this is dangerous territory...
some consider the argument of "Automatic vs Manual" to be as touchy a subject as Religion and Politics.
I am enjoying the civility which is being expressed here.
With respect for each others opinions, and experiences.
I see some common threads in off road failures,
One is lack of maintenance.
simple thing really, but often never truly considered. Especially important in getting a used vehicle, look it over carefully. Odds are that they didn't have the same idea about things as you do.
Another is using the wrong vehicle for the task.
Yes, I know we all had that "starship/jet fighter" moment when we believe that we are screaming through the universe, beholden only to ourselves, truly and firmly believing that our Pinto/Fiat/MG Midget/Lumina would carry us to the ends of the earth and back.
Truth is, very few vehicles can actually go seriously offroading or even trail running without issues.
They just weren't built for it. (although some can handle abuse better than others)
One big cause for failure is overbuilding.
some transmissions, I'll refrain from pointing fingers here,
just were not intended to handle a properly built up engine.
clutches and gears were designed to function under "normal" day in and day out driving.
for 99% of the civilized world that meant pavement and maintained dirt roads.
Put a bored and stroked 400+ HP Ford or Chevy in front of a stock transmission and it will fail.
The economics of manufacturing a beefy transmission is not good for the bottom line of the manufacturer.
Likewise are the transfer cases.
In other words, they build them as cheaply as possible.
There is a standing command from Ford (and I am sure Chevy and the others follow suit) that if any of it's suppliers can shave off $0.01 (that's one cent US, folks) from each component or part, that they are to do so.
they look for the cheapest way to manufacture, without adversely affecting integrity or safety.
Sure their products all work great (usually).
they just aren't bullet proof (or resistant to small arms fire).
this is just my opinion, and it wasn't asked for.
you may disregard any or all of it and I'll not take offense.
But in my 47+ years of roaming this earth, I have learned a few things.
One of which is:
If you want a truly capable off road vehicle, you almost have to build it yourself.
(and not cut corners.)
It is all good for something, and all good for nothing.
Just depends on what you do with it.