Comparing the merits of automatic and manual transmissions

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Streets of San Francisco

If you never plan to drive uphill in traffic, a manual may be a great idea. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There are a lot of factors that go into which car to choose, whether you are choosing one at a dealership, shopping online or going around to private sellers. One thing that you shouldn’t discount is the vehicle’s transmission. There are benefits and drawbacks of each type. Automotive transmissions more or less come in two flavors:  manual transmission or automatic transmission. In order for consumers to determine which best fits their lifestyles and driving styles, there are a few things to consider.

Some should stick to manual

One of the benefits of a manual-transmission-equipped car is that manuals are more economical. The driver can change gears in the optimal range, called a power band, of RPMs, so as to not overload the engine, and decrease the workload of the engine. Cars with manual transmissions, or stick shifts, often get two miles more per gallon than their automatic counterparts and cost less at the dealership, where vehicles with automatic transmission can cost an additional $1000 or more. That said, with computer technology in modern cars, the gas mileage advantage is diminishing.


Car buyers should bear in mind the area they live and drive in the most. A person who lives in a flat area in Iowa probably doesn’t need to think too hard, but someone who lives in or around Seattle or San Francisco should seriously consider an automatic. Manuals are more labor intensive, and in stop and go traffic on steep hills, one has to mind the steering wheel, the gear shift and also the clutch, gas and brake at the same time. Also, if the drivers have to stop on a hill, they must use the parking brake, too. That aside, some hold the opinion that driving a manual is simply more fun.

The catch

Vehicles that produce more torque and horsepower put greater strain on transmissions, so buyers should do their homework on any car they are interested in buying. Warranties are great, but finding out that all forward gears are gone in the supermarket parking lot is not pleasant. Automatics are far more complex to repair, so DIY repairs are not as easy and more expensive. Transmissions are not cheap to replace. The inexperienced should always have a qualified mechanic perform the repairs.

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