All revved up to purchase a new set of wheels, you roll into the automotive dealership. Stepping out of your old bucket of bolts, you begin browsing through the sparkling showroom inventory.
Just before the sticker shock has a chance to set in, a perky salesman pops in and introduces himself.
“What’s your dream car?” he asks.
Immediately, he begins walking you through several options. He opens the door to a flashy sports car. Just to be polite, you climb in behind the wheel.
“You have excellent taste,” the salesman purrs. “This baby comes with all the options. Want three-on-a-tree or four-on-the-floor?” he chirps.
“Excuse me?” you respond.
“Do you want an automatic or a manual transmission?”
Unless you learned to drive before the 1980s, you may not have faced this choice before. Driver education classes stopped teaching students to drive with a stick shift decades ago. However, a manual transmission may still be an important option for many reasons.
Ease of Use
Essentially, a car with an automatic transmission is the simplest to operate. Using a shift bar on the steering wheel assembly or the console between the two front seats, the driver shifts from park into drive and goes. The transmission shifts automatically into higher gears as the car begins to move forward faster.
A car with a manual transmission must be driven with both feet. The driver must engage the clutch before shifting gears manually. Then the driver must disengage the clutch gradually, as the car moves forward. As the car begins to move faster, the driver must repeat the process, until the car is zipping along in the appropriate gear for the speed at which it is traveling.
A stick shift can be fun, particularly out in the country. Revving up through the gears on an open road gives a driver a sense of power and purpose. (Of course, using the cruise control option on an automatic can be an excellent safeguard against speeding tickets.)
City drivers, on the other hand, may soon grow tired of the constant shifting. For this reason, urban dwellers or commuters will likely favor the automatic transmission.
Among performance car enthusiasts, driving with a stick shift somehow seems much sportier and adventurous. The stick-shift (manual) option gives drivers more control, except perhaps at a stoplight on a hill, when the car wants to roll backwards when the driver takes his foot off the brake before accelerating.
A standard, manual 5-speed car offers more rapid acceleration than the same model car with an automatic transmission. The driver can control the gear changes with a stick shift, whereas an automatic will up-shift on its own (often before the engine has actually reached sufficient motor power for the new gear). In other words, the automatic may shift to higher gears prematurely, preventing full-throttle acceleration.
Automatic cars tend to consume more fuel than their manual counterparts. Annually, the top-rated cars for fuel efficiency carry manual transmissions. Simply put, the automatic transmission requires more power to operate.
Automatic transmissions tend to require more frequent and complex servicing than manual. With regular oil and fluid changes and engine inspections, a manual transmission may never need a massive overhaul (which can be quite costly).
By the way, if a car battery dies, an automatic is stuck. If you can’t find someone with booster cables to give your car a jump-start, then you will have to wait for a tow truck.
A stick-shift car can be push-started. The car is placed in neutral, so it may be rolled forward. You just need several strong friends to give you a shove. Once the car begins to move, you can trip the ignition, and the car will run!
Stick-shift cars usually carry a lesser resale value, except in the UK, where such cars are exceedingly popular. On the up side, the manual car probably cost a bit less in the first place.
Remember the old Volkswagen Beetles? Back in the 1970, VW bugs were available with manual, automatic, or automatic stick options. Those were the days. . . . These now-classic cars can carry a hefty price tag.
The Learning Curve
Learning to drive a car with a stick shift can be tricky these days. These cars are less popular, and most driver education programs opt for automatics. The younger generations of drivers have likely never experimented with a stick. Minivans, SUVs, and other family vehicles are difficult to find with the manual option.
Back before indoor plumbing, when I learned to drive with a manual transmission, my father soon grew tired of grinding gears. One Sunday afternoon, my older brother took me to the high school’s empty parking lot. Within a single afternoon, I was up-shifting and down-shifting like a NASCAR driver!
Drivers with special physical needs may have to select an automatic transmission to match their own personal capabilities.
However, for those who can and will learn to drive with a stick, the experience can be both rewarding and fun.
Let’s stick up for stick shifts! They’re fun and exciting!