Five Myths About Stick Shifts: Manual vs Automatic Transmissions on Edmunds.com
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Five Myths About Stick Shifts: Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

Manual Transmissions Aren't Always Cheaper, More Fuel-Efficient


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The stick shift hasn't yet gone the way of the passenger pigeon and the dodo, but it's definitely an endangered species. As of August 2013, just 3.9 percent of new cars sold for the year had manual transmissions.

Cars with stick shifts and clutches have their ardent defenders, but some of the reasons they cite for their superiority and desirability aren't supported by facts. Here are five myths about stick shifts:

1. Cars with manual transmissions always get better fuel economy than cars with automatics.
In the past it was pretty much a given that vehicles with manual transmissions would be more fuel-efficient than their automatic counterparts. But as automatics become more advanced and gain additional gears, they are often now overtaking manuals in terms of fuel economy.

For an example of when the myth is based in reality, there's the fuel-sipping 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Eco. The manual version of this small Chevy gets 33 mpg combined (28 mpg in the city/42 mpg on the highway). Equipped with an automatic transmission, the Eco is slightly less fuel-efficient: 31 mpg combined (26 city/39 highway). The manual will cost you about $100 less per year in fuel, according to fueleconomy.gov.

With the 2014 Ford Focus, it's the six-speed automatic version that performs better, getting 31 mpg combined (27 city/37 highway). (If you spring for the Super Fuel Economy option package, which also uses the six-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy rises to 33 mpg combined [28 city/40 highway].) A Ford Focus with a conventional manual transmission can't match the automatics. It gets 30 mpg combined (26 city/36 highway).

There are other examples as well. For the 2014 Versa, Nissan actually offers three transmissions: a five-speed manual, a four-speed automatic and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The manual and automatic get the same combined fuel economy (30 mpg), but the CVT blows both of them away with 35 mpg. And it's not just economy cars where you can find this trend: A 2013 BMW 328i sedan will get the same combined fuel economy (26 mpg) whether you opt for the manual or automatic transmission.

2. A car with a manual transmission costs less than the same model with an automatic. 
In most cases, the manual version of a car will indeed cost less, but in some instances, it's the same price as an automatic. Examples include such GM vehicles as the 2013 Buick Regal GS and 2013 Cadillac CTS-V. Among BMWs, the manual is often the same price as the automatic. Further, you can't always get the car you want with a manual transmission: 67 percent of 2013 model-year cars came only as automatics.

3. The coolest sports cars only come with manual transmissions. 
This depends on your definition of "cool sports car." The seventh-generation 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and many flavors of the 2014 Porsche 911 offer a choice of a manual or automatic transmission. But if your choice is the 2014 Porsche 911 GT3, which Edmunds editors call "the baddest Porsche on the block," you can only get an automated manual transmission. The same goes for the 2014 Jaguar F-Type the 2013 Maserati GranTurismo,2013 Lamborghini Aventador and the 2013 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. No manual gear shifting ballet for you.

It's no loss, says Ken Hill, a professional racer, driving educator and vice president of operations for Automotive Adventures in Bellevue, Washington. "Some people are stuck on the mindset that a driver is faster with a manual box," Hill says. But there's a reason why some major performance-car manufacturers, including Ferrari and Jaguar, no longer offer traditional manual transmissions, he says. "They just aren't as good."

4. If your dream car comes with a standard manual transmission, you can always get an automatic as an option. 
Like the previous assumption, this one isn't true either. A small group of cars (mostly sporty models) only come with manuals. The list includes the Audi TT RSFiat 500 Abarth2014 Ford Focus ST2014 Ford Shelby GT500,Mazdaspeed 3 and Volkswagen Golf R.

5. Teenagers really, really want to learn to drive stick shifts. 
Not so, says Hill, who teaches teen driving programs. Because there are so few manuals out there, young people don't get exposed to them, and so they have little interest in learning how to drive them, he says.

"It's a complication they don't need," Hill says. "Kids have the advantage of not being burdened with nostalgia." And as a result, he adds, "Ninety-plus percent are perfectly happy with the automatic they have access to."

The Theft-Deterrent Theory: Myth or Reality?
There's one argument in favor of stick-shift cars that doesn't have a ready true-or-false answer. The theory is that because fewer people know how to drive stick shifts these days, cars equipped with them are less likely to be stolen.

Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks car theft trends, says he's not aware of any data to support or refute that idea.

"Some thieves might be thwarted in their attempt to steal a car with a manual transmission, since many thieves possess varying levels of intellect," Scafidi says. "That very personal element is also a factor in the degree of expertise necessary to overcome some of the more sophisticated security systems.

"Most car thieves are just not that swift and therefore resort to stealing older, easier targets," Scafidi says. "But there are those in the car thief ranks who are quite capable of making off with anything that they intend to steal."

Stick Shift Realities
When the argument in favor of the stick shift is based on how much fun it is, it's undeniable. Stick-shift savvy also comes in handy if you're a passenger in a manual-transmission car and the driver is incapacitated in some way. And it's helpful if you're stuck somewhere and the only car available is one with a stick.

If you want to learn this skill, our story and video, "How to Drive a Stick Shift" is a good place to start. And that's a fact.

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Comments

  • stever stever Posts:

    Check with your insurance company or agent. You may find that it's cheaper to insure a manual transmission car.

  • henry4hire henry4hire Posts:

    How about it's more fun to drive? Nothing connects man to machine more than a good stick and clutch. Clicking paddles will never be the same as a perfect shift around a corner. Don't get me wrong; the new generation of automatics are great, but they simply can't match the feel of a good stick. Long live the stick!

  • alex_y alex_y Posts:

    This article is based on published 'facts' and not at all based on real world experience with current production manual transmission vehicles. 1. The EPA published values indicate that manual transmission and automatic transmission fuel economy is very close. What this doesn't point out is that EPA fuel economy is calculated via a formula based on spec sheet values for the vehicles. At no point does the EPA drive the cars and test their actual economy. It turns out that the EPA formula makes a very poor estimate of the actual milage that can be expected from manual transmission vehicles. Generally you can expect 10% higher fuel economy from MT vehicles in the real world. ALSO, the way that the manufacturers boost the AT fuel economy is by having a much higher final drive ratio. This makes the engine turn slower at a given speed for AT vehicles, and thus consume less fuel than they would if the engine turned at the same speed as a comparable MT. Higher gear ratios and slushbox transmissions mean less power transferred to the road. This has been taken to such an extreme that some of these cars (ex: Chevy cruze) have dangerously slow acceleration capability. 2.) ... 3.) People are purchasing Ferraris with automatic transmissions? I hope that these Ferraris also have cupholders for a flavored coffee drink of choice. 'Sports' cars with slushbox transmissions (or cupholders for that matter) are not 'cool'. I don't doubt that the AT versions could beat the pants off of the MT version at the track, but is really as fun to let the computer drive for you? 4.) Like it should be. Its really not rocket science to learn how to operate a manual transmission. The cars are about fun, not convenience. 5.) All teenagers should be in manual transmission vehicles. One hand on the wheel + one hand on the shift = no hands for texting.

  • I have driven a manual transmission vehicle for decades and would like to point out a reality not mentioned. I’ve never had to replace brake pads, rotors, or have any kind of repair on the brakes. This is simply because I take advantage of down-shifting. Once during a 90,000 mile maintenance check, the mechanic came out to ask if I ever had the pads replaced and I said no. He showed me the pad and pointed out the near new condition they were in.

  • gmarmot gmarmot Posts:

    One other reason to buy a stick shift is not mentioned. Nearly any new car with a manual transmission can tow a lightweight utility or boat trailer. Most people who could use the extra space or weight carrying capacity of a small trailer never even consider one, but I have towed with them since 1969 with absolutely zero mechanical problems (ie 10s of thousands of miles). Cars with automatics quite often destroy the transmission when used this way. The same thing happens with pickup trucks. The driver unwittingly abuses the auto trans and causes many thousands of dollars of damage. The very worst that I have seen with a manual trans used improperly is a wrecked clutch which is not too expensive to replace. Yes, I enjoy shifting a manual, but I can also tow a bit with it. My 4 cylinder Toyota pickups have towed DOUBLE the recommended weight (ie: about 7,000 pounds) across the entire country with zero problems. I continue to have Toyota mechanics tell me I will destroy the vehicle. Odd how I have used all my Toyotas the same way for about 200,000 miles each, and NO problems! Try that with the same vehicle using an auto trans!

  • tom_in_sc tom_in_sc Posts:

    "It's a complication they don't need," Hill says. "Kids have the advantage of not being burdened with nostalgia. I strongly disagree, my son turns 16 next year and his first car will be a stick shift. Cell phones and texting are a complication he doesn't need. I know it may not stop him completely when I'm not looking, but it will definitely hamper it.

  • schtick schtick Posts:

    I think that today's driver needs have changed. People might say it is more convenient to drive an automatic. Which might be true. Considering that there is such in increase in handheld and other device causing accidents, we might need to consider how driving a 'manual' shift vehicle might reduce the chance of someone driving with cellphone glued to their head. Sure there might be a slight increase at first in accidents because those idiots are not paying attention, but i believe in the long run it could be beneficial in eliminating 'that' annoying aspect of stupid drivers.

  • smr144 smr144 Posts:

    The main reason to buy a car is because manual trasmissions are more durable, reliable and chipper to repair. You just can't compare the durability of a manual transmission with that of an automatic one.

  • schtick schtick Posts:

    I think that today's driver needs have changed. People might say it is more convenient to drive an automatic. Which might be true. Considering that there is such in increase in handheld and other device causing accidents, we might need to consider how driving a 'manual' shift vehicle might reduce the chance of someone driving with cellphone glued to their head. Sure there might be a slight increase at first in accidents because those idiots are not paying attention, but i believe in the long run it could be beneficial in eliminating 'that' annoying aspect of stupid drivers.

  • tom_in_sc tom_in_sc Posts:

    "It's a complication they don't need," Hill says. "Kids have the advantage of not being burdened with nostalgia. I strongly disagree, my son turns 16 next year and his first car will be a stick shift. Cell phones and texting are a complication he doesn't need. I know it may not stop him completely when I'm not looking, but it will definitely hamper it.

  • 8080a 8080a Posts:

    Was this article written by someone who has had a terrible experience with learning to drive a stick? If this article were about marriage, I would suspect it to have been written by a jilted and bitter lover—bemoaning all of the downsides of marriage and then at the very end just giving one quick dismissing mention of "that whole love thing". Yet, in both marriage and the stick, it's the emotion and the bond which makes it something special and is that which eclipses all of the downsides combined. Look, driving a stick makes you more engaged as a driver. You're more aware of what your car is doing and you are more consciously involved in the driving process. For me, that's not only what makes driving a pleasurable and rewarding experience in and of itself, but it also makes it a safer experience. Why? Well aside from me just always being more conscious about what I'm doing as a driver, I can't do other distracting things with my right hand such as text or eat a burger while I'm driving. Even if my lovely wife calls, I may pick up briefly if I'm at a stoplight but only to say, "hey, I'm driving so I've got to shift. I'll call you later," and then I drop my phone in the passenger seat and get right back to driving. People may think that not having to shift allows them to concentrate more on what is going on on the road but we all know that's not how it works. If people have a free hand they're playing with their phones, eating a burger, finding a song on the radio, and picking their noses all at the same time. So really, this article misses the point of a stick and it's really unfortunate that it basically discourages people from learning to drive a stick. Frankly, I think that if more people drove sticks, drivers would be more focussed and engaged as drivers and the roads would be safer. As for me, the day that I can't find a car with a manual transmission is the day that I just take the bus or walk. And I'm 38, so it's not like I'm some 80 year old guy banging on the table talking about how much better things used to be. Though rest assured, I will be that guy when I'm 80 and proud of it. And to my kids, they may rest assured that they will be learning to drive on a stick.

  • stp479 stp479 Posts:

    This article as proponent of automatics over manuals should have as theme song "In the Year 2525"..... only we're getting there much faster.

  • bgolla1 bgolla1 Posts:

    This is great and all, but the most logical reason to drive a manual transmission is because you can roll start a manual. An automatic cannot be started this way. Stick shift cars are much easier to control is snow and slippery conditions too.

  • alanart alanart Posts:

    AT's are like time-bombs--after 100K mi., they can go out suddenly, at ant time. A German six-speed automatic is a very costly repair. Even a Prius transmission is around $5K. A manual, if used properly, can easily last the life of the car. Clutch too, the key is don't abuse it. Many drivers unnecessarily slip the clutch. Also, NEVER do that downshifting BS that some drivers do as they approach a stop. This is often a misguided attempt to "save the brakes".

  • pezgnome pezgnome Posts:

    Can someone answer this simple question....If more cars sold today (where would one find the hard number statistics ?) are automatics should they be considered standard, while manuals would be a pricier option?

  • joelship joelship Posts:

    Automatics also rob 30-40 horsepower from your engine due to the fact that it always has to have an oil pump running in order to activate the various solenoids and keep the automatic transmission fluid flowing & lubricating the moving parts. Standard transmissions don't need this because the lubricating oil just sits in the bottom of the gear box and is splashed around / lubricated by the moving gears, which results in pretty much no HP being robbed by the tranny. True, automatic transmissions have gotten more efficient over the years, but they're also complicated to diagnose due to the fact that there's more sensors & wiring that help run the transmission smoothly. When these fail, it takes a fair amount of time to access these, diagnose these and then determine if the failure is either a hydraulic or electronic issue (or both). This means lots of $$ to the customer when an issue comes up. That alone would make me steer clear from an automatic. Now, what I've stated above are facts but the following is just my opinion that I believe to be generally true: When you're driving a stick shift car, you pay more attention to the whole driving experience. Whenever someone pulls out in front of me, then drives *under* the speed limit, I assume they're driving an automatic tranny because all they do is press the gas and by magic, the car just goes. Meanwhile, I'm downshifting and pressing my brakes, pissed off that this person just disrupted the flow of traffic. I generally believe if this same person was driving a stick, they wouldn't make such an inconsiderate move, since they're more in tune with the car and would probably get annoyed if someone did the same thing they just did to me. Also, I always hear from my friends "oh, stick's fine, but I don't like it in city traffic" - I tend to think this is a statement that is more of a popular regurgitation of an excuse than an honest opinion. I learned to drive on an automatic and then learned to drive stick in my 20s and have been exclusively driving stick ever since....in the city. Both my girlfriend and I drive stick in the city daily and never once have I wanted to revert back to a sluggish automatic. In fact, I'd rather drive an inflamed standard tranny off a steep cliff than be putting around town in an automatic feeling like the biggest puss in the world.

  • ladygodiva ladygodiva Posts:

    As someone who has drive in all weather conditions, as well as sand, done some racing, and driven in several different countries and in several different versions of various cars with different transmissions.... for accident avoidance maneuvers, dealing with snow (including deliberate sledding of course!), and managing varying weather and road conditions rapidly, a stick beats out an automatic every time. As long as you really know how to use it. For general driving? It's probably more about convenience than anything else. Stop and go in the city is a pain and an automatic can, for some, make that easier. Also, moving to an automatic can make it so that older people and those with physical challenges can maintain independence. For most of us though, I am not sure that mpg is a huge part of the equation, though it is a component. Not being of that crowd, I personally find that a stick is usually the better option for mixed driving, mixed conditions and safety. My children (all 4 of them) are required to learn stick and if it takes them longer to get their license, that's a good thing. I take them out on a track too, to do some racing where it's supposed to be. They also can't get their license until they can do basic car maintenance regardless of gender (change tires, wipers, basic tune up.) The point at which they have done an engine swap they get a bit of respect from grandpa too. =)

  • cypher1 cypher1 Posts:

    Important reasons for a stick not mentioned yet: - you are the cool dude - chicks dig stick - Good luck jump starting an automatic (most of them)

  • vw_buggin vw_buggin Posts:

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the AutoStick.

  • m_man m_man Posts:

    Drive an E46 M3 with the SMG and THEN go and drive an E46 M3 with the manual..... not even close! "Sticks" aren't for everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone need to conform to automatics for the sake of being lazy or just not wanting to learn..... god I miss living in Europe (I took my driving test in a manual 84 VW :) ... you can keep your big auto-4 speed Ford trucks and automatic cookie cutter Honda Accord clones gguuuhhhk garbage. My 'Dream Car' - 1999 M3 Coupe (MANUAL!!!!!!) S50B32

  • johnofstony johnofstony Posts:

    alex_v's comment on "Five Myths About Stick Shifts" states:"... This makes the engine turn slower at a given speed for AT vehicles, and thus consume less fuel than they would if the engine turned at the same speed as a comparable MT" Not so. Fuel consumption does NOT depend on engine speed. You have to ask the question, "What does the energy obtained in burning the fuel do?" Answer: It overcomes air resistance and other frictional forces opposing the vehicle's motion and supplies gravitational potential energy to the vehicle if it's climbing a hill." If the gear ratio is different, the same work has to be done and in many cases a higher engine speed may take the engine into a more efficient power band. Too low an engine speed takes it out of the efficient power band. While travelling with a friend in a manual transmission car with an m.p.g. readout, I was shown that the m.p.g. returned at 30 m.p.h. was higher in 3rd gear than in 4th - a practical demonstration of the preceding argument. The purpose of any gearbox, automatic or manual, is to keep the engine in an efficient power band as much as possible. The down side of a MT is that it depends on the driver's ability to judge when to change gear. An automatic will usually be more efficient than a manual with most drivers IMHO.

  • joey_z joey_z Posts:

    nothing can match the smile on your face when you rev-matched a gear that's smoother than an automatic can do. But again, driving manuals in traffic, especially those heavy clutches on sportier cars, makes you cry. If you have passengers on board, they will cry too.

  • joey_z joey_z Posts:

    As a former residence of Michigan, manual transmission saved me from a lot of troubles. There were situations that you would just lock the tires easily even with feather weight touch on the brake. Also situations when you want to maintain in a lower gear to regulate speed and avoiding under steer, auto trans are just too dull to do those. and the throttle response on any manual transmissions can't be matched by even the best auto.

  • brianspeed brianspeed Posts:

    This is a very U.S.-focused article. In Europe and most of the rest of the world, manuals still rule. The U.S. is the only country where automakers sell so many cars with automatics only. In Europe, it's the opposite. When I bought my wife's Mazda5 van a few years ago, you couldn't even get it with an auto. Europeans like to feel they are driving the car, not that the car is driving them. It's a cultural thing.

  • josh50052 josh50052 Posts:

    Ok not much to say about the above . But what I can say is this . Try to pass a stick shift driving licence . With a manual licence you can drive both manual and automatic cars .where as with an automatic licence you can only drive an automatic car ... they both cost the same or not far off so its worth having the manual licence .even if you use an automatic you may have to drive a manual for work etc... get my drift ?

  • @alex_y: you are so right about texting and driving. Actually you are right in pretty much all you say. That being said, although I drive a stick, in the city I do fell an automatic would be much easier. Also, any forced intake engine (supercharged or tu

  • I must make some adjustments to my previous comment: most new cars (that is, designed and build in this century, not those tracing their roots back to the 80's, and throughout the years had only face lifts and engine upgrades) have capable automatic gearboxes.

  • oli4vd oli4vd Posts:

    You know what's weird? Outside the US, the majority of drivers drive sticks. Automatics are rare... I've spent a lot of time in Europe, notably Belgium. Everyone drives manual, only the elderly or disabled drive automatic transmission cars. Apparently, if you get your drivers license with an automatic transmission car, you're not allowed to drive a manual. AT cars are regarded as being "not real" and "for [non-permissible content removed]". Funny, when you think of it...

  • goonable goonable Posts:

    I totally agree with all previous comments concerning forcing new drivers to learn on manuals and the sheer fun it can be. With the increase in device tethering and display screens we are becoming more and more disconnected with the physical act of driving. That connection a manual can make between driver and car is what every video game today attempts to simulate. Downshifting into a corner and powering through it while healing-toeing the accelerator and brake is something everyone should experience.

  • wpg1127 wpg1127 Posts:

    If you are buying a car for the fun of driving a stick is the only way to go. If you are buying a car to get to work, go auto. Nothing is more painful than holding in the clutch as you inch you way in heavy traffic.

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