A manual may be more fun for some but the purpose built offroad machines like compete in King of the Hammers and other major offroad events made the switch to automatics many years ago. Both winners at the 2012 King of the Hammers event were running automatics. And their automatic transmissions were essentially stock too, only coolers were added.
I converted my previous TJ from its OE 5-speed to an automatic for offroading purposes and the increase in its offroading ability from the automatic's 2-3X extra torque and infinitely low 1st gear ratio gave my TJ as much of a boost in offroad ability as installing the front and rear lockers did. The conversion to the automatic made a DRAMATIC improvement in how well it did offroad, expecially when climbing obstacles. The exact same three obstacles on a trail I have run for years always require a winch to get up and over them with my 4.88 gearing, 5-speed manual, and 35" tires. I couldn't make it up those obstacles without a winch no matter how many different lines I tried over the years. Then after I converted to the automatic, it went up those same three obstacles more easily than I could believe and without the need of a winch. The automatic's 2-3X greater low-end torque from its torque converter was the only difference. Same 35" tires, same 4.88 axle ratio, just the automatic transmission. It was almost stupid-easy after converting to the automatic, wow what a huge improvement on just that trail alone.
And for those who may think I just don't know how to drive a manual transmission well enough... I first learned to drive a stick back in 1964... almost 40 years of owning and driving a whole bunch of manual transmissions.
My old CJs were three speed manuals but I really enjoy the convenience of the auto in my TJ. Easier to drink my coffee on the way to work and all that jazz. I also like the AC and shift on the fly 4WD. I'm getting older I guess. It was very fun to shift that three speed behind a 304. Felt great.
I love wheeling with an auto. You can just ease up to a obstacle and climb up it pretty smooth. I have never wheeled with a stick but alway see guys stalling and jerking trying to work the clutch climbing up stuff. I see rock crawling with a stick being a hassle. Just my .02
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