Very much the analogue vs. digital debate of the motoring world, petrolheads can argue over the merits of manual compared to automatic and vice versa until they’re blue in the face. And while we’re unlikely to get to the bottom of which one is better, we can weigh up the pros and cons of each to determine which one is right for you.
Here we’ll look at both types of car, jump into their pros and cons, and guide you towards a decision which suits both your driving habits and lifestyle.
What’s the difference between manual and automatic transmission?
The main difference is that automatic cars lack a clutch pedal. Their gearbox is also a simplified, streamlined version of the one you’d get in manual transmissions. Manual transmissions tend to have five or six gears (although some models have up to seven), plus reverse, giving you full control over how the car performs.
Automatic cars, meanwhile, tend to have four modes:
Park - P
Reverse - R
Neutral - N
Drive - D
The car selects the right gear for the speed and road conditions, which takes out the heavy lifting, so to speak, of a manual transmission. You only need to think about whether you’re going forwards, backwards or coming to a stop.
What are the pros and cons of automatic transmission?
Though they’re increasing in popularity, automatic transmissions don’t necessarily translate to a better choice. That said, they do have advantages in several key areas.
Easy to use: Once you have the knack of shifting gears and working a clutch, it’s not so bad. But if you are someone who struggles with this, then an automatic transmission is much easier to get a grasp of and takes less time to learn.
Better for hilly areas: For less experienced drivers, automatic transmission makes navigating steep inclines a lot easier, even from a standstill.
Greatly reduced risk of stalling: Stalling at traffic lights – is there anything more awkward? Not a problem with an automatic; stalling will only take place if there’s a mechanical issue in the vehicle.
Easier to use in heavy traffic: Driving a manual car in heavy traffic isn’t much fun, with constant dipping of the clutch and finding the bite point. With an automatic, it’s a much simpler process of just starting and stopping.
Pricier than manual: Both new and second-hand, automatics can be slightly more expensive than their manual counterparts, so if you’re looking to buy on a budget, they’re maybe not the best option, although this gap is reducing more and more right now.
“Boring to drive”: It’s purely subjective, but some drivers find that automatics take some of the fun out of things. Automatics lack the feel of changing gears, which can be too much of a trade-off for some motorists. However, some automatic transmissions can be fitted with paddle shifters akin to those in sports cars, which can bring back a bit more of the fun element.
What are the pros and cons of manual transmission?
A lot of drivers swear by manuals, and for good reason. They’re cheaper and can provide more control, But they do have their pitfalls too, as we take a look at below.
Less expensive to buy: If you’re on a budget, then manual is the cheaper option on average.
Cheaper to maintain: Automatic transmissions can be more expensive to repair when things go wrong. Manuals, on the other hand, require comparatively little maintenance and any repairs end up being far less costly.
Better control: While automatic transmissions pick the right gear for the given situation, they tend to go for too high a gear, which can waste engine power. At the same time, when they respond to certain conditions, it means drivers can’t anticipate these oncoming encounters so they can’t purposely select a lower gear for an added boost of power. Manual transmissions put drivers firmly in control of things.
More speed: Though many automatics are now fitted with dual-clutch technology to make them quicker, some models can be on the slower, more cumbersome side. A manual gearbox is traditionally better at transferring power from your engine to your wheels, allowing you to accelerate at a faster pace.
Not as safe: As mentioned above, manuals required the driver to take one hand off the steering wheel to change gears. Automatic cars are safer since you have both hands on the wheel and can focus on the road.
Aching legs: The constant use of the clutch can become uncomfortable, since the left leg never gets a rest, particularly when driving in congested areas. This leads to aches and pains in the leg muscles.
Automatic and manual: The frequently asked questions
If I learn in an automatic can I drive a manual?
If you’re licensed for an automatic car, it’s against the law to drive a manual vehicle on public roads. To do this, you’ll need to sit another driving test, and then upgrade your automatic licence to a manual one – keep this in mind if you’re thinking of making the switch.
However, if you’re licensed to drive a manual car in the UK, then you’re allowed to drive an automatic vehicle on public roads.
Are manual cars cheaper to insure?
While there’s not a massive difference in the premiums between manual and automatic cars, the latter do tend to be more expensive to insure. This is primarily because automatic gearboxes cost more to replace than manuals, and automatics are often higher specification vehicles, too. Additionally, insurance premiums for drivers who only have an automatic licence are usually higher than for drivers with a full licence.
Should I drive a manual or automatic abroad?
If you’re hiring a car in Europe, it’ll likely be a manual model, but the US and Canada are a differentkettle of fish. Automatics reign supreme here, so it’s difficult to rent a manual.
The cost also becomes a factor, since transmission type can affect the price. In the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it’s usually cheaper to hire an automatic vehicle because there’s simply more of them, while in the UK or Europe the opposite is true.
Will manuals become obsolete?
It’s anticipated that manual cars could disappear from UK roads within 10 years. There are a number of reasons for this; electric and hybrid vehicles – which lack a gearbox and are effectively automatic – are rising in popularity. Additionally, the Government is forging ahead with plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles after calls to bring the current 2040 deadline to 2032.
Premium brands like Ferrari, Porsche and Volvo have been phasing out manuals for years, but smaller, more affordable cars now come with auto options too, like the Vauxhall Corsa and Hyundai i10.
And with technology surrounding driverless cars being in development, which won’t feature manual gears either, it’s not unthinkable that manual motors will be phased out in the near future.
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