The automatic vs. manual debate comes down to a lot more that deciding whether you simply want to put your foot down, or have the freedom to control things with a stick-shift. Although automatic transmission technology has come very far in terms of innovation and refinement, manual transmission systems are much simpler and come with its own set of advantages. Then there are less technical points to consider, like hand-eye coordination and whether you plan on burning tyres over the weekend or simply want to coast the open road at a consistent speed. Choosing between automatic and manual can be a hard pick, but with the right knowledge you’ll be able to make the right decision and find a transmission that suits your needs, so here’s everything you need to know to settle the automatic vs manual debate.
What Are Gears For?
Gears allow your car to operate in its narrow range of speeds while providing a wide range of output speeds to hit its top speed. Simply put, it helps your car reach its top speed without burning the engine out. If you’ve tried climbing a steep hill on a bicycle in its highest gear, you’ll know what a car feels like when it tries to reach its top speed in fifth gear only.
Manual Equals Power
A manual transmission has more gear ratios than an automatic which allows for more precise shifting. All of that combines for a higher power output. Have a look at the numbers for a clearer picture:
- An automatic transmission may receive 200 horsepower at 7,000 RPM, but only up-shifts at 6,000 RPM meaning 20% of the engine’s available power is lost.
- With a manual transmission you can take the engine’s revs to the red line or past it (not advisable) enabling you to get the maximum amount of power to the front, rear, or all four wheels under full throttle. Thus, 100% power.
Manual Uses Slightly Less Petrol
Manual cars are more fuel efficient, but automatics have been closing the gap of late with an EPA rating of only 1 or 2 MPG less than the same model car equipped with the manual. And there are exceptions to the rule with certain automatic cars getting eve better fuel economy than manual models. So as far fuel economy goes, it’s a close call.
Automatic Requires More Service
Automatic transmission systems are more complex and thus require more tender loving care. More bad news, should you be considering an automatic, is that it will probably cost more to repair. However, maintenance on a manual transmission is not free of charge. The clutch disc in manual transmissions needs to be replaced on occasion and can wear quickly depending on driving style, the material the clutch disc is made of, and the amount of city vs. highway driving.
Automatic Suits Stronger Cars
If you’re aiming to buy a less potent car with, say, a 1.5 litre (0.4 US gal) 4-cylinder that pumps out 62 horsepower, and 75 lb/ft of torque - a manual transmission is the way to go. Here’s why: with limited power you will have to tap every available horsepower of your car to make it up a hill or pass other vehicles at ease. Alternatively, if you’re looking at buying a powerhouse V8 or V6 machine that offers plenty of power at both high and low revs, an automatic transmission should give you everything you need in terms of acceleration and fuel economy. Contrary to the first point, however, an automatic transmission is better to start up a hill than manual, should you have enough power under the hood.
Consider Your Own Motor Skills
Do you like to have one hand free while driving or are you an excellent mutli-tasker with top notch hand-eye coordination? Do you have a physical handicap or sharing your car with someone unable to switch gears manually? All of these things need to be taken into consideration when taking your pick. And when you’ve found the transmission that suits you best - sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.