Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – Which is the Best?
Every now and then someone will ask me what type of transmission is best. This is always such a tough question to answer because there are so many pros and cons to both types of transmissions. In the classic battle of manual vs automatic gearboxes, there is no clear winner. This is because they really have different practical applications.
Most of the time when you are examining which type of transmission is most practical you limit your investigation to passenger cars. But in reality, there are 1.9 million semi trucks on the roads today and these trucks almost all have manual gearboxes. This is because they are more practical for a number of reasons. First, semi trucks require more gears to haul the load they pull. So, a manual transmission in a semi truck can have up to 13 gears. This would make for a ridiculously huge automatic transmission and simply isn’t practical.
The second reason semi trucks don’t generally come with an automatic transmission is that a manual gearbox requires less maintenance and is easier to repair. This is definitely transferable to passenger cars.
Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – Which is Most Reliable?
Answer: It depends on who made the transmission and who is driving the car.
Manual gearboxes are far less complex than their automatic counterparts. This means there are far fewer things that can potentially go wrong with a manual gearbox vs an automatic gearbox. That being said, each type of transmission has a cost to own and maintain and in some cases, a manual gearbox can cause more heartache.
The most common repair in a manual transmission car is usually the clutch. The clutch in a manual gearbox can wear out faster than an automatic, especially if the driver of the car is inexperienced. It’s not just inexperience though, sometimes people drive like total maniacs and that can also wear out a clutch. Replacing a clutch can cost anywhere between $1,000-$3,000 dollars depending on the make and type of transmission the clutch is being replaced on.
But in terms of failure rates, it’s hard to tell really. That’s because the information is scant. I scoured the internet for manual vs automatic gearbox failure rates and came up with nothing. It’s almost as if the manufacturers of transmissions don’t want you to know how often their transmissions fail.
Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – Which gets Better Fuel Economy?
Answer: It’s pretty much the same these days
Back in the day, it used to be a no-brainer, if you wanted better fuel economy you went with a manual transmission. Now, automatic transmissions have gotten pretty smart and can basically match, and sometimes exceed, the fuel economy of a manual gearbox. This is a growing trend in both economy and luxury cars.
There are some examples where manual gearbox cars (like the Chevy Cruze) get better fuel economy than their automatic counterparts, but more and more automatic gearboxes are coming in very close or even better. The BMW 328i boasts the same fuel economy for its manual gearbox as its automatic. And the 2014 Ford Focus has an automatic that actually exceeds the fuel economy of its manual version. Be sure to check out our 2018 Fuel Economy table to compare all of the models you’re considering and see which has the best fuel economy.
More-and-more these types of myths are being expelled. Auto data warehouse Edmonds has a great article on the myths of manual vs automatic gearboxes.
Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – Which is Best for Sportscars?
Answer: Usually a manual, but it depends on the transmission
Let’s get down to why you are really here. What type of transmission is best for a sports car? Well, I’m sure everyone has told you that a manual is the way-to-go and those people would be wrong. A manual gearbox might have been the obvious choice years ago, but now the game has changed.
In fact, the Porsche 911 GT2 and GT3 RS – the most badass Porsche’s to ever hit tarmacs are only offered with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. For those of you who don’t know the Porsche automatic gearbox or PDK, transmission is one of the fastest and smoothest shifting gearboxes ever conceived. But it’s not just speed that makes it good, it’s how smart it is. It just always know where it needs to be.
This used to be the big selling point of the manual gearbox. You had total control and you were smarter than the car. But the truth is that sportscars stayed in school and we got a lot dummer. The average person in a sportscar can hardly remember to put their phone down let alone know what gear to be in and when.
Manual gearboxes do have their place in sportscars though. They are fun and engaging and do promote heightened driver awareness. Sadly, the reality is that technology is far exceeding the drivers of these cars. There isn’t a real reason to need a manual gearbox in a modern sportscar anymore as long as it has the right automatic transmission. A dual-clutch transmission is becoming more common in modern sports cars and allows for a fun, spirited, and sporty feel, while still being smooth enough to driver daily.
Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – Which is Best for New Drivers?
Answer: For God’s sake automatics.
New drivers need all the help we can give them. They are seriously so dangerous. I’ve written before on how stupid it is to put kids behind the wheel of an SUV, but now I want to talk about how stupid it is to shove your kid behind the wheel of a car with a manual. One argument is that they will never be stranded if they have to drive someone else’s car. Sure, because Lyft and Uber don’t exist and cell phones don’t exist where you could call for assistance.
Secondly, the argument that it will force them to be engaged is ludicrous and irresponsible. Kid’s don’t pay attention to shit. They will be on their phones and talking and just straight up not respecting the roads. Hell, experienced drivers do these things, kids certainly will. Why shove them behind the wheel of a manual to make it even more dangerous for everyone else?
Then there are the clutches. God think of all the clutches you will need to replace. Probably like hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of burned out clutches. I don’t even want to think about it.
Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – Which is Cheaper?
Answer: Depends on who made the transmission and who is driving the car.
When it comes to which is cheaper most people will incorrectly tell you that a manual car is cheaper to buy. This is false. Many automakers are charging the exact same for a manual as they do an automatic. That being said, there are maintenance requirements that automatics require regularly that manuals don’t. Regular fluid flushes are recommended and when an automatic transmission goes bad it can be expensive.
Automatic transmissions have been known to fail in brand new cars and recently in 2018, Ford recalled 350,000 F-150’s and Expeditions for faulty automatic transmissions. The cost of repairing one out of pocket can easily eclipse $5,000. However, manuals have a cost associated with them as well. Drivers who beat the shit of the clutches will be rewarded with regular $1,000 to $3,000 clutch repairs.
All-in-all it’s important to assess how old the transmission is before you buy it. Be sure to ask for maintenance records and be cautious of any car with a manual transmission that has a clutch that feels like it’s sticking or slipping. On both sides of the fence transmission problems can be catastrophic to a budget, so be sure to do your due diligence prior to buying.
A CPO warranty is a good way to protect yourself against transmission failure. Check out our guide that contains every CPO warranty for every manufacturer.
Manual vs Automatic Gearbox – What About a CVT?
Answer: It’s absolute shit and should be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention.