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Manual vs Automatic Transmission – Which is Better?


Manual vs automatic transmission - Which should I buy?

To shift or not to shift – that is the question! 

So many questions spring to mind when choosing the right car for you, one of the main ones being is automatic or manual better? You could also be questioning which is faster, manual or automatic? Is one safer than the other? Is it even worth getting a manual license these days?

Here’s some advice to consider when choosing whether to buy a manual or automatic car.

What’s the difference between manual and automatic transmission?

The easy, non technical answer is that automatic cars don’t have a clutch pedal. The gearbox is also simplified. The car itself will select the appropriate gear for your speed so your only control over it is whether it’s going forwards or backwards. Manual cars have 5 or 6 gears as well as the reverse gear and control of the car is literally and firmly in your hand.

Is there an advantage to manual over automatic?

Everyone has a different opinion and usually it will come down to personal choice rather than car performance. However figures are beginning to point towards a rising trend in the preference of automatic vehicles. In 10 years between 2007 and 2017, 8.4 million automatic vehicles have hit the UK roads, a rise of 70.5%. Is it down to simplicity or are there technical advantages now to automatics?

What are the pros of a manual vehicle?

A manual vehicle has 3 pedals – brake, accelerator, clutch – an automatic just the 2 – brake and accelerator. Most UK learners will learn and qualify with a manual vehicle. Increasingly, drivers are taking tests in automatic vehicles but this means you are not qualified to drive a manual. Pass your test in a manual on the other hand and automatic vehicles are permitted too. 

Manual cars could be considered the cheaper vehicle, however, this is becoming less prevalent today. When automatics were less popular, there was less demand so they came with a higher price tag. Recently, with a rise in demand, some modern cars are only available with automatic gearboxes and advancements in technology have made some more efficient than a manual gearbox. 

The overriding pro of a manual gearbox is that you have more control over the vehicle yourself. It is you shifting the car through its gears, injecting that bit of extra speed you’re looking for. For many, shifting gears and the mechanical movement of doing so, just feels like the right thing to be doing when driving! 

What are the pros of an automatic vehicle?

If you’ve driven an automatic before you’ll know it’s much easier to handle than a manual vehicle. There is no need to remember ‘clutch down’ or crank through finding the right gear. The panic of stalling at traffic lights or on a hill, becomes a distant memory. In short, all you need to think about is whether you’re going forwards or backwards and the car will take care of the rest. 

The cost of owning and maintaining an automatic is becoming more affordable and cost effective. Historically, if an automatic transmission failed, the repair was costly. However due to the surge in demand and automatics becoming more popular, technology costs are coming down. Insurance is also aligning itself to the cost of insuring manual cars as the rating becomes less reliant on the type of gearbox. 

The automatic driver will also argue that the drive is smoother. There’s a smooth transition between gears rather than a driver clunking through gear changes. Stop-starting is also made easier with an automatic car and with no gear-grinding, the transmission itself is less likely to fail. 

Is a manual safer than an automatic to drive? 

Many would say no. With an automatic, where you’re not having to shift through gears, you have one less thing to think about.

Are manual cars more fuel efficient than automatics?

It’s a common belief that manual cars are better on fuel economy than automatic cars. However, this will largely come down to what you’re driving – the make, the model and, the age. More modern automatics with enhanced technology are likely to be more fuel-efficient than manual vehicles. Older automatic cars will be less fuel efficient. 


The margin is quickly closing between manual and automatic fuel efficiency and as advances in tech are made in line with increasing demand for automatics we may find further down the line that automatics have the edge in efficiency. 

What driving license do I need to drive an automatic car?

It’s important to note that if you want to pursue a driving test that is just for automatic vehicles, you will be awarded a restricted license. This will limit you to automatic vehicles only and you’d need to take a further test to drive a manual.

Which vehicle is right for you? Automatic or manual? 

If driving is an experience for you, you enjoy your driving, you like to be in full control of the vehicle then manual is the way to go. If however, you are a town driver, you want to concentrate on fewer things and you want an easier drive than automatic would be the vehicle of choice. Advancements in technology and subsequent shifts in the costs of running automatics mean really, the choice comes down to you.