Automatic or Manual Transmission













Most people do not have to make this decision.  They either want one or the other, but if you have not decided, these factors are offered to aid you in your decision.


For the purposes of this discussion, an automatic transmission will include any transmission system that does not require a foot operated clutch.  This includes automated manual transmissions and Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs).


First, resale value.  If you do not care which transmission you buy, and resale value is important, get the automatic.  Since most people cannot drive a clutch any more, it becomes a question of whether you can even get rid of a vehicle with a manual transmission.


Time was when, if you wanted to tow a trailer, you had to have a manual transmission.  With the increasing popularity of trailers and the lack of people who can drive a clutch, the manufacturers have made the automatic transmission the choice for trailer towing.  In today’s vehicles, you can tow more with an automatic than with a manual.  Main reason for that is that back in the 1960s, many clutches were very heavy to operate, so the manufacturers lightened the clutch springs and made the clutches smaller.  That made them easier to drive, but less capable of towing.


Another thing that happened is that with the increasing number of people that cannot drive a clutch, the main development of today’s vehicles centers around the automatic transmission.  The manual transmission is almost an afterthought.  Therefore, the manufacturers do not put that much design effort into manual transmissions, shifters, and clutches.  That’s sad.  Many of us remember the beauty of the manual transmission in the 1960s.  That beauty exists no more without modification by aftermarket parts.


Text Box:  
Manumatic gearshift
Manual transmissions are usually more fuel efficient than automatics, but most manufacturers have overcome most of the difference by gearing up the vehicles with the automatic transmissions (making them slower as a consequence) and by the use of systems than lock the transmission’s torque converter when the vehicle is in top gear.  The new manually selected automatic transmission (commonly called “manumatic”) is a patch to get better control (and more fun) from an automatic, but doing a lot of manual downshifting in an automatic transmission will shorten the life of the transmission as well as the engine.


In a small economy car, the small engine means that the manufacturer has to make first gear very short in order to get the car going.  With an automatic transmission, there is no problem, but with a manual, it means that you do not get all the way across an intersection before having to shift gears.  That can be a safety issue as well as an annoyance, and the difference between a 30 mpg automatic vehicle and a 32 mpg manual vehicle is not that noticeable to your bank account (under $9 per month when driving 20,000 miles per year on $2.50 per gallon gas), so this website recommends an automatic transmission in a small economy car.  Yes, they are slower than the manual transmission cars, but they are not as slow as some of the big SUVs, and most are quite fast enough to merge with highway traffic and to make safe passing maneuvers.


One thing is true of either transmission.  Downshifting to slow a vehicle, while helpful in keeping brakes from overheating on a steep downgrade, is not good for your engine as a frequently used technique.  Frequent engine braking will cause the engine to burn oil, which is far more expensive to fix than replacing brake pads.  Also, engine braking in low traction situations can cause the vehicle to spin out.  In these situations, you should put the vehicle in neutral (or push the clutch in) and use brakes only.