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Should I Buy a Manual or Automatic Car?

Skilled drivers can shift a manual transmission faster than an automatic.
A woman shifting gears with a manual transmission.
Most new cars are automatics.
Repairs to a manual transmission are often cheaper than those necessary in an automatic.
A manual transmission may be found in off-road vehicles.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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When choosing a manual or automatic car it’s important to know what the terms mean. An automatic car refers to the automatic transmission, which shifts to most gears without your aid, and without need of a third pedal, the clutch, to shift from one gear to another. A manual transmission means that you have to learn to use a clutch to shift from one gear to another, thus utilizing both feet to drive the car. Essentially, you are the shifter, instead of the transmission doing this work for you.

Some people find little difference in manual or automatic cars. They can easily transition between one method of driving to the other and have a good feel for when to use the clutch to shift gears. The manual transmission car is usually less expensive, generally involves less expensive repairs, and may be helpful in certain cars where a lot of shifting between gears is required. For most people making the choice of a manual or automatic car is highly individualized.

Generally, a skilled driver can shift gears quicker than an automatic transmission does. So for instance if you’re downshifting to slow your speed on a steep hill, you can do this quicker than an automatic car. Unless you actually can shift into low gear, a feature of some automatics too, your car will continue to run at a higher gear, and you’ll need to employ the brakes more to slow it down.

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Other people find that the choice of manual or automatic is easy because they hate driving stick shift or manual transmissions. Unless you do a lot of specialized work, like driving over rough terrain in trucks or all terrain vehicles (ATVs), the convenience of automatic transmissions and no extra shifting is worth a little extra money. People may have tried stick shifts in the past and found them just too hard to work, and it does take a little bit more skill to learn how to shift without grinding the gears of your transmission. If you’re not good at it, you can easily burn out a manual transmission, so it may make better sense to choose an automatic.

Actually, except for perhaps racecar drivers and people who drive industrial vehicles, it may be hard to find a car with a manual transmission, especially a new one. Since so many people prefer the ease of automatics, they are most often available on new car lots. It may be easier to find an automatic, and having to order a manual transmission may lessen your ability to bargain for a good price on a new car.

On the other hand, when you have a choice of manual or automatic on a lot, you will pay less almost every time for a manual transmission. Frequently you’ll find some of the economy cars with stick shifts, and virtually no other special features like air conditioning or stereos, called a stripped down or basic model. Large car dealerships may stock a few manuals so they can advertise a much lower price for a car and bring in more customers.

Making the choice between a manual or automatic is really a matter of choice, price consideration, and comfort with driving styles. Manuals require more focus, more foot action, and ability to listen to your car as well as watch engine speed to know when to shift. Automatics require a bit less focus, and may be better if you’re driving with loud people (perhaps crying babies), or in traffic with a great deal of stops and starts. On the other hand, many people insist that once you learn how to operate a stick shift, it’s a skill you’re not likely to forget.

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anon937953
Post 22

@Anon2014: Clutches are not cheap to replace, and most manuals don't get much better MPG either. Some manual transmissions require frequent oil changes about every 20k miles.

anon359971
Post 21

Someone above said: "I have rarely seen manual car drivers in accidents. That says a lot."

Yeah, it says you don't understand correlations. Manuals account for about four to six percent of cars in the United States. So of course you "hardly ever" see them in accidents. I hardly ever see fuschia and puce colored cars in accidents, too -- it must mean people who choose those cars are better drivers!

anon356152
Post 20

I think at the very least, everyone should learn to drive both types of transmissions to really decide which one they prefer. I feel like it takes longer to not only master the basics of a manual, but also to feel 100 percent comfortable behind the wheel.

Most people whom I've spoken to who don't like manual haven't really driven them for very long. It took me several months of driving before I got comfortable with a stick shift. I love it now and I live in a busy city! For me, driving a manual keeps me engaged and focused on driving. Automatic is fine but you can very easily "zone out" or become distracted by other things.

The downside to driving stick is that if you are in the market for a new car, your selection is far more limited. Many models simply do not come as a manual option in the US and if they do, the dealer may have to hunt it down for you.

anon337633
Post 19

A manual car will always remain super due to having full control of the system and good braking. It allows you make moves if you are driving a sports car. There are fewer maintenance costs, and it burns less fuel compared to automatic cars and keeps you active. You may fall asleep if you are driving an automatic car on a long journey on a sunny day.

anon327745
Post 18

It is very important to talk about manual and automatic transmissions. I prefer manual transmission, because with a manual transmission, at the beginning, it can pick up faster than an automatic and you can reach what is your desired speed. You can enjoy shifting the gears and have great attention while driving.

A manual transmission is more economical and light weight. You can use your clutch for starting the engine when your battery has died. If your brakes have failed, you can stop your car by shifting gears. If your clutch fails, you can drive your car to a nearby station, but an automatic will never drive. So under any circumstances, I like a manual transmission.

liveit
Post 17

I am a personal fan of the manual. Now, if you live in a city where there is a lot of bumper-to-bumper traffic and you spend one or two hours of your day commuting, this might prove to be cumbersome after a while. But the manual transmission definitely gives you more control over your car. Anybody who knows anything about driving will tell you that if you want to have control you will get yourself a stick shift! It's a lot safer too!

anon320371
Post 16

While automatics today may be on par with 5 speeds, wait until you have to repair that automatic. Manual transmissions are hard to kill. Buying used, it's a much safer bet vs an automatic.

If there's some magic to fake a clutch working properly, its under 500 as a complete max for a new clutch. Unless it's a late 70s car, your auto will not even move you another five feet without multiplying the cost of a clutch.

Instead of burning gas to shift apply a little manpower and freaking shift! I would get all bent out of shape because of how hard it is to get a 5 speed because of all you lazy, automatic-using people, but I also refuse to buy a new car. Someone else can pay the depreciation. My car has 300k on the clock. It's on its second engine and original 5 speed with no sign of problems. It has gotten one clutch and clutch slave. I paid $150 for the clutch and $40 for the slave. I get acceleration, better mpg and more reliability. Win-win-win.

anon304056
Post 15

I've been using manual transmission cars ever since I started driving. I prefer manual transmissions because:

It consumes considerably less fuel compared to automatics.

When your battery is low or if your starter malfunctions, you can easily jump-start a manual transmission by simply turning on the ignition, putting the transmission in "Neutral", have the car pushed, while moving, immediately press the clutch and put it in second gear. This should start the engine and can be repeated if first you don't succeed. This is something you can never do with an automatic. For automatics, towing is always an immediate solution.

It's easier to maintain manual transmissions and less expensive too. The clutch disc and cover, pressure plate, and the release bearing make up the primary components. You can replace any one of these if they malfunction/get damaged, or you can replace the whole set. In automatics, you have to replace the entire set. Also, the gears in automatics are sensitive, and should one or more of the gears break, you will definitely feel a change in your driving.

I could never get the overall experience of the engine's power using automatics as compared to manual. Shifting gears is definitely faster and you can certainly maximize your engine's limits.

It's true that the driving experience is easier and relaxing using automatics. One may tend to fall asleep on the wheel compared to one who shifts gears in a manual.

anon301631
Post 14

Just remember that if you've a heavy foot you can go through clutch plates. I got 400,000km out of my '97 Golf diesel, but it was on its third clutch when I sold it. Sure was fun to drive!

I love manual transmissions. Obviously, as you get older, you don't "peel out" as much as you do when you're in your 20's, so for those who don't drive foolishly, your clutch should be good for the life of your vehicle.

The biggest advantage of a manual is you have to pay more attention to driving. That's second nature when you're used to a manual, but even if you don't realize it, you're still paying more attention to your car and the road when you are the shifter. With an automatic, your attention is much more likely to wander.

anon296490
Post 13

Only people with one leg should need an automatic.

It's much safer for the driver to control when the driver changes gear, not the car!

anon293464
Post 12

I simply take up the manual transmission (MT) for a larger car, which provides better acceleration and power. Only those veteran drivers choose an MT.

anon208875
Post 10

To be honest, you should buy whichever you like best. I personally prefer a manual transmission over an automatic transmission, but the manual transmission is a lot harder to use, and isn't always as fun, especially when driving a car with a tough clutch.

Really, when you want to decide the best transmission for you, test the car you want to buy, both an AT and MT, and then just pick whichever you liked best.

anon160607
Post 9

And people hardly ever want to borrow your car! (or truck) because they cannot drive a stick shift! hahaha

anon150066
Post 8

I drove a manual transmission for about six or seven years (first, learned to drive on a GMC S15 truck, and then upgraded to a Pontiac Sunbird) and I hope to never go back. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, "I hate manual transmissions!"

The automatic transmission is one of the greatest inventions in the history of the automobile. I detest manuals so much that (and this is blasphemy) for my next car, a mid-life crisis Mazda Miata, I'm going to opt for an automatic.

I don't want the bother of changing gears, I don't want to mess with the clutch, none of that nonsense. The automatic is an improvement. Embrace technology, you Luddites!

amypollick
Post 7

O.K. then. I'm just a big baby. I admit it and have *no* shame in admitting I'd rather drive an automatic transmission.

I learned to drive on a three-on-the-tree 1977 Chevy Nova. So I've driven a manual. No power brakes or power steering. Awful. Just awful.

I can see where, if you live in rough or high terrain, where a manual would be a good thing to have. In city traffic, it's a major pain, though. I'd rather have a car with a computerized, automatic transmission, that automatically shifts the car into the correct gear to adjust to the flow of the traffic. Forever downshifting in traffic is *not* my idea of a good time. And while a manual uses less fuel under general driving conditions, in traffic, an automatic wins, because the computer automatically shifts down into the correct, most efficient gear for the speed you're driving.

As far as small cars go, the transmission type doesn't make a huge difference in gas mileage. I average 34 mpg on the highway in my Ford Focus. A 5-speed manual gets about the same mileage, according to the EPA. In town, both average between 23 and 25 mpg.

In 1970, a manual transmission did make a difference in gas mileage. Nowadays, cars have computers to automatically select the most efficient gear for the conditions, which leads to improved fuel efficiency.

But the biggest reason I hate manuals? The constant pauses and slight jerks in city traffic combine to make me very, very carsick! Bleah! Makes me vaguely nauseated just thinking about it.

anon138627
Post 6

An important point is that a manual car has useful traction, leading to less skidding. Also, let us say you see a red signal ahead (like 200 meters), you can put the car in neutral and let the car coast, saving a lot of fuel.

I have rarely seen manual car drivers in accidents. That says a lot.

An automatic car is like a pony, a manual like an arabian horse. Men drive a manual, babies drive automatics.

anon132246
Post 5

A manual transmission is:

Lighter, therefore less fuel is used to move the car.

If you know what you're doing, the versatility of being able to choose your gears will save a lot of fuel.

Faster shifting than a lot of automatic cars means faster acceleration.

Costs less to build.

Costs less to repair.

anon106477
Post 4

A mention is needed about emergency: If your battery runs out of power, you can start the car by pushing it or rolling down a hill and with the clutch start you car. if you need a emergency stop because your brake failed, you can virtually stop the car with manual.

anon84589
Post 3

Although an automatic car is easier to drive, requires less focus on the pedal, and have your left hand relaxed, a manual transmission, though requires frequent use of your left leg and arm, which makes you consistently active and focused on the road, have a adventurous/exciting drive. It also drops less money from your pocket in almost every aspect. I love driving manual, no matter what others think about me.

anon72497
Post 2

It might also be worth mentioning that a manual transmission generally provides quicker acceleration. However, improved automatic transmissions these days on some cars are on par with their manual counterparts in terms of both fuel economy and acceleration.

anon47541
Post 1

I think a very important thing to mention is that a car with a manual transmission will use less fuel. A manual transmission is lighter and this can make a big difference to fuel economy, especially on a small car.

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