Manual vs auto

Gears of carSometimes I ponder if I should have gone ahead and bought a manual car. I can handle it okay, but gears are just another thing to deal with. As summer comes along, one has to remember to rev it a bit more when the aircon’s on, otherwise you make an unscheduled stop in Stall City.

It also means when Marita’s with me, she gets driven everywhere as she doesn’t do manuals! (Though she had a go of a manual truck recently and did fine.)

On the plus side for manuals, the fuel economy is a bit better, and there’s less mechanical stuff inside the car to break down.

Then again, hill starts still scare me a little.

Within a few years, the kids will be learning to drive. On the one hand it makes sense for them to learn gears, on the other, I wonder if not having to deal with them makes beginner drivers safer?


By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

24 replies on “Manual vs auto”

Manual all the way! With a manual, you can instantly cut the power by stepping on the clutch. That’s quicker than trying to get an auto into neutral, because your left foot is always there. It’s also easier to crawl in city traffic, because you aren’t constantly moving your foot between the accelerator and brake. You can slow a manual down faster than an auto by downshifting. Hill starts are a bit tricky to learn, but you get used to it pretty quickly, and there’s always the handbrake if you’re having trouble.

We have a manual.
If you drive a manual, you can (pretty) easily drive almost anyone else’s car. This includes a hire car when they tell you “we only have manuals available today”.
My soon-to-be-16 year old is joyous that she can learn on a manual and her friends are actually jealous of her (we have an old bomb, her friends’ parents all drive massive auto 4WD and new BMWs!)
Slowing down (esp. in mountain driving) is better using gears than brakes, too.

There’s not much point in manual transmissions now. Automatics are more common than ever and most parents’ cars are probably automatic. Certainly there’ll be no need for manual gearshifting when all cars are electric – transmissions with discrete gears will be a thing of the past.

It’s a useful skill if you need to drive different cars, but it’s certainly possible to go the first few years of your driving life without driving a manual. I did that, and then started driving a manual when I was about 24. It was easy enough to learn and to be completely competent.

I am of the opinion that novice drivers should be taught in automatics, and only learn to use manual transmissions later when they can already control the car properly and know how to drive in traffic. I don’t know if there are any studies to support this but it might be worth a look.

Just on the point of kids learning to drive.

It’s much harder for them to learn how to drive as well as having to learn how to drive a manual. It’s so much easier to learn how to drive a stick after one already knew how to drive.

Some theories for so many car accidents with young drivers is that they don’t have a manual and cannot appreciate the power of the engine; it’s one foot to go fast, other foot to stop, nothing in between. Whereas manuals teach novice drivers the value of gears, to take note of their surrounds (for hills to change gears, etc) to control their car rather than let the car control them.

You should know how to drive a manual even if you never actually do after you get your licence. I’ve been in a situation where a person hurt themselves playing sport and nobody could drop their car home for them due to an inability to drive a manual… I’m sure that example could be extrapolated to a much more urgent set of circumstances.

Everyone should know how to drive a manual car in my opinion. I drive an auto these days, but it’s nice to know I could drive someone’s manual if I needed to.

I learnt in a manual and of course it’s harder. The upside is:
1. manual cars are generally cheaper than their auto equivalent (good for first car buyers)
2. manual cars are more fun to drive.
3. if you drive the same manual car often, everything become 2nd nature you know when the clutch engages and can hit it every time (no hill start problems except perhaps when you’re in a tight park).
4. manual cars are more fuel efficient (good for first card buyers).
5. you think about car transmissions and power systems more. you need to understand revs, gearing ratios and torque and power and how they all interact. This helps understand what you need in a car and make your choice of car more intelligent (or at least informed). FYI the reason manual trucks/vans are usually easier to drive is that the torque is higher (and/or gearing ratios are lower) so you can be less careful with the clutch and accelerator as the truck (unless fully loaded) will go without any accelerator if you lift the clutch.

I think if you learn in an auto there is a good chance you will never learn to drive a manual.

When I was learning to drive, I learnt manual. I liked my Mum’s theory that if I could drive a manual, I could drive anything. Plus back then if you got your licence in an auto, you couldn’t drive a manual for x years. Don’t know if that rule is same or not.
Would prefer kids to learn manual. Imagine they are at a party with a friend, who drove their manual car to the party. friend gets sloshed. Rather than get in a car with a sloshed friend, your kid can drive, as they have the skills.
I like the theory on learning in an auto, you are learning in to drive and the road rules first, then can move up to manual, but really, if you are learning in a manual, surely you don’t know any different and will learn it all in one go, rather than needing more lessons later on.

+1 for manual – most of the points I had ready and waiting were already covered …

It’s probably not as much of a problem now, but for my mind, a manual gives much better control of power from the engine when you need it in a hurry – an automatic often takes ages to make the same decision …

On the learn-in-a-manual issue – I learnt in a manual and then had a big problem the first time I took out the family automatic as I couldn’t for the life of me get the @!%!@# thing to start again since I’d accidentally not put it into Park … I hadn’t realised that an auto just will not start when in gear – technically true of manual as well, but there you have access to the clutch which is a known quantity …

In all my driving years I have only once driven an automatic, I guess it’s just very different over here in the UK where automatics tend to be more expensive and quite rare.

Must admit, not sure if I liked the experience, and after only a short time things like hill starts just become second nature, you don’t even realise you are doing them.

Curious to know how automatics handle in situations like steep hills where going down it is recommended you change to a lower gear, or in snowy/icy conditions where having gears and a clutch give you so much more control. (guessing not such a problem in Melbourne)

Going down steep hills you can disable overdrive or drop to second gear and the fluid will slow you down a bit. I find driving an auto on hilly roads with gravel surfaces to be quite a challenge, though. You have to be constantly alert, and you have to shift several seconds sooner than you would with a manual. (Autos are more expensive here, too, but people are lazy. Also, in larger cars, like Commodores and Falcons, a manual with less than six gears can feel pretty nasty.)

The reason I got an automatic last time round is simple. The number of speed bumps and chicanes. It is too much of a pain in the neck to be changing gears incessantly, and potentially a distraction from other things like kids running onto the road.
My brother has a ridiculous commodore with a V8 engine and a six speed manual gearbox. The amount of unproductive busy-work this causes him is unbelievable. That car would probably run just fine if the gearbox was broken and it was stuck in second gear.

I now own and prefer a driving a manual car. Driving a manual is fun and it does give a bit more control than an automatic does. The only time I prefer an automatic is in stop and go traffic as an automatic will creep along in drive while in a manual one gets a workout constantly pumping the clutch in and out. The brakes last longer in a manual car as one can slow the car with the engine much more effectively.

I have owned 7 cars over the years and 5 of them were automatic and two have been manual. Most of the cars and trucks in the US are automatic and I don’t think you could rent a manual car even if you wanted to. I believe that driving a manual (called a “stick shift” in American) does cause one to pay a bit more attention to one’s driving. As for learning to use the gears and clutch one just needs an empty street or parking lot and and some time to practice. The hardest thing to learn is starting off in first and learning how to feel the clutch grab without stalling.

I had the interesting experience of adjusting to driving in Australia and adjusting to changing gears with my left hand instead of my right after nearly 25 years of driving in the US. Surprisingly using my other hand to change gears took the least adjustment and just came about naturally. Adjusting to the wiper and turn signal controls being opposite was much harder to relearn and sometimes I still hit the wrong control if I have to react quickly.

I’d say teach them to drive a manual. Like a number of other commenters, I agree that it gives greater control and understanding of the car and driving, and increases awareness of hills, curves, etc. – one has to know when to shift so the car is in the right gear to handle each circumstance, and so needs to pay better attention to what’s coming up ahead.

An anecdote – I recently had to get my car (a manual) repaired, and borrowed a friend’s automatic while I was without my own car. I hadn’t driven an automatic in a number of years, and was a bit surprised at how I had to change my driving style to suit the car choosing gears for me. I had to brake earlier, to compensate for not downshifting; I had to fiddle with the accelerator sometimes to have it pick the right gear for going uphill, or passing, or speeding up with traffic, and there always seem to be a delay between when I wanted to do something, and the car decided to go ahead and do it.

All in all, I’m much happier with my manual, and am not likely to choose an automatic in my next car.

Another vote for a manual here, for the reasons previously mentioned (especially the last two commenters).

That said, it takes a bit of coordination, and some people simply don’t have that. My sister never learnt to drive a manual because she was simply not able to concentrate on arms, legs and the road and other traffic at the same time, and it was better for her to be more aware of the traffic around her and potential problems, especially when she was young and learning to drive. Now that she’s older and had more experience she might like to try a manual, I don’t know.

Auto all the way. I have only driven autos for over 28 years now and have never had an emergency or social situation where this caused a problem. I actually fractured my left ankle playing basketball about 15 years ago and drove myself to the hospital. I have worked for many government and private organisations and used the company cars and these have always been auto. I mostly do inner city driving (to/from school and work, shopping and social occasions) with the occasional trip to a country town about 100kms away and I have never needed to tow anything, so auto suits my situation. Friends who are in horror that my kids will learn on an auto are either usually people who are into cars in a big way (which I am not), or are families that tow caravans etc.and have big 4WD. I say go Auto and then if the kids want a manual later they can buy one.

Manaul for smaller cars and autos for the big ones in our house. Not sure how i will go teaching my daughter in the bug. It’s 46 year old manual gearbox may not stand up to a thrashing by a new driver.

I find insulting when people call drivers who drive automatic “lazy”. What about those people like myself who did not have access to a manual car when they were first learning to drive.

Keep up the great work on your blog, Daniel.

Manual. Going up and down gears makes boring city trips more interesting. And as for it requiring ‘more thinking’, like most things you do all the time it becomes automatic.

Hill starts are incredibly easy if you’ve been taught to use the handbrake to start off.

But driving an automatic is fun when your brain tells you to shift gears and you stomp on the clutch only to discover it is the brake. You only tend to do it once.

Just catching up on my toxic custard. couldn’t resist commenting. we are in the same pickle here. We both have auto cars but our eldest will be able to get his learner’s permit next year and we’ve both decided we want him to learn in a manual. Since he has no idea what he wants to do later on he could well need a manual license for driving certain vehicles. ( we’ve moved to the country) The pure convenience of being able to drive both means we are considering buying a manual ute atm. An oldish bomb, that we can in the mean time use for other stuff. Recently I had need of a ute, Actually we’ve had about 5 occasions when we’ve had need of a ute or a towbar ( we have neither) in the past 6 months. Recently I’ve had to hire a ute from Bunnings. for a couple of trips. the only type they have is manual. So it makes sense for us to consider getting one and making it a manual so our son can learn to drive one.

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