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

Fran Majidi
January 8, 2019

The Manual vs Automatic debate has been raging ever since cars with automatic transmissions were created. Even though there is no consensus on which is better, it’s worth gaining a broad understanding of the pros and cons of each when purchasing a new car. 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 stick 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 Manual and Automatic?

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 car except that they require a little more work on your part to operate. The real question is, What’s a 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. 

It’s the transmission that 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 lower gears, the transmission has more power and lower speeds. In higher gears, 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 buying a manual, 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 stick shift to change speeds. 

Another difference between standard and automatic cars is the number of gears. Most standard cars have 5 or 6 gears or speeds, whereas automatic transmission cars can have as many as 9 gears. In the 1950s, manual transmission muscle cars came in 3 speeds. However, the 3 speed on the column was soon joined by a 4 speed, for faster highway driving. Soon enough, 3 stick shifting came to an end, well before the demise of the muscle car.

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

What’s good for one person is a headache to another so it’s hard to say which you should choose between standard or automatic cars. 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 sit in, say, Los Angeles traffic on your way to work. The problem is that you are constantly shifting gears when trapped in a bottleneck. You can’t just sit back and listen to the radio or have a meeting over the phone. 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’re fine. In fact, you save on gas, so it may work better for you. And yes, you really do use less gas with a manual transmission vs automatic transmission. 

Why Is a Manual Better Than an Automatic?

Not only is a manual transmission car 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. Your new mode of fuel-efficiency could save you between 5 and 15% on fuel costs. 

Is Automatic Faster Than Manual?

Manual sports cars, 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 accelerated faster than automatic vehicles. 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 stick shift versus an automatic. With that said, you have to be willing to be a more proactive driver and anticipate when you’ll need to change gears and change speed. Distracted driving and manual transmissions don’t mix well.

Are There Manual Teslas?

With new models of electric vehicles (EVs) hitting the marketing everyday, have you asked yourself if any electric cars come in stick shift? 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. Yes, we know the emotional connection some of you have with changing gears as you drive. However, 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. Yes, it’s completely unnecessary to make an electric manual car, but it is possible to create an electric gearbox for manual shifting. 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).

Are Stick Shift Cars Cheaper?

Yes, if you compare prices on the same make and model in both standard and manual, you will find that stick shift cars are cheaper, usually about a thousand or so less than the 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 operating your transmission.

Are Automatic Cars Cheaper to Insure than Manual Cars?

There’s no hard and fast rule about automatic 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, automatic vehicles cost more than their manual counterparts. Since the value of a car is higher on an automatic, 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, an automatic is less work and it’s 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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