Manual vs. automatic transmission

Manual transmission cars are less common than vehicles with automatic transmission, accounting for less than 2.5% of sales in the United States. Fewer than 15% of modern car models even offer manual transmission as an option. Meanwhile, improvements in automatic transmissions have narrowed the gap in performance, fuel economy, and cost.

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Basics of stick shift vs automatic transmission

The transmission in your car connects the engine to the wheels — the piece that transmits the power. Like a bicycle, it has multiple gears appropriate to different speeds, inclines, and driving conditions. For most drivers in America, that's all they need to know. Automatic transmissions change gears for you automatically based on driving conditions, meaning you never have to think about which gear to use. If you drive a manual transmission, you choose which gear to use and when to shift.

Manual vs. automatic pros and cons

Automatic transmission technology has improved over the decades, making some of the old arguments against it obsolete. If you're considering a manual transmission — or you're a stick shift lover and wondering if you should switch to automatic — it comes down more to what kind of driver you are and what type of experience you want. Learn more about the benefits of driving a stick shift car.

Pros of manual transmission

More engaging

The number one reason to choose a stick shift is that you like the feeling of being engaged with the car. You have more to do, and drivers who enjoy being behind the wheel often feel that manual transmissions are more fun than automatic ones.

More control

Choosing which gear to use gives you more control over the ride. A skilled stick shift driver can provide a very smooth ride, limit the car's speed in adverse conditions, and more.

Vehicle security

With fewer manual transmission vehicles on the road and automatics becoming more common, stick shift vehicles may be less desirable as targets for car theft.

Versatility abroad

Despite accounting for a minuscule percentage of sales in America, manual transmissions are very popular abroad, especially in Europe and Asia. Being comfortable with a stick shift is helpful if you want to drive a car internationally.

Cons of manual transmission

More work

A stick shift requires more attention and physical effort to drive, especially in heavy traffic or hilly areas. If you take long trips or do a lot of city driving, you may see driving a stick as a hassle.

Trouble finding a car

Today, very few new cars in America offer a manual option. That means you'll have to choose from a limited selection or look at older models.

Difficulty lending or sharing a car

Not everyone knows how to operate a stick shift. A manual transmission can be a lousy fit where you expect multiple drivers, like families with driving-age children, to use the vehicle.

Automatic transmission pros

More convenient

For most people, the learning curve for driving an automatic transmission is more approachable. press the accelerator and go without worrying about shifting or evaluating which gear to use.

Lots of options

Nearly every car in production in America is offered with an automatic transmission, meaning you have your choice of vehicles.

Less tiring

Because an automatic transmission requires less input from the driver, they are typically less tiring to drive, especially in situations like city driving that require lots of shifting.

Automatic transmission cons

Less fun

For those interested in performance driving or who like the feeling of control behind the wheel, trading control for convenience may not be worthwhile.

More complicated to repair

Automatic transmissions are more mechanically complex than manuals and may require more expensive maintenance over time.

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Automatic vs. manual: which is faster?

It's a common myth that manual cars are faster than automatic ones, but that isn't the case. High-speed vehicles are available in both transmission types, and the transmission isn't the most important factor in determining top speed. For instance, the Bugatti Veyron — capable of speeds over 250 mph — uses an automatic transmission.

Similarly, Ferrari no longer makes standard production cars with manual transmissions. Performance drivers often prefer a manual transmission for the control it gives, but a stick shift isn't a requirement for a high-performing car.

Manual vs. automatic transmission: reliability and efficiency

In the past, manual cars got better mileage and had fewer problems. But that isn't always the case with modern cars. Big technological advancements have made automatic transmissions more and more competitive with manuals regarding fuel efficiency. In some cases, modern automatics outperform their manual counterparts in fuel efficiency.

In terms of reliability, things aren't as clear. Manufacturers build both types of transmissions to last. Modern advancements have extended the automatic transmission's life, though they remain more expensive to repair on average than manuals.

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