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Automatic vs manual motorhomes: Which One to Choose

The choice between an automatic and manual motorhome represents more than just a preference in transmission; it symbolises a decision between two distinct styles of travel and adventure.

Whether you’re navigating the serene landscapes of the UK or embarking on long journeys across Europe, the type of motorhome you opt for can significantly influence your driving experience, comfort, and even fuel economy.

This guide delves into the nuances of automatic and manual motorhomes, offering insights to help you make the best decision for your nomadic aspirations.

What is the difference between automatic and manual motorhome gearbox?


What is the difference between automatic and manual motorhome gearbox

At the foundation of every motorhome is its transmission, essentially deciding how the vehicle shifts gears. The primary distinction between these two types of motorhomes is their gearbox operation. An automatic gearbox, as the name suggests, operates without requiring direct driver intervention. Based on engine revs and vehicle speed, this kind of gearbox seamlessly shifts gears.

On the other hand, a manual gearbox provides the driver with full control over gear changes. The driver must manually select gears by manipulating the gear lever.

This distinction also affects other vehicle operations:

  • Steering Wheel: In automatic vehicles, drivers generally have a smoother steering experience because they aren’t multitasking with gear changes.
  • Brake and Clutch Pedals: While an automatic motorhome only has the brake and accelerator pedals, a manual vehicle has an additional clutch pedal which the driver must operate when changing gears.

While many people consider driving a manual transmission vehicle a classic driving technique, automatic vehicles have become more prevalent, especially for those who prioritize convenience. Furthermore, the torque converter in automatic motorhomes ensures efficient power transfer from the engine to the wheels, eliminating the need for a clutch pedal.

What are the Characteristics of an Automatic Motorhome?

Automatic motorhomes are known for their convenience and ease of use. The absence of a clutch pedal and the need for constant gear shifting allows for a more comfortable and less tiring drive, particularly over long distances or in stop-and-go traffic. Automatic gearboxes, such as the torque converter, CVT, and dual-clutch transmissions, adapt to driving conditions, providing smoother acceleration and deceleration.

What Different Types of Automatic Motorhome Gearboxes Are Available?

In this segment, we’ll explore the various types of automatic gearboxes available in motorhomes, helping you understand their characteristics and how they might suit your travel needs.

Torque Converter Automatic Transmission

The torque converter automatic transmission is a traditional and widely used system in automatic motorhomes. It functions through a fluid coupling mechanism, which allows the engine to spin somewhat independently of the transmission.

If you’re looking for a smooth and effortless driving experience, especially when navigating through stop-and-go traffic or ascending steep inclines, a motorhome equipped with a torque converter might be your best choice.

Its ability to provide a seamless transition between gears without the jerkiness often associated with manual gearboxes makes it a preferred option for many.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

CVTs offer a unique approach to gear changing. Unlike traditional transmissions that have a set number of gears, a CVT can adjust seamlessly through an infinite number of effective gear ratios. This not only optimizes fuel efficiency but also ensures a smoother ride, as you won’t feel the gear changes.

Motorhomes with CVT are particularly suited to those who prioritise fuel economy and a relaxed driving experience. However, it’s worth noting that the driving feel of a CVT can be different, often described as a lack of shift points which some drivers might need time to adjust to.

Automated Manual Transmission (AMT)

AMTs, also known as semi-automatic transmissions, offer a middle ground between manual and fully automatic gearboxes. They function by automating the clutch and gear shifting process, allowing you to enjoy the fuel efficiency and control of a manual transmission without the need for a clutch pedal.

AMTs are typically lighter and more fuel-efficient than their fully automatic counterparts, making them an excellent choice for those looking to save on fuel without sacrificing the convenience of an automatic transmission.

Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT)

For those who value performance alongside convenience, a dual-clutch transmission presents an appealing option. DCTs use two separate clutches for odd and even gear sets, allowing for quicker gear changes with minimal loss of power.

This results in a driving experience that’s both efficient and enjoyable, with smooth, rapid shifts and improved acceleration. Motorhomes equipped with DCTs offer a more dynamic driving experience, making them ideal for those who enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Hybrid Transmissions

As the motorhome industry moves towards more sustainable options, hybrid transmissions are becoming increasingly common. These systems combine a traditional automatic transmission with an electric motor, offering improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.

A motorhome with a hybrid transmission allows you to enjoy the benefits of electric power, such as lower running costs and a quieter ride, without being limited by the range constraints of fully electric vehicles.

Fully Electric Transmissions

Fully electric motorhomes represent the cutting edge of motorhome technology, offering a driving experience that’s both environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Electric transmissions are characterised by their simplicity, with fewer moving parts than traditional gearboxes, leading to lower maintenance costs and fewer mechanical issues.

If you’re looking to make a positive impact on the environment while enjoying the peace and quiet of electric drive, a fully electric motorhome could be the perfect choice.

Robotised Manual (Semi-Automatic)

Robotised manual transmissions, or semi-automatics, offer a compromise between manual control and automatic convenience. They allow you to manually select gears using paddles or buttons without the need for a clutch pedal.

This system provides a more engaging driving experience, giving you control over gear changes while still offering the comfort and ease of an automatic transmission. It’s a great option for those who enjoy the involvement of a manual gearbox but prefer the ease of an automatic.

What Are the Benefits and Downsides of Automatic Motorhomes?

What is the difference between automatic and manual motorhome gearbox


Automatic motorhomes have surged in popularity, offering a blend of technology and comfort that appeals to a broad spectrum of travelers. However, like any choice, there are pros and cons.

Let’s delve into the advantages and disadvantages of automatic motorhomes, ensuring you have all the information needed to make an informed decision that best suits your lifestyle and travel aspirations.

Benefits of Automatic Motorhomes

Automatic motorhomes offer a plethora of advantages that cater to both novice and experienced drivers, highlighting the evolution of motorhome travel towards more user-friendly and safety-focused features.

  • Ease of Driving: The absence of a clutch pedal and the need for manual gear changes makes driving an automatic motorhome a breeze. This is especially beneficial for those new to motorhoming, providing a less intimidating introduction to motorhome travel.
  • Better for Beginners: With simpler controls, automatic motorhomes are an excellent choice for beginners, reducing the learning curve and allowing new drivers to focus more on navigation and safety.
  • Comfort: Long drives become less tiresome, thanks to the reduced physical effort required to operate an automatic gearbox. This means more energy to enjoy your destination.
  • Improved Safety: Features like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking systems enhance safety, reducing the likelihood of accidents caused by delayed reactions or driver fatigue.
  • Adaptive Technology: Many automatic motorhomes come equipped with technology that adjusts gear shifting patterns based on road conditions and driving habits, improving fuel efficiency and performance.
  • Hill-Hold Functionality: This prevents the motorhome from rolling back on an incline, making hill starts safer and easier, a feature particularly appreciated in hilly terrains.
  • Efficient in Stop-and-Go Traffic: Automatic transmissions excel in congested traffic conditions, eliminating the need for constant gear shifting and clutch use.
  • Resale Value: Automatic motorhomes often retain their value better than their manual counterparts, thanks to growing demand.

Downsides of Automatic Motorhomes

Despite the numerous benefits, there are also several considerations to bear in mind when opting for an automatic motorhome.

  • Higher Initial Cost: The advanced technology in automatic gearboxes can lead to higher purchase prices compared to manual models.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Historically, automatic motorhomes were less fuel-efficient than manuals, although this gap is narrowing with the introduction of newer technologies.
  • Repair Costs: When repairs are needed, they can be more expensive due to the complexity of automatic transmissions and the specialised knowledge required to service them.
  • Heavier Weight: The additional components in automatic transmissions can add weight, potentially affecting fuel economy and handling.
  • Complexity: The sophisticated nature of automatic gearboxes means there’s more that can go wrong, potentially leading to higher maintenance costs.
  • Delayed Response: Some drivers may experience a slight delay in acceleration with automatic transmissions, affecting driving dynamics.
  • Limited Manual Control: For those who enjoy the tactile feel of changing gears, automatics offer less engagement with the driving process.
  • Dependence on Electronic Controls: The reliance on sensors and computer-controlled systems in automatic transmissions can be a downside if you prefer mechanical simplicity.

What are the Common Issues in Automatic Motorhomes?

Understanding the common issues that could arise with automatic transmissions can equip you with the knowledge to maintain your vehicle’s performance and ensure a smoother ride.

Let’s explore some of the typical problems encountered by automatic motorhome owners.

  1. Transmission Fluid Leaks: One of the most common issues is the leaking of transmission fluid, which is crucial for lubricating the moving parts inside your gearbox. A leak can lead to erratic transmission behavior and, if not addressed, significant damage.
  2. Slipping Transmission: This occurs when your motorhome’s transmission fails to engage a gear properly, leading to a noticeable loss of power or acceleration. It often results in the engine revving during gear changes, which is not only inefficient but can also be quite alarming.
  3. Rough Shifting: If you’re experiencing abrupt or harsh gear changes, your automatic transmission might be suffering from rough shifting. This can detract from the driving experience, causing discomfort and stress to both driver and passengers.
  4. Transmission Overheating: Heavy towing, long drives in hot weather, or continuous use in stop-and-go traffic can lead to transmission overheating. This not only affects performance but can also lead to long-term damage if the transmission fluid breaks down due to excessive heat.
  5. Torque Converter Issues: The torque converter is a key component of automatic transmissions, facilitating the transfer of power from the engine to the transmission. Problems with the torque converter can manifest as shuddering, slipping, or an overall lack of power transfer.
  6. Solenoid Problems: Transmission solenoids control the flow of fluid throughout your gearbox. Faulty solenoids can lead to delayed gear shifts, inability to shift, or unexpected shifting, significantly impacting the driving experience.
  7. Wear and Tear of Internal Components: Over time, the internal components of an automatic transmission, such as the clutch plates and gears, can suffer from wear and tear, leading to a host of issues including slipping, rough shifts, and even complete transmission failure.

What are the Characteristics of a Manual Motorhome?

What are the Characteristics of a Manual Motorhome


Transitioning from the complexities of automatic transmissions, manual motorhomes offer a different driving dynamic, characterized by direct control and engagement with the vehicle.

A manual gearbox, often seen as a more traditional approach to driving, provides a tangible connection between you and your motorhome, with distinct characteristics that appeal to many enthusiasts.

  • Direct Control: One of the most celebrated aspects of a manual motorhome is the level of control it affords you. With a manual gearbox, you decide when to shift gears, giving you the ability to manage the vehicle’s power and torque directly, especially beneficial in challenging driving conditions.
  • Simplicity and Reliability: Manual transmissions are often praised for their simplicity and reliability. With fewer moving parts than their automatic counterparts, manual gearboxes tend to have lower maintenance requirements and can be less prone to costly repairs.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Historically, manual transmissions have been more fuel-efficient than automatics. This is due to their lighter weight and less power consumption in the gearbox, allowing for a more economical use of fuel, especially on long journeys.
  • Engaging Driving Experience: Driving a manual motorhome can be a more engaging and satisfying experience. The act of shifting gears manually can create a sense of achievement and connection with the vehicle, offering an enjoyable aspect to the journey that automatic drivers might miss.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Generally, manual motorhomes are less expensive to purchase and maintain. The initial cost is often lower, and in the event of transmission issues, repairs can be more straightforward and less costly compared to automatic transmissions.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Manual Motorhomes?

What Are the Pros and Cons of Manual Motorhomes?

With a hands-on approach to driving, manual transmissions can transform every journey into an engaging experience.

Below, we outline the key advantages and disadvantages of opting for a manual motorhome, ensuring you’re well-equipped to decide if this traditional drive style aligns with your motorhoming aspirations.

Advantages of Manual Motorhomes

  • Lower Initial Cost: Manual motorhomes typically come with a lower price tag than their automatic counterparts, making them a more budget-friendly option for those looking to hit the road.
  • Increased Fuel Efficiency: Often more fuel-efficient, manual transmissions allow for more precise control over the engine’s power, leading to potential savings on long journeys.
  • Greater Control: The ability to manually shift gears provides drivers with enhanced control over the vehicle, especially beneficial in challenging terrains or during adverse weather conditions.
  • Simpler Maintenance: With fewer complex components than automatic transmissions, manual gearboxes tend to be easier and cheaper to maintain.
  • Durability: Manual transmissions are generally considered more durable, with a longer lifespan due to their straightforward mechanical design.
  • Manual Skill Development: Driving a manual motorhome hones your driving skills, offering a more involved and satisfying driving experience.
  • Lower Repair Costs: When issues arise, repairs for manual transmissions can be less costly, thanks to the simplicity of the parts and widespread mechanical knowledge.
  • Better Traction Control: Manual transmissions provide better control over traction when starting on inclines or driving on slippery surfaces, offering an added layer of safety.

Disadvantages of Manual Motorhomes

  • Requires More Skill and Practice to Operate: Mastering the clutch and gear selection takes time and practice, which can be daunting for beginners.
  • More Physically Demanding: Continuously operating the clutch and gear lever can be tiring on long drives, especially in heavy traffic.
  • Challenging for Beginners: The learning curve for driving a manual motorhome can be steep, potentially deterring new drivers.
  • Potential for Clutch Wear: Frequent gear changes contribute to faster wear and tear on the clutch, leading to additional maintenance needs.
  • Slower Reaction Times: In situations requiring quick acceleration, manual transmissions can be slower to respond compared to automatics.
  • Difficulty on Inclines: Starting from a standstill on steep hills can be challenging, posing a risk of rollback.
  • Limited Availability: As the market shifts towards automatic transmissions, finding a manual motorhome with specific features might be more difficult.
  • Resale Value: Manual motorhomes may have a lower resale value in markets where automatics are preferred.

What are the Common Issues in Manual Motorhomes?

What are the Common Issues in Manual Motorhomes?


While manual motorhomes offer a distinct driving experience, they are not without their potential mechanical issues. Understanding these common problems can help you maintain your vehicle effectively and avoid roadside headaches.

  1. Clutch Wear and Tear: The clutch is susceptible to wear over time, especially with frequent use in city driving or mountainous terrain, leading to reduced responsiveness or failure to engage.
  2. Gearbox Problems: Issues like hard shifting, noise during gear changes, or even the inability to select gears can arise from gearbox malfunctions.
  3. Cable Stretch or Adjustment Issues: Over time, the cables that connect the gear lever to the gearbox may stretch or require adjustment, affecting gear selection.
  4. Hydraulic System Failures: For motorhomes with hydraulic clutches, leaks or failures in the hydraulic system can lead to clutch engagement issues.
  5. Bearing Failure: Bearings within the gearbox can fail, leading to noise, vibrations, or difficulty in shifting gears.
  6. Oil Leaks: Leaks from the gearbox or the engine can lead to low oil levels, affecting the transmission’s performance and longevity.
  7. Difficulty Engaging First Gear or Reverse: This common issue may indicate a misalignment or wear within the transmission system.
  8. Starter Motor and Flywheel Issues: Problems with the starter motor or flywheel can make it difficult to start the vehicle, especially in manual transmissions where the two components must align precisely.

How do you decide between an automatic and manual motorhome?

How do you decide between an automatic and manual motorhome


Deciding between an automatic and manual motorhome involves a blend of personal preferences, driving experiences, and practical considerations tailored to your lifestyle and travel aspirations. This decision can significantly impact your driving comfort, fuel efficiency, and overall enjoyment on the road.

Consider Your Driving Preferences: Ease vs. Control

Your preference between ease of driving and the desire for control plays a crucial role in this decision. Automatic motorhomes offer unparalleled ease of use, especially in heavy traffic or on long journeys, by eliminating the need for manual gear changes.

This can be a boon for those who prioritise comfort and convenience. On the other hand, a manual motorhome provides a level of control and engagement with the vehicle that many driving enthusiasts appreciate.

The ability to manually shift gears offers a sense of direct involvement in the driving process, which can be particularly satisfying on open roads or when navigating challenging terrains.

Evaluate Your Driving Experience

Your experience behind the wheel should also influence your choice. For novice drivers, an automatic motorhome might be the best option, as it allows you to concentrate fully on steering and navigating without worrying about clutch control or stalling. More experienced drivers might prefer the manual transmission for the added level of control and the traditional driving experience it offers.

Think About Your Typical Travel Conditions

The terrain you plan to traverse is a significant factor. Automatic transmissions can provide a smoother ride on hilly or mountainous roads, as they automatically adjust to maintain optimal power and speed. Manuals, however, may offer more precise control over the vehicle’s power output, which can be advantageous in rugged conditions.

Is automatic or manual motorhome safer in challenging terrains and weather conditions?

When facing challenging terrains and adverse weather conditions, automatic motorhomes generally offer a safety advantage. Their ability to seamlessly shift gears and maintain traction without driver input can reduce the risk of skidding or loss of control on slippery or uneven surfaces.

Is it better to tow with an automatic or manual motorhome?

Towing with an automatic motorhome can be less taxing, as the transmission manages gear changes, allowing for a smoother towing experience. This can be particularly beneficial when navigating through varying inclines. Manual transmissions, while offering more control over gear selection, may require more skill to maintain optimal engine performance and efficiency during towing.

Initial and Long-Term Costs

The purchase price of automatic motorhomes is typically higher than their manual counterparts due to the complexity of the automatic gearbox. However, the long-term maintenance costs can vary. Automatic transmissions may require more specialised and, therefore, costly maintenance, whereas manuals are generally cheaper to repair but might need more frequent attention due to clutch wear.

On average, an automatic motorhome might cost between £1,000 to £3,000 more than its manual counterpart. This range is indicative, and the actual difference could be higher for luxury models or those with advanced automatic transmission technologies.

Fuel Efficiency

Traditionally, manual motorhomes have been more fuel-efficient than automatic ones. Advances in technology are reducing this gap, with modern automatics offering comparable fuel economy. Your choice might depend on the balance between ease of use and operational cost efficiency.

Reflect on Future Resale Value

Automatic motorhomes often retain their value better, as demand for them continues to grow, particularly among those new to motorhoming or preferring a more straightforward driving experience. Consider potential resale value as part of your decision-making process.

Assess Your Comfort With Technology

Automatic motorhomes incorporate more advanced technology, which can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, features like adaptive cruise control enhance comfort and safety. On the other, they can introduce complexity that some drivers might find daunting. Your comfort with and attitude towards technology should influence your choice.

Understand the Vehicle’s Purpose

Think about how you plan to use the motorhome. If you’re aiming for long, relaxed journeys where convenience is a priority, an automatic might serve you better. However, if you’re seeking engagement and control, particularly on varied terrains, a manual could be more rewarding.

Durability and Reliability

Manual motorhomes have a reputation for durability and simpler maintenance over time. Automatic transmissions have improved significantly but can still be complex and costly to repair. Evaluate the reliability of each option in the context of how long you intend to keep the motorhome.

Personal Preference

Ultimately, the choice may come down to which type of transmission brings you the most joy and confidence as a driver. Whether it’s the tactile engagement of a manual or the smooth, effortless operation of an automatic, your personal preference is a valid and crucial factor in the decision-making process.


Navigating the decision between automatic and manual motorhomes involves considering a variety of factors, from driving preferences to the practicalities of maintenance and operating costs. As we’ve explored, each type of transmission offers its unique advantages and challenges, making the choice highly personal and dependent on individual circumstances.

The choice between an automatic and manual motorhome ultimately boils down to a balance of personal preference, lifestyle, and practical considerations.

At Oaktree Motorhomes, we specialize in providing a wide selection of quality automatic and manual motorhomes, catering to all preferences and needs. Our dedication to excellence is reflected in our status as the UK’s most trusted motorhome dealer, with the highest Trustpilot rating in the industry.

With over 60 years of combined experience and more than 10,000 motorhomes and camper vans sold to our satisfied customers, our team is committed to delivering outstanding service and expertise.

Whether you’re in the early stages of considering a motorhome purchase or ready to make a decision, Oaktree Motorhomes is here to support you every step of the way. Contact us today or browse our extensive selection of motorhomes for sale for more information, and let us help you embark on your next adventure with confidence and peace of mind.


1. Can you drive a manual motorhome with an automatic licence?

In the UK, if you have a driving licence that only covers automatic vehicles (marked as category B auto on your licence), you are not legally permitted to drive a manual motorhome. To drive a manual vehicle, you must have a full manual driving licence or pass a manual driving test to upgrade your automatic licence to a manual one.

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