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Pros and Cons: Manual Transmissions

Close-up to the gear lever of a manual-transmission vehicle

What if you could get better fuel mileage by simply buying a car with a shift stick instead of an automatic transmission?

The answer to that question, of course, relies on whether or not you know how to drive one and, if not, are you willing to learn? But overall, when comparing the three transmission types (manual, automatic, and continuously variable transmission [CVT]), one of the benefits of a manual gearbox is that it is more fuel efficient, as well as easier to repair. And there’s always that other bonus – they can be pretty fun to drive.

As with anything, however, there are also some drawbacks to choosing a stick over an automatic. Keep in mind that car insurance costs can be cheaper for the manual transmission cars, since they are easier to repair and, in some cases, cheaper to replace.

Are Manual Transmission Cars Cheaper?

Yes, they can be between $2,000 and $8,000 less expensive. But, it depends. Some manufacturers only offer the option with the highest trim or as a special order since they are less popular. In that case, you may end up spending more! And, with today’s technology, the lines between the two options are getting blurry, since in some cases, what appears to be an automatic transmission has the capabilities of driving like a manual.

There’s a Car with Both?

There are several. In fact, you may be driving one right now and not even realize it.

An example is the “manual mode” that encourages drivers to take advantage of the gears that have been available in many automatic transmission cars in recent years. You may have noticed them: the numbers below the “D”. Operators can use these various gears to have more control in demanding situations, such as driving on snow and ice. When the D mode is selected, the automobile makes the decision which gear is best. If you choose the 2, you’ll lock out any gear below that. If you choose the 1, you’ll only be operating in first gear.

These options offer motorists more control in sketchy situations, so learn to use it if you have it.

The Myths of Driving a Stick Shift Cars

Before we get into the actual pros and cons, let’s debunk a couple of myths that have been circulating for years.

Manual Transmission Vehicles Are Cheaper

Overall, this could be considered true, but since they have lost some of their popularity, new cars today don’t always have this as an option, in contrast with older models. Which means you will actually pay more if your personal preference is for a shift.

They Get Better Fuel Economy

This is debatable. Yes, in the past, this was pretty much true across the board. But since many of the new cars today rely less on a torque converter and have more gear options, the gas mileage can be pretty similar.

It’s Not a True Sports Car Without a Manual Shift

Would you believe that some very popular sports cars don’t even come with this as an option today? How about the Chevrolet Corvette? Their C8 model is sold without that option. Both Ferrari and Lamborghini no longer offer any model with a clutch and gearbox. So, that kind of debunks that myth!

A Manual Shift is a Crime Deterrent

Although we can’t know for sure, some people believe that since less people know how to drive one, your manual car may be a natural anti-theft deterrent. It makes sense, so this may be a fact, not a myth!

Pros and Cons of Manual Transmission

The Benefits of Stick Shift Cars

Stick shift vehicles can be a blast to drive, especially for those who have experience with controlling manual transmissions. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other good reasons for having them around:

  • Manual transmission cars are usually easier to maintain than their automatic counterparts. For starters, most manual transmissions tend to be less complex than automatics, meaning that fewer things go wrong in the first place. The only repair item frequently seen is the clutch and that component usually doesn’t require changing until you’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles, under ideal conditions.
  • Manual transmissions use gear oil or engine oil, in most cases. Unlike automatic transmission fluid (ATF), it doesn’t deteriorate as quickly over time and it doesn’t need frequent changes. Some manufacturers even suggest that manual transmission car fluids don’t need changing unless there’s a leak or after repairs have been completed.
  • Fuel economy is usually much better. Parasitic power losses from the torque converter and hydraulic pump can rob an automatic-equipped car of a small percentage of its power, along with its fuel efficiency. Depending on driving style and road conditions, drivers can increase their fuel economy by as much as 15 percent.
  • Driving one of these gives you a better sense of control over your vehicle. Without the torque converter constantly pushing you forward, you’ll have an easier time with braking. You’ll also have a much easier time with engine braking or using the momentum of the engine itself to slow yourself down. 
Woman driving car, close up of one hand on manual gear shift lever.

Cons of a Manual Transmission Cars

Of course, there are few disadvantages to driving a stick shift, as well.

  • Learning how to operate one comes with a pretty steep learning curve. Newcomers can expect to jerk, buck, stall and miss gear changes as they figure out the clutch, timing and other basics.
  • Unlike in an automatic vehicle, starting off on hilly areas from being slightly inconvenient to being absolutely terrifying, depending on your driving skill. Many drivers have rolled back into traffic or stalled out after trying (and failing) to pull away from a hill.
  • Depressing the clutch pedal is a way of life, but the experience can be a bit more painful with heavy clutch pedal feedback. Over time, it can definitely mess with your left leg, especially at the joints.
  • Driving in heavy traffic can be a real drag, since you’ll constantly be engaging your clutch. First-time car owners, as well as seasoned motorists, may find this a real struggle.

Should Everybody Know How to Drive a Manual Car?

There are arguments for and against the idea that everyone should at least know how to operate one. When you look at the pros and cons of manual transmission and today’s models, the likelihood of being in an emergency situation where you need to drive a stick is not as great. In the past, there was a much higher chance you may be called upon to drive one in a crisis.

Is Purchasing a Manual Transmission for You?

Do you frequently drive in heavy traffic? Are steep hills and steep inclines common to your roadways? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you may find an automatic car is easier to drive. Even seasoned pros can have a little trouble finding that perfect balance between the pedals to start off from a stop sign at the top of a hill.

New drivers might want to become proficient at these balancing acts before committing to a purchase. And your left leg can get exhausted if you are in constant stop and go traffic.

However, if you love being in perfect control of your steering wheel, then you might answer yes. Having this option gives you more power when you need to increase your speed quickly, as well as more traction in less-than-ideal situations.

Find Affordable Car Insurance Whether You Drive a Stick or an Automatic

It takes time, patience and effort to learn the pros and cons of manual transmission. At Freeway Insurance, our agents can help you find the perfect coverage at the perfect price, regardless of what you drive. Get a fast and free online quote for auto insurance, give us a call at 800-777-5620 or stop by one of our locations.

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