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Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

Plenty of automobile buffs will tell you that cars with manual transmissions are superior in every way. However, the truth is that automatic transmissions might be just as good. So, which route should you take when buying your next vehicle

Different Mechanics

Like bicycles, cars employ a set of gears to achieve maximum efficiency from the engine at different speeds. However, switching gears at high speeds in a machine as complex as a car isn’t as simple as “jumping” a chain from one gear to another. There are two solutions: Manual transmissions rely on a human’s precise timing and ability to “feel” the gears to make the shift. Automatics rely on fluid dynamics and complex “planetary” gear systems to gradually transfer between different amounts of torque.

Price and Costs

Due to their relatively simple construction, manual transmissions cost less to buy, repair and replace than automatic transmissions. But they can be a double-edged sword. For drivers who know how to shift gears correctly, a manual may be less likely to break in the first place. However, inexperienced drivers who don’t learn proper shifting technique can quickly cause a significant amount of damage to a manual transmission.

Mileage

In the past, manual transmissions consistently achieved better gas mileage than automatics, due to automatics losing some efficiency to the fluid mechanics of a torque converter. However, modern automatics employ sophisticated sensors and computers to establish a solid connection when appropriate and minimize inefficiency. Which means that some automatics are actually more efficient than corresponding manual transmissions.

Depending on the model, it can go either way. When you’re choosing a car, check to see if anyone has performed an efficiency comparison beween the manual and automatic options.

Road Feel

Some people believe that using a stick shift makes driving a more enjoyable experience. Once you have the hang of shifting between gears, driving becomes a much more engaging activity! The sense of being perfectly in touch with your vehicle and timing your shifts just right feels cool.

However, driving a manual transmission requires more attention than you may be used to. If you like drinking a coffee on your way to work, a stick shift probably isn’t for you. Also, if you live in a hilly downtown area, you’ll go nuts switching gears all the time in stop-and-go traffic. In such attention-intensive conditions, even the most experienced operators are likely to stall their cars once in a while.

Learning to Drive Stick

What do you do if you’re interested in a manual, but don’t know how to drive one? Most stick-shift drivers learned to do so at a young age from a family member or a friend willing to risk a little damage to their transmission. As an adult, if you don’t have an enthusiast friend, finding an opportunity to learn the finer points of driving a stick might seem tough.

Don’t lose hope! Lots of driving schools offer lessons in operating a stick shift. It will cost you more than learning from a friend, but you won’t have to worry about grinding their gears ¾ literally or figuratively.

Which to Choose

These days, there’s no clear winner between automatic and manual transmissions. If you want to feel a little slicker on the highway, and save a couple thousand on your car purchase, a manual might be just right for you. However, if you just want the easiest way to go from point A to B, choose an automatic.

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