Talking Trucks Tuesday: Why So Many Transmission Gears?


Readers of a certain generation may fondly remember "10-speeds" — the upgrade bicycle from their single-speed kid's model. Those of us who know about semi-trucks know they've been using 10-speed transmissions for quite a while. And now you can get a 10-speed in a pickup truck (thank you 2017 Ford F-150), which raises the question: How many gears are too many?

Modern pickups offer five, six, seven, eight or 10 speeds while many cars and SUVs sport nine-speed transmissions. Usually trumpeted as gas-saving technology, these transmissions more often help maintain mileage while increasing performance. Interestingly, Ford's jump from a six-speed (2016) to 10-speed (2017) earned the F-150 all of a 1 mpg EPA-estimated fuel-economy increase for combined and city driving.

We think some gears seem to be simply too tall for many legal speeds or the computers aren't smart enough to figure things out. I usually can't get a Chrysler or Jeep nine-speed into top gear at anything less than 70 mph, yet I can get a Ford 10-speed into top gear in the low-40-mph range (and that's with a 4.10:1 axle gear in the new Raptor). Also, when comparing 1st gear to top gear ratios, there doesn't seem to be much difference (maybe a percentage point or two) whether you're looking at a 10-speed, eight-speed (Ram) or seven-speed (Nissan Titan).

How many gears do you think are necessary to make your pickup work the way you need it to? And where do we reach diminishing returns against added cost or lost longevity, serviceability, mileage and torque management? How many gears are too many? Does anyone still need to shift through the gears anyway? Let us know in the comments section below.

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