Choose Between a Car with Automatic or Manual Transmission

A new car is a huge decision, especially if you are unsure about whether you want one with a manual or automatic transmission. The most important thing is to educate yourself beforehand, in order to understand the differences between the two. Then you can decide which transmission type best suits your needs.


  1. Understand the basics. Just like that of a manual transmission, the automatic transmission’s primary job is to allow the engine to operate in its narrow range of speeds while providing a wide range of output speeds. Without a transmission, cars would be limited to one gear ratio, and that ratio would have to be selected to allow the car to travel at the desired top speed.
    • If you wanted a top speed of 80 mph (130 km/h elsewhere), then the gear ratio would be similar to fourth gear in most manual transmission cars. You’ve probably never tried driving a manual transmission car using only fourth gear. If you did, you would quickly find out that you had almost no acceleration when starting out. A car like this would wear out very quickly and would not be drive-able.
  2. Consider power. If you want the most power from your engine, going with a manual transmission versus an automatic is most likely going to be your best bet. While some modern automatic transmissions, i.e. CVT transmissions, manumatics, and conventional 4 or 5-speed automatic transmissions allow for some excellent acceleration, there is still usually a substantial difference in 0-60 times between these types of automatics and a 5 or 6-speed manual transmission.
    • For example, an automatic equipped Dodge Neon has a reported 0 – 60 MPH time of approximately 10.5 seconds. The same Neon when equipped with a 5-speed manual has a reported 0 – 60 time of 8.1 seconds; a huge difference. While most cars do not have this large of a 0 – 60 MPH gap between auto and manual transmissions, 99 percent of the time you will receive noticeably better performance from a manual gearbox.
    • Acceleration with manual transmission is usually superior for a number of reasons, most predominantly gear ratios and the availability of more precise shifting. To explain, if you own a car that receives 200 horsepower at 7,000 RPM, but your automatic transmission will up-shift under full throttle at only 6,000 RPM, you probably will never feel the full amount of power that your engine was made to offer. So, your engine may be stamped with a 200 horsepower rating, but because your car is equipped with an automatic that up-shifts too soon, you may be missing up to 20% of available power. On the other side, with most manual transmissions, you can usually take the engine revs to the red line or past it. This enables you to get the most power possible to the front, rear, or all four wheels under full throttle take-offs.
  3. Consider semi-automatic transmission. If you want a car for power, but someone also uses it for everyday, consider a semi-automatic transmission. These transmissions are called different names from one manufacturer to another. Usually, they're found on the sport models. Basically, they are an automatic transmission with the option to go manual. If you go into manual mode, it won't be the common gearshift with five options, but one with a + on the top and a - on the bottom. You push the shifter towards the + mark to shift up, and pull towards the - mark to downshift.
  4. Determine if fuel economy is an issue. If you answered yes, then going with a manual transmission is probably going to be your best bet, although it is far from your only choice. Many newer cars with automatics have an EPA rating of only 1 or 2 MPG less than the same model car equipped with the manual.
    • There are exceptions to this rule. Some vehicles get better mileage (5 mpg or more) as an automatic compared to the manual, most notably in Toyota's like RAV4, and the PT Cruiser. If this is the case, most people are not going to save a significant amount of money on fuel costs going with the 5-speed manual (especially if you do a lot of city driving). Since the majority of drivers do not manually shift for economy (or know how to), the 1 or 2 MPG that is lost with the automatic can easily be gained.
    • Check the EPA ratings (city and highway) of the car in question with both transmissions. EPA ratings are not always accurate, but they do give you a good idea on what type of fuel economy you will receive.
  5. Think about maintenance/repair costs. Even though the automotive world has come extremely far with refining automatic transmissions, most automatic transmissions still need to be serviced far more often than manual transmissions (some auto manufacturers state that their manual transmissions never have to be serviced with fluid changes, etc. Manual transmissions are also usually slightly/much cheaper to fix when something mechanical goes haywire. This is not always the case, but on average, a manual transmission will cost you less to repair than an automatic in the same type of vehicle.
    • The clutch disc in manual transmissions does need to be replaced on occasion. There are many factors that determine how long a clutch will last such as driving style, the material the clutch disc is made of, and the amount of city vs. highway driving. Clutch replacement is often a labor intensive task and can cost several hundred dollars if performed at a repair shop.
  6. Identify your needs. The engine that your car is equipped with makes a huge difference to which type of transmission should be chosen. To explain, if you are looking to buy a car with a {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} 4-cylinder that pumps out 62 horsepower, and 75 lb/ft of torque you will most likely want/need to go with a manual transmission. Since power in this case is extremely limited, you will need to make the most out of your engine for hill climbing, passing power, etc. On the other hand, if you're looking to purchase a car with a V8 or V6 that offers plenty of power at both high and low revs, then going with a manual transmission is more of a preference than a necessity. While most drivers will still benefit in acceleration and fuel economy by going with a manual, it is not as detrimental as it would be with a car that was limited on power. Other things to consider:
    • An automatic transmission is better suited to starting out on a hill versus a manual transmission.
    • An newer vehicle with automatic transmission has more electronic controls than a car with manual transmission.
  7. Decide if you are willing to own a vehicle with a manual transmission. Some people can't own a vehicle with a manual transmission for many reasons. They might be unwilling to learn to use one. They might have a physical handicap. They might need to share the car with someone who doesn't know how to operate a manual.
    • If this is the case, then search for an automatic that combines both good shift patterns and good fuel economy.
    • If you are willing to drive a manual transmission, there are a few features to look for. Manual transmissions all have their own unique shifting characteristics. Many are geared for fuel economy, others are geared for sport driving, and then there are many that offer the best of both worlds.
  8. Notice if you are a multitasker. Are you a multitasker that can do several things at once for an extended period? If you answered yes, then you qualify for a manual. If you answered no, then you do not. Manuals need you to concentrate on keeping your car on track, shifting the gears on time, and road hazards.
    • However, if you prefer to have your right hand available at all times to multitask then you will definitely prefer an automatic transmission. Bear in mind however that multitasking is, for a variety of reasons, very bad driving practice — not to mention illegal in a number of places.


  • Test drive the car as many times as you need to make sure you are in the right vehicle.
  • Manual transmission vehicles are less expensive than automatics. Usually by $1000 or more.
  • Though new drivers may be put off by the thought of having to learn to use a manual transmission as well as drive on the public road, it's generally not a problem in practice. Outside of North America, manual transmissions are far more common than automatics, and most learners take instruction on a manual.
  • An automobile with a competent automatic transmission should hold gears to suit your right foot, that includes holding gears till the car's engine hits peak horsepower (or at least close) if the driver is so inclined.
  • For a driver unfamiliar with a manual transmission, automatics are safer as they allow you to concentrate on hazards. A manual transmission requires significantly more attention to drive initially, but, with experience, operating the whole car, transmission included, will become as natural as walking.
  • Automatics put less strain on engine and drivetrain components than an improperly-driven manual and maintenance costs over the life of the car may well be less.
  • Overall: Manual cars are better for speed, Automatics for simplicity.
  • Manual cars are often cheaper to insure because they are cheaper to repair and often put thieves off stealing your car.


  • In some countries (e.g. the United Kingdom), your license will not entitle you to drive with manual transmission if you took your driving test in an automatic. If you wish to drive a manual later, you must retake the test in a manual vehicle.
  • If you are shopping for a new vehicle, some models that may offer both transmissions, while others may offer only the manual or only automatic.
  • Take extra care when driving a car with a transmission with which you are not familiar.
  • During the test drive, if the automatic transmission up-shifts with the pedal to the metal more than 1,000 RPM before peak power is reached, it is suggested you look for another car.

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