Manual vs. Automatic

A while back I read a couple of editorials over at The Truth About Cars regarding the “Death of the Stick Shift.” This got me quite worked up, though it took me a while to get my thoughts in order and get motivated to write about it. For reference, here are the articles themselves that spawned this dissertation of mine – including a final editorial in favor of manual transmissions:

So, here goes:

The manual vs. automatic debate has been going on for years, with the commonly accepted “facts” of manual transmissions giving higher gas mileage and better “control.” Some people have said that driving a stick shift requires too much concentration from the driver – in other words, a stick shift is distracting you from driving. Other people say that the torque converter in an automatic “sucks” power away from the engine, giving lackluster performance.

IMHO, in case it wasn’t painfully obvious from my many other posts on the subject, the manual transmission is superior. You just can’t beat the level of control it offers.

In the above articles, it is argued that modern automatics make the manual transmission obsolete. Now, this IS true – to a certain extent. The truly modern automatics are very good – like, say, the ones you can find on your $50,000+ luxury sedans & sports cars. Combined with sophisticated traction control, yaw sensors, and so forth, these systems can provide a superb driving experience.

But let’s face some facts – these systems are EXPENSIVE. And your average car doesn’t have them. At least, not anything I can afford.

So, let’s get to the meat of the argument: control. Does a stick shift really give you more control?

I’d argue yes, of course. You see, I’ve driven a lot of cars in my short 9 years of driving – automatics and stick shifts alike. I learned to drive on an automatic Dodge Omni; owned an automatic K-Car, started to learn stick on a manual Dodge Neon and then a manual Chevy S-10, and finally wrapped everything up with a sport-tronic automatic Mitsubishi Outlander. Along the way I’ve driven a full-sized GMC Seirra 1500 (automatic), a fun & sporty Alpha Romeo (manual), a powerful Pontiac LeMans (automatic), a bulky Ford Explorer (automatic), an even bulkier Lincoln Town Car (automatic), a wimpy Ford Focus (automatic) and even a slightly scary Honda 700cc motorcycle (manual).

The basic premise on which I base my assertions that the manual is better is control – specifically, control of engine power delivery. With a manual, I can keep the engine in it’s “power band,” and ensure that it’s in that power band when I want it to be. For “spirited” driving, there’s no comparison. The manual lets me keep the power of the engine right where I want it, based on the conditions of the road. No matter how sophisticated the electronics, the automatic transmission will never be smarter than the human brain that’s actually driving the car.

There’s also the issue of shift speed to be considered. Every automatic I’ve driven shifts slowly from gear to gear. Even the current Keithmobile – the Outlander, which its “sport-tronic” transmission that lets me shift up & down with the push of a lever – shifts slower from gear to gear than a comparable manual. When you’re doing that “spirited” driving, that delay is definitely No Fun.

In addition, there are other features of the manual that I miss to this day – the ability to rev the engine up for a lightning-quick start; the ability to break the rear wheels loose with a bit of clutch & throttle play around a sharp corner; and the ability to do engine breaking. For example, I used to be able to bring the Keithmobile-C (the S-10) to almost a complete stop – without using my brakes. Come to think of it, in the nearly 100,000 miles I put on that truck, I don’t think I ever replaced the brakes. Every time I had them checked, the people doing the checking would say something like “yeah, your brakes are fine, they look like they’re still being broken in!” Not so in the Keithmobile-D (the Outlander). It’s brakes are due for replacement next month, and I’ve put far fewer miles on it than the Keithmobile-C had.

Now, having been a courier for 2 years, I can appreciate the seductive allure of the automatic transmission to the average commuter. Goodness knows I’ve complained enough about driving in traffic with a manual. And during the time I was a courier with the Keithmobile-D, it was quite a bit nicer to not have to shift – though the constant braking was almost as annoying as the constant down-shifting. Go figure.

For the “average” driver, an automatic may be a good choice. And the automatic has its place in other circumstances as well – for example: plowing. As you’re probably aware, it’s snowed quite a bit around here lately, and I can tell you there are very few people out there doing professional snow plowing with manual transmissions. It’s just not practical – you’d burn out your clutch. The torque converter in an automatic takes the abuse of pushing tons of snow around at slow speeds much better than a manual would – mostly because of the wider gear range in an automatic. And for taxi drivers and limo drivers, there’s not even any realistic choice – it’s an automatic all the way. And big trucks, that is, big diesel trucks (and buses) need an automatic to handle the job of moving a huge mass of metal (although many of these big automatic systems are “sport-tronic” in the same way as my Outlander). UPDATE: I should correct myself somewhat here – most buses are automatic, due to the constant stop & go factor, “tractor-trailer” trucks that haul large, heavy loads still tend to have manuals – although this is changing in many areas as automatics are built that can take the load and provide the necessary gear reduction – which is the primary reason big trucks have been manual in the past.

The argument of economy often enters into this debate – some say one system is more economical than the other. IMHO (again), a stick, driven properly, delivers better economy than an automatic. I point to my truck (the Keithmobile-C, the S-10) as a prime example. I got great gas mileage from that thing, no doubt about it. And let’s not discount the savings from brake wear – something I didn’t have to worry about much. And a friend of mine had a Neon that was an automatic – having ridden (not driven, alas!) in it, and having driven a manual Neon, I can say the manual was far more “peppy” and it was without a doubt more fuel efficient. Of course, other people driving differently than me might find an automatic to give better economy.

The argument of safety also comes into this debate fairly often. While it’s true that driving stick requires more involvement from the driver – hell, you even have to take one hand off of the wheel to shift – I don’t think that’s a truly terrible thing. Unless you SUCK at driving stick, the shifting process is as natural and automatic as turning the wheel or using your directional signals or windshield wiper controls. It’s just not a big deal. Conversely, of course, the automatic lets the driver focus on other cars & whatnot, while keeping both hands planted firmly on the wheel. Still, I think it’s valid to say that this kind of ease of driving can, let’s say “encourage” the driver to engage in other activities not conducive to safe driving. Such as talking on a cell phone, among many others. As a courier, I had to use my cell phone from time to time, and I can tell you, it’s hard to do while driving stick in traffic or around a city. In many cases I just had to wait until I stopped to use the phone – which is arguably the right thing to do. When I had the Keithmobile-D and it’s automatic, I found it easier to use the phone (naturally), and honestly – I did tend to use it a bit more. Now, of course, it IS hard to dial a phone while driving stick, and anyone who attempts to do so is putting themselves in more danger than the automatic driver doing the same thing, but the argument here is that a driver with an ounce of common sense will just leave the damn cell phone alone while driving stick, since it is so obviously just an accident waiting to happen. The automatic driver might be lulled into thinking the cell phone (or double mocha latte, or MP3 player, or makeup, or cheeseburger, etc) is quite safe, since they can still “drive” while doing whatever it is they are doing. Which they are clearly not. (Think about this the next time you see an accident.)

So, both systems have their place – an automatic is easier & often more economical (for the circumstances), but a manual is more controllable and certainly more desirable for the driving enthusiast. (As a side note: try rocking your car back & forth to get it un-stuck from snow with an automatic. Now, try it with a manual. You’ll appreciate the stick shift almost immediately. Now that’s control.) In the end, though, you just can’t beat a manual for driving control – and since that’s what rates highest in my book, I put a manual above an automatic. But of course anyone who has different expectations from their car may disagree – and be perfectly justified in doing so. The fact that many cars these days don’t even offer a manual transmissions speaks volumes as to what “most” people “want.”

But I’ll never get over the joy of shifting. Long live the stick shift!!

By Keith Survell

Geek, professional programmer, amateur photographer, crazy rabbit guy, only slightly obsessed with cute things.


  1. All hail the stick shift!

    Just yesterday I was involved in a debate about the safety and efficacy of a stick shift in that oh so important role for my truck– hauling. Specifically, hauling horses, or hay. A typical load of hay can weigh upwards of 4 and a half tons (9,000 lbs for those of you playing at home), and that’s not counting the trailer! I have experienced hauling such a load with a F250 Superduty Auto, and a Dodge 2500 5 speed. For me, there is simply no comparison. I HATED the lack of control I felt with the auto, and LOVED the stick.
    The feeling of all that weight pushing you towards the stopped traffic in front of you and only the damned brakes to stop you is frankly quite scary. I can vividly recall one time where I was down shifting while going off the shoulder to avoid a car who had made an ill-advised sudden stop and kept control of both the truck and the load without ever applying the brakes. (How vividly do remember? It was on 56th just east of Quebec, in Montbello. I swerved into the lot where the taco trucks congregate. I had on hay, on a gooseneck trailer. There was one person in the truck with me…)
    The discussion of brake wear is a valid one, not usurped by the presence of electric trailer brakes on most 2 axle trailers. Electric brakes are a godsend, and save immeasurable wear on the poor truck’s front discs, but as the say with electronics in sailing, “what do you do when they fail?” An electric brake controler has no equal in its ability to rcover a load that has begun to fishtail. By applying only trailer bake and not stopping the truck, the trailer literally “drags” itself back into line with the direction of travel. But as I say, the sole reliance on brakes leave me feeling a little out of control. And the F250? Needed front brakes almost every 12 months. Even with the electric brake control.
    And the proffesionals, at least some of them, agree. I was at a dodge dealership yesterday and had the opportunity to test drive an ’05 2500 Cummins with not a 5, but a SIX speed manual. Super nice riding truck, and it can haul a load, I assure you. The presence of the six speed speaks volumes to the demands of the consumers in the full-sized truck market. The 2500 is a work truck. Designed to haul. You want control? Get a stick. The absense of 5 speeds on many small cars also speaks to the consumer base, only not as kindly. I leave that to you to fill in.
    Hauling is an important part of the discussion, although possibly not one many people relate to. If you don’t haul, what’s the use? Well, the reason people who haul large loads prefer a stick is control. The less the load, the greater control, yes? So: no load + stick = great control. What do they tell you to do if your going down a mountain pass in an auto? Use the lower gears, save your brakes. What do you do if you drive an auto in the snow? Use the lower gears, is offers more control.
    In terms of fuel economy, it’s probably a wash. Possibly it even goes to the auto. But when that automatic transmision fails, as it is bound to, it costs considerably more than a new clutch. (insert here your argument about the cost of rebuildin an standard transmission and realize that the friction plate and wearable parts in a stick will go, and no necesitat an entire rebuild. We redid the 2500 at 100K fo $1200) There goes your economy.
    And the other argument, about fleets? Yes, fleet managers are always looking to cut corners, and a automatic fleet is cheaper to keep on the road. Why? No for the machinery, but th drivers. A poorly driven stick can hurt itslef. A poorly driven auto will stay together longer. You can hire less skilled drivers if you have an automatic fleet. There’s your economy.

    Am I biased? Sure. That goes without saying. I have an opinion, therefore, I am biased. But not closed minded. I’ve been in both camps, and I see what I like. Is there a place in the world for an automatic transmission? Of course. Is there still room for the stick? YES.

    By the way, it also increases a girl’s sex appeal if she can drive a 5 speed. Although that may not be a pertinant argument…

  2. Again well put. I am one of the converted and will never go back. To each his/her owh though and I am not anti-auto. Although, I will reiterate pjbreeno’s closing argument…..

  3. I will be purchacing a roadster in the near future, and was going to select the automatic option, which is 950.00 more, but after reading your article, and other’s like it, I agree with you, this roadster is a fun, driving machine, made for performance, and an automatic on this type of vehicle seems kind of wimpy.
    I appreciated your article and honesty.
    Long live the stick.

  4. I love driving a stick! I had one for 13 years and another for a couple of years too. Then I bought an automatic, and I mourned the loss of my stick. The only problem is being stuck in traffic as far as I am concerned but what i would do is not take it out of first gear unless I had to so I am not shifting all the time. I would only let it rev so much and go with the traffic flow and only switch to a higher gear when needed which is usually not in stop and go traffic. Currently, I am waiting for a Honda 5 speed, seems they either cant keep them on the lot or no one wants them. I am getting mixes messages but I am willing to wait!

    1. Driving in the 1st gear with passengers in your car is a no-no! And that kills your clutch’s coils and the friction plate as well…. and if you hold the clutch down that kills the throw out bearing πŸ™‚

      1. I fail to see how 1st gear is a no-no simply because you have additional passengers in the car with you. And the “throw out the bearing” bit is just the same excuse people repeat without knowing the facts when they prefer automatics (same as how people who prefer manuals just repeat the “control” excuse).

  5. “Stick” The One and Future Driving King!

    I have a stick and it is by far the greatest experience i have ever had in a vehicle. I have driven my share of automatics ( explorers, civics, camrys etc. ) but when you get in to a car with a stick shift ( my honda civic ) its a whole new driving experience. I actually feel like i’m a part of the road and i control how much power i need, unlike the automatic which basically controls you. Great Article and thank you for telling the God given truth. All Hail the magnificent power of shift!

  6. I learned to drive on an automatic dodge stratus ES V6. I was blissfully ignorant of the potential of the manual vrs the automatic. I now drive a saturn sl2…sadly, still an automatic. By now, however, I am really learning to dislike automatic. My boss has got the same car as I do, but it’s a single cam rather than double, and he’s got automatic. He smokes me even with my 20+ HP advantage. Auto ALWAYS shifts either too early, putting the RPM’s beow the powerband, or too late, putting them too high or my taste. Cruising on the hwy the RPM’s go to high, worsening fuel milage and wearing the engine more than needed. The list goes on.

    My next car, I can assure you, will be a stick shift. Hell, I am seriously contemplating converting my current car to a stick shift.

    1. Your auto sucks! Don’t buy american made cars! A good auto with a decent sport mode lets you shift at red line, not to mention you can use the manual mode as well. At highway speeds a modern auto locks the torque converter, so if you have high RPMs that is by a bad design. My 5 speed manual Honda had 4000 RPM at 70 miles/h on the highway. My auto BMW does 2500 RPM at that speed. Get a decent auto (with a decent car) and smoke your boss! He has a Stratus, it won’t be too hard

      1. What you’re saying doesn’t make sense – you’re arguing FOR the automatic, but you say that modern automatics lock the torque converter and this is bad design when coupled with high RPMs? You’re just not making any sense.

        1. No, he’s saying that since modern automatics lock the torque convertor at highway speeds, then if your car has high RPM at those speeds, it’s an indication of a poorly designed gearbox, since one that locks the torque converter should give low rpm when cruising.

          That said, my European Ford Fusion with a 1.4 litre petrol engine and manual 5-speed transmission goes about 2900rpm in 5th gear at 110km/h (which is approx. 70mph)

  7. Not only are most big trucks(semi’s) manuals, but down shifting all the time puts a lot of wear on your cluch. I don’t know about you guys, but I would much rather replace my brakes than my cluch. with that said standard shift car are more fun.

  8. I am a mechanic and the main argument point when it comes to cost is that I can replace a manual trans for the cost to fix an auto. Not to mention that the only thing that goes wrong with a well driven manual is the cluch after 150-200 K miles. A well driven auto is lucky to make 200 K without a full rebuild. Manuals rule and autos druel.

    1. At 200K your problem isn’t the clutch or the auto usually, but where do you leave your beater for recycling!

      1. There is no reason why a well-maintained car should not be in perfectly good shape (and not a “beater” at all) even after 200K miles.

  9. I’m 18 years old, been driving an automatic car that my parents got me for 2 years now and i just learned how to drive stick yesterday and wow was it fun! I probably stalled 20 times when I first started learning in a parking lot, but by the end of the day I was driving all around town. I thought that maybe I will buy a maunal car when I make my first car purchase because of how much I like driving my girlfriend’s. But, because of reading all of these comments, I think I am going to have a lot more reasons to drive a stick. Thanks guys!

  10. Keith,

    Touche! Couldn’t have said it better myself. And of course I agree; I’m a MINI driver (and no self-respecting MINI driver would have an auto, IMHO).

  11. And there’s nothing like being in that very narrow band where your transmission can’t quite decide whether it should shift up or down is there? Oh happy day being stuck in a bus with an automatic transmission unit with schizofrenia. REV shudder REV shudder REV shudder. Again you shan’t get that from a $60,000 top of the line machine but I’m referring to your average Joe. However it’s true that if you’re incapable of “feeling” your engine, as is the case with my mother who generally remains stuck in 3rd gear while her car is literally screaming down the road at 50mph then yes, auto would probably be better for you. However I “can” ‘drive’ and I like to ‘drive’ so I’d like to continue ‘driving’.

    1. So get a good car with a good auto box. Manual sucks too it it is badly made, it is a nightmare. My auto BMW never hunts for gears…. mind you it is over the 60 000 mark and has 450 NM torque…. it is 20 years old though!

  12. I’ve driven manuals all my life until about three months ago when I decided to test drive an auto. The car was a Mitsubishi Lancer and I’d have to say that I fell in love with it as soon as i started driving it. The whole ‘auto’s take ages to change gears’ and the ‘band where it can’t decide what gear’ is out the window with the sports auto. It is sequential gears, which is a bit of a bummer, but nevertheless, the power it delivered was instant (didn’t even notice any lag taking off) and the gear changes whilst in sports auto mode was smooth as. Mind you, if it wasn’t in sports auto mode the gear changes were a bit sus.

    Needless to say, I’m a converted auto fan now. No more fart-assing around in the heavy traffic for me, trying to build up the muscles in only one leg πŸ™‚

  13. I went from auto to manual and now i’m back with auto. To be honest, everybody goes through the ‘manual phase’, eventually you’ll get sick of it (SoCal traffic sucks) and go back to auto. Just got an IS350 and it’s simply amazing. Do i miss manual? yeah, when i think about it for a second.

  14. I own a 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback with a 4-Speed manual transmission and man! it’s a blast! I feel like Steve Mc Queen everytime I drive the thing.

    Long live the stick!!!

  15. Good thread here.
    Over the last 30+ years, I’ve probably been in several hundred discussions/arguments concerning the pros and cons of automatic and manual transmissions. I learned on a stick, then experienced my brother’s 51 Ford with Ford’s first automatic. It had to be converted to a stick. Later, I inherited my other brother’s 51 Buick automatic, another poor example.

    I swore then that I’ll never buy an automatic…and kept that promise for over 40 years and 9 vehicles. I’ve had to rebuild one manual transmission, but unlike the automatics, the rebuild was as good as new. I’ve never worn out a clutch disc yet, even on vehicles with 200+ miles.

    Last week I began shopping for a sports sedan. On my short list are BMW 328/335, BMW 528/535, Saab 9-5, Infiniti G35, and Acura TL Type S. All these vehicles claim to be available with a manual transmission, most claim to come standard with a manual transmission. But trying to find any of these vehicles with a manual trans is like making a special request for what is supposed to be standard.

    It appears that manufacturers or dealers have forgotten the minority who still like the driving control a stick shift offers. This may be ok for a family car, but for a sports sedan that is or strives to be the “ultimate driving machine,” it defeats the purpose, but it makes the sale to those who don’t want an ultimate driving control, but want a carefree commuting environment.

    I’ve settled on a BMW 550i with sports package and the standard 6-speed manual. Imagine spending nearly $70k on a car that can’t even shift its own gears. Well that’s me, that’s how I was brought up.

  16. Tee, I agree with you. I have been looking to buy an SUV. I have my heart (and mind) set on a manual transmission, but dealers just don’t carry them. In my experience with researching cars, usually only the base models are equipped with a manual tranny. That just sucks! To me, driving stick is the ‘creme de la creme’ of the whole driving experience. Why only offer it in base models?
    My very first car was a 4-speed (stick shift) pontiac Lemans (1992). I learned how to drive stick driving that car off the lot! (how embarrassing!). I put over 100K on that little car and never had to replace the clutch. I have driven several other stick shifts, and never had to replace the clutch. Probably my favorite driving experience with a manual was with my husband’s 1990 ford bronco II. The starter was going bad, not to mention something was wrong with the fuel delivery system because it would stall out at stop signs, red lights etc. But you know what?….I was still able to drive the damn thing because I could pop the clutch as many times as it took to keep the thing running! You can’t do that in an automatic. Sometimes the best inventions are those that are simple in design. Respect the Stick…it WILL take care of you!

  17. Janel makes a VERY good point. Sometimes, the simplest design is the best, no matter how old it gets.

    Modern Automatics are 6-speed electronic nightmares compared to their 3-speed hydraulic predecessors. But a stick shift? More or less unchanged. And that’s a good thing.

  18. Yeah for stick shifts…

    I’m having to look into a new truck (I have a horse) so I am looking for decent torque, no due and a manual. Apparently in New Jersey there is NO market for a, stick or b a diesel. They all think I’m smoking something when I walk in (all girlified and such) and say I’m looking for a manual diesel.

    I just drove my dad’s 96 F350 from Ca to NJ… manual. Loaded truck and trailer, best trip ever! There is no replacement for a manual, control is better and it just feels so much safer with a trailer pushing behind me and I have more than a set of brakes slowing me down. No replacement… ever!

    (thanks for the article, rekindled me wanning hope for the manual!)

  19. I have a 67 Shelby GT with only 38,000 miles, i love that thing, dont drive it much because its just a classic but when i do drive it i cant help but smile when i change gears so much more fun then my auto Porche Carrera

  20. I’ve also been a big fan of manual transmissions ever since I got “bootleg” driving lessons from my parents (’68 Volvo 240GL and ’78 Bronco 351W each w/ 4sp trannies). They both taught me the value of control via the throttle, not only for braking, but steering as well. In addition to the power control as far as keeping it in the sweet spot, my Dad (a trucker at heart) taught me to shift without the clutch, and to this day I can get into virtually any vehicle, and shift into any gear, up or down, without depressing the clutch pedal. The whole family has benefited from it. My Mom has a ’90 Escort, and the brakes only had to be done last year, and she’s still on the original clutch! I’ve since had numerous vehicles, including a 80 auto Mustang (horrid acceleration, but great mileage and no speeding tickets), an Isuzu P’up 5sp (insane mileage, horrible parts prices), and a truly obscene auto Toyota Corolla SR5 ( NOT geared for the highway. She screamed like a banshee!). My next vehicle will be (Gods Willing) a stick shift, be it a truck or a sport car. I’ve seen some reasonable prices on BMW wagons and various trucks, but the task of finding decent vehicles with manual transmissions seems truly Herculean, especially if it’s in the used market. Either they’re rat-bagged to the junkyard (possible, but unlikely) or their owners love them so much, they never want to get rid of them.

    I’m tending toward the latter possibility!.

  21. I agree that a manual is more fun. I have owned an old 1982 B2 Audi 80 1,6 Liter diesel, which got about 50 mpg. Right now I own a 2000 Opel Corsa C 1,7 Liter diesel.

    I live in germany, and almost all cars here are manual, in fact the standard car is manual, and only luguary cars generally come with automatic. Also about 75% are diesel. I’m sure you know this. Also to get a liscense in germany one has to pass a manual driving test first, otherwise one only has a liscense that lets you drive automatics, and there are not so many of those, and automatic is more expensive, so most people get a full liscense that lets him or her to drive a manual.

    It is true, manuals are more efficient, and especially in europe, where a lot of cars are smaller and have smaller engines, having an automatic in a car like a CitroΡ‘n C1 would be not good, it would have no power. so it is important to have a manual transmission for that reason too.

    Another thing i would like to point out is, we have a lot of powerful cars that are manual that we use for pulling things, almost no one uses trucks for personal use. there is often no point in europe for a pick up truck, wich such cars.

    Also, I noticed you said taxis and limos are essentially automatic. In europe just about all taxis are manual. I have never driven in a taxi that was an automatic. And most taxis here are Mercedes benz.

    So i really do not think that the manual auto is ‘dead.’ Maybe in the united states it isn’t so popular, and i can see why, gas is so much cheaper there, because of it’s lower quality, it is only something like 3 dollars for a gallon? In europe gas prices are 7 to 8 dollars a gallon. making manual transmissions and diesel engines much more popular from their efficency. So in the US more people can afford to drive an automatic, which is different in Europe.

    I liked your article, and i think you have a good view on manual autos.

  22. i got to the part about big trucks having automatics and stopped reading, you cannot have an argument if you facts are blatently wrong. sorry. the majority of “semi” or “big trucks” have manuals, schools buses have automatics so the driver can better focus on the crazy kids in the back.

  23. I have an entire website dedicated to this debate:

    While I agree with the “superiority” of stick shifts I also believe in the comfort-benefits of automatics. It all comes down to personal preference, just like with many other things (do you take your coffee with cream or milk?)

    The mistake that many sources/review make is that they *claim* that one is better than the other.
    Always remember to look at the flip side of the coin!

    1. WHat superiority? People are always mention control with a manual. Add 100 HP and big brakes, a good suspention and there you go, you have control!

      1. Assume then that you already have good brakes and a good suspension, and that it’s not possible to add 100 HP (I mean, seriously, aside from some very, very major modifications, it’s virtually impossible for an average person to add 100 HP to their car), and a manual will give you more control than an automatic.

        Given the same car – one with automatic transmission and one with the manual transmission, the latter will have more control for the driver (assuming the driver knows how to drive both stick and auto of course).

        The computer control of an automatic will NEVER be as proactive about shifting as a human being can be. An automatic is, by definition, “reactive” to road conditions, while a manual (controlled by a human) can be “proactive.” There’s a big difference there.

        And most automatics at the moment are “sequential” automatics, so you can’t skip gears. (Let’s put aside the really expensive or experimental “clutchless manuals” or “computer-controlled clutches” for now, as they are not part of the “mainstream” of choices for cars.)

  24. i have been driving for about 4 years now, i learned when i was 16. being that my mother is european, i was forced to learn in a stick, and i have loved it ever since. I drive a 1991 4 speed honda civic, and id rather drive it anyday than to my mothers automatic dodge stratus. stick is just more fun to drive, and i get like 40 mpg, where the stratus gets like 18… i think i made a better choice πŸ˜€

    1. Try my 300 HP BMW. It has an auto… I rather drive that any day than your mom’s auto Dodge or your stick Civic. Oh, and that is just more fun to drive than that Honda. I think I made a better choice

      1. “To each their own,” of course. Fun is, of course, subjective. But if you’re going to post this many comments here, perhaps you could explain why you think yours is more fun?

  25. i am 17 and my grandparents want to buy me a car i wanted to know if you could send me info on saftey crash rating on auto and manuals cause i love manual cuz i learned it on my girlfriends brothers mustang and it has everything you can put in a mustang from full throtle bodies to exhaust. MANUAL RULES YOU AUTO LOVERS NEED TO LEARN HOW TO REALLY DRIVE!!!!!!

  26. @London:

    What do I look like, Wikipedia? Go look up that information yourself!

    Kids these days… *muttering “get off my lawn” and other old-crotchety-type-things*

  27. Good arguments in deed. I learned on a Manual for a driving test test. Hell NO am not a driving enthusiast. I do not have to stick with the ‘superior’ transmission, I would go for one that allows me to live my life. Life is already stressful, so the more less stressful driving can be, the better for me! You are right shifting the stick and ‘laboring’ one leg more than the other becomes second nature with time, but it is STILL a a much PHYSICAL job when you drive a manual car!!! In serious traffic I just cover my breaks lightly ( I don’t agree there is so much damage, unless you brake harshly, common in ‘stick enthusiasts’)

    Windows 98 is the most stable windows yet, windows Vista you already know is very tricky and crashes easily, however I would rather have Windows Vista than 98 because there are a lot of configurations that I don’t have to bother about, it takes care automatically, Win 98, you have the control, even Flash disk will require you run software

    So Automatic for me, I accept on driving I am not keen to do much (pure laziness on my part)

    However I RESPECT every Man/ Woman driving a Manual Car (Because I just control my Automatic0. You are the REAL DRIVER – BIG UP!!!

  28. in the uk manual gear boxes are the norm, the only people (mostly) who have a automatic are disabled people are those who would not pass their test in a manual car. it becomes second nature changing gear after you have been driving for a while.

  29. On a steep climb, waiting for the green light, cars lined up bumper to bumper.. thank god, I was driving an automatic.

    1. I have driven old automatics,
      old manuals,

      and modern automatics,
      and modern manuals.

      And in all cases, the manual reigns supreme.

      What is the deciding the factor in this?
      If you aren’t a half-wit fool, and you have a few ounces of common sense like most folk should,
      then you will never have a problem with manuals, and it will always out perform the automatic, in all cases – Fuel Economy, Power Output, Engine Control, Cost (Transmission Rebuilds, Brake replacements,) Control over your vehicle in bad weather conditions, and on steep inclines. Also, standard is just plain FUN TO DRIVE. There is nothing wrong with shifting up and down in city traffic, I find it quite fun. And every time I gear up my car, feeling that new power kick in never gets old.

      I can see why people choose automatic – It seems ‘easier’.
      But aren’t there a thousand and one phrases, quotes, and quips about hard work offering a bigger reward? And in the transmission world, manual is the ‘harder’ work.

      Drive on, friends.

      1. Those are all very good points!

        If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – a manual transmission (with a human being controlling it) can react to things that are coming up, but haven’t happened yet (e.g., a hill coming up, or a stoplight, or a corner, etc.). Automatic transmissions (controlled by computers/hydraulics/etc.) can only react to things that have just happened (e.g., the automatic only downshifts once you start going up the hill, rather than just before it).

        And sure, while it’s true you can use paddle-shifters to shift an automatic transmission beforehand, or stomp on the gas to force a downshift, etc., in most cases you’re forcing yourself to drive less efficiently in order to gain that control. Whereas with a manual, you don’t lose any efficiency by being in control of the shift timing.

        The bottom line is, a manual transmission has a human being’s eyes and other senses to help “know” when to shift. An automatic transmission does not. The automatic transmission is “reactive” to road conditions; the manual is “proactive.”

        (Oh and as for the comment about hill starts? Even an automatic can roll backwards if the hill is steep enough – it all depends on how much power the engine puts out through the drive train when “at idle.”)

  30. I can’t agree more with your statements. I”ve owned 4 manuals; 84 accord LX, 93 Eclipse GS, 03 Acura RSX Type S, 04 Impreza WRX and 1 auto 95 Nissan pickup SE. Although I loved the Nissan truck i hated that it was an auto. Like you said, no control whatsoever.

  31. Thanks guys for rescuing me from the valley of indecision. I am currently replacing my old automatic pontiac van with a smaller car. I have been in agony trying to decide whether to get an automatic or a manual. After reading this article and the comments, my mind is made on the manual. Most of the issues I had considered were brought to light and logical arguments made in favour of the stick by you folks. Thanks to y’all n God bless.

  32. I drove manual shift cars for over 15 years. I own a new automatic sedan and I will never go back to manual trans as long as I have a choice. Modern automatics are reliable, efficient, safer, and more convenient to use than manuals. The sability control systems can save your life in certain cicumstances. Manuals can kill you! I enjoy my life more in heavy traffic by eating or drinking or use a cell phone instead of playing with a stick like a mad monkey for hours. You people need to wake up. What control you are talking about? I wish motorcycle manufacturers shift to CVT trans instead of manuals and follow the scooter path.

    1. Most people arguing for a manual have never driven a car with a good automatic transmission…. or even a bad one in my opinion. This is just in the blood in Europe, you gotta hate automatics even though you never try one. Pathetic. It is like someone would argue for carburators against injectors.

      1. OK, so what is a car with a good automatic transmission, then? (I have driven a wide range of transmission types, so I would submit that my argument is based on facts and experience).

        1. Simple: BMW!
          I am not their advocate, I drive a manual Subaru WRX but you have to recognize value when you find it!

  33. Automatics can kill you too – especially if you misuse the freedom of your limbs that an automatic gives you to eat, drink, or read while driving.

    When driving – stick to driving! Every other thing you do that’s not connected to driving increases your chances of an accident – especially in heavy traffic! So don’t do it!

    At least a manual *forces* you to focus on driving – you really can’t read the paper and drive stick at the same time.

    Modern automatics may be reliable, efficient, safe, and convenient – but the same could be said for lots of things in our daily lives that people still don’t use. So that’s not a good argument to give up the stick shift entirely.

    And need I bring up the cost of repair on a modern automatic?? They may be reliable, but they WILL break down (they have moving parts) and when they do, you’ll pay through the nose for repairs.

    Of course, the bottom line is that both automatics and manuals (and CVTs) have their places. It’s not fair to say that we should dump manuals and get rid of them entirely any more than it is to say we should all dump automatics and force everyone to drive manuals. There are pros and cons to each side, and you find the best balance for yourself.

    The point of this article, of course… is to point out that I (and lots of other vocal people, it seems) still do enjoy shifting gears ourselves! πŸ˜‰

  34. Keithius,
    Sometimes when I go to Memphis-TN, I have to drive miles for half an hour stop and go at 10 mph during the rush hour between 5pm to 6pm and sometimes even more if there is an accident. It is the best time to enjoy doing something productive instead of cursing the circumstances. Using a manual trans in such conditions is really a torture. The time for manuals was finished. We have now the technology to make us enjoy riding without playing with a stick. I have the time to pay attention to driving rather than changing gears. I believe the reliable automatics last longer than the manuals. Unfortunately, many car owners do not change the trans oil every 30,000 miles and this shorten the life of the trans. The manual will not last unless the driver knows how to drive the manual properly. It is not uncommon the burn the clutch in less than 20,000 miles. I saw many automatic Toyotas with over 200,000 miles with no trans service whatsoever. There must be a reason why very few customers buy manuals.

  35. The reason why people buy automatics is because they’re lazy, and also because people like gadgets (and today’s automatics are more gadget-like than they used to be, what with sport-tronic shifting and all that).

    Miles for half an hour in stop-and-go traffic, huh? I used to commute every day into Boston, MA and get stuck in traffic that stretched for literally 30 miles along the turnpike… in my stick-shift pickup truck. Sure, it was a pain to keep pressing the clutch down… but when I did the same run in an automatic… it was a pain constantly switching between the gas and the brake! So you’re screwed in traffic no matter what.

    Transmissions break down – no matter what the type. They both have moving parts, so eventually, even with proper lubrication and so forth they will die and need to be fixed. And while the difference in life-span between a properly-maintained automatic and a properly-driving manual is a lot less than it used to be, there’s still a difference – and even if they lasted exactly the same length of time, when it comes time to replace/repair them, the automatic will always be more expensive than the manual (more moving parts = higher parts cost = probably more labor too).

    As has been pointed out here before as well, manual transmissions can do things that automatics can’t. You can skip gears with a manual – can’t do that with an automatic, even the sport-tronic ones (they are “sequential”). You can’t rock back & forth to get yourself un-stuck from mud or snow with an automatic as easily as you can with a manual. Hauling a big heavy trailer might be “easier” with an automatic, but it’s more controllable with a manual (and as some have argued here before, it’s safer, too).

    Sure, more people buy automatics overall – the same way that more people use GUIs (graphical user interfaces) and mice instead of command-line interfaces. It’s just easier. I’m not arguing that point. But the command-line interface hasn’t gone away in computers, and the manual transmission won’t go away in cars. It may not be right for everyone, but it IS right for those who prefer control over convenience.

    Until those really high-tech flappy-paddle computer-controlled manual transmissions become commonplace (look at Maserati I think for an example of what is physically a manual transmission that just happens to be computer controlled via paddles – and please also do note that these systems do have serious drawbacks) the manual transmission is here to stay.

    1. Newsflash! You can skip gears with a not sequential automatic in manual mode. also when you step on it (to the floor) and it decides it will shift back multiple gears and you didn’t do anything just stepped on the gas, no clutch no shifters. You can also rock a car in snow (not with the steering wheel shifters, but those are history). You say that an automatic is as much work in traffic as a manual? You kidding right? Most of the times you don’t even move your foot from the brake in a jam just relase it a bit. How is that compared to the cluth-into-gear-clutch-gas-clutch-brake-out of gear-clutch thing?

      1. Most automatics that have a “manual mode” however, ARE sequential.

        And “just stepping on the gas” is in fact worse – you have to wait for the automatic to downshift through 2 (or more) gears – which it WILL do. With a manual you can skip that, and in most cases do it faster than the automatic.

        As an added bonus, you don’t have to slam down on the throttle with a manual when you need to downshift like that, so you don’t end up sending too much power to the wheels and (in the best case) wasting it with wheel spin, or (in the worst case) spinning out of control and crashing.

        And in traffic, unless the speed of the traffic is EXACTLY EQUAL to the “idle speed” of your car, then you are going to be going back and forth between the brake and the throttle. It’s very little extra effort to add the clutch into the mix (though I do concede that it is extra effort).

  36. I am Debating wether to get the 2009 GLI volkswagen in automatic or in manual. All i wanted to say is thank you for the awesome essay you have written about this issue. you put both sides of the story in light and had no bias. no homo so good shit. and thanks

  37. Interesting viewpoints. I recently had an experience with a used impala I bought. For about three weeks it shifted fine(auto) then went bad, jerking all the time. What I discovered was that the mechanics (certified) I took it to werent not able to fix it or figure out what was wrong. One place was a transmission shop. Automatics have become so complicated that most tranny mechanics themselves dont really understand them. Like someone mentioned “fixed automatics’ usually are never the same. On the other hand, I who really am not mechanically inclined have taken apart and repaired three different manual trannys. An old adage forgotten today is that the simpler or fewer moving parts the more efficient the device. I will never buy another auto. Today they have hundreds of inputs, and when one messes up so does your tranny. my two cents worth.

  38. Part of the problem is that there are more and more computers involved these days – and we all know how hard it is to make a computer work right! (Nevermind that your local mechanic is highly unlikely to also be a computer engineer, and therefore be unable to do anything about the problem except replace the computer!)

    1. Ridiculous argument! Your entire car is managed with computers today quite well, engine, suspention, brakes, transmission (if you have an auto). even steering wheels are managed that way and your gas pedal. My auto is 20 years old, managed by a computer, sealed for zero maintanance in 1991. Since then it had no problem, Do not compare a PC to a PLC.

      1. Not quite. There is no computer in your suspension unless you have a super-advanced sports/luxury car with adjustable shocks. There is only a computer in your brakes if you have ABS (not everyone does, or did when this article was written). There is no computer in your steering wheel – unless your car is drive-by-wire (most are not).

        Perhaps you could tell us what your 20 year old car is, so I can tell you why it doesn’t have computers in it. (It may have some solid-state components, but they are not the same as “computers.”)

  39. yer your breaks look like they are still being run in, but your engines about to shit itself. faster shifting in a manual? not a chance, you must have been driving the first automatic car ever invented because i’d go as far as to say a human could not ever change gears faster than a modern automatic. And about control of the vehicle, great you can pick your rpm too a t, but you’ll never beat me round the track because youve only got one hand on the steering wheel. seriously, sticks shifts are retarded, you drive everywhere with one hand on the steering wheel and then you come on the net and say manuals are safer who taught you how to drive? a pirate?

    1. Great points! Manuals are slow and dangerous (in most average driver’s hands). Europeans has this wierd connection to the stick shift. They all grow up with it and telling themselves that it is better than an auto… and they hear that so much they even start to believe it, though most never seen an automatic yet driven one. I know, I am a European. I I though the same way when I was 20. Since I have driven many cars with autos. Although most US made autos are not competent in spirited driving, a Merc or a BMW or any late model auto with double clutches are way superior to a stick you are grabbing constantly. Try an auto and you won’t ever wanna drive sticks again.

      1. You say that Mercs or BMWs with autos are better than manuals, and that may be true – but those are LUXURY SPORTS BRANDS. Would you say that the automatic in, say, a Fiat or a Citroen is as good as the ones in a Mercedes or BMW? (I think not!)

  40. peter Napper: you can’t pretend to be someone else here. The identicon you see next to your comment will always be the same for you, no matter what name you put in. So stop trying.

    When you say “modern automatic” as far as shifting speed, you might be talking about some very, very, very high-end paddle-shifting monsters. Yes, they can shift in just milliseconds. But fun fact: you can’t get that on your Honda/Mazda/Ford/Chevy/etc. The majority of automatics available right now are still hydraulically operated, and there is and always will be a delay involved. Not much, to be sure, and it’s always getting better, but it’s still there.

    I fail to see how having both hands on the steering wheel will make you go faster around a track.

    Manuals ARE safer, if you know what you are doing. With an automatic you have given up a certain level of control of the vehicle to a computer (and not a very smart one, at that) – or sometimes to just a collection of valves. The bottom line is the automatic may be faster than you (if it’s a really new, really expensive transmission), but it will never, EVER be “smarter” than you – the person actually driving the car.

    1. Toyota has been making the best Transmissions since like 95. They throw the car into the next gear. rediculously fast and rediculously reliable.

  41. you took that pretty well. Alright someone ask Jenson Button whether he would choose a fully automatic over a paddle shift manual (he would of course and obviously not ever choose a stick) I get the strong impression that these guys would have the fully Automatic if it was allowed under formulae 1 rules. Also drivers such as shumacher where more than happy with their semi Autos back in the 90’s (Auto down shift, manual paddle up) talking about tiptronic, put one, as an example a year 2000 BMW in 1st then go, flat out it will change up through every gear at redline and change down through everygear too redline breaking or not. It is obviously the fastest way to get around, and youve got 2 hands on the wheel at all times.

  42. And with no investigating I believe the dead stig was Jenson Button.I dont no if anyone else has ever speculated on this or if the old stig has actually been revealed

  43. Paddle shifters ARE pretty neat, and can certainly be the fastest way to shift without taking your hands off the wheel. It’s no surprise that racers love them.

    Although the opinion among more average drivers – people who enjoy “spirited” driving but are not racers – seem to be somewhat split on the idea of the “flappy paddle gearbox.”

    Also, they do not always work well for “normal” driving (I’ve heard they can be a REAL pain at slow speeds, e.g., in a parking lot). And what works for racing is not always perfectly capable of being transplanted into normal, everyday cars.

    Still, the flappy paddle thing *might* be the future – but as I’ve said before, they’re still expensive, they’re not the same as an automatic (a “true” flappy paddle gearbox is just a new interface on an electronically controlled manual transmission, as opposed to “fake” flappy paddle gearboxes which are just paddles to control a traditional automatic transmission).

    In the end, I don’t think even the flappy paddle thing will ever wholly displace the good old fashioned stick shift.

    (Also: I believe the old stig – the one in the black jumpsuit – was revealed to be Perry McCarthy.)

  44. You should visit the UK.

    You would be lucky to find 1 automatic for every 10 manuals. Everyone drives manual because it is far superior for the average car.

    1. Right, that is why it’s cheaper… because it is superior… Do not argue until you try an automatic! Did you ever?

      1. Sorry I don’t agree with the “If you try auto you’d never wanna drive manual ever again” crap! I’ve driven BOTH KINDS numerous times and I MUCH PREFER manuals! The fact that my leg HURTS from being useless while driving an auto is just the first beef I have with an auto tranny vehicle! Not to mention the bad roads and reckless driving all around me would force me to actually anticipate conditions in advance and I want a car that is responsive to my command ASAP and the manual delivers! Besides why wouldn’t you wanna give your left leg a good work out every day? At least it doesn’t strain as much when I engage in heavy sporty exercises! πŸ˜€

  45. I do hope to visit the UK someday!

    Honestly though, I think it’s pretty much just a US phenomenon that automatics are “preferred” over manuals. It seems like just about everywhere else you go, the opposite is true.

    1. Yes, in U.S. auto is king, but ‘everywhere else’ it’s manual. Also, in U.S. the wages are extremely high compared to ‘everywhere else’. So maybe there’s a relationship there?

  46. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned VW/Audi’s dual cluth DSG/S-Tronic systems. Its faster than the manual and it has the convenience of the automatic. It has paddle-shifters and may have a very fun “sport” mode. Not that it duplicates the driving feel of a manual, but in a couple of years it’ll replace the automatic fully, and the argument for manuals being faster won’t be valid. VWG’s GTi/R32/GLi lineup carries it, along with Audi’s Sx/RSx lineup. Now Nissan is using it in the GTR R35 and BMW is planning on using it on future M generations.

    On the manual side, I’ve fallen in love with Nissan’s SynchoRev, which, for manual transmission, notifies the driver (if turned on) when to down/up shift, allowing for the perfect manual driving experience. Not to mention, great for learning to drive stick too.

    Just some advances in both fields I thought were interesting to this debate πŸ™‚

  47. Actually, I thought I had mentioned those sort of dual-clutch sport-tronic systems (though not specifically attributing them to VW/Audi). They are complicated mechanically (read: expensive) now, but perhaps someday will become more common. But they do have shortcomings… I’ve heard they are a real pain in the neck at slow speeds (like, say, in a parking garage).

    Shift lights are nothing new – they’ve been around for a while. And really, aren’t they just based on RPMs, anyway? Is it that hard to look at the tachometer?

    Technology continues to march on… it’ll be interesting to see where things go, but as I’ve said before, I maintain that the venerable old manual transmission will never be completely replaced, no matter what new-fangled shifting systems are developed.

      1. People are still riding horses. Yes, mostly for fun, but look at police on horseback. What would you replace them with – police on segways???

  48. I have both auto and manual.I prefer manual on open roads to save gas,but when the traffic is high a automatic is better, less stress. less pain on your leg from always pressing and riding clutch,and most importing less expense from replacing clutch plate and pressure plate from the manual gear box design.

    1. Trade offs… there’s always a trade off!

      Although I’d disagree with you that an automatic is “less expensive” than replacing the clutch & pressure plate in a manual. Rebuilding an automatic transmission (which is about the equivalent of replacing the clutch in a manual) is more expensive (for most cars – there are undoubtedly a few exceptions). Plus, I find that you can make the clutch last a lot longer than the parts in an automatic – if you drive it well. If you drive it poorly, you’re out of luck – once again, trade-offs!!

  49. Manuals are for idiots who like to feel cool on the road. You people have to realize that driving isn’t a game, and by treating it like one with your ‘extra control’ and ‘speed’ and whatever, you are putting other, safer, AUTOMATIC drivers in danger. The only advantage to stick is fuel efficiency, which is a good point in today’s economy, but still. I’d rather pay a few extra dollars to keep my life.

  50. “Manuals are for idiots who like to feel cool on the road.” That’s quite an opinion. Care to explain why you feel that way?

    No one here ever said that driving is a “game.” Just because you enjoy doing something doesn’t mean you should trivialize it by calling it a “game.”

    Is it so bad that manual drivers yearn to drive WELL? Is it bad that we like to focus on the DRIVING aspect, rather than, say, talking on a cell phone, playing with the radio, putting on makeup, reading the paper, fiddling with satellite navigation, etc.?

    Would you say that people who enjoy sailing (with the wind), are putting other, safer, AUTOMATIC motor boat drivers in danger?

    I didn’t think so.

    Don’t hate people who enjoy driving a manual transmission for baseless reasons like “they’re treating driving like a game” or “they’re unsafe.” Because then you just degrade yourself.

  51. I drive a BMW auto with quite a lot of control. Most of your arguments for manual transmission are only viable for a bad auto. Manuals are horrible in traffic and viable only for powerless engines. If I want I can choose my own gears but I rarely do. Also EVERY auto pedal shifts, some are better than others, mine is excellent. It means if I floor the pedal, the auto shifts back (and I still have my coke in my hand). Oh, the car is 20 years old!

    1. I’m happy for you. What model and year BMW do you have? I’m glad that you think it has an excellent transmission.

      What exactly about your transmission makes it excellent though?

      I hardly think that being able to floor the throttle and still hold on to your coke is a convincing argument for why an automatic is superior.

  52. I have been driving for a very short time (10 months) bu have already experienced autos and manuals. I side with the manual. I started driving in my dad’s automatic Toyota 2004 Rav-4. Its decent, and I have to do less while driving, but honestly, it’s just plain detatched. I’m just pushing pedals and switches. It doesn’t stuggle to choose which gear to go in, but I prefer the manual just because, it just isn’t “dead.” I prefer my mom’s manual 1990 Honda Accord because it’s simply a better car and I don’t feel like a zombie. My driving has actually improved since I learned how to drive a manual just about six weeks ago. Shifting isn’t hard. It’s kinda like adjusting how hard your legs work while moving up and down stairs. It begins to happen almost intinctively. Neither of the cars I’ve driven have been high end. They’ve both average family cars. I am an american. I’ve begun to notice that people who drive manuals tend to be better drivers than pure auto drivers. I do agree with the better control that manual drivers have. I think that it’s mostly due to them having to pay more attention to what they’re doing versus an auto driver. When driving auto, most drivers are typically braindead. Put the same driver on a manual, (I’ve seen and experienced this) and they become much more attentive and better drivers. Ultimately, I just side with manuals. Disgree if you want, but do write a decent rebuttal. None of this “one handed steering only” crap, or “

  53. I see a lot of people here who side with automatics tend to be rather stubborn.
    I applaud Keithius for being so good with keeping manual in its right place.

    This thread is full of OPINIONS.
    OPINIONS mean nothing, when it comes down to it. That’s just what you think and that’s just great.

    And since when was this thread about formula one racing? Who cares what they drive? Is anyone here a prize winning driver of a car with 1200 HP? No, I didn’t think so. (If you are, hey, cool! haha.)

    But down to business, for a normal vehicle of our day and age, I find that a manual will always outperform an automatic.

    But I think this, because I know how to drive both manual and automatic very well.
    Like some have said before, it comes down to preference. But Manual does have some distinct advantages over automatic, first off being the common answer of ‘control.’ I know it’s been said over and over, but there’s nothing quite like having ‘control’ over your vehicle. Now, some new drivers, or ‘bad’ drivers, may find an automatic to be better, simply because it’s easier. But with ease, comes error. Lower fuel economy, lack of this magical ‘control’ desired by car fans and some normal folk, and lower power output. These are the main reasons why I find manual to be superior.

    Also, I read something about someone mentioning one-handed steering to be a danger, and that manuals are terrible because of one-handed steering as such?

    I spent a couple of years driving an automatic. I vividly recall spending hours of driving at a time with my right hand never toucing the wheel. I just palm-spin it anyways to take corners, and one hand is perfectly fine for holding onto the wheel, unless you’re driving a 4 ton truck without power steering and a flat. You might want to hang on with both hands.

    But even in that ridiculous scenario, when you drive a manual transmission vehicle – Is your hand really off of the wheel at all times? No, only when you’re shifting. And how long does it take to move the stick shift? 2, maybe 3 seconds, if you’re not a fool?

    I don’t see the problem here with the steering arguement – In either manual or automatic, I find myself steering with one hand, I suppose because it’s that laziness instinct. And I’ve seen many, many people do this. As they drive by, wether manual or auto, only having a single hand on the wheel. And is there a danger to this? Not really. Cars are controlled easily by one hand on the wheel, unless you’re driving a commercial vehicle (Y’know, buses, haulers, etc. But that’s their job to drive with both hands, haha.)

    To close this over-done point,
    stop whining about steering. It’s not a big deal, you manual-haters are just cherrypicking out tiny little things, and making a mountain out of a mole hill with them.
    So go drive your slow, thirsty, laggy automatics.
    I’ll cruise by with skill and grace in my manual. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for the well-reasoned reply!

      I think you’ve cut to the heart of the argument. A manual gives you more control:

      – Control over what gear you are in, and when you are in it
      – Control over engine speed when you do change gears
      – The ability to skip gears if needed (going up or down)
      – The ability to stay in a gear at “near stall” speeds or, on the flip-side, near red-line speeds if needed (most automatics – even the ones that give you some manual override control – will shift for you if you get near stall speed or near red-line, whether you want to or not)

      The list goes on and on. And, of course, there’s the point I find myself making over and over again: an automatic transmission is reactive to road conditions; a manual is proactive. And when it comes to dealing with situations, being proactive is, in general, better than being reactive.

  54. Take it from experience, when living on a ranch and hauling trailers packed full of cattle and horses, the transmission of choice is a no-brainer. MANUAL!!! I have a ’97 Chevy 2500 5 speed, and an ’03 Chevy 2500 HD Auto. Although the ’03 does alright, the ’97 beats it everytime. It’s really something you don’t understand until you’ve been put in that situation. When climbing out of a hill, I feel so much more comfortable being able to control my gear positions, and not have to worry that a crappy automatic transmission is going to send me and my trailer rolling backwards jackknifed at the bottom of a hill. Billy, just because you don’t have the skill to handle a manual transmission, doesn’t mean you should put the stick down. Maybe one day when you’ve had to drag 5 tons up out of a canyon you’ll understand why a manual is vastly superior to an automatic. Even when not hauling a load, a manual is so much more fun and reassuring to drive. I can see how some might find an automatic better, but as stated above, it’s just simple laziness. When one gets out into the real world of driving, and out of their luxury world of never having to set their coke down to shift, they’ll understand the value of a clutch and gear shift. Besides, it takes three seconds to shift a gear, I guess if it’s such a hassle to make that next sip of coke wait three seconds, then a manual probably isn’t for you. Pay attention to the road Einstein, and not on your beverage!!!

  55. You guys need to come to South Africa. I’d say there are nine manual cars for every one automatic on the road. Anybody doing there drivers in an auto here is considered basically incapable of driving! The debate can go on for hours over which is better, but let’s face it: if you can’t drive stick, you can’t drive!

  56. Something nobody has mentioned in this debate is reliability and durability. Jack, who hauls cattle and horses, knows what I am talking about.

    When you work an automatic, stirring that torque converter, it gets HOT. Heat kills automatics. Seals harden up, clutch facings glaze or delaminate, and the fluid oxidizes. When (not if) it fails, it will often do so with no warning. The manual, OTOH, with it’s clutch firmly locked between the pressure plate and flywheel, will run much cooler. Pulling that trailer out of the steep canyon? Put it in 1st or 2nd, leave it there, and let the engine do it’s thing.

    There’s a lot to go wrong in an auto, especially newer electronic ones. They are full of valves, clutches, bands, sprags, seals, solenoids, planetary gear sets, pumps and hydraulic fluid. The fact that they are as reliable as they are is a testament to modern engineering and metallurgy. In a modern fully computer controlled vehicle the PCM logic will essentially not allow a driver to abuse the transmission in any way, which really helps durability for a typical passenger car or light truck. But what about heavy duty use? The Achilles heel is still that torque converter making heat, and clutches being forced to shift under high load demands. Work it hard enough (not abuse, but work) and even the best modern auto won’t live anywhere near as long as the clutch in a manual. And like I said, when it does fail, where will you be?

    How about out in the middle of nowhere? I live in the Southwest US, and out here, as with many other places in the world, you can reach some very, VERY remote places with an expedition-type 4WD rig. Here, a severe mechanical failure is much more than an inconvenience. Which would you rather have? The slushbox loaded with dozens of possible failure points, or the simple, reliable manual gearbox?

    What if you are in the middle of nowhere and your starter dies? If a battery dies, you get out the jumper cables and jump start your rig off of one of your buddy’s rigs. Not so with a starter – you are dead in the water. With a stick, a simple tug from a friends vehicle and a pop of the clutch, and you are back in business. THAT is what I call reliable. Maybe even State of the Art πŸ˜€

    I will admit, the above scenarios don’t mean much to 99% of the city dwellers here who are more worried about commuting in gridlock. I would never choose to live or work where I had to do so, but if I did you can bet I would have an automatic (or maybe one of those cool electric rides, if the commute is short enough to make it practical :-)) However, to say that automatics are superior and manuals no longer have a place in the automotive world is shortsighted and foolish.

    1. I don’t think anyone’s mentioned anything bad about VW’s quality, but yes, I have heard of the Phaeton, and yes, I did know it’s relationship to the Bently. And yes, I think we can all agree it was a bit of a failure – everything else aside, it just wasn’t the right “kind” of car for VW’s image. It didn’t “fit.” And that just made everything else about it stand out even more (for the worse).

  57. Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well chuffed. The more I read articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there could be a future for the Web. Keep it up, as it were.

  58. I’ve been a fan of the manual transmission since I started driving about 20 years ago (First car: 1984 VW rabbit 4-speed manual). Sure, both automatics and sticks have their place but a couple things I wanted to point out:

    Here in the US, where automatics are more prevalent, anyone who drives a stick does so on purpose. Sure, there may be a few people who drive a manual transmission because it’s the only car they can afford or it was handed down to them, but in general automatics are so prevalent that you have to go out of your way to find a car with a manual transmission. I think other people have commented that this can sometimes be difficult to do, find a car with a manual transmission. I think this self-selects the pool of people driving manual transmissions. People with sticks are most likely people who enjoy driving and more likely to think actively about the driving experience and be better drivers because of it. This isn’t to say that people who drive automatics are bad drivers, I’m just saying that people who dive sticks are self selecting themselves as people who actively enjoy driving and are probably more skilled at it.

    This is likely not true in other parts of the world where manual transmissions are standard.

    Also, if you’re driving in heavy traffic and keeping your foot on the clutch and shifting all the time, then you’re doing it wrong. Do a little research in traffic flow and you’ll see what I mean.

    Personally, I hate having a car shift for me, especially at highway speeds. Sometimes I want to open the throttle wider but stay in the current gear. An automatic transmission downshifts, making the car jerk, and throwing the the engine into wasteful high-rpm open-throttle mode. With my manual I can decouple the throttle control from the gear selection, which makes much more sense to me.

    People talking about the VW/Audi DSG and paddle shifters should keep in mind that these are manual transmissions, with a computer-controlled clutch, not automatic transmissions with a torque converter. This can get muddied when talking about tiptronic type systems that give the driver some control over the automatic transmission, but those are still automatic transmissions using a torque converter.

    Automatic transmissions have their place. Like Keithius keeps saying, there are trade-offs. For example, I can’t keep my arm around my girlfriend in the passenger seat since I have to use it to shift occasionally. πŸ˜‰ That might be worth getting bench seats and an automatic transmission right there!

    But I hope I can continue to buy manual transmissions well into the future. Will a purely electric car ever have a stick shift? πŸ˜‰

    1. Very well said!

      I hope we can continue to buy manual transmissions in the future as well.

      But as for electric cars… that’s a different matter, and one for a different post, I think. But we’re still a long, long way from switching over entirely to electric cars.

  59. I love using a stick. I literally choose not to even look at a lot of car models(including ones that are very well thought of in all other ways) because they do not offer a manual transmission as an option. I cannot see paying extra money for an “option” that I do not even want. Also, getting an automatic transmission worked on/replaced can be really expensive. I understand fully why most people want/prefer automatics but I trully hope we never get to the point where we have no choice.

    1. I hear ya… and if anyone else needs proof of the price of repairing an automatic transmission, just look at some of the “extended warranty” ads that have begun popping up on TV lately. And what is the subject they almost ALWAYS use to suggest that you should buy their extended warranty? Why, it’s “replacing/repairing an [automatic] transmission!” They always tell you how if you don’t have their warranty you’re going to pay out-of-pocket a whole bunch of money (thousands of dollars).

      But you never see them mention manual transmissions, do you?

      That’s because replacing a clutch (or possibly some worn synchro-meshes) is almost always going to be cheaper than repairing or replacing an automatic transmission. End of story.

  60. I’ve friven both MT and AT for years, and in most situations I prefer MT. With some experience you can use a MT without thinking, much like when you ride a bike, I wouldn’t say that driving an AT is safer. The quality between different MTs vary a graet deal. My experience is that japanese MTs often are more precise and durable than their european and american counterparts. There are also differences when it comes to how heavy the clutch pedal is.

    In heavy city traffic an AT is more comfortable, but unlike some of the other posts I wouldn’t say using a MT is a nightmare. It’s all about the skill and experience of the driver.

    When driving on the highway there is little difference between AT and MT, you don’t have to change gears so often, besides many modern cars with MT have cruise contol.

    On icy roads i prefer MT because you are much more in control of the car. You can start in 2nd. gear in stead of 1st. and avoid just spinning and digging your self in.

    A car with a MT can be push started if the starter doesn’t work. That is one skill the AT lacks.

    I’m not a purist, andt don’t have anything against AT, but i prefer MT because they are more durable, require less maintenance and I feel more in control of the car while driving.

  61. Im guess the article was written primarily for the USA?

    In europe almost all cars are manual with the exception of luxury large cars, of the 13 cars i have owned only two were automatic.

    So i dont think that companys will cease to manufacture manual transmissions anytime soon as the global market for them is too big.

    I did find it unusal that whenever im over in the US of A that everytime i have a hire car its been an auto.

    1. Yes; I live in the US so that’s what I was referring to when I wrote this article.

      Companies may not cease to manufacture manual transmissions entirely, but they may stop offering them here. Consider that almost no car companies offer diesel versions of their cars here, even though they are common in the rest of the world. One day the same may be true of manual transmissions (but I hope not!).

      I’m still not sure exactly why we have that preference for automatic transmissions… it might have something to do with the layout of the roads, or maybe it was just a cultural thing with the companies making cars here in the first place, or maybe an economic thing… who knows?

  62. as a courier/professional racer/commuter/mechanic; i want to deem the “death to the stick shift” article completely blasphemous to the automotive society.
    also, driving with 2 hands is more dangerous. Try heavily jerking the wheel to avoid an accident with 2 hands and see how hard it is. plus it makes your body stiff and lack of flexibility. When i race i only hold one hand to give easier turning(other hand hovering over my stick shift πŸ˜‰ )

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