12 Reasons to Drive Manual Transmission Cars

Hand on a stick shift

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.[1]

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.

2. Cost

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.

7. Maintenance

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.[5]

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.

10. Power

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.

11. Repairs

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.[6]

12. Self-Starting

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.

Considerations and Potential Drawbacks

For all of its benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to consider when driving a manual transmission.

Accessibility

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.

Borrowability

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.)

Car Selection

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.

Heavy Traffic

Automatic transmissions can offer smoother rides and are easier to operate in heavy stop-and-go traffic.[2] This is something to think about when you consider your daily commute and your tolerance for constant accelerating and shifting.

Learning Curve

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.

In Summary

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.


145 comments


  • Stefanie

    I have no idea how to drive a manual car. Thankfully, I live in NYC where I chose between biking, walking, and the train 🙂

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      I’m a bit jealous, Stephanie. I do bike everywhere in my city but I gots to have a car for those long travels back home! Eh, well!

  • Kalen

    Awesome! My wife and I love having standards. They are just fun! And better on fuel. Those are our main reasons, but these are all great! Interesting article idea too.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Hey, Kalen! Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I just get real passionate for my love of a standard transmission. So many reasons for one. I just drove my standard 100 miles yesterday and it was so fun! Gotta love dropping a gear to pass another car. Makes me feel like Vin Diesel.

  • Alexis

    My boyfriend has been trying so hard to get me to learn manual. I tried once but never tried again. I did learn how to successfully drive a motorcycle though.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Oooh hey, I didn’t know you were a cool biker girl!

  • Clarisse

    My father told me before that everything that are manuals are fuel efficient either it is a motorcycle or a car. My in-laws just bought their new automatic car last June but he told us that he still preferred his old manual car.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Clarisse, welcome to FQF! 🙂

      Manuals are becoming a rare breed. But they are just so much more entertaining. I can see why someone would dislike making the switch.

  • Michelle

    I can remember trying to learn how to drive a manual car in a parking lot with my dad. It did not go too well. I also learned the hard way when looking for a car to purchase and it was a manual and having to walk out on a sale because I just knew that it would not work out for me.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Maybe try another lesson with someone other than your dad. I know my dad wasn’t the best teacher… LOL

  • Emma

    As a woman in her twenties, you get some serious respect if you know how to drive a manual. I love when people assume that I can’t…and then I get to watch their faces when I start driving 🙂

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      True, true, true! I salute you! Next you’ll be getting a sports bike.

  • Natalie

    I did not know it was cheaper to buy a manual car, nor did I know that the transmission lasts longer. I think I’m open to buying a manual car, but I would want a lot of practice before taking the leap since I’ve never owned one before.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      I’ve seen people become proficient in as little as 3 hours!!! 😀

  • NF

    Will! You forgot the biggest reason of them all!

    If you use a stick Europeans won’t mock you for driving an automatic! 😉

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      You guys are smart over there!

  • Camille

    I’ve always wanted to learn how to drive a manual transmission. This is a nice set of reasons to learn!

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Do it! It’s so much fun! I’m sure there’s someone who would be glad to teach you!

  • Michelle

    I used to love driving a manual car, so much fun! Sadly I had to trade it in for auto because of the nasty traffic we have in Toronto. I lasted a year driving stick in traffic before I gave up. Now I’ve got tiptronic so I can still have a little fun but my foot always looks for the clutch! Lol!

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Haha, whenever I drive an auto my left foot mashes the left edge of the brake pedal when I go to start the car.

  • Deb

    I drive a standard Mazda 2 – my green machine. I love it because it’s zippy and easy to park. I don’t think you mentioned that point – since most standards are small, a standard is easy to park. Being able to drive in Europe is a big one too. My daughter and SIL could not take their trip to the Juno beach in Normandy when on a day excursion off a cruise ship because the rental company did not have the automatic they reserved. They ended up sharing a car with another couple which was great, but that couple was American and were going to US landing beaches instead of Canadian ones. Of course the primary reason for me going with manual transmission was for the gas mileage!

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      All great reasons! What year is the Mazda?

  • Melanie

    Ok, you’ve sold me. My bf is OBSESSED with manual cars. He will NOT own an automatic. But I don’t know how to drive his car! I need to learn from someone else, though. Haha. He did know how to drive the rental car in Iceland.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Oh that’s great to hear, Melanie!!!

      Your BF sounds like a keeper! What kind of car does he drive?

    • Dave

      Haha, there’s plenty of expensive cars with manual transmission in the UK. You sound like the kind wuss that couldn’t pass their test in a manual. Don’t worry nobody will laugh at you to your face! (As way of an explanation the govt in the UK consider people who can only drive auto as inferior. If you pass your driving test in an auto you’re only allowed to drive an auto, auto only drivers make up stupid excuses so they don’t look inadequate. This is not a reflection on Americans, we understand that finding a manual is much less common across the pond, they’re in the majority in the UK).

  • weenie

    I’ve never driven an automatic car before but have been told they’re easier than manual. I’ll switch to auto when I retire I think! 🙂

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      I bow down to you! To experience an automatic tranny, just ride around in a bumper car. Same amount of skill required. ;p

  • Lynx

    Great points Will. It would be easier if more manual vehicles were available. The feel of the power in your hands makes for great driving. When I purchased my last vehicle unfortunately there were no manual ones to be found anywhere. I had to settle for an automatic 🙁

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Yep, manuals are definitely more rare nowadays. I stalked http://www.searchtempest.com/ to hunt one down.

      Speaking of power, my Eclipse would be 2 seconds slower in the quarter mile if it had an auto instead of a stick. Blah!

      • Tyler Wiedenfeld

        The Chevy Cruze Eco came with a 5 speed til 2011, and in 2012 got a 6. It’s a smaller car, but are sporty, and the 1.4 is a turbo motor. They also have a diesel model now, but I’m not sure they come in a stick if they have a diesel. There other motor is the 1.8, but it’s not as good as the 1.4, being as it doesn’t have a turbo, it doesn’t have good low rpm torque. Not that you’d really need torque in a small economy car.

        • First Quarter Finance logo
          First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

          That 1.4 sounds like a great buy. It would be a shame if they didn’t make the diesel available with a manual. That would be high MPG heaven.

      • Mark Edward Weldon

        I’m British and have only had one automatic car. I learnt to drive in a manual and bought an automatic in a hurry. It was ok but it wasn’t really like driving. I’m back with a manual car now and I’m enjoying driving again. In Britain if you take your driving test in an automatic you’re not allowed to drive a manual.
        I disagree with the contributor who said most cars in the UK are now automatic. Here it’s mostly old and or disabled people who drive automatics. My wife hated the automatic and wouldn’t drive it unless she really had to. She joked about me being able to still drive a a “proper” car, but it’s like riding a bike, you don’t forget.

  • Kassandra

    Does tiptronics count 😉 My DH is a big fan of the shift stick. I prefer automatic but would be willing to learn manual, just to say that I know how and if I ever needed to drive one.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      If you ever go abroad… or if there’s a zombie apocalypse and the only car you can commandeer is a stick. You can never be too prepared…!

  • Laurie

    I have to admit, Will: I was all prepared to counter you on this, but you’ve sold me!! Lots of good reasons here and I won’t turn my back so quickly on a manual next time we pick out a vehicle. I especially like #9. And you know what: I haven’t ever tried a Big Mac either!

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Ooooh cool! Especially since I didn’t intend the article to be persuasive. I just wanted to throw the facts out there.

      Since you’re out in the country, it’s especially easy to drive a manual. Far less shifting than in a city! Dang near as easy as an auto.

      You haven’t had a Big Mac?! We should start a club! But I don’t think we’re missing out on much: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbjxBNx1_Hg

  • Anne

    I am not a fan of manual transmissions. Also, new automatics are more fuel efficient than manuals are, the systems are very dialed.
    I lost the battle on our last vehicle, though, so our car is a manual.
    They’re also more dangerous in traffic, due to the stalling and rolling back. There are some modern features, like a break hold delay, that help to improve some aspects of that, but they still pose that risk over an automatic.
    They are easier to give power, though. Most new automatics also have a “manual” override, where you can drop cars down into lower gears, which is useful for things like quickly merging onto an on ramp.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      You’re a fan of airplanes but despise a manual transmission?! I would think as a lover of machine you would enjoy being more involved during a drive!

      I have seen some new automatics which are comparable to manual tranny’s in terms of MPG only. However, those are so new and on such high-end vehicles, I don’t really recommend anyone seek them out.

      More dangerous in traffic.. Hmm.. I suppose if you don’t pay attention you could roll back into someone. But if a person can’t pay enough attention not to do that, they probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

      Most automatics with ‘manual’ modes are just for giggles. My last rental car had one. It did make me feel slightly cooler..

      Anyway, at the end of the day, to each their own!

      • Izet

        More dangerous….Really? How is that? If you are rolling back it means that you cannot drive…I had a auto with same manners you know BMW smg tranny its an automatic that acts like a manual where if you don’t hold a brake it will go backwards, but think about this you are saying going backward that’s only if you don’t hold a brake…however what happens to automatic if you don’t hold a brake? It goes forward right? What’s the difference….so they’re both unsafe whether i roll backward or go forward makes no difference LOL!

        • First Quarter Finance logo
          First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

          Haha, Izet, they keep lobbing ’em up and we keep knockin’ ’em out of the park!

          Many modern manual cars also have hill brake assist as well. So you won’t roll back even if you aren’t paying attention.

    • Matthew M Snyder

      Dangerous in traffic? Yes, this may be true for newbies at stick. But once you’ve gotten pat the first month or two driving stick you’ll rarley if not ever stall anymore. I tend to stall 3 or 4 times a year.Its always when im tired and not completely focused on the clutch to gas ratio. Other then that stick is so much safer if it werent for stick I would have probably rear ended people a few times because of quick braking in their small cars. See I drive a Jeep Wrangler which normally can’t stop nearly as fast as the little cars, but because of my ability to downshift and engine brake I have never gotten in an accident in my 8 years of driving.

  • Aldo

    I’m sorry but I will never get a manual car. It’s just too damn annoying. Most of my driving is done in the city and having to shift up and down ALL DAY LONG is insane. I rather just put it on D and go. True, it gives you better gas mileage and they are cheaper, but I don’t think they’re necessarily safer nor do I think people who drive them save on gas. People with manual transmissions tend to speed all the time, which is unsafe and waste gas. They’re always looking for that gap where they could shift and pass the person in front of them. If you’re not one of those people then you are in the minority.

    It is also not easier or safer to drive them on the mountains. I drove a manual transmission in Costa Rica and got stuck behind a truck on a no passing zone and was also confused on which gear I should be on. I rather just press the gas and go. Also it’s very challenging to start the car going up hill. It’s like a puzzle. Hold the emergency break, put it in gear, give it some gas, slowly engage the clutch, release the emergency break, now you can go. With an automatic is just put it on Drive and go. It also stalls if you’re not paying attention. It’s just a big hassle.

    To me a car is just a means of transportation, something to get me from point A to point B. If I could get a car that could drive me to where I needed to go without me having to do anything at all, that would be ideal. I’m not lazy, I just rather be holding my girl’s hand than a stick… but that’s just me.

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      Hey Aldo, thanks for the reply. I like some disagreement!

      Sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences driving a stick. It’s a learned skill, that’s for sure. But it becomes second-nature after awhile.

      I hear you about holding your girls hand instead of a shift knob but I think any girl I date can hold off while we’re going through traffic.

      • Izet

        Hahah sorry Aldo, but you’re insane with this post. There is nothing better then driving a manual and i can confirm out of 24 cars that i changed only 3 were automatic :). I also traveled thru out U.S and Canada…I drove from Chicago to Indy with a bad clutch once! Yes i forced into a gear and made it home…would automatic get me there? I highly doubt it! Would automatic start from 0mph in 4th gear yes slowly until reaching speed…I freaking doubt it! Driving a manual is like riding a bike. Yes i am from S.E Europe and been around them for 13 years before coming here, but that’s not the point. Lets talk about holding a girls hand lol I had no problem holding girls hang while shifting or anything for that matter, you know you can also shift without pressing a clutch its all the matter of timing and listening to your engine…I spent a lot of time driving and honestly automatics made me fall asleep not to mention loosing a tranny in the middle of the road that happened couple of times they just go bad on the spot!! I told you a clutch story, now let me also tell you a starter story….when a starter goes bad push the car pop the clutch and VOILA! While on auto all you can do is try to hit it with a hammer 😀 if its totally bad then call a towing buddy :).

  • Paul

    Great post! I’m glad to hear I’m not the only who enjoys driving a stick!

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      It’s the only way to go!

      • Daniel Kaupang

        Fantastic article, Will! As an European, I find it very strange that Americans don’t learn driving manuals before switching over to automatics. Driving a manual is so much fun and I feel like I’m driving the car instead of the car driving me. I actually started learning driving with an automatic when I was 16 and I couldn’t imagine myself driving a manual car EVER back then. I imagine that’s how Americans think when they start learning with an automatic. After mastering the skill of driving a manual, I can’t imagine myself owning an automatic any time soon.

        The reason why luxury car manufacturers have stop producing cars with a manual transmission is because people prefer standing out in the crowd and feel more superior then actually having fun. Audi recently announced that they will stop producing the R8 with a manual which is such a shame.

        The demand for manuals is still super high here in Europe, so i doubt that they will become instinct 🙂 And let’s hope that articles like these will make a difference in the US and will encourage Americans to give the manual “stick-shift” a try. Thank you for writing this article!

        • Anthony Keaveny

          I tried to teach my mother to drive a manual car !! End of that story. Cheap is Cheap and now in my country England, only cheap little cars come with manual. I live across from a school and look at the mums in the Range Rovers, Jags, Mercedes…none of them could drive a shift.. They are for poor people.

          • Anthony Keaveny

            BUT I did make my 2 sons learn to shift. We had a little Bedford Van, and I took them every Sunday to an industrial Estate and made Garry, 13 and Mark 15 Learn to drive a manual. Now, of course they drive automatics, but they CAN drive a shift!>>>

    • Dave

      No, you are not. This North American enjoys driving a stick too!

  • Kipp

    Hey Will,

    Great post on manual transmission cars. I will be honest… I don’t have a manual, but both my wife and I are interested in learning how to drive one, but our parents never had manuals around. So I guess when the old car dies we can revisit this desire and force ourselves to learn by buying it!

    • First Quarter Finance logo
      First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

      As Jim Kramer would say… “Sell, sell, sell!”

    • NF

      You should definitely try a manual, Kipp! They’re not hard to drive at all and I find they keep me more focussed on the road.

      • First Quarter Finance logo
        First Quarter Finance | William Lipovsky

        +1

    • Nick OnGoogle

      I’m at a point where I have to decide whether I can bear to drive an auto – and I’ve driven many of them.
      I thought ‘Why not hire one to see how I feel about them these days’ … but I know in my heart what the answer will be.
      What I like about a manual is that the speed of your driving wheels is locked to the speed of the engine.
      Take your foot off, you slow down.
      Put it down, you speed up – no wishy-whooshy, vague and slow response.
      Auto’s are for those who get relatively little out of driving – who don’t really want to be fully involved with the process – who don’t appreciate the impact that attitude has on vehicle behaviour (forward and rearward weight-shift, etc) … all of which go to make up the rewarding experience that is the full control you get in a manual car.
      Auto/manual preference is what really tells you whether someone’s a driver or merely a passenger in the driver’s seat.

      • bibO

        your muscle car and flappy paddles. too funny.

        • Dave

          LOL! Agree!

      • Andy

        What kind of gearbox is it? which Muscle car do you have?
        Old and fading technology it certainly isn’t. If you poke your head outside of America you will find the rest of the world isn’t letting the “stick” fade away any time soon.

    • Max

      I use to drive a manual for several years and I miss her a lot. Nothing beats a manual. The automatics and CVT’s now a days do have just as good if not better mpg than manuals. The traffic nightmare is not a big deal once you get use to it. The one down side to owning a manual is if you choose to sell it than it would be more difficult due to most don’t know how to drive one and would rather have an auto.

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