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.
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.