Can You Offroad In An Automatic Jeep? What You Should Know


Jeeps are considered to be one of the best off-road vehicles. You can often find Jeeps in popular off-roading destinations like Moab and southern Utah. Jeeps have had manual transmissions traditionally but in more recent years they have shifted to being automatic to appeal to a larger number of people. This raises the question if you can off-road in an automatic Jeep or if you need to have a manual transmission to off-road. 

Can you offroad in an automatic Jeep? It is completely possible to offroad in an automatic Jeep as it is just as capable of off-roading as a manual Jeep. Automatic Jeeps make off-roading more simple and more relaxed because you can focus on driving and getting through terrain instead of having to worry about shifting. Jeeps with automatic transmissions are also preferred among beginner off-roaders.

Jeeps can be fun vehicles that allow you to off-road with much less experience thanks to their versatility and ability to crawl over difficult terrain. Automatic Jeeps make it even easier for non-experienced off-roaders to enjoy the thrill of climbing over boulders and terrain that you would have never thought possible in a car. Automatics still can shift as needed and give the torque that you need to climb through most of what you need. 

Why It’s Possible To Offroad In An Automatic Jeep

Engineers and designers of Jeep realize that they have one of the top off-roading vehicles on the market. With this in mind, they have designed the transmission to be able to withstand and be used for off-roading. In truth, not only is it possible to off-road in an automatic Jeep but it is preferred by some people. The Jeep’s computer is fully capable of knowing when to shift so you can just enjoy driving. 

People get worried that you won’t be able to put your Jeep into the right gear if you have an automatic, which isn’t true at all. Yes, you may not be able to specifically choose which gear to put your Jeep in, but the automatic transmission is going to choose the right gear for you at the moment. Outside of that, you can still put your Jeep into 1st or 2nd gear when needed for those rock crawling moments. More often than not, the transmission is going to be putting you in the right gear for the job. 

Off-Roading In An Automatic Vs. A Manual Jeep

There are many arguments for why either choice is better than the other, but what it comes down to is your personal preference. Whether you have a manual transmission or an automatic transmission, you are going to be able to enjoy off-roading just fine. There are some pros and cons to each type of transmission so I am going to be going over those so you can decide what you think would be best for you. 

To start, a big pro of having an automatic transmission is that you can focus on other things instead of worrying about shifting. With an automatic transmission, you can always keep two hands on the wheel to help steer through the terrain. Also, you can fully focus on what is going on around you which is imperative when off-roading. Paying attention becomes much harder when you are trying to push in a clutch and shift, especially if you aren’t super experienced with driving a manual. 

Using a Jeep with an automatic transmission is a perfect way to introduce you to the offroading world. Chances are you’ve driven other automatic cars, driving an automatic Jeep is no different and the learning curve is much smaller. Most schools don’t teach students how to first drive with a manual; if you offroad in a manual, you’ll need to be very comfortable with using a manual transmission first before you can even think about offroading in one. 

Not only is that a safety issue, but it also produces a high risk of causing damage to your Jeep such as burning up the clutch and causing transmission damage. For this reason, automatic transmissions are much more popular among beginning off-roaders. 

Anyone who has driven a manual knows that it can be a pain to stop and start on a hill. If you do not quickly shift and get going then you are going to end up rolling backward and could end up running into something. Automatic Jeeps take this worry away because you can push on the gas and you are going to start moving up that hill. This is another reason that some people think it is much easier to off-road in an automatic instead of a manual. 

On the flip side, manuals can be advantageous while offroading. Many people argue that it is more fun to drive with a manual transmission since they are much more interactive. You are constantly doing something with a manual; you are never going to be sitting still. Some people find this much more enjoyable even though it is more difficult than driving an automatic. 

We’ve argued that manuals are difficult in the sense that you have to decide what gear to be in. This is also an advantage for those who are experienced. Rock crawling, steep inclines, and steep declines are easier to overcome when you have control over the gears.  Automatic transmissions may not be able to sense these terrains so having control over these harsher conditions can make the experience easier.

You may hear that manual transmission Jeeps are cheaper than automatic ones. One thing to consider money-wise, however, is that manual transmissions are usually easier to repair than automatic transmissions. Also, manual transmissions are going to require less maintenance than automatics. With manuals, however, you may have to worry about replacing the clutch. 

Tips For Off-roading In An Automatic Jeep

The biggest tip I can give for off-roading in an automatic Jeep is to take care of your transmission! Transmissions in off-road vehicles go through a lot. When going through mud, sand, or other slippery terrains, it is very easy for your transmission to heat up because it is working hard to give you the best possible gear ratios. 

At this point you might be saying, “okay I get it, an automatic transmission works hard, but what can I do about it?” The truth is depending on how much you use your automatic transmissions you need to take it in to get maintained regularly. If you are going off-roading regularly I would say that you should have your transmission worked on at least annually to make sure it is in good working order. 

Doing things like changing the transmission fluid regularly will ensure a healthier transmission. If you have a manual transmission, it is usually just enough to get the oil changed because they are more durable; automatic transmissions are shifting more than you would manually so they are going to experience more wear and tear. 

Instances Where Offroading In An Automatic Jeep Is Not Recommended

You will not find yourself in many situations where you are going to want a manual transmission instead of an automatic one. Automatics can handle almost every situation that a manual transmission can. The one case where you might want a manual transmission instead of an automatic one is when you are facing a lot of steep downhills or steep uphills. It’s easier to access engine brakes going downhill with a manual transmission compared to an automatic transmission.  

If you only use your regular brakes while going down steep hills, the brakes will get extremely hot and potentially give out. This is not a situation you’ll want to be in. Be aware that this takes practice and should be done correctly to ensure the health of your Jeep and the safety of yourself as the driver.

Related Questions

How do I protect my Jeep from scratches? You can protect your Jeep from scratches by using protective measurements such as car wax and body armor.  You can also prevent scratches from the way you drive; avoid bottoming out and rubbing up against rocks and branches.  Proper equipment like saws and shovels can also help you make it through some especially rough spots with minimal scratches to your Jeep. Click here to view the full article.

Why is off-road suspension stiff? Off-road suspension is stiff to better control the sway and impact of the vehicle under dynamic loads. Off-road suspension should always be stiffer than the suspension of an average street vehicle because they’re built for different purposes. Stiffer suspension allows an off-road vehicle to not sway back and forth uncontrollably and maintain a smoother ride. Click here to view the article in full.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. His passion for cars is his daily motivator and is constantly working on his projects such as restoring his 1966 Bronco, 1968 Firebird, or modifying his 2022 Bronco.

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