Manual vs Automatic: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

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Even though you'll rarely find a classic car without a manual transmission, driving stick is just not very popular in the United States anymore. Still, the manual vs automatic debate has been raging ever since cars with automatic transmissions were created--and not just in America.

Even though there is no consensus on which is better, it's worth gaining a broad understanding of the pros and cons of each style of driving when purchasing a new car and trying to find a comfortable price. It's also important to note that as electric vehicles begin to dominate the industry, the automatic vs manual debate will begin to die down. Manufacturers are simply not making manual electric cars--at least not yet (see more on this below). Self-driving cars will likely only come equipped with automatic transmissions as well.

Whether you don't know how or you simply do not like to drive manual or if you refuse to drive an automatic because you prefer manual, here's everything you need to know about both types of cars.

What Is the Difference Between Manuals and Automatics?

A common question people have is, What is a manual car? Do manual cars have transmissions? As rare as they are becoming, manual cars are really no different from an automatic cars except that they require a little more work on your part to operate. The real question is, What's manual transmission vs automatic transmission? While everyone wants a smooth and steady ride as they accelerate or decelerate through traffic, most people don't understand the inner workings of a transmission.

What Does a Transmission Do?

How well a transmission shifts into gear dictates whether a car jerks or drives smoothly. It's the transmission that transfers power from the engine to the drive axle and wheels. In a lower gear, the transmission has more power and lower speeds. In a higher gear, it has less power and higher speeds. A clutch (the pedal that is unfamiliar to many automatic drivers) disengages the engine from the wheels, thereby allowing you to shift gears according to speed. An all-automatic car changes gears on its own based on the speed you choose to drive without any effort on your part.

Do you really need to know all this? Not really, but if you're considering buying from amongst the manual vehicles in the dealership, you do need to know that you will have a third pedal (the clutch), which you work with your left foot in tandem with the clutch pedal to change speeds. 

How Many Gears Does a Manual Car Have?

Another difference between standard and automatic cars is the number of gears. Most standard cars have five or six gears or speeds, whereas automatic transmission cars can have as many as 9 gears. In the 1950s, manual transmission muscle cars came in three speeds. However, the three-speed on the column was soon joined by a four-speed, for faster highway driving. Soon enough, three-speed manual transmissions came to an end, well before the demise of the muscle car in America.

Is it Better to Drive a Manual or an Automatic Shift Car?

Manual vs automatic is a contentious topic for some. In the end, what's good for one person is a headache to another so it's hard to say which you should choose between a manual transmission or an automatic car. Let us give you an idea of how it may be beneficial to you to buy one type of car versus the other. 

By some accounts, having a manual transmission car is painful if you often stop and go in, say, Los Angeles traffic on your way to work. The problem is that the driver is constantly gear shifting manually when trapped in a bottleneck in the vehicle. Drivers can't just sit back and listen to the radio or have a meeting over the phone.

Having a manual transmission car is painful if you often stop and go in, say, Los Angeles traffic on your way to work.

Consider how often you get caught in congested traffic. In a manual, you're working each time you progress a few inches towards your destination. However, if you have a fairly smooth commute without much congestion you may not have a problem on the road. In fact, you save on gas, so it may work better for you. And yes, fuel economy is a factor: You really do use less fuel with a manual transmission vs automatic transmission. 

Is Maintenance Easier on a Manual Car?

Fewer things go wrong with a manual car because it is less complex. Manuals are therefore less expensive to fix when something does happen. Fluid changes are also half that of an automatic. Transmission replacement is also less expensive. However, if you're not a careful driver and burn through the clutches, you may have higher costs.

Fewer things go wrong with a manual car because it is less complex. Manuals are therefore less expensive to fix.

Why Is a Manual Transmission Better Than an Automatic Transmission?

It's unspeakable to buy automatics in certain car models, like a Porsche. If the driving experience dominates your car-buying decisions, manuals may be the way to go. The good news is that not only is a manual transmission roughly a $1,000 cheaper than its automatic counterpart, it'll be a little cheaper to insure a manual because the total value of the car is less. You'll also save some money on gas. Fuel-efficiency using a standard vs automatic is a great thing if you're not quite ready to invest in an electric vehicle. The better fuel economy from a manual could save you between 5 and 15% on gas. For many drivers, this is an important factor.

Have a Manual or Automatic Vehicle? Find out your insurance rates today!

What's a Torque Converter?

An automatic car cannot move without a torque converter, which links the engine to the gear sets, thereby changing gears automatically. The torque converter is located in the transmission. Most modern automatic cars have a built-in locking clutch mechanism which enables a smooth ride, especially when a vehicle gains speed. A faulty converter will typically cause a car to shake, make a humming noise or the engine will lag when attempting to accelerate while driving.

Are Automatic Transmissions Faster Than Manual Transmission?

Manual sportscars, high-performance cars and luxury vehicles are still preferable to many drivers.

Manual sportscars, high-performance cars and luxury vehicles are still preferable to many drivers. It used to be that manual cars had better "pick up" or they experienced faster acceleration than automatics. However, automatic cars accelerate just as fast if not faster than their manual counterparts with all the new technology out there. One thing has not changed: the driver has more control with a manual vs an automatic and all because of that third clutch pedal. With that said, you are trying to decide between buying a manual or automatic, know that you have to be a more proactive driver and anticipate when you'll need to change gears and change speed if you opt for manual transmission. Distracted driving and manual transmissions don't mix well. You may also experience stalling, which can be scary if you're on a hill. You'll become a champion with the shifter in no time, but there is a learning curve. Also, if better fuel economy, faster acceleration and saving money on a car purchase is important to you, a little extra work behind the wheel with manual transmissions may be worth it, even the stalling.

Are There Manual Tesla Models?

With new models of electric vehicles (EVs) hitting the marketing every day, have you asked yourself if any electric cars come with a clutch pedal? EVs are selling more than ever, and this question keeps coming up, especially for drivers who like the control of changing gears. However, there are no gears in electric cars. Simply put, EVs don't come in manual because there is no real reason for a clutch.

We know the emotional connection some of you have with changing gears as you drive so it may be disappointing but it's completely unnecessary to make an electric manual car. However, it is possible to create an electric gearbox for shifting manually. Are you sold or are you shaking your head? For now, let's wait and see which manufacturer (if any) steps up to the bat. So, as for the answer to the question above: No, no manual Teslas (yet).

Do Electric Cars Have a Transmission?

Electric cars do not require a multi-speed transmission because of the high torque available over a wide range of motor speeds. Even though there are no gears and there's no need for a clutch in an electric car, that doesn't mean that manufacturers aren't looking to meet the needs of some hardcore stick-shift drivers.

Are Cars with Manual Transmissions Cheaper than Automatic Transmissions?

Yes, if you compare prices on the same make and model in both standard and manual, you will find that manual cars are cheaper, usually about a thousand or so less than their automatic counterpart. When choosing between manual or automatic, also note that manual cars are also cheaper to repair. However, if your clutch needs to be repaired or replaced, it will cost you quite a bit because it's essential to operate your transmission.

Next question: Do You Get More Mileage on a Manual?

An even better question is, How are manual sportscars on Mileage? Whether or not your car is a gas guzzler depends largely on the model of the car. However, manual cars can improve gas mileage between two and five miles per gallon. Sportscars, which are often preferred in manual, are not very efficient with gas overall, however. Yes, they are fun but you'll have to pay a price to own one.

Are Automatic Cars Cheaper to Insure than Manual Cars?

There's no hard and fast rule about automatics being cheaper or more expensive to insure. However, there are factors that often make insuring a stick shift cheaper. For instance, because of the complicated machinery in an automatic transmission, automatics cost more than their manual counterparts. Since the value of a car is higher on automatics, it will be a little more expensive to insure. Another reason it's cheaper to insure a stick shift is because they are stolen less often than automatic cars. Honda Civics top the list of stolen vehicles in many states, so it's safe to say that Honda Civics with automatic transmission are the biggest targets for car thieves.

Manual Versus Automatic Transmission Cars: Pros and Cons Summed Up

Frankly, automatics are less work and a little faster. However, you can save some money and have more control when driving if you buy a car with a manual gearbox. The best way to save money on whichever type of car you choose is to compare prices at

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