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Is an Automatic Car Good for Driving in Hills?

Since driving up hills, and especially over mountains, can take a considerable toll on your car, it’s important to know whether automatics or manuals fair best in these situations. 

So, who does it better: automatic or stick shift?

While automatic cars are typically good for driving in the hills, some people believe manuals do a better job traversing slopes. In general, which transmission type is better for driving in the hills depends on the driver’s preferences and needs. 

In this article, I will discuss the advantages of both automatic and manual transmissions when it comes to traveling through hills and mountains so that you can decide which is best for you. 

I will also talk about the recent advancements in automatic transmissions and when you should use D1, D2, and D3 in the mountains. 

Advantages of Automatic Cars in Hills and Mountains 

A silver car parked in the mountain.

In the following sections, I will discuss some of the biggest pros of driving automatic cars in hills and mountains. 

You Don’t Have to Shift Gears 

Probably the biggest pro of driving an automatic car over hills is also the defining feature of automatic transmissions: you don’t have to change gears. 

And not only do many people find not having to change gears more relaxing, but it also takes the guesswork out of the equation. 

Automatics Don’t Roll on Slopes 

Another great thing about driving an automatic car in the mountains is that they do not roll backward when you stop on an incline. 

That’s because automatic transmissions typically have a “hill hold” feature that prevents them from rolling back when stopped on slopes. 

You Can Focus More on the Road 

Some people argue that driving a manual transmission forces you to pay more attention to the road, and in general, this is true. 

However, when it comes to driving in the hills, manual cars can require a lot of attention because you have to focus quite a bit so you can constantly switch gears. 

Automatics, on the other hand, allow you to pay more attention to other things, such as curves in the road and turning vehicles, which can both be hidden and sporadic in hilly conditions. 

Automatics Aren’t as Jerky as Manuals 

Although some people can drive a manual transmission seamlessly, this is a rare skill to possess. 

Thus, a lot of the time, you are going to feel every gear change, at least to some degree. 

And when you’re driving in the hills, you have to change gears quite a bit, which can lead to a pretty jerky ride. 

In automatic transmission vehicles, though, you do not feel the gears changing, allowing you a much smoother trip. 

Advantages of Manual Cars in Hills and Mountains 

Below I will detail some of the reasons manual cars work well when driving in hilly and mountainous terrain. 

Manuals Get Better Gas Mileage 

Unless you have an automatic car made in the last few years, its manual counterpart will get better gas mileage. 

Manual transmissions get better gas mileage because they consist of fewer moving parts than automatics, meaning it takes less power to change gears. 

Plus, you can save even more gas in a manual by staying in a higher gear as often as possible. 

And since cars tend to burn more gas when driving through the hills, fuel economy is an important consideration when deciding on a car for use in these conditions. 

Manuals Require Less Maintenence 

Burning gas isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when driving over hilly terrain. 

Vehicles that often have to navigate slopes tend to break down more easily, which can mean a lot of money spent on maintenance. 

However, since manual transmissions have fewer moving parts, they typically hold up better than automatics. 

So, if you want to skip the mechanic, it’s best to drive a manual when you’re in the mountains. 

Manuals Give the Driver More Control 

Oftentimes, those who prefer driving manual transmissions enjoy the control they give them. 

In a manual, you get to determine the power your car gets, which makes some people feel more comfortable when driving, especially in the mountains. 

And comfort, of course, is an important part of good driving. 

So, if you prefer the ability to respond to slopes yourself and give your car the power you think it ought to have, you should choose a manual for hilly terrain. 

Are Automatics Better at Driving in the Hills Than They Used to Be?

A black car driving in the hills.

Yes, automatics are better at driving in the hills than they used to be. 

In the past, if someone asked whether manuals or automatics were better for driving in the mountains, the answer would definitely be manuals. 

You see, automatic transmissions rely on a computer to tell them when to switch gears. 

Thus, when an automatic car goes up or down a hill, the internal computer has to determine which gear is best at that moment. 

And years ago, when computers still weren’t too great, automatic cars didn’t perform well in mountains because they weren’t responsive enough. 

In those days, the human mind won out over the computer when it came to deciding when to change gears. 

But, as technology advanced, computers became just as good, if not better, than the human brain at determining which gear would give the driver the optimal engine performance. 

Therefore, it is much more difficult today to determine whether automatics or manuals are better for mountain driving because they perform pretty similarly. 

When to Use D1, D2, and D3 When Climbing Hills in an Automatic Car

If you aren’t used to driving in the mountains, you might not be sure how D1, D2, and D3 can help you out in these conditions. 

Thus, I’ll briefly explain the benefits of each and when you should use them. 

When Should I Use D1?

D1 is a strong gear option that gives you a lot of power at low speeds. 

This gear is best for when you need to climb very steep hills and when you’re towing a trailer. 

Using D1 can also be a good choice when you are going down a steep incline because it puts less stress on your brakes. 

When Should I Use D2?

D2 is similar to D1, but it is not as powerful. 

Basically, D2 provides you with the same benefits as D1 but with less power. 

Therefore, D2 is your best bet when you need just a bit more power than regular old D can give you. 

When Should I Use D3?

D3 is best for increasing tire speed, and most people use it when they need to pass another driver. 

This gear can be particularly helpful if you need to pass someone on a hill. 


When it comes to driving through hilly terrain, both automatic and manual vehicles have their strengths and weaknesses. 

Therefore, overall, it is really up to the individual person to decide which type of transmission matches their driving style and preferences.

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