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Light Overland Vehicle Tech Tech issues, tips and hints, prepping for travel
Under 3500kg vehicles, e.g. Land Cruiser, Land Rover, Subaru etc.
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  #1  
Old 1 Sep 2015
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Automatic 4x4s in snow / ice?

I've clocked up more than 200,000 kilometres in my 1993 Hilux, it's a great car for (solo) travel; light, rugged and very capable. But in my next trips I want to head to the Russian Far East in the middle of winter, and I need a car with a petrol engine. I've had my Hilux diesel in Russia down to -25ºC in Russia without any problems, but I think getting to -40ºC would be no-go, and there is nothing worse when travelling than a vehicle you can't trust.

Anyway, I've seen a good candidate car, but it is automatic. My gut feeling has always been to avoid them as they use more fuel (not much of an issue now), are far harder to repair, and are in my opinion totally unnecessary outside of the city.

So my question is, how good is an automatic off-road? Specifically in snow?

Anyone here who has experience of using an auto 4x4 in very low temperature conditions?

Thanks!

EO
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  #2  
Old 1 Sep 2015
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Something like 80% of all Land Rover Discovery 4x4s are automatic and I've never had any trouble with mine in off-tarmac conditions.

Don't think it knows the difference between snow and mud.
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  #3  
Old 1 Sep 2015
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The coldest temperature I've run our Discovery 2 auto here in Canada is -46 C with wind-chill on top it was -55 C, no issues whatsoever, but we have block heaters on most of our vehicles here - you remove a blanking plate, insert what looks like basically a small kettle element that bolts in and you plug into a power outlet, which heats the coolant and it moves around the engine block with convection. This also saves a huge amount of wear and tear on the engine during cold starts and warm up.

There's a whole bunch of other things you can do for when it gets really cold including heated battery blankets, transmission oil heaters etc etc, you can also use a 0 or a 5 weight oil that will actually flow when cold (I use 5 weight in the Disco in Winter) which helps a lot when trying to start the vehicle - much less internal resistance. Also a radiator muff will help keep some heat in the coolant as you drive ( and some heat in the cab!). With diesel engines over here they normally have a heating system on the tanks and the fuel lines.

Ive seen people rig their vehicles with all of the electrical heaters that plug in to mains power and then when they are out in the bush, carry a small petrol generator that they leave running when the engine is off, just to keep it warm, this might be an option too.

I would weigh up the costs of prepping your proven Hilux against buying and preparing another gas/petrol powered vehicle - as long as you can pick up diesel with the correct anti waxing additives then its really not a big issue.

As for snow performance of an auto transmission, they give gentle torque delivery, reducing wheel spin and snatching loads on the drive train, the only place where they really are not as good as a manual box is for direct engine braking on steep descents due to the slip in the torque converter (on a conventional auto box) but with a good HDC system this is not a problem.

The auto box is not the issue in snow and ice - traction is, what tyres do you intend to use ?


If you are using a vehicle with oil filled live beam axles use synthetic multigrade gear oil, again so it flows easily when cold.
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  #4  
Old 1 Sep 2015
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Not much difference between automatic and manual shift in any condition in my opinion. Manual is good if you get stuck in the mud other than that no difference.
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  #5  
Old 1 Sep 2015
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The only problems with auto are
1. you cant tow start,
2. depending on the build they cannot be recovery flat towed any great distance ( neutral in transfer case if available solves this problem)
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  #6  
Old 2 Sep 2015
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Biggest problem with an auto is the if you develop a problem with the box your dead in the water so to speak.

Barring a catastrophic gearbox failure in a manual you will manage to get it moving in some gear at least.

Cluthes usually give some warning of failure (unless you do something rally stupid) torque converters don't.

As regards driving in snow, or ice, it doesnt make much difference really though.
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Old 5 Sep 2015
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tacr2man View Post
The only problems with auto are
1. you cant tow start,
2. depending on the build they cannot be recovery flat towed any great distance ( neutral in transfer case if available solves this problem)
You can tow start them, you just need some speed, maybe 20mph.
This may not work with newer electronically controlled boxes though.

Although I have a manual my preference would always be an auto. Once you've adjusted your driving style and educated your left foot to not stamp on the brake pedal they are far smoother, less stress on the drive train and even without a hill decent system they are fine on steep descents.

The torque converter acts as a torque multiplication and specifically in snow they are more controllable. I'm talking about vehicles without electronic traction / stability control here. The electronics level things such that I doubt you'd notice any difference.
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  #8  
Old 5 Sep 2015
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I should have been clearer you can tow start an auto if it has a rear pump ,
but they are now very rare , front pump boxes wont tow start , and due to the fact they have a front pump can only be towed fror very limited distance as low speed, some even require the additio0n of extra fluid to tow at all. HTSH
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  #9  
Old 5 Sep 2015
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RussG View Post
even without a hill decent system they are fine on steep descents
To a point, but there is quite a big difference in hill descent speed between a diesel engine vehicle with a manual gearbox and a petrol/gasoline engine vehicle with an auto box on the same gradient. A diesel/manual combination gives a much lower speed, better control and the manual box gives the ability to stop on a hill safely (if necessary) by turning the engine off without touching the clutch, with an auto you have to dab the foot brake.

Within this are the variables of engine capacity and gearing, but in a like for like situation this is accurate IMO
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  #10  
Old 6 Sep 2015
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gipper View Post
To a point, but there is quite a big difference in hill descent speed between a diesel engine vehicle with a manual gearbox and a petrol/gasoline engine vehicle with an auto box on the same gradient. A diesel/manual combination gives a much lower speed, better control and the manual box gives the ability to stop on a hill safely (if necessary) by turning the engine off without touching the clutch, with an auto you have to dab the foot brake.

Within this are the variables of engine capacity and gearing, but in a like for like situation this is accurate IMO
Ultimately yes I agree a manual in low range 1st is easier (less scary) and feels far safer and in control than an auto. Especially for someone less experienced who can use the simple "both feet off and don't touch anything" technique.

An auto needs practice and use of throttle and brake, maybe at the the same time. The mantra of never touch your brakes on a decent is still a good start but not an absolute no no (as I'm sure you know so apologies if I'm sounding like a smart ****)

Yes, the ability to stop safety is a big plus in a manual.
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  #11  
Old 6 Sep 2015
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Hi chaps to go back to the OP's original question, I've had my 90 both as a v8 manual and now its a 300TDI auto.
I've driven in snow with both the gearboxes on the same Kuhmo KL71 mud tyres and TBH there is no big difference a good driver and decent tyres will more than make up for any differences.

My LR90 auto has an advantage of constant smooth drive above 900 rpm and its smoother off throttle with less chance of brakeaway on slippery surfaces, with a manual if you come off the power too quickly you can cause traction to brake away similar to hitting the brakes.

The auto is great in sand for the same reasons & its kinder to the drivetrain
There are downsides as discussed above but that is not what was asked for..

Regards All
Gren
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Old 29 Nov 2015
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Thanks for all your responses, and sorry that this went under my radar...

Indeed, after some research it seems that automatics, with their smooth torque delivery are pretty good off road.

But in the end, a flat battery could be fatal in a vehicle that cannot be bump-started or towed, so I had to rule out an automatic.

The car I was looking at was a 2.7l Hilux Surf; I had only ever seen them as automatics and figured I would never found a manual, but two weeks ago I finally bought one.

Thanks again, but I'm sticking with manual transmissions!

EO
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  #13  
Old 1 Dec 2015
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Surf....Good choice, but i would say that!!!!
The 2.7 is an uderated motor. Its a very nice drive. Only problem would be spares i feel for this engine.
You can find manual 3ltr diesel surf's ...you just need to be patient.
A repair kit for the starter motor is very cheap and small to carry, so if our motor, which is an Auto, won't start it only takes a little while to fix.
I find driving it off road a joy..as when the going gets rough i only need to concentrate on one pedal..Haha.
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Old 2 Dec 2015
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Overland Tonka View Post
Surf....Good choice, but i would say that!!!!
The 2.7 is an uderated motor. Its a very nice drive. Only problem would be spares i feel for this engine.
You can find manual 3ltr diesel surf's ...you just need to be patient.
A repair kit for the starter motor is very cheap and small to carry, so if our motor, which is an Auto, won't start it only takes a little while to fix.
I find driving it off road a joy..as when the going gets rough i only need to concentrate on one pedal..Haha.
Yes, the 2.7 is very popular in the US and by all accounts is a bulletproof engine. As for spares, my philosophy is to have the car in perfect condition before leaving, so I'll be doing a major engine rebuild (hopefully the bottom end can stay untouched) before leaving, and not cut any corners or scrimp with non-genuine parts, then just take service items for the journey.

Manual diesel surfs seem to be quite easy to find, but I am not keen on the 3.0 TD (too many stories of head cracking) and the 2.7 petrol is reportedly better on fuel. Plus I wanted to stay away from diesel this time to prevent issues with waxing. With 150 PS I also have a better power-to-weight ratio than a 100 series Landcruiser diesel, though I will miss the torque of a diesel engine.

I'll rebuild the starter before leaving, but my worry in an automatic is just a flat battery in the wilderness. At -40ºC or -50ºC you don't have very long to live without power / heat, and a dead battery could be a big problem in an auto.

But yes, the Surf looks to be a great car for overlanding. The weekend that I bought it, I had actually agreed to buy a 100 series Landcruiser. Luckily it was a real dog and I walked away from the sale, as I immediately disliked the feel of the car; crap ground clearance, and ridiculously heavy. Felt like an unwieldy pudding. Reminded me of American 4x4s in fact. But that engine.... just beautiful.

I might get a thread going on one or other Hilux / Surf / 4 Runner site... looking forward to the rebuild

Cheers

EO
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Last edited by eurasiaoverland; 2 Dec 2015 at 18:41.
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Old 2 Dec 2015
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I would strongly recommend fitting LPG. It will more than repay the initial cost in fuel savings, and LPG is more available than petrol in much of eastern europe. Get a set of converters for the pump attachment though
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