It’s an age-old debate, especially among first-time car buyers. Is an automatic the better vehicle for you or should you drive manual instead? You will have a significantly different driving experience depending on which you choose, so which is more suitable?
Manual cars perform better and make for a better driving experience, but you have to familiarize yourself with stick shifts. Automatic cars are better for long periods of traffic like city driving.
In this article, we’ll talk more about manual versus automatic cars and whether your first vehicle should be manual. If you decide that’s what you want, we’ll even share some tips for driving a stick shift!
What Is a Manual Car?
When discussing manual versus automatic cars, we’re referring to one of two types of vehicle transmission.
Manual transmission goes by a lot of names, including standard transmission, manual gearbox, and stick shift. When driving manually, you can select the gear you want by physically adjusting the clutch and the gear stick.
The clutch is what activates or deactivates your power transmission from the driving shaft to the driven shaft. It’s usually a foot pedal.
Vehicles have used stick shifts for a very long time, although cars before the 1950s were outfitted with sliding-mesh transmission and had only three forward gear ratios. These days, constant-mesh transmission is more popular, offering five and even six-speed transmission in some instances.
If your vehicle doesn’t use manual transmission, then your car or truck will feature automatic transmission. Rather than switch gears manually, automatic transmission vehicles do it for you.
Should Your First Car Be Manual or Automatic?
Now that you understand more about manual cars (as well as automatic), it’s decision-making time. Is a manual car the right first vehicle for you or should you drive an automatic instead?
That depends on what you prioritize in a car. Here are some facts about manual cars that ought to help you make your mind.
Used Manual Cars Might Be Slightly Cheaper Than Automatics
We’ve talked about used cars a lot on this blog. You should recall then that the more desirable features a car has, the more expensive it usually is on the secondhand market.
To be frank, cars with manual transmission are usually not viewed as favorable as automatics. People don’t know how to drive a stick shift, or they’re intimidated, or they just don’t want the inconvenience of learning, so they shy away.
This might work in your favor. Compared to an automatic car, you could shave off some cash towards the overall cost of your used manual vehicle. Even if you can’t, then you can rest assured that you usually won’t pay more for a used manual car than you would an automatic.
Of course, we must add the caveat that the cost of a used car is at the seller’s discretion. Factors such as the vehicle’s age and condition will impact its overall price as well, not just whether it’s a manual versus automatic.
Manuals Are Harder to Drive
Automatic transmission is the norm these days because it’s easier to use. There’s no need to understand how to shift gears because it’s something your car does for you when a situation arises. Drivers love the convenience of automatic transmission as well as all the time it saves them.
After all, they don’t have to spend hours in an empty driveway or parking lot figuring out what each gear does and how to shift from one gear to another like you would in a manual car.
Convenience is nice, as is saving time, but these drivers are being robbed of the chance to expand their driving knowledge. When you understand all there is to know about your car, you’re a better driver.
That’s a benefit that manual drivers know all too well. However, we can easily understand that when you’re a young driver who’s buying their first car that maybe you don’t want to learn stick shift on top of all the other driving knowledge you’re still picking up on.
Automatics Are Better in Traffic
How congested is your neighborhood? What about the adjoining cities and towns? Can you get through easily enough or are cars often ensnarled in traffic for hours?
If it’s the former, then a manual vehicle is a fine choice. For those cities with a lot of traffic even outside of rush hour, you might want to reconsider. Automatics are better designed for start-and-stop city driving.
Doing city driving in a manual car requires you to shift gears a lot. Between that and the frustration of traffic, you can get annoyed fast.
Manuals Have Better Performance Overall
Between manual and automatic transmission, manual cars have better mileage and performance. You’ll enjoy a greater sense of control as the settings of your vehicle are in your hands, quite literally.
Tips for Driving a Manual Car
You decided that your first car should be a manual. After some research, you found a great used vehicle. You’ve been practicing with it a bit, but you’re still getting used to it. The content is owned by moc.sotuaytsur. Here are some tips for manual driving that ought to come in handy.
Learn Your Pedals
Under your feet will be three pedals in your manual vehicle, not two like in automatics. The leftmost pedal is the clutch, then the center pedal is the brake as in all cars and trucks. On the right is the accelerator, which is also the same in automatics.
Driving a manual will require you to use both feet. Your left foot will press on the clutch when necessary while your right foot will either rest on the accelerator or the brake.
Get to Know the Gears
Depending on which gear you’re in, you’re limiting your speed. While the speed range varies according to car make and models, here is a general range to expect:
- 1st gear: between 0 and 10 miles per hour
- 2nd gear: between 3 and 25 MPH
- 3rd gear: between 15 and 45 MPH
- 4th gear: between 30 and 65 MPH
- 5th gear: more than 45 MPH
Double-check the owner’s manual for your vehicle to confirm the gear ranges in your own car. If you don’t have a copy of the owner’s manual since you bought your car used, then look it up online. It should be available!
Keep Your Hands on the Wheel
Although you have to be ready at any time to switch gears in a manual car, that doesn’t mean one hand should be on the wheel and the other on the gear shifter. That’s a dangerous way to drive. Always keep your hands at nine and three. Yes, that’s right, it’s nine and three now, no longer 10 and two.
Master Upshifting and Downshifting
As you change gears, you’ll either upshift or downshift. As the names suggest, upshifting means to go up several gears and downshifting refers to doing the reverse.
To downshift, you want to depress your clutch and then bring the gear shifter down. Let the clutch go as you shift gears and gently accelerate.
Upshifting requires you to depress your clutch once again. This time, go up a gear and then let go of the clutch as you accelerate.
Practice Makes Perfect
In the beginning, all the talk about clutch and RPM and gears can sound like a foreign language. That’s why we recommend you practice driving shift as often as you can.
It won’t come to you overnight, and that’s okay. Within a week, maybe two weeks, you’ll begin feeling more comfortable. The longer you stick with it, the more acclimated to shifting you’ll become. Eventually, you’ll be able to shift just by the feel and sound of your vehicle, which is great!
If you don’t mind spending the time learning a stick shift, then a manual car could be a great first choice. You’ll pick up on advanced driving concepts and enjoy a more reliable, performance-heavy vehicle to boot!
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.