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Five Myths About Stick Shifts: Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

Edmunds.comEdmunds.com Posts: 10,059
edited April 2017 in Editorial
imageFive Myths About Stick Shifts: Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

You often hear that cars with manual transmissions have many advantages over automatics (cost, better MPG, cool factor). But that's not always the case.

Read the full story here


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Comments

  • steverstever Posts: 52,462
    Check with your insurance company or agent. You may find that it's cheaper to insure a manual transmission car.
  • henry4hirehenry4hire Posts: 106
    How about it's more fun to drive? Nothing connects man to machine more than a good stick and clutch. Clicking paddles will never be the same as a perfect shift around a corner. Don't get me wrong; the new generation of automatics are great, but they simply can't match the feel of a good stick. Long live the stick!
  • alex_yalex_y Posts: 1
    This article is based on published 'facts' and not at all based on real world experience with current production manual transmission vehicles.

    1. The EPA published values indicate that manual transmission and automatic transmission fuel economy is very close. What this doesn't point out is that EPA fuel economy is calculated via a formula based on spec sheet values for the vehicles. At no point does the EPA drive the cars and test their actual economy. It turns out that the EPA formula makes a very poor estimate of the actual milage that can be expected from manual transmission vehicles. Generally you can expect 10% higher fuel economy from MT vehicles in the real world. ALSO, the way that the manufacturers boost the AT fuel economy is by having a much higher final drive ratio. This makes the engine turn slower at a given speed for AT vehicles, and thus consume less fuel than they would if the engine turned at the same speed as a comparable MT. Higher gear ratios and slushbox transmissions mean less power transferred to the road. This has been taken to such an extreme that some of these cars (ex: Chevy cruze) have dangerously slow acceleration capability.

    2.) ...

    3.) People are purchasing Ferraris with automatic transmissions? I hope that these Ferraris also have cupholders for a flavored coffee drink of choice. 'Sports' cars with slushbox transmissions (or cupholders for that matter) are not 'cool'. I don't doubt that the AT versions could beat the pants off of the MT version at the track, but is really as fun to let the computer drive for you?

    4.) Like it should be. Its really not rocket science to learn how to operate a manual transmission. The cars are about fun, not convenience.

    5.) All teenagers should be in manual transmission vehicles. One hand on the wheel + one hand on the shift = no hands for texting.
  • I have driven a manual transmission vehicle for decades and would like to point out a reality not mentioned. I’ve never had to replace brake pads, rotors, or have any kind of repair on the brakes. This is simply because I take advantage of down-shifting. Once during a 90,000 mile maintenance check, the mechanic came out to ask if I ever had the pads replaced and I said no. He showed me the pad and pointed out the near new condition they were in.
  • gmarmotgmarmot Posts: 1
    One other reason to buy a stick shift is not mentioned. Nearly any new car with a manual transmission can tow a lightweight utility or boat trailer. Most people who could use the extra space or weight carrying capacity of a small trailer never even consider one, but I have towed with them since 1969 with absolutely zero mechanical problems (ie 10s of thousands of miles). Cars with automatics quite often destroy the transmission when used this way. The same thing happens with pickup trucks. The driver unwittingly abuses the auto trans and causes many thousands of dollars of damage. The very worst that I have seen with a manual trans used improperly is a wrecked clutch which is not too expensive to replace. Yes, I enjoy shifting a manual, but I can also tow a bit with it. My 4 cylinder Toyota pickups have towed DOUBLE the recommended weight (ie: about 7,000 pounds) across the entire country with zero problems. I continue to have Toyota mechanics tell me I will destroy the vehicle. Odd how I have used all my Toyotas the same way for about 200,000 miles each, and NO problems! Try that with the same vehicle using an auto trans!
  • "It's a complication they don't need," Hill says. "Kids have the advantage of not being burdened with nostalgia.

    I strongly disagree, my son turns 16 next year and his first car will be a stick shift. Cell phones and texting are a complication he doesn't need.

    I know it may not stop him completely when I'm not looking, but it will definitely hamper it.
  • schtickschtick Posts: 2
    I think that today's driver needs have changed. People might say it is more convenient to drive an automatic. Which might be true. Considering that there is such in increase in handheld and other device causing accidents, we might need to consider how driving a 'manual' shift vehicle might reduce the chance of someone driving with cellphone glued to their head. Sure there might be a slight increase at first in accidents because those idiots are not paying attention, but i believe in the long run it could be beneficial in eliminating 'that' annoying aspect of stupid drivers.
  • smr144smr144 Posts: 1
    The main reason to buy a car is because manual trasmissions are more durable, reliable and chipper to repair. You just can't compare the durability of a manual transmission with that of an automatic one.
  • schtickschtick Posts: 2
    I think that today's driver needs have changed. People might say it is more convenient to drive an automatic. Which might be true. Considering that there is such in increase in handheld and other device causing accidents, we might need to consider how driving a 'manual' shift vehicle might reduce the chance of someone driving with cellphone glued to their head. Sure there might be a slight increase at first in accidents because those idiots are not paying attention, but i believe in the long run it could be beneficial in eliminating 'that' annoying aspect of stupid drivers.
  • "It's a complication they don't need," Hill says. "Kids have the advantage of not being burdened with nostalgia.

    I strongly disagree, my son turns 16 next year and his first car will be a stick shift. Cell phones and texting are a complication he doesn't need.

    I know it may not stop him completely when I'm not looking, but it will definitely hamper it.
  • 8080a8080a Posts: 1
    Was this article written by someone who has had a terrible experience with learning to drive a stick? If this article were about marriage, I would suspect it to have been written by a jilted and bitter lover—bemoaning all of the downsides of marriage and then at the very end just giving one quick dismissing mention of "that whole love thing". Yet, in both marriage and the stick, it's the emotion and the bond which makes it something special and is that which eclipses all of the downsides combined. Look, driving a stick makes you more engaged as a driver. You're more aware of what your car is doing and you are more consciously involved in the driving process. For me, that's not only what makes driving a pleasurable and rewarding experience in and of itself, but it also makes it a safer experience. Why? Well aside from me just always being more conscious about what I'm doing as a driver, I can't do other distracting things with my right hand such as text or eat a burger while I'm driving. Even if my lovely wife calls, I may pick up briefly if I'm at a stoplight but only to say, "hey, I'm driving so I've got to shift. I'll call you later," and then I drop my phone in the passenger seat and get right back to driving. People may think that not having to shift allows them to concentrate more on what is going on on the road but we all know that's not how it works. If people have a free hand they're playing with their phones, eating a burger, finding a song on the radio, and picking their noses all at the same time. So really, this article misses the point of a stick and it's really unfortunate that it basically discourages people from learning to drive a stick. Frankly, I think that if more people drove sticks, drivers would be more focussed and engaged as drivers and the roads would be safer. As for me, the day that I can't find a car with a manual transmission is the day that I just take the bus or walk. And I'm 38, so it's not like I'm some 80 year old guy banging on the table talking about how much better things used to be. Though rest assured, I will be that guy when I'm 80 and proud of it. And to my kids, they may rest assured that they will be learning to drive on a stick.
  • stp479stp479 Posts: 1
    This article as proponent of automatics over manuals should have as theme song "In the Year 2525"..... only we're getting there much faster.
  • bgolla1bgolla1 Posts: 1
    This is great and all, but the most logical reason to drive a manual transmission is because you can roll start a manual. An automatic cannot be started this way. Stick shift cars are much easier to control is snow and slippery conditions too.
  • AT's are like time-bombs--after 100K mi., they can go out suddenly, at ant time. A German six-speed automatic is a very costly repair. Even a Prius transmission is around $5K. A manual, if used properly, can easily last the life of the car. Clutch too, the key is don't abuse it. Many drivers unnecessarily slip the clutch. Also, NEVER do that downshifting BS that some drivers do as they approach a stop. This is often a misguided attempt to "save the brakes".
  • Can someone answer this simple question....If more cars sold today (where would one find the hard number statistics ?) are automatics should they be considered standard, while manuals would be a pricier option?
  • Automatics also rob 30-40 horsepower from your engine due to the fact that it always has to have an oil pump running in order to activate the various solenoids and keep the automatic transmission fluid flowing & lubricating the moving parts. Standard transmissions don't need this because the lubricating oil just sits in the bottom of the gear box and is splashed around / lubricated by the moving gears, which results in pretty much no HP being robbed by the tranny.
    True, automatic transmissions have gotten more efficient over the years, but they're also complicated to diagnose due to the fact that there's more sensors & wiring that help run the transmission smoothly. When these fail, it takes a fair amount of time to access these, diagnose these and then determine if the failure is either a hydraulic or electronic issue (or both). This means lots of $$ to the customer when an issue comes up. That alone would make me steer clear from an automatic.
    Now, what I've stated above are facts but the following is just my opinion that I believe to be generally true: When you're driving a stick shift car, you pay more attention to the whole driving experience. Whenever someone pulls out in front of me, then drives *under* the speed limit, I assume they're driving an automatic tranny because all they do is press the gas and by magic, the car just goes. Meanwhile, I'm downshifting and pressing my brakes, pissed off that this person just disrupted the flow of traffic. I generally believe if this same person was driving a stick, they wouldn't make such an inconsiderate move, since they're more in tune with the car and would probably get annoyed if someone did the same thing they just did to me.
    Also, I always hear from my friends "oh, stick's fine, but I don't like it in city traffic" - I tend to think this is a statement that is more of a popular regurgitation of an excuse than an honest opinion. I learned to drive on an automatic and then learned to drive stick in my 20s and have been exclusively driving stick ever since....in the city. Both my girlfriend and I drive stick in the city daily and never once have I wanted to revert back to a sluggish automatic. In fact, I'd rather drive an inflamed standard tranny off a steep cliff than be putting around town in an automatic feeling like the biggest puss in the world.
  • As someone who has drive in all weather conditions, as well as sand, done some racing, and driven in several different countries and in several different versions of various cars with different transmissions.... for accident avoidance maneuvers, dealing with snow (including deliberate sledding of course!), and managing varying weather and road conditions rapidly, a stick beats out an automatic every time. As long as you really know how to use it. For general driving? It's probably more about convenience than anything else. Stop and go in the city is a pain and an automatic can, for some, make that easier. Also, moving to an automatic can make it so that older people and those with physical challenges can maintain independence. For most of us though, I am not sure that mpg is a huge part of the equation, though it is a component.

    Not being of that crowd, I personally find that a stick is usually the better option for mixed driving, mixed conditions and safety. My children (all 4 of them) are required to learn stick and if it takes them longer to get their license, that's a good thing. I take them out on a track too, to do some racing where it's supposed to be. They also can't get their license until they can do basic car maintenance regardless of gender (change tires, wipers, basic tune up.) The point at which they have done an engine swap they get a bit of respect from grandpa too. =)
  • Important reasons for a stick not mentioned yet:
    - you are the cool dude
    - chicks dig stick
    - Good luck jump starting an automatic (most of them)
  • I'm surprised you didn't mention the AutoStick.
  • m_manm_man Posts: 1
    Drive an E46 M3 with the SMG and THEN go and drive an E46 M3 with the manual..... not even close!

    "Sticks" aren't for everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone need to conform to automatics for the sake of being lazy or just not wanting to learn..... god I miss living in Europe (I took my driving test in a manual 84 VW :) ... you can keep your big auto-4 speed Ford trucks and automatic cookie cutter Honda Accord clones gguuuhhhk garbage.

    My 'Dream Car' - 1999 M3 Coupe (MANUAL!!!!!!) S50B32
  • alex_v's comment on "Five Myths About Stick Shifts" states:"... This makes the engine turn slower at a given speed for AT vehicles, and thus consume less fuel than they would if the engine turned at the same speed as a comparable MT"
    Not so. Fuel consumption does NOT depend on engine speed. You have to ask the question, "What does the energy obtained in burning the fuel do?" Answer: It overcomes air resistance and other frictional forces opposing the vehicle's motion and supplies gravitational potential energy to the vehicle if it's climbing a hill." If the gear ratio is different, the same work has to be done and in many cases a higher engine speed may take the engine into a more efficient power band. Too low an engine speed takes it out of the efficient power band. While travelling with a friend in a manual transmission car with an m.p.g. readout, I was shown that the m.p.g. returned at 30 m.p.h. was higher in 3rd gear than in 4th - a practical demonstration of the preceding argument. The purpose of any gearbox, automatic or manual, is to keep the engine in an efficient power band as much as possible. The down side of a MT is that it depends on the driver's ability to judge when to change gear. An automatic will usually be more efficient than a manual with most drivers IMHO.
  • joey_zjoey_z Posts: 4
    nothing can match the smile on your face when you rev-matched a gear that's smoother than an automatic can do.
    But again, driving manuals in traffic, especially those heavy clutches on sportier cars, makes you cry. If you have passengers on board, they will cry too.
  • joey_zjoey_z Posts: 4
    As a former residence of Michigan, manual transmission saved me from a lot of troubles. There were situations that you would just lock the tires easily even with feather weight touch on the brake. Also situations when you want to maintain in a lower gear to regulate speed and avoiding under steer, auto trans are just too dull to do those. and the throttle response on any manual transmissions can't be matched by even the best auto.
  • This is a very U.S.-focused article. In Europe and most of the rest of the world, manuals still rule. The U.S. is the only country where automakers sell so many cars with automatics only. In Europe, it's the opposite. When I bought my wife's Mazda5 van a few years ago, you couldn't even get it with an auto. Europeans like to feel they are driving the car, not that the car is driving them. It's a cultural thing.
  • Ok not much to say about the above . But what I can say is this . Try to pass a stick shift driving licence . With a manual licence you can drive both manual and automatic cars .where as with an automatic licence you can only drive an automatic car ... they both cost the same or not far off so its worth having the manual licence .even if you use an automatic you may have to drive a manual for work etc... get my drift ?
  • @alex_y: you are so right about texting and driving. Actually you are right in pretty much all you say. That being said, although I drive a stick, in the city I do fell an automatic would be much easier. Also, any forced intake engine (supercharged or tu
  • I must make some adjustments to my previous comment: most new cars (that is, designed and build in this century, not those tracing their roots back to the 80's, and throughout the years had only face lifts and engine upgrades) have capable automatic gearboxes.
  • oli4vdoli4vd Posts: 1
    You know what's weird? Outside the US, the majority of drivers drive sticks. Automatics are rare...
    I've spent a lot of time in Europe, notably Belgium. Everyone drives manual, only the elderly or disabled drive automatic transmission cars. Apparently, if you get your drivers license with an automatic transmission car, you're not allowed to drive a manual.
    AT cars are regarded as being "not real" and "for [non-permissible content removed]".
    Funny, when you think of it...
  • goonablegoonable Posts: 1
    I totally agree with all previous comments concerning forcing new drivers to learn on manuals and the sheer fun it can be. With the increase in device tethering and display screens we are becoming more and more disconnected with the physical act of driving. That connection a manual can make between driver and car is what every video game today attempts to simulate. Downshifting into a corner and powering through it while healing-toeing the accelerator and brake is something everyone should experience.
  • wpg1127wpg1127 Posts: 1
    If you are buying a car for the fun of driving a stick is the only way to go. If you are buying a car to get to work, go auto. Nothing is more painful than holding in the clutch as you inch you way in heavy traffic.
  • The reason I chose a manual living in a Northern state is its tremendous advantage in driving in snow. You don't need to hit the brake continuously since simply removing your foot from the accelerator slows you down; as a result you are less likely to skid. A low first gear with a 5 speed manual makes it much easier to get traction going up hills.
  • o_mikroso_mikros Posts: 2
    The other advantage to MT is that since nobody can drive them, nobody ever asks to borrow your car! :D
  • o_mikroso_mikros Posts: 2
    And one other HUGE advantage -- you can self-jump a stick if you're parked on a hill.
  • alliseallise Posts: 1
    RELIABILITY of MANUALS...What about the likelihood of a problem? Manual transmissions are less complex and more reliable.
  • mikeinflamikeinfla Posts: 1
    how about this one....... you can drive a manual on a dead battery!! you can push start any manual vehicle if u pop the clutch! you cant do that with an automatic.

    also, repairs on most manuals are much easier than on automatics, esp when it comes to any type of transmission work.

    manual-1 automatics-0
  • Hard science tells me that a manual transmission is more efficient than an automatic. There is a power cost of running the pumps, valves, and bands in an auto trans. It is up to 20 percent loss in power just to make the shift points for me. There are some tips in buying a manual trans vehicle. First of all, make sure it has an external slave unit. It will go bad and most likely before the clutch goes bad. Do research in vehicles that fail because of a bad tranny. I buy cars at auction and avoid certain models at certain miles. Explorer or Escape above 120k, Freelander above 70k, Jeep models above 110k, just to name a few. One innovation is the gearless transmission. Having worked on golf carts, I've worked on the type they use. Well there are some cars using the CVT system. The biggest problem is you return to the dealer for certified repairs. There are very few tranny shops who can work on them, if any.
  • cackocacko Posts: 1
    What about reliability ?
    There are so many components to an Automatic transmission to go wrong.
    Second, if you battery is dead , you can start a manual car by rolling down a hill or pushing .. can`t do that with automatic.

    Wife has a Toyota with the 'manual' option on her automatic, no matter what gear you 'lock' the stupid thing into , when you mash the gas it STILL shifts automatically !!!!

    That would not happen with a true mechanical manual car.

    Speak of economy, I can start my car in any gear ( given enough torque at low RPM ) , you can`t do that with automatic .
    Not to speak of towing with an automatic.
    Automatic is more convenient , but better ? I guess it depends on what you are looking for.
  • carlos55carlos55 Posts: 1
    You forgot what to me is the most important reason to at least have a working knowledge of MT--travel abroad. If you only can drive manual you will find the price of car rentals skyrockets-usually by double in many locations in Europe and Asia. I keep one a an MT so that I can remember how and then basically I can drive anything abroad-even in left side of the road countries like Great Britain etc.
  • jim_ptrjim_ptr Posts: 1
    Quite biased.

    The facts this article presents are, I would assume, very easily accepted by automatic drivers who have no manual experience.
  • Okay then, why are 65 percent plus of the cars sold in Europe and in other countries except the US and Canada Stick shifts ?

    They have the ability to use a smaller engine, likely diesel and consume less gasoline. A BMW diesel 1 series I rented for work holding 4 people
    and traveled 535 miles at an average of 75-90 MPH we got 43 MPH
    with a decent load

    Manual transmissions are not sold in America because we have gotten
    lazy and have too many distractions stateside in a car
  • joey_zjoey_z Posts: 4
    re-read and It feels like that you are comparing multiple types of AT's to one type of MT. I can assure you that you would not be able to get all these advantages from one AT.
    1. It's the secret of gearing. AT with torque converters getting the same mpg will always put less power down on the road. unless it's a DCT, which leads to 2.
    2. This is partially correct for up front purchase for consumers. Sure, MT sometimes is a no-cost option. But you are basically paying for the huge fixed cost, not the actual transmission. When it comes to servicing and repairing, good luck.
    3. Again, these AT's will cost you a lot, probably not up front, but waiting to bite you. And the cool factor is totally a subjective matter. For me, AT even DCT, defeats the purpose of sports car. I want to have fun driving, I don't care about lapping the fastest time on track, I don't make a living from doing that. I would vote for DCT if I'm a race driver, but I'm not.
    4. guess these are companies that get the formula right. pretty good sales numbers and product images, aren't they?
    5. probably. when electric cars take over the earth, I guess youngsters won't even understand the word "transmission". hehe.
  • Well I'm no longer a teenager, but I've been one just a year ago, and I've never driven an automatic in my life.

    And since most teens aren't very rich, they resort to buying used cars, which tend to be manual.

    I am not American, however, and I do realize that in USA automatics are more popular than elsewhere and that some Americans buy new cars for their kids.
  • I like to drive stick shift cars,the only thing is as you get older your knees start giving out on you especially in long bumpy roads,that's why I'm considering shifting to auto(shiftronic) maybe.
  • Downshifting to save your brakes? That is ridiculous! Replacing brake pads is virtually free (some pads have a lifetime warranty) if you do it yourself and only around $110 if you have a shop do it. Replacing your clutch...now that's a major expense! My clutch/flywheel costs $2040 to replace. Yeah, I think I'd rather use my brakes. Also, I just had my 121k mile old manual transmission repaired at a cost of OVER $4000 ($600 of that is for a clutch & flywheel). If you want an economical car, DO NOT BUY A MANUAL (at least not the 3rd gen Acura TL)! But of course I didn't choose a manual for economic reasons but I certainly did not expect to pay that much for repairs. That makes $2000+ automatic transmission repairs seem like peanuts.
  • How lucky you all are that at least you have a choice. Having lived in France for the past 4 years it always amazes me that 95% of the French population live in the past. They insist that you are not "driving" a car unless it is a manual. They all have this attitude that it is more macho to change gears yourself. What utter rubbish. Being in our 60s, living in a big city, we want an automatic. But can we buy a small, sporty drive with auto or dsg? Oh yes, as long as you want the lowest powered choice of the model on offer. Want a decent bit of performance, sorry manual only. For that reason we are now on our 3rd German car. At least they understand what driving is all about.
  • Alex_y makes exactly my point. I rent many automatics, owned an automatic almost exactly rated same by EPA as my stick. An Automatic gets less milage in the city - while rated at 22-28 I always get near 20-22. My stick, because I can anticipate how I will drive, can coast in neutral, etc. gets far better mileage (full average over 95K miles in 28mpg).

    An automatic on the EPA test can shift constantly. A manual has to follow a rule - at 30 mph be in 4th gear or shift at 4500 rpm, which does not go in its favor. In the real world, when you want to accelerate youa re in 3rd gear at 40mph, when youa re stuck behind grandma in a Camry you can be in 6th at 40mph. The EPA test also isn't required.
  • m_w2m_w2 Posts: 1
    Being an engineer making engine, I can hardly agree with the fuel economy advantage about the automatic transmission. Without considering the gear ratio and final output ratio of the power train, it is just naive to say automatic car is more gas saving. There are plenty of research and technical data out there show how much spin lost you will have on any of the latest and greatest automatic transmission. There are only few semi-automatic transmissions that can out perform a standard transmission which are for racing purpose.

    The great MPG number on an automatic car is just an engineering sample trick on the gear ratio. If the gear ratio between a stick and an automatic transmission is identical, stick's MPG will win the race by far.

    Careful calibration and programming to control the drive-by-wire throttle and shifting engagement will help reducing the spin lose. The biggest advantage of automatic transmission is to allow the engine to be shut off when you are waiting at the traffic light. However, it is just the nature of the automatic transmission to have a hard time winning the MPG game at this moment.
  • How about starting from second on an inclined slippery surface? An automatic won't let you do that and traction control is quite iffy. How about engine braking on slippery surfaces? This can be done with an automatic but it is, but it is slow and lacks precision. Without a clutch to slip, it's just as dangerous as braking. How about precision slow speed maneuvers under load without a clutch to slip: yeah have fun slamming into a telephone pole with that. How about taking advantage of the greater torque available at high RPMs by slipping the clutch when needing to start from a stop while having a full load.
  • xoblinxoblin Posts: 1
    I'll take an auto with paddle shifters or auto-stick over a standard any day. Sure I guess you get more "connection" or "thrill" using a stick, but I enjoy technology, better acceleration, and handling from newer technology than the "stick" mentality. Wanna go back to rotary phones too? Or maybe Morse code? Lol.
  • hifipete1hifipete1 Posts: 1
    This 3.9% of buyers who opt for manual trannys are mostly driving enthusiasts, like myself. That says alot about the ''mind set'' in N.A. vs Europe and Asia. And yes I know that automatics are gaining ground in those areas also. The USA drives the whole N.A. market (unfortunately) and this is why we practicall have no choice in transmission choices here in Canada as well as the U.S.A. We all know that in the U.S.A. they don't like manual, hatchacks, sation wagons, diesels...which is a shame. And frustrating for some of us. But the majority wins, even if they are dull.
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