Manual vs. Automatic: Which is Better?

young woman changing gears while driving manual vs. automatic transmission

Whether you are learning to drive for the first time or are considering buying a new car, one of the questions you may face is should I drive manual or automatic? Before you make any decisions about manual vs. automatic, you should know the difference between the two.

What are the Differences Between a Manual and Automatic Transmission?

A vehicle changes gears as it increases and decreases in speed. The gears give your car enough force to make it drive. With a manual transmission, the driver is responsible for physically shifting the gears using a clutch pedal and shift knob. An automatic vehicle will change gears for you as you hit the gas. 

Now that you know the distinction between the two, you might be wondering which is better, faster, and more reliable. Each option has certain advantages and disadvantages, so the following list of pros and cons will help you decide which one is best for you.  

Manual Transmission Pros 

Improved control. Dedicated manual drivers find that they have more control over how fast they can increase speed or slow down. 

Easier to repair. When it comes to transmission reliability, manual vehicles tend to win out over automatic ones. Manual transmissions not only require less maintenance but since they have fewer parts, they are easier and less expensive to fix. 

Less expensive. The fact that manual vehicles have fewer parts also means they are cheaper to buy and less costly to own and repair. You also can expect better fuel efficiency, which will ultimately save you money at the pump. 

Less likely to be stolen. According to data from Edmunds, only 13% of new car models sold in the United States in 2020 had a manual transmission. As they come closer to extinction, fewer drivers know how to drive them, which means they are likely to deter criminals from stealing them.  

Manual Transmission Cons 

manual transmission stick how to drive

You could select the wrong gear. An automatic vehicle selects the gear for you, so it will be your responsibility to decide on a manual car. The decision is based on speed and road conditions. Pick the wrong one, and it could cause you to stall out.

It is harder to learn how to drive a stick shift. Getting behind the wheel for the first time can be stressful, but adding on the challenge of using a stick shift can make it even worse. As a new manual driver, be prepared to jerk and stall during the learning process.  

It Can cause you strain. Driving a manual vehicle can tax your muscles and joints over time. 

Automatic Transmission Pros

Easier to use. There is no question that automatic vehicles take less time to learn and are simpler to drive than a stick shift. They also tend to be more comfortable. 

Better for use in traffic. If you are frequently driving in areas with stop and go traffic, driving a manual vehicle can become an unpleasant task. With the stress of traffic, you may not want to consider a manual transmission, which can make your commute even more frustrating. 

It reduces risks for an inexperienced driver. When you are learning to drive, you should keep both hands on the wheel, but that is impossible to do while driving a manual vehicle. 

Easier to sell. Automatic vehicles are the leading choice among Americans, so your used automatic car will be more valuable and easier to sell. 

Automatic Transmission Cons

hand changing gears on an automatic car transmission

More expensive to buy and own. In addition to being more costly to fix, according to Consumer Reports, an automatic vehicle can cost $800 to $1,200 more than a manual car. 

Less thrill. While this point is entirely subjective, many experienced manual drivers feel that nothing compares to the complete control you have with a stick shift. 

Now that you know the pros/cons of manual vs. automatic transmissions, it should help you decide which option is best for you. Ultimately it comes down to your preference. Do you want total control of your ride and save some money or a comfortable and stress-free ride?

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