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The Transmission Decision: Manual v. Automatic

In the past, learning to drive a manual transmission was a rite of passage. Finally learning to navigate the stick shift in harmony with the clutch was the ultimate reward. Similar to learning the workings of riding a bicycle as a child, learning to drive a stick shift provided freedom through mobility. Strangely, the manual transmission is becoming less popular and today’s generation of new drivers will likely look at the clutch and wonder why there are two brake pedals.


Vehicles sold with manual transmissions are becoming increasingly rare. In 1987, roughly one-third of new vehicles sold had manual transmission. According to USA Today, a mere 6.5% of new vehicles sold today are powered by a manual transmission. Though manual transmissions have gradually fallen out of favor with consumers, there remain several distinct advantages to driving a stick.

For one, vehicles with a manual transmission are typically less expensive than those with an automatic. According to the New York Daily News, “Stick shift cars are usually cheaper when brand-new than their automatic counterparts, especially on the lower end of the automobile market.” With both new and used car prices on the rise, the savings a manual transmission presents are becoming increasingly attractive.

Not only are the base prices of manual transmission vehicles lower, they also remain more affordable over the lifetime of the vehicle. Auto Guide reports “Manual transmission repairs are considered to be less costly. Where an automatic transmission rebuild or replacement can cost thousands of dollars, a manual transmission usually just needs a new clutch, which costs from $600-$1500 to repair.” If an owner plans on keeping his or her vehicle for a while, a manual transmission has a decided edge.

Manual transmissions can be friendly to your wallet in yet another way: gas savings. According to Consumer Reports, “In our tests, we’ve found that in some cars a manual transmission can improve gas mileage by a significant 2 to 5 mpg.” Gas prices are the highest they have been in six months, and gas savings will continue to add up with a fuel-efficient manual transmission if this trend continues.

There are several less obvious benefits to driving a vehicle with manual transmission. In many vehicles, the acceleration with a stick shift is superior and is more fun to drive. A manual transmission also gives the driver a feeling of control because it requires attentiveness. An unintended value of a manual transmission is the fact that fewer and fewer drivers know how to operate a manual transmission. This presents another hidden saving opportunity as a free anti-theft device.

Automatics, however, continue to grow in popularity, as there are natural advantages to this transmission as well. An automatic does not require a learning curve and is easier to drive in traffic. Ultimately, automatics present a more convenient option to a manual.

While manual transmission vehicles are becoming increasingly rare, they have not gone away completely. Many drivers have turned to automatic transmissions, largely for reasons of convenience. The rising prices of new and used vehicles, as well as gasoline, may shift the tide and increase the demand for manual transmissions.



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