Manual vs. Automatic Transmissions

What's the Difference Between Manual and Automatic?

Manual or automatic? While the two transmission types are not as different as they used to be, it's still a question to consider when shopping for a new vehicle.

Here are a few important things to note.

Transmissions, or gearboxes, help control a car's speed and torque (rotational force). The higher the speed, the higher the gear needed. Automatic cars shift gears on their own, while manual cars require you to shift gears with the stick shift. Today, a third hybrid option exists: the dual-clutch transmission. These cars appear to be automatics but have manual gearboxes that operate without a clutch pedal.

Here's how the two match up with some key selling points:

  • Fuel Efficiency. Cars with manual transmissions are traditionally known to be more fuel efficient, but automatic transmissions have improved immensely. Today, fuel efficiency in most car models varies by only a few miles per gallon depending on the transmission type. With a dual-clutch transmission, you can get that slightly greater fuel efficiency of a manual with the convenience of an automatic.
  • Price. Manual transmissions are generally less expensive for automakers to install, but the sticker price between the two types remains close. One thing to consider is resale value. Fewer buyers may know how to drive a car with a manual transmission, but those looking for a sport or performance vehicle may prefer the manual transmission, which could increase its resale value.
  • Safety. Studies haven't really shown whether one is safer than the other. Automatic transmissions do allow you to keep both hands on the wheel at all times, while manual transmissions may require more attentive driving. Your driving habits will play a larger role in your safety. Safety features available for both automatic and manual vehicles can make a difference too.
  • Variety. There are fewer and fewer manual cars made each year, but the variety is wider than it used to be. You can find heavy-duty trucks, sports cars and sedans with manual transmissions.


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