Manual vs. automatic transmission: benefits and drawbacks

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What type of transmission should you get? Image from Wikimedia Commons.

It’s one of the great debates in purchasing a vehicle: manual vs. automatic. For most people in the United States, it’s not really a question – many people were never taught to drive a manual transmission. This partially accounts for the fact that 82 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States have automatic transmissions. If you are presented with the option, though, what kind of transmission should you get?

Manual transmissions

The manual transmission, otherwise known as a “stick shift” or “standard transmission,” was the first type of transmission available in vehicles. A manual transmission relies on the driver to disengage, change, and re-engage the transmission. Manual transmissions take slightly more work to operate, but they provide some benefits. Cars with manual transmissions get about 10 percent better gas mileage than their automatic counterparts. Manual transmission vehicles are usually about $700 less, and they give you more control in tough driving conditions.

Automatic transmissions

Easier to drive in stop-and-go traffic and available in most cars, an automatic transmission has definite benefits. An automatic transmission makes it much less likely you will grind or strip gears. An automatic transmission also keeps your hands and feet available while you are driving and lets you react to situations more quickly. In general, an automatic transmission is easier to find at car dealers as well. The technology for automatic transmissions is getting better, and this is the only type of transmission available in most hybrid vehicles.

Manumatic transmissions

Halfway between manual and automatic transmissions, a manumatic or semi-automatic transmission combines some of the benefits of both. Every carmaker has a different brand name for these transmissions, but in general, the operation is the same. A torque converter, rather than a driver-operated clutch, changes the gears. A manumatic allows for the driver to change the gears as they wish, though. A manumatic transmission makes the most sense for high-end performance vehicles and usually costs significantly more.

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