Just a few decades ago, most cars had manual transmissions. This is why manuals are often referred to as “standards” — they used to be standard in most cars.
Now, at least in the U.S., there has been a shift away from manuals in favor of cars with automatic transmissions.
Below, we detail the objective benefits of driving a car with a manual transmission — as well as the potential drawbacks to consider. Ultimately, deciding which type of transmission to choose is a matter of your priorities and personal preferences.
Benefits of Driving a Car With a Manual Transmission
1. Active Driving
Driving a car with a manual transmission generally forces drivers to pay better attention when driving.
The possibility of distracted driving or falling asleep at the wheel decreases when your attention is focused on the road to anticipate gear shifts and your hands and feet are occupied with the shifting.
Also, the fact that your limbs are constantly moving when driving a manual car can be more comfortable during long drives.
Manual transmissions cost less to build than automatics, which is part of the reason why manuals are generally cheaper to buy in both new and used car markets.
Additionally, many people are willing to pay for the convenience of an automatic transmission, which can inflate prices.
3. Engine Braking
If you need to stop quickly in a car with a manual transmission, you can downshift while hitting the brakes. This will slow you down much faster than just stepping on the brakes; you’re able to use the engine and the brakes to stop the car, which isn’t possible with an automatic transmission.
With a manual, you can easily let the engine help with some of the braking, meaning you may not need to replace your brake pads and rotors as often (i.e., potential maintenance savings).
If you do need to have your rotors resurfaced, see our list of auto service centers that turn rotors.
4. Fuel Economy
Manual transmissions weigh less than automatics, which means that the car is lighter and it generally requires less fuel to move.
Also, a manual transmission shifts to neutral between gear shifts, which decreases fuel consumption.
Manuals even offer the option of coasting in neutral to stops and on downward slopes.
To determine potential fuel savings with a manual transmission, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s side-by-side vehicle comparison tool. It’s worth noting that with fuel economy improvements in newer models, not all manual transmission cars get better gas mileage than their automatic counterparts.
5. International Use
In 2018, only 2% of vehicles sold in the U.S. came with manual transmissions. The majority of new models don’t even have the option of a manual transmission.
However, in most countries, manual transmission is still the standard; this is partially due to higher fuel costs, especially in Europe.
Driving a manual car is virtually the same no matter where you are; the driving configuration is the same everywhere. Even if the car is right-hand drive, the gearbox and pedal setup are the same. The only change is that you’re on the opposite side of the vehicle.
6. Lifelong Skill
Some people take great pride in driving a manual; it is a skill that takes time and patience to master. Even if you don’t plan to buy a car with a manual transmission, it can be helpful to know how to do it in the event of an emergency.
A manual transmission takes less fluid to operate than an automatic, and it doesn’t require an expensive gasket and oil filter kit like an automatic transmission does.
It’s also easier to replace the fluid in a manual transmission; you just need to pull a plug to drain it. With automatic transmissions, there are several more steps involved.
If you don’t change the oil yourself, an auto shop will also likely charge more when working on an automatic versus a manual.
8. Mountain Driving
When you drive an automatic through a mountainous region, the car may shift gears at inappropriate times, even when you turn off the overdrive (a feature that’s included in most automatics for this very reason).
The constant shifting and struggling on hills can wear down the transmission; you can avoid some of this with a manual transmission if you’re skilled at navigating hills and mountains.
9. Potential Theft Deterrence
Because manuals aren’t as common in the U.S. anymore, many people (and consequently, many thieves) don’t actually know how to drive manual transmissions.
This could mean that your car with a manual transmission is less likely to be stolen if a thief opts to steal a vehicle they are comfortable driving instead.
However, keep in mind that a car with a manual transmission is functionally easier to steal than an automatic. If a thief is familiar with how a manual transmission works, they can shift the car into neutral and roll it away.
With an automatic transmission, there’s a loss in drivetrain power due to the added weight and hydraulic resistance needed to operate an automatic transmission.
In general, manual transmissions can supply around 15% more horsepower than their automatic counterparts. This also provides an added advantage if you ever want to modify your car to make it faster or more powerful.
Manual transmissions are simpler and cheaper to build than automatics, and they are generally cheaper to repair (which may also mean more affordable insurance).
Additionally, if you ever need a replacement transmission, it will likely be less expensive.
With a manual car, you don’t need to rely as heavily on the battery to start the car. This can be beneficial if your car’s battery is weak and there’s no one around to jump-start your car. Simply give the car a rolling start; once you’re moving, you can put the car in gear and release the clutch, and the car should start.
If you do need to buy a new car battery, see our research on AutoZone’s battery warranty and our list of places that sell and install car batteries.
Considerations and Potential Drawbacks
For all of its benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to consider when driving a manual transmission.
Manual transmissions are less accessible to the elderly and disabled due to the additional moving parts.
Automatic transmissions make driving more accessible to individuals who may have decreased motor function or reaction times but can still drive safely.
Driving a manual transmission means that there will likely not be many other people in your immediate circle who can drive your car.
You may have fewer people asking to borrow your car, but this can also potentially be a disadvantage if there is an emergency. (However, as mentioned above, learning to drive a stick shift can be a valuable skill in an emergency.)
As noted above, manual transmissions make up a small fraction of the car market in the U.S. If you’re set on buying a manual, you may need to spend longer on your car search, and you also may need to sacrifice some other preferences to get a car with the transmission you want, such as your desired color.
It’s also much more difficult to find a manual transmission at higher trim levels.
Automatic transmissions can offer smoother rides and are easier to operate in heavy stop-and-go traffic. This is something to think about when you consider your daily commute and your tolerance for constant accelerating and shifting.
Learning to drive a car with a manual transmission arguably results in more attentive drivers, but they also take longer to learn how to drive. If you want or need to learn how to drive a manual, it will require a significant investment of time and energy.
There are many objective benefits to driving a car with a manual transmission — you’ll likely pay less for fuel and maintenance, you’ll be more prepared for driving abroad, and there are fewer opportunities for distracted driving.
However, there are some considerations to think about, such as driving in traffic and the limited manual vehicle selection in the U.S.
Ultimately, your decision will be based on your priorities, so we provided the list of factors to consider to help you make an informed decision.
If you’re interested in learning more about manual cars, we list the rental car companies that rent manuals.
I’m a female and learned how to drive on an “automatic” and then when I was probably about 25, someone gave me a car that was a “manual” and I thought who would ever want to drive one of these by choice, what a PITA.. Well 25 years later and going, the only car I will ever drive is a stick shift and I will never go back to an automatic. I’m currently in search for a new vehicle and trying to find a standard is getting difficult, but I’m not giving up and settling for an automatic. There is just something special about driving a standard and no matter how many people try to talk me into going to an automatic because it’s easier and blah blah blah, I’m just not ready to give it up and I’m glad to see articles like this show that I’m not alone.. Here’s to keeping the art of manual driving alive for years to come and remember all good things come back around and this will too..
I’m 14 right now and I really want a manual transmition car when I am 16 so do some of my friends I live in america so most kids say “its dangerous” “its to hard” “Its to old” so ya…… they are just lazy. The main reason i want a manual is so i can drive my dream car: 1967 ferrari 275 gtb 4 nart spider lol.
Hi there! Thanks for your comment – we hope our article has been helpful for you. Best of luck in getting your own manual car when you turn 16!
Drive by wire, clutch delay valves and throttle mapping that favors fuel economy and the environment over a crisp direct feel have all killed driving manual transmission in newer cheaper cars. Remember when any cheap little European or Japanese car was fun to drive? Felt like an extension of your body? Those days are long gone for these reasons. Do you find you cant quite crisply shift your new manual and can’t put a finger on it? Now you are merely operating a third pedal and a lever, but ultimately the computer is making all the executive decisions. Lower end cars are throttle mapped even worse to help companies achieve better Company average Emissions and Economy numbers. Sign me up for an automatic on the next car I buy I’m done doing all the work with no reward, and paying for the replacement of clutches that wear out because you can not feather the throttle, and hydraulic cylinders made of plastic. End of rant.
I want to buy a mini manual, I’m from out of state and I tried to learn but never did so I thinking is time for me to do so.
I’m a little scare of not be able to get use to it but I’m going for it. 😉
Well, that was the most comprehensive article ever about stick shifts, simply because I’m also big on these things myself.
I must say that when I lived in the US for some time, I was surprised that most people had no idea on how to drive manual. I am from Brazil and manual transmissions are the absolute majority. I’ve personally never driven an automatic car here, only in the US. Sure it’s comfortable driving just pressing the gas and brakes, but changing gears perfectly timing the clutch almost feels like an art.
We’re glad to hear that you liked it!
Hmmmmmmm! I’m working on getting my manual driving up! I don’t really believe manual to be fun. It’s just a start of how things were at the time.
Will that was an amazing post. I am a 14 year old boy and I love manual transmissions my dad teaches me to drive his suzuki swift dzire in the parking lot. Anyway I noticed that many people were being babies and saying that hey don’t want to use manuals because there’s traffic. Well in india there’s tonnes of traffic and almost 80-90% of people drive stick. Moreover people rarely rear end or bump into each other. Also because auto cars came pretty late in India, you’d find people ranging even from 50-80 years old driving stick. It just warms my heart. And what’s more that even they’d agree that manuals are much better.
We’re glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for writing in!
Don’t tell people to heel-toe on public roads, it’s not encouraged in the UK (and I believe the rest of Europe) to drive like that. You’d fail your driving test if you took it in the UK and did that. Your right foot should be working EITHER the brake or accelerator, your left foot only does the clutch. Some people do drive heel-toe here (rally drivers do it I think) but it’s NOT something you’re meant to be doing on the public road as it’s not considered safe practice (your foot could slip).
If you take your test in the UK in an automatic you can ONLY ever drive automatics unless you retake your driving test in a manual. That’s why all our learners are taught in manual cars and take their test in a manual even if they will later be driving only an automatic. Imagine going to hire a car and only manuals were available, and then having to walk away in shame because you only had a licence for an automatic? It would be embarrassing…
Hi Miss Cellany,
I’ve updated the post to include a warning about heel toeing on public roads. Good tip.
A major con of manual transmissions that you seem to be forgetting is that sometimes they can simply be a pain in the ass. Driving my old Jeep in a metro area is anything but “fun” as I’m constantly depressing the clutch and switching between the first 3 gears every few seconds. I don’t even have time to change a radio station. Not only that, but manual transmissions have a lot that can go wrong with them too. My old Jeep slips out of second all the time, and I have a hard time shifting into gear sometimes. The gear oil is full, so my mechanic said it could either be the clutch, slave cylinder, master cylinder, or the gearbox itself. Personally I don’t have the money or the time to sit there and try to diagnose the random problems my Jeep’s transmission could be having, so I sold it. Best decision I ever made. While I now know how to drive a manual, I will be absolutely sure to get an auto Jeep next time I get one. I’d rather pay the $1,000-$1,500 every 20 years to get the auto transmission overhauled and not have to constantly shift than get a manual and have a whole slew of problems with it, not to mention being a general pain in the ass to drive in Indianapolis.
Plus auto transmissions are only getting better. Most fuel economy arguments still lingering from the 80’s are a thing of the past now that the auto technology has gotten better.
It’s a good life skill to know how to drive a manual, but that doesn’t mean you should break your leg to make it a daily driver.
I am a courier for a realty service and I have driven an automatic for two years on the job and now I’m about to get a new car. I drive minimum 200 miles a day 30 – 40% of that is traffic. I’d really like to buy a manual transmission car because I feel like I would enjoy it more but many people have said that for my job it will drive me crazy because driving a manual for 8 hours everyday will become frustrating. Any input?
It could go either way. After a few days, driving a manual becomes second nature and you almost forget you’re doing it. But then again, if the clutch is at all stiff or has an uneven throw, it could get tiresome. Is there a way you can borrow a manual car for a few days and see how well it fits the role?
That is a really good idea I will see what I can do. I think it will be fine. Its going to be a 2016 Camaro SS I’ve heard that the clutch is fantastic on those!
Hi! Will, Really fantastic article. I enjoyed a lot. I can recall my dad’s driving lesson to me at a very first day. He told me the same thing you mentioned in the article.
Keep it up! Stay awesome.
Better Fuel Economy – it is just not true unless your car 20y/o. Even more, it absolutely opposite.
You Know How to Do It When Abroad – in 2016 this point is quite obsolete
Manual forces you to pay attention to driving – just not true. Even more. When you driving automatic you both hands always on steering wheel. If something happening you do not have to change your hand position. You always ready.
Cheaper to Maintain/Longer Transmission Life – not true at all. You have to replace clutch disks from time to time. Just in few years (depends on how you drive)
Automatic usually have problem after 15 – 20 years at least. So if you wanna buy 20yrs old car… yeah buy a manual )
I love feeling to drive manual car (especially sport car on empty highway).
But if I have to drive A – B every day in heavy traffic…. in a city… no benefits at all.
Being from the UK, I think some points are good, but some aren’t quite there. Of course, these are points I see from a UK perspective and not say..from the USA where you are, though I do definitely still take issue with the second one, even for the USA
1. For me, not a real issue considering I ..learned in a manual
2. It used to be the case, that automatics weren’t as efficient, but these days, it’s typically the opposite. My Prius is an automatic, and doesn’t come in a manual option. All new Toyota hybrids are automatic. All vehicles in the future will also be automatic
3. I didn’t even know that automatic cars CAN’T be started by rolling em. Fair enough really. Thanks for the heads up
4. Trust me when I say it most definitely is possible to become distracted with a manual car, though I take your point RE: it is a little harder in a manual
5. Fair point. Again, my car only does come in automatic transmission
6. Again fair point
7. Fair point
8. Fair point
9. That one is only true for the USA really. In the rest of the world, it’s not really the same, though when I first got in an automatic, I thought “The hell is this” and had to have a quick look on YouTube before I got in the car 😀
10. Would agree that it is definitely more fun using “stick” or..manual cars
11. Same as above really, but I guess equally, I can just press the accelerator and beat a lot of manual cars when they attempt to try and race me.. (I don’t race btw, but sometimes people just don’t like being overtaken by a Prius 😀 )
12. This is true even in the UK. Automatics ARE easier to drive..sure, but quite a lot of people just feel uneasy driving an automatic if they’ve never driven one
13. True. The Prius definitely slows down slower than my previous cars
14. True, but in the future, we’ll all be driving either electric or hydrogen cars – both of which will be automatic, if not fully autonomous
15. I didn’t know that, but again I buy Japanese. The Prius lasts forever 😀 It could also be the case that with manual cars, being a thing for the minority over there, and for enthusiasts, you guys actually look after your cars a bit better
16. I didn’t know that one. The UK has a lot of hills, but not so many mountains!
17. Not something that bothers me particularly really
18. As most people have a manual here, you don’t get that same “respect”
19. I guess it depends on how you see it. I do spend the majority of my time on the motorway tbh, or as you say the “highway”
20. Again, not an issue in the UK. If any thing, it’s the opposite way around really.
Hi Will. I enjoyed reading your post. I also prefer driving manual transmissions. I drive a toyota corolla here in Mexico!! It makes you pay more attention!! Thank you for your post.
Glad you enjoyed it! And a Corolla is a great choice. manuales en vivo largas!
If you drive manuals or ‘stick’ you get to drive cars like the Ariel Atom nuff said!
Just yesterday I was wondering what it’d be like to drive one of those. Thrilling for sure.
Ill let you know after saturday. Im taking one around the Top Gear track this weekend. With 600bhp per tonne under my right foot im looking forward to it!!
Sounds almost too cool to be true!
you persuaded me to get a manual car. What is the best way to learn how to drive it? Are there any videos you recommend? I will need to teach my wife also.
That’s great, Jeff! Have I got a post for you: https://firstquarterfinance.com/drive-manual-transmission-car/
Thanks for the post. I agree that there are a lot of really great benefits to driving manual cars. I really like that it helps to increase the life of the transmission. That is a really great benefit. I also think it is great that it helps to increase fuel economy as well.
I agree with this post 100%, Manuals are better than automatic transmissions in most scenarios. For me I don’t own one, nor ever driven one before, and although I do want to buy a manual car I cannot imagine myself driving a stick here in Honolulu, Hawaii. The traffic here is the second worse in the nation and the distance between one place to another is relatively short compared to most places because we are on a small island, so the freedom and enjoyment with riding out on the open road with a stick is limited here on the island. My friend owns an Altima coupe that’s manual here in Hawaii and he told me don’t get a manual because of the nasty traffic here. Sigh
Hey, Austin. Traffic can be a killer. I lived in a city with bad traffic for one summer. My clutch leg definitely got a work out. I’m not recommending you get a manual in your situation but here’s a helpful video if you ever find yourself driving a manual in traffic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1A6bzdb8MY It’s all about keeping a consistent speed, which is better for overall traffic flow anyway. People who move up 6 feet whenever they get the chance cause a ripple effect that goes on for miles.
Anyway. it would be pretty cool to carve some of those incredible mountain roads in a manual though!
Can you please let me know a list of few manual cars that are good for driving, passenger friendly, cheap, with less maintenance, good resell value? (both old and newer models)
Good news. Many manual cars offer all of the above. Though I’m not sure where you’re from. I ran your IP and I think you’re from India. If this is the case, here are two good resources that will help you narrow down your selection: http://www.zigwheels.com/newcars/best-manual-cars, http://www.gaadi.com/best-Manual-transmission-cars-in-india If you’re from the US, I’d consider a Honda Fit (anything Honda, really) or a Ford Fiesta. The best brand for resale in the US has been Subaru. No wonder why. Those cars are reliable and they are handy for more than just looking good in a new one when out on the town. Let me know if this answer wasn’t sufficient and I’d love to help further.