our @8k 5er, put it in drive, and go! When you are driving, just when you think it should upshift or downshift it does. Between that and the exhaust brake, it makes the towing experience more enjoyable.
This works for most people and what the manual recommends you do, but my personal preference is to lock out 6th gear especially with the 3.42 gears that Ram uses. The motor sounds better I think revving a little higher and there isn't as much downshifting. I have gauges and the trany temps don't seem to change whether using 5th or 6th, as a matter of fact we are right at 170 degrees towing or not. Depending on terrain I think we actually get better mileage keeping it in 5th.
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Old 10-31-2017, 05:07 PM   #5
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Sorry, we forgot to mention 4.10 gears
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Old 10-31-2017, 05:14 PM   #6
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That might make a difference. Probably could leave it 6 th although with my past trucks with 3:73 gears I locked out overdrive also.
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Old 10-31-2017, 05:20 PM   #7
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Yes we can just leave it in 6th...turns about 1800 rpm there which is in the best part of the power band
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Old 10-31-2017, 05:22 PM   #8
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1800 is what I like to be at.
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Old 10-31-2017, 08:35 PM   #9
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Seems I read that the trans temp was driven mainly by shifting up and down, not by constant work.
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Old 10-31-2017, 08:36 PM   #10
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That sounds right. City traffic always raises the trans temp.
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Old 11-01-2017, 10:06 AM   #11
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Thanks for the comments. The therory and technique was taught to me by my father. It has seemed to have served us well but yes, we were coming from an underpowered and generally light duty tow vehicle situation. You know, the family station wagon pulling the boat or trailer and then eventually a light truck with camper and boat behind. Most reciently I have been using a 1/2 ton light duty truck to pull the boat but began pulling a 20ft enclosed trailer with all the desert toys. That trailer pushed the limits of our little truck. I have been looking at upgrading both our trailer (bigger) and tow vehicle for some time now. We had a 38ft Diesel pusher MH with an Allison automatic for a number of years. That was a different animal altogether and, after some time, I realized that don’t mess with shifting it. Just push the pedal and let the transmission do what it wanted to do. And, it did it well. But, as was mentioned in reply posts, it was designed to do just that.

Sounds like this new to me Ram and Cummins is much like the motor home in that it is designed to “Pull” So just let her do her thing. To date, I have very little time behind the wheel of our new Ram and even less time pulling with it. Thanks for the thoughts and input.
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Old 11-01-2017, 10:22 AM   #12
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Heat kills transmissions and lugging the engine is what creates heat in the trans. I have yet to find a truck/rv that shifts when I think it should so always when towing shift it myself. It will most definitely prolong the life of your transmission. Your use of overdrive is dead on, only on flats and downhill. As you know by watching your trans temp gauge as soon as the motor starts to lug the trans temp starts to rise. Also when you shift manually you can ease off the gas when you shift so there is not so much strain put on the drivetrain. Tow/haul modes and the hard shifts they give are the worst for this.
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Old 11-03-2017, 01:53 PM   #13
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On the newer rigs-at least my Ford, both 5th & 6th gear are overdrive gears. I use tow/haul and the select shift to keep it where I want it. Also I believe if it's in t/h when you brake it automatically engages the exhaust brake. If not in that mode you must push the button to activate which takes time in a panic stop. YMMV
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Old 11-09-2017, 05:02 AM   #14
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I actively shift all my automatics. Really saves on brakes and I enjoy being involved in the drive.
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