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Is Stick Shift Better Than an Automatic Transmission?

Manual 5-speed

Driving stick shift can be exhilarating, nerve-racking and frustrating all at the same time. It’s an art-form that is now seen as a rarity amongst newer drivers but it may be the most rewarding way to drive.

Is stick shift really better than driving an automatic?

Click Here For The Short Answer

Let’s quickly look back in history for that. If you watch any of Jay Leno’s YouTube videos, you’ll know that driving the early automobile was no easy feat. It wasn’t just the transmission that was manual, it was all the engine switches: oil switch, fuel switch, coolant pressure, that had to be manually operated. Nowadays we’re just used to all that being automated when we fire up the engine.

In the later decades of the 50s and 60s, most of that was controlled by the car via some intricate vacuum or electrical device. The only manual thing left was shifting gears. You can take the Mercedes 190sl for example. It still had a few switches you had to toggle, but by the 70s, the r107 380sl cars were largely automatic including the transmission.

Early 20th Century Automobile

So here are a few pros and cons for each type of transmission:

Manual Transmission

Pros

  • Can’t text and drive since both your feet and hands are occupied
  • More fun
  • Better fuel economy
  • Feel more connected to the road via shifting
  • Stress-relieving when shifting gears as it gives a certain satisfaction
    • Too much shifting and you’ll tip the scales by saying, ‘I want an automatic now.’
  • Less moving parts in the transmission means fewer issues or failures. You only need to change the clutch every so often
  • Fewer transmission fluid changes since it lasts longer
  • Anti-Theft device since fewer people know how to drive manual
  • Can jump-start the car with momentum even if the battery is dead

Cons

  • Annoying to shift when stuck in traffic
  • Will hurt to shift if you just did leg day at the gym
  • Can worsen the clutch if you shift hard

Automatic Transmission

Pros

  • More convenient by allowing you to sip your coffee while driving
  • Frees up your hands and feet so minimal involvement

Cons

  • More moving parts means more proneness to transmission failure
  • Transmission fluid changes need to be done every 30-50,000 miles. Most people don’t do this
  • Distracts drivers from the road by allowing them to fidget with their phones, makeup, food
  • Will need a battery to jump-start the car

It’s been said that a stick shift car is the best anti-theft device. I tend to agree:

Although technically it’s easier to steal a stick shift vehicle because of the ability to pop it out of the gear and release the brake switch/arm, most people do not know how to drive stick-shift.

There have been quite a few reports on potential thieves who eventually abandoned their mission of seizing the means of goods from others because of the stick-shift predicament.

But on a serious note, whether or not a stick-shift vehicle is right for you all depends on your personal circumstances. For most people, an automatic transmission has made driving much more straight-forward by eliminating the need to be as involved. This is both a good and bad thing.

Convenience

Nowadays, our phones command our attention at a premium level. All the notifications, constantly bombarding us, makes it that much harder to deny the temptation and quickly looking at that Instagram story or Snapchat pic from your friend.

According to some statistics, 660,000 people reach for their phones every day while driving. Out of the 1.6 million automobile accidents that occur each year in the US, 360,000 are texting-related.

Now I’m not blaming the cars, but with every passing year, there are fewer barriers preventing us from reaching for our phones. People are even uploading YouTube videos of them watching movies or even in a napping-like position while being driven by their Teslas.

The more barriers there are from the smartphone temptation the better…just saying.

Fun Factor

Driving a stick-shift is one of the most satisfying driving experiences. It’s stress-relieving after a hard day’s work. Even though that might be the exact opposite for some. I look forward to shifting gears after an eventful day.

You can shift conservatively and get that great gas mileage, or you can shift hard by red-lining it every time. I tend to do the former but the fun-factor is still there.

Don’t get me wrong, an automatic can still be fun especially since most sports cars pretty much only offer automatic versions now but there’s nothing like shifting up or down on a curvy road.

I’ve driven Ferraris, Lambos, and the like to which I’ll say, ‘yeah they’re fun,’ but I feel like something is missing. It makes sense for auto manufacturers to remove manual transmissions since a computer can shift faster. F1 and high gear transmissions have pretty much been perfected. Coinciding with that, the demand for manual-drive has gone down as well.

If you’re never driven a stick-shift car, I urge you to do so ASAP. It won’t take more than an hour to learn but a week or two to feel comfortable in all scenarios like stopping at a red light on a hill. You can always pull the brake lever if there is one, to make sure you don’t roll down the hill, just in case you don’t feel confident.

Durability

Over the last few years, we’ve seen all kinds of transmission come out on the market. Some with great success, others…a complete disaster. CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatics have definitely been improving with the help of advanced computers. In the early days in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, an automatic transmission was either a 3-speed or 4-speed. It evolved to eventually have 5-speed, 6-speed and now we’re up to 7,8 and 9-speed transmissions!

What all this means is yes, better fuel economy on the automatics, however, there are that much more moving parts inside with their own intricate ECU and TCM controlled functions that are not the easiest to service should anything go wrong.

As I mention all the time, you add the neglect to change the transmission fluid on top of that, and those complex parts will start to fail early on. Don’t listen to anyone that tells that transmission fluid is LIFETIME, whether that be your friend or the dealer. What they really mean is that by saying, ‘lifetime,’ they mean 100,000 miles. If you plan to drive your car longer than that, which most of us do, you’ll need to service the transmission fluid sooner than that.

9-speed transmission

Manual transmissions also went through a similar evolution throughout history. However, most stick-shift cars are 5 or 6-speed nowadays. You have a clutch, flywheel and basically those two components see most of the wear and tear.

Because of this, the transmission fluid lasts longer and you can go anywhere from 80-100,000 miles before replacing your transmission fluid on a manual.

So as far durability, I’d say the advantage goes to the manual transmission. Fewer moving parts and the fact that they’re typically easier to service gets a big plus from me.

6-speed manual transmission

Cost Factor

it’s easy to say that since a stick-shift has fewer moving parts it’ll be cheaper to service. This is generally true however, there are always exceptions to this norm.

Normally the only thing that needs to be changed typically is the clutch, flywheel and pressure plate on a stick-shift car and that usually comes in a kit. However, accessing the transmission either by disengaging it partially or completely dropping it from the car is no easy feat.

Yes, the kits can range from $100-500 but what really drives up the price is the labor. On exotic cars changing a clutch on a Lamborghini, for example, can cost $10,000! However typically a manual transmission clutch kit install with parts and labor costs $500-1,000.

Automatic transmissions are even pricier. There is no simple clutch replacement but rather a whole array of gears. If the transmission is already slipping. a full rebuild would entail dropping it from the vehicle, dis-assembling the case, and replacing all the chewed-up gears and metal shaving from the wear and tear.

An automatic transmission rebuild can start at $1,000 and easily go up north of $3,000 depending on the year make and model. That’s why I always suggest you have your transmission fluid checked to ensure it’s healthy because once the worn-out fluid loses its efficiency, transmission failure may soon follow.

Conclusion

Manual stick-shift cars are cheaper to maintain, more fun to drive, harder to steal, and possibly life-saving if it prevents you from reaching for your phone. Roughly 5% of the vehicles being manufactured are stick-shift which is a real shame.

For most every-day drivers an automatic will do just fine as long as you check up on the transmission fluid to ensure it lasts longer. However, with automated cars and the battery replacing combustible engines, I think we’ll see stick-shift cars diminish at an even faster exponential rate. Go out and drive one if you still haven’t done so already.

What do you think? Are stick-shift cars better than automatics?

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