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4x4 auto vs manual

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Hey guys! I’m trying to decide between the auto 4x4 and the manual one. I feel like the auto switch deal is just more stuff that will fail. I have found a 2002 LE with the auto and just want to make sure they aren’t a lot more trouble or if they are better. I’ve read there are gear differences between the two but can’t find much about one being better or more reliable than the other. Thank you guys for any help! I also read there maybe a wider track and bigger tires on the SE manual models. Wondering if there is much difference there...

Edited by Brad77
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I own both versions. The auto version, I've owned over two years. 28k miles put on it. Wheeled it hard on trails, drove it hard for pizza delivery. The other one I've owned almost 2 years and it has done light wheeling once and done about 10k miles around town. The automatic (atx14a transfer case) has never failed me. I've had the 4x4 light come on for a few blocks driving around town once but that was it. Everything drove fine. On the trail, I've wheeled it in 4hi and 4lo and I've had the 4wd warning light come on a couple times but It would always give me 4lo and 4hi when I asked for it. Light either went off by itself or turned off when I selected 2wd. 

The manual (tx10) has never given me a warning light but when I engage it on wet pavement to quickly pull out in traffic, it doesn't want to go back to 2wd when I tell it to. I sometimes have to drive a block or two before it switches back to 2wd. Kind of makes a whirring noise. Haven't been motivated enough to look into it. 

As a former pizza man, the ATX14a was amazing in the the rain and snow. Just set the dial to automatic and forget. It always gripped one the oily, rainy roads when I'm heavy on the gas and of course snow driving was a breeze too. I've driven the chevrolet's version of automatic transfer case and it sucks compared to this one. It's slower engaging 4wd when you ask for it and if you use automatic mode, it toggles between 2wd and 4wd in a jarring fashion but not with the Nissan atx14a.

The atx14a also is supposed to have a lower crawl ratio than the tx10 when in 4lo.

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The TX10 would be theoretically more sturdy but you don’t really hear of many failures in either. The ATX14A is set & forget & really shines in inclement weather on pavement. It also works well on slippery surfaces where you aren’t likely to bog since you don’t get the understeer and plowing induced by a locked center diff. I’ve loved my ATX14A in essentially every environment & I find it largely indispensable on our typically wet PNW roads. I also have a 5th Gen 4Runner with part time 4WD like the TX10 & that’s possibly my one regret in it. I often wish it had an AWD option like on the Limited version or just plain full-time AWD like a GX or even our Jeep Grand Cherokee.


I believe the ATX14A has a better crawl ratio in 4Lo but I’ll leave the actual numbers to those who know.


I’m considering a possible 2nd R50 for a daily driver & weekend explorer at a work site in another state. I'm only considering '01-'04 LEs but I'd prefer the '02 as it has the best OEM limited slip & is still a cable throttle - plus the pretty 17" LE wheels & the load bar rack.


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The '03 manual lists the low range ratios as 2.020 for the manual transfer (TX10A) and 2.596 for the auto transfer (ATX14A). Aftermarket 3.7 or 4.0 gears are available for the manual transfer, but they're not cheap.


As Dbot noted, the TX10A is slow to disengage 4WD when it's under load. The shifter pushes the selector into 4x, but when you move the shifter back to 2x, the fork just gets out of the way and allows a spring to push the selector back out of engagement. If that selector is loaded by acceleration or torque bind, it won't disengage until the load is removed. Usually all it takes for my '93 is lifting off the gas for a moment. If it's torque bound, sometimes I have to shift to neutral or reverse before it'll let go. My '95 was stubborn about this until I changed the fluid, which cleared it right up. The TX10A can also get stuck between high and low range if you shift too slowly (drag in the automatic transmission spins up the input shaft). It's fine once you get the hang of it, but there is a learning curve.


The ATX14A can be a little fussy about manual hubs. Some trucks get confused that the front driveshaft isn't spinning, and you get an idiot light on the dash. There's also been some debate on whether running in auto mode with the hubs unlocked would damage the clutches. I haven't heard of anyone shredding one this way, but the general consensus is Don't Do That.


Bottom line, they both do the job and they're both pretty durable. I prefer the old-school simplicity of the TX10A, but I can see how the ATX14A would be nicer to live with.

Not sure about your tires/track width question. Might be a steel wheel/alloy wheel thing, that was an option on the early R50s. I don't know if factory steelies were still a thing post-facelift.

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I’ve been back and forth on this for a while and have a love/hate relationship with the auto transfer case, only because I like to understand things

I think at this point I’ve settled on the opinion: it’s awesome if you just want it to work and don’t care to know what’s going on, but it’s not for the guy who wants to understand his truck inside and out. It works, and works well. But if anything goes wrong with it, you’ll probably be looking at a full direct replacement. I’ve pretty much given up trying to understand it, there’s just too much involved and I’ve never found anything that explains the logic pathways for the auto mode so it’s nearly impossible to diagnose problems related to it. 

So again, if it matters to you to have something that actually makes sense and can be diagnosed somewhat easily, I’d stick with the manual. But in doing so you just have to be comfortable losing the convenience of the auto mode, which for most people is too much of a trade off since the auto case is fantastic when it comes to daily driving. Never let me down once, and just like Dbot, I also ran pizzas all over the city for the better part of 3 years, often in snowy/slushy conditions. Off-road the low range has crawled me through some nasty rocky spots and deep snow on the way to trailheads and camping spots.

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