The Classic Battle between Manual and Automatic Transmissions

I always felt that anything less than manual wasn't actually driving. With an automatic, a computer deals with all of your actions before controlling the cars acceleration or deceleration. Personal opinions aside, there are things to think about while considering what kind of transmission to get in a new (or used) car. The most important thing to consider is, of course, cost. We can look at cost in three different ways: the upfront cost, which you pay when purchasing a car, the cost of fuel and the price of upkeep.

On average, the difference in prices between a new car with an automatic transmission and one with a manual transmission is around $1,000, in favor of the manual. This is because it is a simpler system with fewer parts to build, test and install. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to this and that some prices will not change because of the transmission type. Moreover, there are less and less new cars being produced with a manual option.

While it used to be the case that manual transmissions would get better fuel economy, modern automatics are very exact in their shifting and both will currently get you almost the same miles-per-gallon. You have more control over the gears shifting with a manual, so you can save money by driving in overdrive at 20 mph. Again, most modern automatics now have a manual mode where you can control what gear you're driving in.

As for the upkeep, it's much cheaper to repair a manual transmission. However, most modern automatic transmissions will last for the entire life of the car, whereas you will more than likely be replacing the clutch on a manual at least once in its lifetime. This effectively balances the price over time of upkeep for the cars, but all of that depends on how long you intend to keep the car and what kind of driver you are. If you plan to replace the car in a few years, you'll certainly save money on repairs but it may be more difficult to sell a stick shift as most car buyers are looking for automatics.
Figured out all of the costs? Now you'll need to decide if anyone else is going to be driving your car. If so, you will need to either teach them to drive stick if they don't know how, or purchase an automatic. You should also consider the amount of driving you will be doing in heavy traffic. If you are buying a car for daily commute, you might consider getting an automatic to avoid the wear that comes from constant stop-and-go traffic and having to depress the clutch often. The more you have to change gears or depress the clutch, the more worn out the transmission is going to get.

Then there's the fun factor. Some people prefer driving stick because it's more fun and feels like you're directly in control of the car. Keep in mind that many automatics can provide similar experiences with their manual mode sans a clutch. If you're not great at multi-tasking, then a stick shift might not be a great fit. For me, however, there are not many things that are as exhilarating as putting your foot into the gas after a perfect shift.

Here are a few useful and interesting articles found during research:

Car Talk: Manual Myths Debunked

Consumer Reports: Stick-shift can save you money

Wiki-how: How to choose your transmission


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