Whether you’re a seasoned driver or perhaps you’re thinking about learning how to drive, you’ll probably already have an opinion on the manual vs automatic debate. In the UK pretty much everyone drives a manual transmission car, whereas over the pond in the US, it would be unusual to drive a manual transmission car. In this manual vs automatic review, we will look at the difference between the two types of transmission. We will look at the pros and cons of both and conclude with what we feel is the best choice.
But firstly, let’s answer that all important question…
What’s the Difference Between Manual and Automatic Car Transmission?
A car needs a full working transmission (or gearbox) in order to allow the vehicle to change gears, but the inner workings of a vehicle differs greatly between a manual transmission car and an automatic transmission car. A manual car is recognisable from the inside, as it contains a clutch pedal, which is used to change gears, as well as a gear shift stick between the two front seats, which offers full control of the car and between 5-6 gears and reverse.
An automatic car differs in that it has a simplified gearbox with the following settings: Park – P, Reverse – R, Neutral – N and Drive – D.
In a manual transmission car you will select the right type of gear for your journey, changing where necessary throughout. An automatic car does what it says on the tin, in that it selects the right type of gear for you in relation to your speed and the road conditions.
But Which is Best…Manual or Automatic?
At the end of the day, when it comes to choosing whether or not to drive an automatic or manual car, it’s still a matter of opinion and personal taste. There are many factors to take into consideration, which we will go into more detail later, but generally speaking it depends on a number of things, including what type of driver you are, the roads and conditions that you drive and your budget.
Let’s look at the nitty gritty of automatic and manual transmission cars…
Why Automatic Is Better
You’ll find that people are very evenly divided when it comes to which type of transmission they prefer and it’s often directly related to the type of car they learnt how to drive. If you learnt to drive a manual you’re going to find it strange driving an automatic and vice versa.
People generally love automatics because they’re easier to drive. The gearbox is so simple even a child could use the controls. Because automatic cars are easier to drive, many people choose to learn how to drive automatics only, so in this respect, they can make learning to drive way more accessible for people who otherwise might find manual gears tricky. It’s a safer way to learn too, as you’ll be keeping both hands on the wheel at all times as the gears are being taken care of automatically. This means you have more time to focus on your road position and speed.
Automatic cars are better in cities where you drive through stop-start traffic. The drive will feel a lot more comfortable as the transition between gears will feel smoother. Stalling won’t be an issue either as there is no clutch to create that embarrassing judder that always seems to occur at the lights.
Automatic transmission cars are better for areas with lots of hills. They might not be as fun to drive on a hilly road, but it’ll definitely be less stressful as navigating steep roads using a manual transmission can be tricky business.
Why Automatic Is Worse
If you learn to drive using an automatic transmission car then you’ll always be an ‘automatic driver’. This means that if you wanted to drive a manual transmission car, then you’d have to retake your test in a manual car. Better to learn how to drive manual car and then make the decision as to which you prefer afterwards in our opinion.
Automatic cars are thought to be not as fuel-efficient as a manual transmission car, although technology is advancing and some are said to be better.
One of the downsides of driving an automatic car, is that they’re more expensive to buy. Not only is the initial purchase cost higher, but they also can be expensive to fix as the mechanisms are more complex than the mechanisms of their manual brothers.
Another knock-on effect of this, is that insurance is often higher for an automatic car. So while these cars are felt to be safer than manual transmission cars, they will cost you more money in the long run.
Why Manual Is Better
Most manual transmission drivers will tell you that the reason that they like driving manual is because it feels like real driving. With a manual car (or stick shift in the US) you have total control of the vehicle, you’re more involved with the mechanics of the car and will find that it’s an entirely different type of drive to that of an automatic. With an automatic transmission car you will no doubt have an easier, smoother journey. A manual car will challenge you in different ways but ultimately you will get a better sense of fun when you have total control over the gears and clutch. Of course this is only really the case if your daily commute isn’t in heavy traffic each day. For that, an automatic would be definitely better.
Manual cars are more fuel efficient – as the engines are lighter and less complicated you’ll get more mileage from your fuel. The car isn’t second-guessing gears either, which automatics tend to do, you have control over the gears and the way in which your car uses its fuel.
The biggest reason to drive a manual car is that they’re significantly cheaper to buy both new and second-hand. If you’re looking to save money then consider driving a manual car, as not only are the running costs lower than an automatic and the initial cost of buying cheaper, but the insurance costs are lower too and this is because the inner workings of a manual car are far less complicated.
Driving a manual car means that you will have to learn how to drive and take your test in a manual car. Once passed you will own a manual license which means you can choose to drive manual or automatic. It’s much better this way around.
Why Manual Is Worse
As we mentioned above, if your daily commute involves hundreds of miles of motorway then maybe a manual car isn’t the best choice for you. It’s nice to have full control of your vehicle but after a few hours on a straight road you’ll wish your car was working the gears itself.
Most car hire places in Europe and pretty much all car hire places in the US will offer you an automatic transmission car. If you passed your driving test in a manual car then it’s going to take a while to get your head around automatic gears. That being said, it’s easier to learn automatic than stick-shift gears.
Manual cars are more difficult to drive and involve more thinking. If you live in a hilly area then this it can be tricky to operate the gears and clutch.
You’re likely to stall in a manual transmission car. It will happen from time to time and it will always happen when people are watching. The shame of a stall never fades.
The subject of manual transmission vs automatic transmission is always going to be subjective. Everyone has their favourite type of driving, because really that’s what it is. Little to do with the car and more about the driving. What type of drive do you want? If you live in an urban area and spend long periods of time on straight roads amid heavy traffic, then a manual car might not be the best choice for you. An automatic car could make a daily commute like this much more bearable.
Some drivers just want more control. If you learnt how to drive on a manual and then switch to an automatic you will know that the feeling is strange. It’s almost like something is missing. It doesn’t tend to feel like driving at all, it feels a bit like cheating, which as ridiculous as it sounds, will ring true for manual car drivers.
The issue of budget needs to be reiterated too. Automatic cars are definitely more expensive to buy, more expensive to fix and more expensive to insure. But they are easier and have their benefits too.
Before making a decision to buy a manual or automatic car then really look at your driving needs and at least try out the two different types in order to get a sense of how they feel.
You’ll instantly know which one you prefer.