Driving a manual car might not be as common anymore in the U.S., but you’ll gain better fuel economy, more horsepower, a level of anti-theft protection, and respect by driving a manual transmission vehicle.
Just a few short decades ago, most cars were manuals. That’s why manuals are often referred to as standards — because they came standard on most cars. But today, most people — namely Americans — enjoy texting and nom-nomming Big Macs too much to be bothered with shifting gears.
When I was searching for my most recent car, it took a while to find one with a manual tranny. But I wouldn’t drive anything else. Everyone kept pestering me to just buy an automatic, but I had so many reasons not to do that.
Why You Should Drive a Manual Car
Here is the list of reasons I shared whenever someone told me to give up my search for a stick shift and settle for an automatic. Since it took me a while to find a car, I had time to build my defense. I believe this is the most comprehensive post online singing the praises of a manual transmission.
1) So You Know How to Do It Abroad
If you’re reading this and you’re in North America, driving a manual car is far from the norm. According to CNN, only 4% of new cars sold in America are manual. But, in most countries, a manual is pretty standard. Abroad, you’ll be laughed at if you’re a grown adult and can’t work a clutch.
Luckily, driving a manual car is the same no matter where you are on on the planet; 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 car. So, while pulling through a KFC drive-thru to get your greasy chicken bucket may be awkward, shifting gears isn’t hard to get used to from country to country. Plus, if you ever run The Amazing Race, you’ll be prepared. No losing $1 million bucks just because you couldn’t get into gear like this team.
2) Better Fuel Economy
You generally get better miles per gallon simply by driving a stick. The transmission weighs less (weight savings = fuel savings), you go into neutral between shifts (which drops fuel consumption), and you can coast to stops. My Mitsubishi Eclipse gets five miles per gallon more than the automatic version. That results in 19% better fuel economy just for enjoying my manual transmission. Compare your make and model’s manual versus automatic transmission by using this side-by-side vehicle comparison tool.
3) The Self-Starting Car
Have a weak battery and don’t want to replace it quite yet? Are you out in the woods and there’s no one to jumpstart you? No problem! With a manual car, you don’t need to rely as heavily on the battery. Simply give the car a rolling start. Once you’re moving, put the car in gear and release the clutch. Kablamo, your car runs! Just remember to park on top of a hill if this becomes a habit.
P.S. This will get old quickly, so I suggest you buy a new battery. They are pretty cheap. Costco batteries have high ratings and a phenomenal return policy. Don’t have a Costco membership? Learn more in our article: Costco Membership Fee: Worth It? When Would You Break Even?
4) Keeps You Safe and Alive
Having a manual car forces you to pay attention when you’re driving. You can’t be texting or eating Big Macs while driving around town. I know we all say we won’t text and drive but having a manual car forces you to keep your word. If you’re a parent, consider getting your child a manual car so he or she is too consumed to text and drive.
Also, while driving a manual car, your feet and arms are constantly moving. This lowers your risk of developing blood clots and dying. Okay, that’s a little extreme. But, honestly, it’s good to keep your limbs from going limp. And blood clots do happen to older people when they sit idly for long periods of time.
5) Cheaper to Buy New or Used
We all know most people love paying for convenience. This means people will pay out the nose for an automatic. And manual transmissions cost less to build, as well. Luckily, both of these reasons makes manuals cheaper in both new and used car markets. You can save thousands just by choosing a manual gearbox.
6) Cheaper to Maintain
A manual transmission not only takes less fluid, it also doesn’t require an expensive gasket and oil filter kit like an automatic tranny does. This is a big win-win as tranny fluid can be expensive. The fluid for my car was $12/quart (after price comparison, of course). And my car needs six quarts!
It’s also easier to replace the fluid in a manual tranny. All you do is pull a plug to drain it. With automatic transmissions, you have to undo about a million little bolts, then awkwardly drop the oil pan and filter while trying not to spill hot oil on yourself. And, if you don’t change the oil yourself, the shop will likely charge you more when working on an automatic versus a manual.
7) Repairs Are Cheaper — and Easier to Fix Yourself
A manual transmission is cheaper to build, cheaper to maintain, and cheaper to fix! I can pull the manual transmission out of my car in an afternoon. I can’t say that about an automatic. Also, a replacement transmission, if needed, will be way less. Further, repairing an automatic transmission is pretty far out of the shade-tree mechanic’s wheelhouse. But a manual tranny is simpler to repair (though still a big endeavor).
8) More Power
With an automatic, there’s a huge drivetrain loss. So, while the powerplant may be the same between a manual and automatic, a manual will give more power to the wheels. By driving a manual, the “15% rule” is usually used: A manual will allow for 15% more horsepower than an automatic. And if you want to modify your car to go faster, it’s much more cost effective to buy a manual. Think about it for a second: If you try to beef up an auto, it’ll take a lot of money just to get it up to the power of the manual that you could’ve bought in the first place.
9) Thieves Get Confused
Because manuals aren’t as common in the U.S. anymore, young thieves don’t know how to drive a stick shift. Heck, most people in America don’t know how to drive a manual car. This means thieves will leave your car alone and move on to the next one. Or they will try to drive your car, fail, and run away scared and confused.
10) Sticks are Cool
Driving a stick shift is cool! Some people use techniques such as “heel-toeing” and really make shifting an art. Please note that heel-toeing isn’t the safest thing to do on public roads if you’re not skilled at it, but it’s not illegal. Meanwhile, anyone can drive an automatic. Funny enough, in Britain, the majority of automatic drivers are disabled or elderly.
11) More Fun to Drive
Something about rowing through the gears is fun for most people. I don’t know why exactly. Man/woman and machine working in harmony, I guess. If you want to, drifting your car is also so much easier. By increasing power, reducing weight, and having the ability to select the gear instead of relyig on a computer, it is a lot more fun to drive.
12) No One Asks to Borrow Your Car
Remember what I said about thieves not knowing how to drive a manual car? Neither do your friends. If your friend asks to borrow your car, you don’t have to say “no”; just politely remind him that it’s a manual. I used this trick just a few weeks ago.
13) Engine Braking
If you need to stop quickly, you can downshift while hitting the brakes. This will slow you down much faster than just stepping on the brakes like in an auto. That’s because you’re able to use the engine and the brakes to stop the car.
14) Learning a Lifelong Skill
Some people take great pride in driving a manual. After all, it is a skill. Anytime I can add a skill to my portfolio, it’s a good day. Even if you don’t want to drive a stick every day, I encourage you to learn. You never know when it might come in handy.
15) Longer Transmission Life
Generally speaking, the life of a manual transmission is greater than that of an auto. Most autos seem to go out before 200k.
Plus, on a manual, if the transmission starts getting weak, it usually shows signs well before it’s time to replace it. In an automatic, the transmission just starts to slip and you’re in trouble. My brother’s manual transmission in his Mitsubishi 3000GT has been on its way out for the past five years. If he had an automatic, he would have probably had to buy a new transmission by now.
16) Safer, Less Stressful Mountain Driving
When you drive an automatic through the mountains, the car has a hard time understanding which gear is appropriate.
Here’s how my mountain driving goes in an automatic (this is me talking to the car): “You’re failing at life, auto transmission. You don’t know when to shift! You don’t have eyes! You just up-shifted and there’s a big climb ahead. What now, gearbox? You’re torturing yourself! Now it’s time to downshift … again! Don’t overheat on me, tranny!”
Even with the “overdrive off” button (which most automatics have for this very reason), your auto still puzzles itself trying to guess the appropriate low gear. In a manual car, you can see what’s down the road and shift accordingly. When an auto shifts up and down over and over, it’s decreasing its life. It’s slowly killing itself. That’s sad for everyone.
Plus, engine braking is really helpful when descending a mountain. Overheating your brakes in an auto is dangerous and expensive. With a manual, you can easily let the engine help with some of the braking. A manual means you don’t have to replace your brake pads and rotors as often (more maintenance savings).
17) No Computer Telling You It Knows Better
I used to drive my parents’ Oldsmobile Ninety Eight. A lot of speed limits around my town are 45 mph. The car was automatic and it shifted into top gear at 46 mph. So, either I could speed or I could force a downshift by driving 45 mph and burn a lot of fuel being on the top of the rev limit. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it got really annoying.
18) Instant Respect
When you take your car to the shop, the employees will know you sought out a manual. It shows you care about what you drive. They will likely have more respect for you and for the car. Also, the inexperienced mechanics who can’t drive a stick probably won’t be working on your car. Meaning, the older generation, manual veterans will be looking after your vehicle.
19) No Falling Asleep at the Wheel
After you drive a stick for a while, it’s just as easy as an automatic. But it still requires movement. Therefore, it’s harder to fall asleep while driving.
20) A Lesson in Patience
Driving a stick teaches you patience. Since they are less common, you have to spend more time looking for one when buying. I looked at probably 100 Eclipses online before I found my perfect manual. So, of course, I knew the market up, down, left, and right! This allowed me to get a great price. If you need a car ASAP, look for one that is readily available in a manual. Think 1990s economy car like a Honda Civic; those are great.
To be fair, I wanted to compile a list of why automatic transmissions might be better. But all I could think of is that an automatic is the easier alternative.
Read to learn how to drive a manual car? Find out how in our article: How to Drive a Manual Transmission Car