When getting a car, you have two choices regarding the transition type that determines the gear you use at certain speeds. You can choose between the traditional manual car or the flashier and somewhat more futuristic automatic version.
The decision between these two types of cars may be more significant than you think, as not only do they affect the way you drive and how the experience is behind the wheel, but other factors like maintenance and insurance are also affected by the type you choose.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of these two transmission types to better understand their pros and cons and determine which one is right for you in 2023.
The significant difference between an automatic and manual car is how you change between the gears as you drive.
When driving at various speeds, it’s essential to ensure that you’re in the proper gear chain, as this will determine how high your rev count is and ensure that you’re transmitting an appropriate amount of power from the engine to your wheels.
These gears ensure that the vehicle’s torque matches the revs per minute, which gives the car its thrust.
When you change gears with a manual car, you do it yourself, typically pulling a gear stick into the appropriate gear number for your speed. When you use an automatic, the car changes the gears for you, meaning that you don’t need to shift gears as you drive, making it easier to drive.
When behind the wheel of a manual, you’ll need to engage the clutch before and during your gear change to get a smooth transition.
When in an automatic, this isn’t required, meaning that most automatic cars will not have a clutch pedal and instead have the accelerator pedal on the right and the brake pedal on the right.
In the past, automatic cars were primarily a premium product reserved for executive cruisers. Nowadays, the technology has become much more accessible, and you can now find small city cars with automatic gearboxes, meaning that they’re a more familiar and viable option for all types of drivers.
Typically, a manual gearbox will have a maximum of six gears for you to go between. In contrast, a modern automatic can have up to nine, meaning that these cars are more likely to be smoother when changing gears and can find better gears for the speed that you’re driving at.
Although automatics will complete the gear change themselves, many modern automatics will allow the driver to override it and change the gear themselves if necessary – such as when going up a hill.
This is done by either pushing the gear stick or with F1-styled paddle switches on the steering wheel.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of manual transmissions to help you decide whether this type of transmission is the right choice for your driving needs.
Manual cars are the most popular on the road for various reasons. Some of the factors that make them a good option include the following:
A manual gearbox gives you far greater control over the car, as you can choose what gear you want to use and when. Although this can mean that you have to put in a bit more thought when driving, it’s beneficial in wintery or hilly conditions where you’d want to be in a lower gear than usual.
Although not the case for all automatics, some can be pretty slow and cumbersome, meaning you get much more acceleration and performance from manuals. This is because manuals are usually better at transferring power from your engine to your wheels, which can help the driving feel more fun.
Manual cars are cheaper to maintain and require less expensive servicing, as their parts aren’t as complex as the automatics. Repairs tend to be more affordable, not to mention that a lot of insurance providers will offer a better premium if you have a manual car.
Although there are some apparent benefits of manual cars, there are also some drawbacks that can make the automatic more appealing. Although these may not be hugely significant for some, the negatives of a manual gearbox are that:
As you’re required to change gear yourself with one of your hands, you’re removing a hand from the wheel, which can impact your driving stability. Changing gear can put you at risk of drifting the car into another lane, which can cause collisions. As you can constantly keep your hands on the wheel when driving an automatic, they are slightly safer.
When changing gears and braking, you must constantly work the clutch pedal when driving a manual. After some time on the road, this constant movement and demand can cause aches and pains in your left leg, especially if you’re in a congested area and need to change gears often.
Although this can be mitigated by giving yourself plenty of breaks, it’s still annoying and uncomfortable.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of automatic transmissions to help you make an informed decision about whether this type of transmission is the best choice for your driving needs.
Despite not being as common as manual cars, these options are on the rise and are becoming great alternatives for specific drivers. Some things that make automatic cars worthwhile investments are that:
Automatic cars are convenient and easy. As you don’t have to change gear yourself, it’s one less thing you must think about, allowing you to concentrate on the road ahead fully. There’s also no clutch control required when braking, making it a seamless experience that suits new drivers.
As these cars have more gears that they can go into, the transmission between the gears is a lot smoother. This means your driving experience will be more comfortable, and your rev count should stay within a good limit. There will be no stuttering, which is also good for your engine.
If you’re in town and are stopping and starting constantly due to congestion, then having to change gear on a manual can be annoying. Driving an automatic in this situation becomes far less effort, allowing you to concentrate better on the traffic and navigate around town.
Despite the positives, you should consider several drawbacks to an automatic car when deciding which transmission type is best for you. Some negatives include:
Automatic cars are typically more expensive to buy because they cost more to manufacture. This means the price can be hiked up more when compared to a manual counterpart.
Plus, because these cars are desirable and still have a hint of luxury about them, they have a high market price when sold second hand too. If you also consider that they’re more expensive to maintain, then it’s clear that they’re a more considerable investment.
For many people, the fun of driving is all down to changing gears and working out when it’s best to go up and down a gear. With an automatic, that involvement and control are removed, making the driving experience more passive and dull as a result.
This can cause longer commutes to be more of a chore, meaning that automatic cars aren’t the best choice if you want to have some joy when behind the wheel.
Typically, an automatic car is more expensive than a manual one when buying it new. This is because a lot of the parts needed for an automatic cost more for the manufacturer to make and install, which explains the higher price.
In addition to higher buying costs, maintenance can be more expensive when you have an automatic car. If anything was to go wrong with an automatic gearbox, it would cost a lot of money to get it fixed or replaced. As a result, getting your car serviced can cost a bit more if it's automatic.
The easiness of driving each type of car will depend on the driver and their current experience. Although there are fewer things to worry about and input when driving an automatic car, changing gears will become second nature if you've been behind the wheel of a manual for a long time. You may find that you have issues not needing to do it, which may put you off from the rest of your driving.
That said, if you're a new driver, learning in an automatic is far more accessible. Changing gears and clutch control can be a difficult skill to master, so many new learners will have an easier time in an automatic.
If you've only passed your test when driving an automatic car, you're only licensed to drive automatics. So, if you were to get behind the wheel of a manual, you would be driving illegally.
To be able to drive in a manual, you'll have to sit another driving test to upgrade your license. With a manual license, you can drive all types of cars, including automatics, on public roads.
There's no simple way to answer how automatic cars work because each car may work slightly differently. However, the general principle is that the car will usually make the gear changes for you as you accelerate and increase your revs.
Most cars will have sensors that track the internal oil pressure and automatically lower or increase the gear depending on what has been sensed.
Automatic cars will still have a gear stick; however, instead of the five or six gears plus reverse that you'll see on a manual, an automatic with have P for park, R for reversing, N for neutral, and D for drive.
When driving a manual car, the driver has to select the proper gear to suit their driving speed, ensuring that they engage and disengage the clutch to ensure that the gears are switched effectively.
These gears affect the power output provided by the engine and use a flywheel, pressure plate and clutch to engage the engine from the transmission.
The fuel efficiency of your automatic will depend on how old the car is. Early iterations of automatic cars would guzzle more petrol because they had a slow, three-speed transmission.
Since the inspection of automatic gears, the technology has gotten a lot better. Now you're more likely to find that a modern automatic car no older than four years will have much better fuel efficiency than a manual alternative.
In terms of reliability, there's little difference between these two different transmission types. Both gearboxes are built to last and will have an equal lifespan, especially if you're buying a more modern car.
Over time, you may find that an automatic car will start to show signs of wear and tear and perform worse than a manual of the same manufacturer. Still, in the grand scheme of things, automatics are starting to be far better built and sturdier options for people to use.
In truth, there's little difference between insurance premiums for manual and automatic cars, meaning that you shouldn't favour one or the other that much when it comes to insurance costs.
Saying that, you may find that some automatics are a tad more expensive to insure than their manual counterpart. This is because automatic gearboxes are more costly to replace.
If you only have a license to drive automatic cars, you will find that your insurance premiums will be much higher than a driver with a full license. This is because providers consider you at a higher risk of getting in an accident.
There are various types of automatic cars, and some are better than others when it comes to the performance and smoothness of the gear change.
One common type of automatic car is one with a traditional gearbox, called a torque converter by experts. These gearboxes use a fluid between the engine and gearbox to transmit power.
In the past, these transmissions were slow, making it harder for the car to get to top speed quickly, but because of electrical advancements, there are some good quality torque converters.
Another automatic you should be aware of is the semi-automatic. These are also known as robotised manuals because the car has a manual gearbox that the vehicle controls on your behalf.
This means that these types of automatics have no clutch. They're prevalent on small cars as they're lightweight and easy to engineer. Although fine, gear changes with this automatic can feel clunky.
Many drivers consider manual cars to be much more fun to drive. As you change gears yourself, you have much more control and involvement in the driving experience, stopping the experience from becoming boring, especially if you're driving long distances.
In terms of handling and performance, automatic cars can match manual cars, so you'll have no problem accelerating quickly and handling corners. However, as there's no clutch in an automatic, the process can feel a bit more mindless. A manual car is the best option if you're a keen driver and want to have fun on the roads.