Staff Picks: Automatic vs Manual Transmission
What is the first thing you do when you sit down into your car? Take out your phone? Check your face in the mirror? Yell at your children? For me, it’s pushing the clutch pedal down. If I’m getting into someone else’s car, it’s usually just accidentally stomping the floor where the clutch pedal was assumed to be. Why are cars still sold with both manual and automatic transmissions? Doesn’t this just confuse people? Shouldn’t the best one prevail and the other one fall by the wayside? Let’s compare.
Easy to use. Set it and forget it. Most people probably have never sat down and thought about their transmission unless it wasn’t working. The aptly named automatic transmission changes gear ratios automatically when necessary and the driver is not required to make any input. Want to go faster, press the accelerator pedal. Want to slow down? Release the accelerator pedal and press the brake pedal.
The manual transmission. What’s that? Confusing. Involved. Unnecessary? Contrary to the automatic transmission, drivers of a manual transmission have to be cognizant of their transmission almost constantly during driving. Each gear change is a series of accelerator-out, clutch in, move gear lever appropriately, accelerator-in, clutch out. This makes it quite a more involved activity to drive than an automatic transmission.
These two types of transmissions give drastically different driving experiences. Many people don’t even know how to turn on a manual transmission car, let alone drive one. Judging from all of the previous evidence, most observant people would think that the automatic transmission was better. Fair enough. If the only purpose of your drive is to get to your destination, buy the automatic.
However, there are many benefits that a manual transmission vehicle grants that are not always immediately apparent.
Driving an automatic vehicle only requires one hand and one foot. Driving a manual takes both hands and both feet. Hands for the wheel and gear lever, feet for the clutch, brake, and accelerator. The first time you figure out how to drive manual, you may feel like you’re controlling a fighter jet with all of the things you’re handling at once.
Being required to keep the engine revs in check at all times makes it harder to concentrate on other non-driving things, such as eating a cheeseburger, putting on makeup, or sending text messages. Anticipating changes on the road means you’re able to be in the correct gear for whatever is ahead.
Modern automatic transmissions are leagues ahead of older ones. However, there are still times when the transmission may not choose the optimal gear for the situation you’re in.
Manual transmissions are much simpler mechanically than automatics. This generally leads to fewer failures of the transmission. It means that repairs will usually be cheaper on a manual than the automatic as well.
If the battery dies in an automatic, you have to get a jump start. In a manual, you push the car (or get a push from a helpful person) and drop the clutch to get the car started.
Perhaps the biggest reason I personally drive a manual transmission is because it’s more fun to drive. There is just something about performing those actions that put a smile on my face. I liken it to playing a real guitar (manual transmission) vs playing Guitar Hero (automatic). Sure, they’re similar and either way, music is generated, but it’s the satisfaction of the journey and not the destination that’s important to me.
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