Myths about manual transmission cars

Manual transmission cars with gearboxes and clutches have their ardent defenders, but the facts don't support some of the reasons cited for the superiority and desirability of this transmission.

Here we list the pros and cons of a manual versus an automatic transmission and discuss five common myths about manual transmission vehicles.

Manual Car Pros

  • The vehicle is more engaging for the driver.
  • The driver has full control over gears and when to shift.
  • It’s usually less expensive than an automatic vehicle.
  • The transmission often costs less to repair.

Manual Car Cons

  • A manual can get tiresome in heavy traffic.
  • The learning curve is steep.
  • It requires precise control on hills to avoid stalling or rolling back.
  • It’s harder to find a manual on higher trim levels.
  • Only a limited selection of vehicles offer a manual.

Automatic Car Pros

  • It’s easier to drive in stop-and-go traffic.
  • The majority of vehicles offer an automatic.
  • The transmission shifts quicker and smoother.
  • It offers better gas mileage.
  • A shiftable automatic transmission offers drivers the best of both worlds.

Automatic Car Cons

  • It’s more expensive to buy than a manual.
  • The transmission has more moving parts, which leads to greater repair costs.
  • It’s not as fun to drive — though this is subjective.
  • A transmission with too many gears might shift too often.

Myth 1. Manual cars always get better fuel economy than cars with automatic gearboxes.

In the past, it was pretty much a given that vehicles with manual transmissions would be more fuel-efficient than their automatic counterparts. But as modern automatics gained additional gears and relied less on a torque converter, they have now overtaken manuals in terms of fuel economy.

Let’s take the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro as an example. With the base four-cylinder engine, the six-speed manual gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg in mixed driving conditions. The Camaro’s automatic transmission, on the other hand, has eight speeds and is estimated to get 25 mpg in mixed driving — an 8.7% improvement.

Myth 2. Manual cars cost less than the same model with an automatic.

In most cases, the manual version of a car will indeed cost less, but not always. In some rare cases, such as the 2020 Kia Forte GT, it will cost you $600 more to get one with a manual. And if you want to drive a manual-equipped BMW, it won’t save you any money up front since the manual is the same price as the automatic.

In most cases, you might not always be able to get the car you want with a manual transmission. In fact, 80% of 2019 model-year vehicles came only as automatics.

Myth 3. The coolest sports cars only come with a manual gearbox.

The answer depends on your definition of “cool sports car.” The 797-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye is only offered with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Both the highly anticipated 2020 Porsche 911 and the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette debuted without a manual gearbox option. Finally, Ferrari and Lamborghini no longer offer any stick-shift vehicles. Sports cars don’t get much cooler than those.

Most modern sports cars use a dual-clutch automatic transmission, which features a computer-controlled clutch and offers the best of both worlds: the control of a manual with the ease and speed of an automatic.

Myth 4. If your dream car comes with a standard manual transmission, you can always get an automatic as an option.

Like the previous assumption, this one isn’t true either. A small group of cars these days, mostly sporty models, only come with a manual gearbox. The list includes the Honda Civic Type R, the Ford Shelby GT350, the Hyundai Veloster N, and the Subaru WRX STI.

Myth 5. Teenagers really, really want to learn to drive stick shifts.

There does not appear to be any evidence to support this statement. In fact, the opposite is true. Because there are so few manual transmission vehicles out there, many drivers who have just earned their licenses don’t get exposed to them, and so they have little interest in learning how to drive them.

Standard Transmission as an Anti-Theft Deterrent?

There’s one argument in favor of stick-shift cars that doesn’t have a ready true-or-false answer. The theory is that because fewer people know how to drive stick shifts these days, cars equipped with them are less likely to be stolen. While there have been a few examples of would-be thieves being stymied by manual transmissions over the years, there haven’t been any formal studies conducted.


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