Should I consider a car with a manual transmission?
June 9, 2007 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Manual or automatic transmission?

I'm a college student, 20, male, in the market for a used car with a decent warranty. I'm thinking 2006 Honda Civic, but I am also possibly considering a 2006 Mazda 3 (bigger engine +, ford -), and (to a much lesser extent) a 2006 Toyota Corolla.
For the better part of the next two years at least, I will be living in a moderately sized college town and will have perhaps a 5 mile daily commute - round trip.
Traffic may be stop-and-go at times, but I usually schedule my classes early to avoid this. The town is mostly flat, and I will be on the highway for 200 miles round trip about once a month. Taking the bus would be the most cost-efficient option, but i do enjoy driving.
I'm looking for a car that is safe, requires minimal repairs, is not terribly expensive to insure, holds value well (compared to other cars), is fun to drive, and that i can keep for several years (even if i move to another state).

My previous vehicle was a Ford explorer, auto trans, and the one before that was a Ford Ranger, auto trans.
Both were a bit sluggish at times, but once they got going I enjoyed driving them.
I have no doubt that switching from a light truck to a car will make driving more enjoyable...

I have no previous experience driving a vehicle with a manual transmission, so I was looking at automatics.
But for some reason, the supposed benefits of the manual transmission piqued my interest the other day. .

Would I enjoy driving a car with a manual transmission more than I would enjoy driving a car with an automatic transmission?
Especially in the long run (2-3 + years)?
posted by itheearl to Travel & Transportation (63 answers total)
It depends on what you enjoy about driving, really. If what you get off on is the thrum of the engine and the feeling of power you get when you sit behind the wheel of a growling metal beast, leaving birds and cheetahs in the dust as you blaze a path of dust down the open highway, you're going to really enjoy a manual transmission.

If, on the other hand, you get off on the relaxation of driving, listening to music and watching the sights go by, stick with an automatic, especially since you've never driven a stick-shift before.

Do you know anyone with a manual transmission who might loan you their car? The learning curve can actually be a bit steep if you've never driven a car with a clutch.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:25 PM on June 9, 2007

I'm looking for a car that is safe, requires minimal repairs, is not terribly expensive to insure, holds value well (compared to other cars), is fun to drive, and that i can keep for several years (even if i move to another state).

Oh, incidentally, you could argue that an automatic transmission is more "safe" because there's less to do (you don't have to worry about a clutch), so you're less likely to screw up and get in an accident. I think it's also a bit tougher to sell a manual transmission vehicle, because they're generally not as popular (I'm not sure if this applies to trading it in, as opposed to selling it yourself).
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:31 PM on June 9, 2007

I drive a manual and I love it. Yes, there's bit of a learning curve but looks like you already know how to drive one. It had been a while (8+ years) when I got mine but it took less than a week to get back into it. I can't tell you how much I love driving it. My next car will most certainly be another manual.

Would I enjoy driving a car with a manual transmission more than I would enjoy driving a car with an automatic transmission?

Can't say what you'd like. Try both and decide?
posted by special-k at 11:35 PM on June 9, 2007

Until you get the hang of it, a manual can be a bit of work. The first few (hundred ?) times you have to start while pointing uphill, with another car on your bumper, can be a bit nerve-racking.

Manuals do perform a little better, and get a little better mileage, but in my opinion, unless you are a performance oriented driver, a manual has no real, concrete, overriding benefit, aside from being a little more fun. Also, there can be more maintenance costs, in replacing the clutch. It's not often, but it does happen.

I am very comfortable in driving a manual. I would not seek one out, but if I found a car I liked, which happened to be a manual, I wouldn't turn it down.
posted by The Deej at 11:36 PM on June 9, 2007

You need personal experience driving a manual in order to answer the question. its kinda like someone who has never tasted chocolate asking if they would perfer milk or dark chocolate. Both are yummy, just in different ways. Personally I prefer the feeling of engagement with the car when I am driving a manual. Driving an automatic is easier, especially if you will be varing your speed when driving, such as in town or if you think you will need to have a friend drive you home drunk yet again from another bar. Are manuals common around you, as in, do other drivers know how to drive around manuals (like not kissing the bumper when you are stopped at a red light on a slope)? Since you will be dropping a hunk of cash on this car if would be a smart investment to rent a car with a manual tranny and see how you like it in that specific car (it does vary with different models). Cheaper yet, see if a dealership will let you test drive one of the cars you are interested in overnight so you can get a real feel for it. If you have never driven a manual you might want a friend to drive it off the lot so you don't have an audience listening to you grinding the gears and stalling out though.
posted by saucysault at 11:38 PM on June 9, 2007

sorry, I mis-read that you have previous manual t experience. Best thing you can do is have a friend teach you how to drive one.
posted by special-k at 11:38 PM on June 9, 2007

What do you suppose the supposed benefits are?

Modern automatics are, often, good enough to get rid of many of the standard benefits of driving standard. Some automatic versions of cars deliver higher mileage than sticks.

Me, I have a stick because I like it better; it's fun to me, and gear-hunting automatics annoy me. Your mileage will vary. Also, I'd rather pay $700 to swap the clutch out every 8--10 years than pay $3000 a whack for automatic tranny rebuilds, but I had bad luck with automatics. 4EAT-G, eat me.

Definitely find a willing friend with a stick to learn a bit and see how you like it. This is all personal-preference stuff, so ya gotta figure out what your preferences are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:41 PM on June 9, 2007

I love driving a manual transmission. Once you get used to it, driving an automatic feels artificial, like you aren't really driving the vehicle anymore, just kind of pointing it. The feel of control you get with a manual is great, and I never got tired of it. Unfortunately, my current car is an automatic, and it was a great deal, so I'm keeping it, but the next one will be manual again.

That said, the practical benefits probably even out. Automatics are pretty efficient these days. It's not like 20 years ago when you could really save money on gas by shifting yourself.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:55 PM on June 9, 2007

I love driving a manual transmission. Once you get used to it, driving an automatic feels artificial, like you aren't really driving the vehicle anymore, just kind of pointing it. The feel of control you get with a manual is great, and I never got tired of it.
Exactly. I'm in my 50s and every car I've ever had has had manual transmission. Recently I've been driving my mother around in her automatic since she's getting older, and I really don't like the feel of it. I just don't have that feeling of control. Plus driving a stick is just fun!
posted by la petite marie at 12:16 AM on June 10, 2007

I know lots of people who drive manuals who love it, but absolutely HATE it in the city and/or in heavy traffic. It becomes a real hassle shifting in and out of gear all of the time.

That said, there's people that don't mind it (including one post above) even in traffic. If you'll be doing that kind of driving, then think about how you'd feel about it in heavy bumper to bumper traffic and/or city driving which involves lots of stop and go.
posted by twiggy at 12:16 AM on June 10, 2007

i just learned to drive manual after 14yrs of only driving an automatic. i love it. you feel much more in touch with the car.

i live in san francisco. hills sometimes suck, and stop-n-go traffic can be annoying, but meh. i welcome the challenge.
posted by gnutron at 12:31 AM on June 10, 2007

My last car was a manual -- my current is an automatic. I have to say that I'll probably never buy an automatic again, because I miss manual so much. I am/was mostly a city driver, and even so, I felt like I was much more in control of my car when I had a manual.

I think, though, that it's one of those things you really have to try -- phone around and see if any rental car places have manuals and rent one for a few days to see what you think, or borrow one from a friend. Give yourself at least a couple of days to see what you think, but driving manual isn't nearly as hard as people make it out to be. I learnt when a boyfriend said 'keep it at 3000 rpm and you'll be fine -- shift up if you're running too much over, down if you're under'. So I got off the phone with him, walked out to the car, got in, and started driving. It took me about five minutes to figure it out, and after that, it was easy. YMMV.
posted by meghanmiller at 12:49 AM on June 10, 2007

I drive a manual and I LOVE it.
You asked if its more fun to drive, the answer is unequivocally YES, YES, YES.
And if you're a car person at all, you'll like it even more, its just fun. A lot of fun compared to an automatic. Plus you can squeeze a lot more power out of a small-engine car like the kinds you're looking at. No question about it.

I too learned relatively late in my life (I think I was 22 when I learned to drive a stick). I too found myself drawn with a strange kind of fascination towards that other class of car, the ones I couldnt drive. When I graduated from college and was looking to buy my first car (I wound up with a Honda Civic hatchback by the way, which I LOVE too), I decided it was going to be a manual. I didnt know how to drive a stick yet, but I knew it was going to be a manual that I bought.
SO the first thing I did was set about looking for a friend to teach me to drive. I eventually found one patient enough to take me out a few times in his manual transmission old Volvo. If you're at all mechanically minded, you'll pick up the basics within a few lessons. It wont take much more. What takes a while (I'd say about 3 months) is getting to know the particular car you have, and getting some experience in variety of situations.
--The basic "here's how i press the clutch and engage a gear' is pretty easy. 4 or 5 sessions and you'll be doing it and feeling some adrenaline. Now comes the more tricky part though. How will you fare in traffic, on hills, in start-and-go traffic, and with a coffee in one hand and a burger in the other? Thats where the quality of the teacher you had comes into play. A good teacher will teach you the basics so well, that you will -- over the next three months -- be able to put the rest of it together on your own.

So yes, I'd recommend -- no, urge -- you to buy a manual, especially with a small car like a honda or etc, you'll get so much more out of the car as well as out of the fun of driving. However, I'd urge you to get a good teacher for atleast 2 weeks of daily practice in a large empty space like the parking lot of an enormous Mall or something equivalent. Do it daily for 2 weeks, get the basics down. You already know how to drive, so all you need to do is make very good friends with a character known as The Clutch.
posted by jak68 at 12:58 AM on June 10, 2007

The fun quota depends on the ranging of the gears in the manual car. I hate my car (a manual, like virtually all cars in the UK) because I have to furiously race through 1st, 2nd and 3rd when starting off. Most of the useful power is in the 4th gear, and that's where I spend most of the time. Cars have a different power spread across the gears.

Automatic cars are more expensive here in the UK, but I'm definitely considering one for my next purchase. My father has one and it's just luxury compared to a manual.
posted by humblepigeon at 12:58 AM on June 10, 2007

(p.s., echoing meghanmiller, I too would no longer ever buy an automatic. :) Even those paddle shifters they're coming out with these days alarm me a little. I hope they will continue making mechanical clutches so long as I still have a license to drive.
posted by jak68 at 1:02 AM on June 10, 2007

I'm a college student, 20, male

Manual! Why is there any question at all?

I had a manual at 20 - just four years ago! - and aside from one time when I sprained my ankle at the beach and had to do a little crash course for my scared-shitless friend on how to drive it, it was nothing but a total dream.

Despite what people tell you, it will hold its value well - I bought my car for $3200 and sold it for $2700 three years later after it was on Craigslist for less than a week. I sold it to another college student, too.

It just felt right, you know? And while my car's speedometer topped out at 85 and had only 98 horsepower - 1998 Suzuki Esteem station wagon owners REPRESENT! - I loved driving it, because I felt like fucking Mario Andretti. I was totally attuned to the car's noises and rattles and foibles in a way I don't think I would have been in an automatic. I would be with friends in very-hilly San Francisco driving back to Santa Cruz after doing something mundane in the city and I'd be sweating it out, egging the car on to not lurch backwards when I ever so precisely released the e-brake and switched from clutch to gas, unable to see across the intersection praying there wasn't some old man with a carp in the basket of his electric scooter on the other side. I could rev the engine at stoplights with my windows hand-cranked down blasting Total Eclipse of the Heart. I could peel out in a 98 horsepower car made of paper clips and foam!

Total blast. Do it.
posted by mdonley at 1:07 AM on June 10, 2007

Previous auto vs. manual thread in the blue.
posted by jaimev at 1:19 AM on June 10, 2007

Oh, PS - I have to wonder if it'd make it a less attractive target to thieves, if that's a concern of yours. There are some dumb, dumb people in this world, and perhaps it'd be better to find your car with a burned-out clutch and full of stolen sacks of diamonds than it would be to never find it at all.
posted by mdonley at 1:23 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you enjoy accelerating quickly, or intend to drive the car into the ground, manual transmission is the only option. If you want great fuel economy, manual or CVT are good. If you only want to own the car for a couple of years, and/or mangle your left ankle often, go with automatic. Two caveats, eating in the car (or injecting insulin, don't ask) becomes slightly more difficult, and if you stall the engine on a really steep hill with someone right behind you it is a pain. As for stop and go traffic, you get used to it quickly.

Have a patient friend (or professional instructor) teach you to drive. When you are first learning, if you feel a shuddering surge/slow/surge/slow/etc.... then push the clutch in immediately. You didn't give it enough gas. If you hear the engine suddenly scream, and the car decelerates rapidly, push the clutch in immediately, you shifted into the wrong gear (too low). Some cars will not start without the clutch pedal being all the way down; this is a safety feature. When you are not shifting, don't put any weight on the clutch pedal, or keep your foot entirely off of it, this will help in clutch wear. You get bonus points if you learn how to float gears, which may enable you to drive your car even if the clutch goes out for some reason.

Clutches last from 20,000 (really bad driver) to 250,000 miles (rarely). I'd guess your first will last 60,000 and the rest 100,000. Even though automatic transmissions last longer, they are more expensive in the long run (plus they usually cost $800-$1000 more to buy)
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:34 AM on June 10, 2007

You can push start a manual when the battery is flat. Try doing that in an auto.

Once upon a time people used to justify manual transmissions on the basis that they were simpler, gave better fuel economy, were cheaper etc. The technology poured into making better auto transmissions has eliminated the gap, particularly on the fuel economy front.

The real reason you should drive a manual transmission is because they make you more attractive to the person of the opposite sex sitting in the passenger seat. When they reach across and brush the back of your hand with theirs as you shift from 3rd to 4th, you know you've got it in the bag.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:40 AM on June 10, 2007

In my second paragraph above, I gave some tips. The reason is not to be patronizing, but rather because I've taught quite a few people on a manual transmission, and they all make two mistakes eventually, not giving enough gas or accidentally downshifting. The solution to both is to immediately push down the clutch pedal. Remember that and it will stress out whomever is teaching you a lot less.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:40 AM on June 10, 2007

Manual is more fun to drive.

Automatic is (much) easier to resell later.

If you plan to buy and keep the car and drive it until it falls apart, buy a manual and learn how to drive it.

If you think you'll sell it or trade up before the car is worthless, buy automatic.
posted by enrevanche at 2:03 AM on June 10, 2007

I currently drive an automatic Mazda 2. I will shortly be driving a manual rx-8.

I personally love driving. I love watching the streets, I love feeling the car on the road, I love getting a corner just right. The cars above allow for both; in entirely different ways, yes, but they are both a joy to drive in and of themselves. I've also driven manual and auto mx-5s which were great fun.

I've also driven a Daewoo cielo and lanos; a Holden commodore; a ford laser; a mitsubishi magna, a mercedes benz c and clk; Mazda 3 - all autos; a toyota camry station wagon; several honda civics, Mazda 3 - all these cars were terrible to drive. Most of the above were not new, but a few were (test drives and the like).

For me, the transmission isn't so important - I've loved and hated cars of both types. Personally, I don't think I'd enjoy a manual Mazda 2 or an auto rx-8; I certainly enjoyed the manual mx-5 a lot more than the auto. It really is all about the car.

On safety: I've occasionally been in a tight spot with an auto which was challenging to get out of, due to the lag involved with waiting for the gear change to kick in and the acceleration rate to change. It's only about half a second; but competent manual drivers can change gears in significantly less than that, with a good transmission and gearbox. Given a choice, I'd rather be in a car with a good manual driver over a good auto driver. That said, a not-so-confident manual driver is a terror in a way that a driver of similar abilities is not in an auto.

I guess my advice would be - take all the cars you plan to drive on a testdrive. Extended, if possible. And it's always good to be able to drive manual anyway, in case it's the only car available. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly helps.
posted by ysabet at 2:04 AM on June 10, 2007

Get a stick shift. Yes, it's way more fun to drive, plus, everyone should know how to drive one in case one day you have to get to the hospital in a hurry and that's the only option. Or if you want to rent a car in Europe.
posted by bluebird at 2:08 AM on June 10, 2007

a. First learn to live with manual. It is not that complicated and it's an experience you will carry in all countries which don't necessarily have automatic. In europe one doesn't always find automatic at car rentals.

b. For cities automatic is better then manual, because the most shifting is usually done in intense traffic and the constant up/down on the clutch is annoying. That is expecially relevant in very big cities with frequent congestion.

Now let's draw a distinction between

1. completely automatic , with the usual positions
2. automatic + up/down , which can work either as automatic or allows you to shift up and down with right hand stick
3. automatic + up/down AT the driving wheel , which is the one used in competition cars like F1. Two little levers at the driving wheel move with fingers do all the shifting

I still own a manual, but I will try #2 over purely automatic

Another accessory u almost need if you plan to do many hours of driving is cruise control + speed limiter.
posted by elpapacito at 3:14 AM on June 10, 2007

Don't buy a manual if you're absent-minded, like me.
posted by scblackman at 3:16 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Scblackman that was hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

(note to self - leave car in gear?)
posted by tiny crocodile at 4:24 AM on June 10, 2007

My husband and I both have manual transmission cars. Neither of us had any manual experience before we bought our first one (my car, in '01).

My parents had a manual transmission car, so they gave us a crash course in the days before we picked up the Beetle (still didn't stop me from stalling it about twenty times in the dealership parking lot when I picked it up).

So I just drove, and drove, and practiced, and stalled it, and drove, and practiced, and now it's been almost five years and I adore it. Most of my driving is stop-and-go, and it can get annoying, but the fun of it outweighs the negatives.

(Though I wish I had cruise control.)
posted by Lucinda at 5:59 AM on June 10, 2007

3. automatic + up/down AT the driving wheel

E.g., check the prices on a used 2003/2004 Audi A4 sport edition, which lets you shift by tipping the stick forward or back, like a joystick, as well as by using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
posted by SNACKeR at 6:05 AM on June 10, 2007

you could argue that an automatic transmission is more "safe" because there's less to do (you don't have to worry about a clutch), so you're less likely to screw up and get in an accident.

You could argue that.

You could also argue that manual transmission is more "safe" because you are more alert when you are actually in control of your vehicle instead of simply steering it like a boat.

The less something engages your brain, the greater the temptation to "multi-task." For example, I can listen to the radio and type on a computer, but I can't watch a movie and read a good novel at the same time.

One of the hardest things to do while driving stick, for example, is talk on your cell phone. While it can be done, you tend to want to avoid it at all costs unless it's absolutely necessary, and even then keep the conversations as short and to-the-point as possible.

Where manual transmission starts to suck is in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I drove stick about half the time I lived in Boston. I wouldn't want to deal with it in L.A. traffic. The ideal driving scenario for a stick is a twisty Rt. Whatever that doesn't have a lot of traffic lights. Highways are kind of a bore... generally you'll just keep it in 5th the whole time. I drove across the U.S. with a friend of mine that couldn't drive stick, but I was able to teach him quickly enough how to accelerate into 5th without stalling or tearing up gears, and that was all he really needed to know for long-distance driving.

note to self - leave car in gear?

Huge, huge can of worms.

Most people who are very sensible will say leave it in gear, because that way you've got a back-up safety in case the car is parked on a slope and your e-brake snaps.

Thing is, I'm lazy, and I'm also forgetful, so I hate it when people leave their cars in gear (or worse, leave my car in gear) because inevitably I'll just take my foot off the clutch after starting the car and end up launching in either direction.

The way I see it, your emergency brake should be in proper working order. If it's not and it gets frayed and your car ends up in the trees, well that's what you get for not taking care of your car.

That said, I know in my heart that with cars, you should really always err on the side of safety. So the official answer is, "Park it in gear." The official answer also talks about pointing your wheels away from the curb when you're parked uphill, and towards the curb in all other cases. And I think the official answer said something about adjusting your mirrors every stinkin' time you get into a vehicle... ahem.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:20 AM on June 10, 2007

Not sure if the situation is the same now, but when I learnt to drive here in the UK about 12 years ago, if you took your driving test in an automatic car, you were only licensed to drive automatic cars - this is an indication that automatics and manuals were considered different enough to require separate driver tests and licences.

So if you go for a manual, do rent one first, or get a friend to show you how to drive one. I remember clutch control being the single most difficult thing to get the hang of when learning.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:53 AM on June 10, 2007

People have raised the issue of manuals being awful in stop-and-go traffic situations. Frankly, anyone who says they don't mind it probably has masochistic tendencies, if you ask me. That said, the amount of "play" on the clutch will make that problem vary in intensity from annoying to evil. I drove a 1980 Saab for a while that had a very light clutch, with very little play, which was not too bad, and then I switched to a 1986 Suzuki Sidekick which was very heavy and required about a foot of travel from its resting position to fully engaged. I think it gave me shin splints.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2007

Response by poster: Since I'm not in a huge rush to buy another vehicle, I guess I'll go ahead and take the time to learn how to drive a manual.
My parents live on some land outside of town, and they have an old 79 Chevy truck i could probably learn on. It probably wont be quite the same as a car, but at least i will have daily access for it.
Once i get the truck down, i'll try a car and then go test drive some vehicles with both manual and automatic transmissions and see which one i like better.
posted by itheearl at 7:10 AM on June 10, 2007

Response by poster: Feel free to keep commenting, though.
posted by itheearl at 7:11 AM on June 10, 2007

I just learned to drive manual recently and wanted to add that after the frustrating learning curve, there is this period where driving stick is a fun new hobby that you look forward to ... it's like learning to drive all over again. Eventually that goes away and all the other advice above applies. I'm just sayin', don't confuse that initial high with an everlasting preference for manual transmission.
posted by kmel at 7:32 AM on June 10, 2007

Someone posted upthread about the likelihood of stick vs auto cars being stolen. I know a guy who's got a automotive shop in a neighborhood that's...gone down a lot in the past few years. He parks every vehicle in his care inside the shop every night except for one old International pickup truck that...yup, has a stick. Often times, folks will drop their cars off after hours, and put the keys in his mail slot with instructions on what to fix. Three cars that have been left like this have been stolen off the lot. All of them were automatics (and he get plenty of econobox beater manuals in that neighborhood).
posted by notsnot at 7:41 AM on June 10, 2007

I would always suggest getting a manual transmission. More fun. More connected to the car. Etc. It's definitely a superior driving experience.

Take note of things like the local traffic. If, for instance, your daily drives tend toward the "stuck in bumper-to-bumper gridlock" mode, you might want to consider an automatic. Your left knee (and the clutch) will thank you. Maybe not right now, but later in life. (After a lifetime of driving manuals, I've finally had to opt for an automatic due to years of stuck-in-traffic driving. Tendonitis in the left knee...)

On the other hand, if your daily driving tends to be clean and clear, definitely get the manual. I'd also suggest finding a friend who drives a manual to teach you...on their car. Or, better yet, a truck.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 AM on June 10, 2007

My first car was an automatic. Since then I've had seven or eight stick-shifts and I'll never buy an automatic.

I have lived in LA since '00 and there is probably not a more difficult place to have a stick in the world (runner-up: SF) and I would still never want to have an automatic.

I've only had to replace a clutch one time in the last 15+ years of driving stick, and that was on a CorollaTercel (before they became two separate models!) when I got to 280,000 miles, so my opinion is that you have to be working pretty hard at driving badly to wear one out.

As a guy, you should at least learn how to drive a stick, even if you don't buy one. A man that can't drive a stick ... well ...
posted by GatorDavid at 9:30 AM on June 10, 2007

Actually, tim_in_oz made the absolute two best points (above):

(1) You can push-start a manual when you leave the lights on all night ...

(2) It's about a kabillion times more macho to shift gears than it is to have your right hand at 2 o'clock on the steering wheel all the time.
posted by GatorDavid at 9:34 AM on June 10, 2007

A man who can drive a manual well gets about a kazillion hawt points.
posted by dame at 10:04 AM on June 10, 2007

Thirding that the ability to roll-start a manual will, one day, make the frustration of learning all worth it and nthing that, after a few years of driving a stick, driving an automatic is just plain boring. Eating while driving in town can be a real challenge, yes, but being able to accelerate much faster when getting on the interstate from a short on-ramp makes up for that.
posted by Martin E. at 10:17 AM on June 10, 2007

My dad drove a manual through commute traffic in Los Angeles for years and now thinks it was at least partially to blame for the chronic hand and wrist pain he has (along with mousing/typing). He's no longer physically capable of driving stick...and god does he miss it.

I'm a nervous driver (see some of my questions) but I've always wondered if manual would help me understand my car better and fear it less. However I have to say it's not always the case that automatics start to suck after a few years. I drive a 12-year-old Corolla with an automatic transmission, and it's still chugging along same as the day it was born.
posted by crinklebat at 10:27 AM on June 10, 2007

You can push start a manual when the battery is flat. Try doing that in an auto.

I did try that once. I've owned nothing but manual cars my entire life. One time in Saudi Arabia I was driving a rented Volvo with automatic and the battery died. Got a bunch of guys to push me, couldn't jump it, and then had to sheepishly explain that their effort had been for naught.

They offered me a sample off their hookah while I was waiting for my ride :)

You've already got 45 posts above saying this, but manuals are great if you like to actually be in control of the car. Pressing on the gas means go NOW dammit, not 3 seconds from now when you get around to downshifting. Engine braking, downshifting prep, popping the clutch, it's all good. If you spend a LOT of time in stop-and-go traffic then that is indeed a drag, but personally it would still take a LOT of that to push me over to the dark side. There's just too much control (and fun) to trade off.

As my dad would say, that's not a car, that's a cart with a go button and a turn wheel.
posted by intermod at 11:07 AM on June 10, 2007

Here's the difference. Let's say that, at some crucial, life-or-death moment, you realize that you need to suddenly accelerate.

If you're in an automatic, you slam the gas pedal down, and you hope that the car will engage the appropriate gear and then accelerate with the appropriate amount of power. And you hope that the car will make this decision quickly.

If you're in a manual, you make the decision about which gear to use by yourself, based on what is actually happening on the road. How fast you switch gears and then accelerate in the new gear is limited by how fast you can move your hands and feet.

If you have only driven an automatic, it probably sounds like the first choice is actually easier and safer. But that's because you don't really know what it means to be in each gear. Automatic cars still have all those gears, and the illusion is that they will make the decisions for you. But when you drive a manual, you realize that those decisions are not technical details best left to a computer, they are major decisions directly related to things that the computer has no way of knowing.
posted by bingo at 11:16 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Now call me insane, but a few years back I know there was a car or two made that was called something like Sport Shift - it was an automatic that allowed you to manual shift if you wanted to.

Googling it reveals the 2004 Mazda 6, an Acura CL, and a couple of Subarus.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:48 AM on June 10, 2007

Let's say that, at some crucial, life-or-death moment, you realize that you need to suddenly accelerate.

OK, let's say that. Here's the process.

See problem.
Determine problem requires rapid acceleration.
Slam on accelerator.

See problem.
Determine problem requires rapid acceleration.
Slam on clutch (disengaging whatever engine acceleration you had).
Choose a gear.
Find the gear (note: you may choose the wrong one).
Release clutch.
Slam on accelerator.
Accelerate (or not; you may have chosen the wrong gear, or you may pop the clutch in your haste to get going).

I fail to see how using a manual in this process is always better than an automatic for anyone not named "Earnhardt" or "Andretti."

There are plenty of good reasons to choose a manual over an automatic. "Safety" is not one of them.
posted by frogan at 11:51 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Manual's the best way to drive. Being able to make the engine/transmission do exactly what you want is a great feeling, and my right hand feels absolutely lost when I drive an automatic. Its much more tactile driving a stick, I think - you have an extra pedal and an 'extra' stick (not really, I guess, but you actually use it), and it just feels like you're more in the car.

Automatics are fine if that's what you end up with, which it may be. I think of automatics as something I need to trick - accelerating fast with them can be frustrating, because they need to shift themselves down after you mash on the accelerator, but with some clever prepping before you actually want to accelerate you can trick some into dropping down early, and then going for it.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:55 AM on June 10, 2007

Oh. And if you're worried about having to pay a lot more attention to your driving, its not always true. After basically 3 years of driving a manual constantly, I don't have to think at all about what that hand/foot is doing.. it just does it. And, while I wouldn't recommend it often, it is certainly possible to learn how to drive a stick and talk on a cellphone/eat/etc, even when turning.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:58 AM on June 10, 2007

"Manuals do perform a little better, and get a little better mileage"

This is actually no longer true, if it ever was. Modern automatic transmissions shift so quickly and precisely that they're much more efficient than the slushboxes of yore. Additionally, a lot of the fun of driving a manual transmission car is winding out the engine and hearing it rev, so you usually hold the car in gear longer than an automatic would.

That much being said, I still prefer a manual transmission because it gives me more control over the vehicle - but then, I have been driving a stick since I learned to drive some twenty-five years ago, so I may be biased.

There are occasions when I prefer an automatic (the truck I purchased to tow our camp trailer is an automatic, for instance, and I had a Lincoln Town Car for a while that was nice to just get in and cruise) but all in all the experience of driving a manual seems more like driving to me while an automatic seems more like riding.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:06 PM on June 10, 2007

You can eat an ice lolly with an auto.

The fun quota depends on the ranging of the gears in the manual car. I hate my car (a manual, like virtually all cars in the UK) because I have to furiously race through 1st, 2nd and 3rd when starting off. Most of the useful power is in the 4th gear, and that's where I spend most of the time. Cars have a different power spread across the gears.

What the hell are you driving where the power is in fourth?
posted by bonaldi at 1:21 PM on June 10, 2007

Currently drive an automatic, and really miss driving a manual. If you are going to be driving in snow, manual really helps a lot, esp. if you get stuck.

If you like the experience of driving, a manual enhances that. if you just want transportation, it could be annoying.
posted by theora55 at 3:34 PM on June 10, 2007

Today's computer-controlled engines likely nullify the gas benefits of stick. These days you're doing it because you like stick, not because there's some logical reason for it. And unless you're driving something older than fuel injection, you're not push-starting your manual.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:42 PM on June 10, 2007

Oh, yes, one annoying thing about automatics ... they learn your driving style.

My husband and I are a one-car household. We have (slightly) different driving styles, with respect to foot position on the accelerator and what we intend to happen.

If I've been driving for a while (a couple of days), the auto is solidly in my style of driving, which means I can pick the gear I want to be in fairly accurately by choosing my foot position on the accelerator. However, if my husband has been driving it ... it's almost a different car. Likewise for him. This can be interesting when I need to accellerate hard, for example. I usually expect around half a second of delay after my foot hits the floor - not a full second. And yes, the time difference is noticeable.

I love my automatic, but that one aspect irritates me. It's one reason we're going to manual - we both hate being suprised while driving.
posted by ysabet at 6:04 PM on June 10, 2007

Two reasons to drive a manual:

1. You can push start it if your battery dies.
2. It's cheaper.
posted by electroboy at 8:02 PM on June 10, 2007

Response by poster: One of the things i disliked about my last vehicle (the v6 ford explorer auto) was the computer. It seemed to take forever to respond to my demands, especially the few times a year when i really need to get the hell out of the way of some other car. It makes sense now that the car would have to down shift before it could accelerate.
It would also help explain why the car seemed to have so much more power with overdrive turned off... overdrive must shift at lower rpms to maximize fuel economy.
(to the computer's credit, the two times in three years that i actually needed the abs brakes to kick in, they did, and they saved my ass)

So basically, if i opted for the manual, I would have the potential to cut out some of that annoying lag between when i want the car to accelerate and when it actually does it.

Safety wise, if it would help me stay awake, it would be beneficial whenever i'm on the highway.
As long as i can avoid rear ending the car in front of me, the car should be pretty safe. I'll just have to get side airbags and hope i dont get t-boned by somebody in a lifted pickup truck (btw, side airbags and abs brakes are standard on every 2006 civic - which makes shopping for a car a hell of a lot easier than the corolla or Mazda 3 where they are optional and part of one package or another).

One thing that does concern me about the manual transmission:
What is backing up like?
In the automatic, you can just throw it in reverse and ride the brake, idle/coast, and accelerate if and when you want to.
If i get a manual, would my right foot usually be on the gas instead of the brake when backing up?

I suppose that a small car will be much more maneuverable than the explorer was, but i'm going to be in parking lots every day and dont want to increase my odds of hitting anyone.
posted by itheearl at 9:13 PM on June 10, 2007

I hate my car (a manual, like virtually all cars in the UK) because I have to furiously race through 1st, 2nd and 3rd when starting off.

Different cars will have different gear ratios. Not all manuals will drive like this. Also, some clutches will have a very strong spring action that can be adjusted so it is a bit easier to operate.

I bought a stick shift for my first car, with not much experience driving one. I've never regretted that decision. Knowing how to drive any car (shifter or auto) is a useful skill for emergencies, road trips, or when someone with a very nice sportscar asks "Want to take it for a spin?" -- this will never be offered to you if you can't drive stick.
posted by yohko at 10:17 PM on June 10, 2007

I currently drive a manual Mazda3. Best car and experience I've ever had.

Backing up is just like going forward. If you're hesitant, you can always half-clutch in reverse so that you're not giving it gas, and you ease out. Also, you have your right foot available for the brake. Just don't brake and half-clutch at the same time.

Of course, if you're on an incline you'll have to give it gas. Your best bet is to find an empty parking lot and practice, practice, practice. After a while you won't even think about clutch, gears, shifting and all that mess - you'll just do it without even thinking about it.
posted by sephira at 6:49 AM on June 11, 2007

I have been driving a Manual trans for 7 years and recently I switched to a Automatic trans, and I love it.
I'm also in a college town and with speed limits between 20 - 40, I don't think having a manual is worth while (even though u hv total control of your can and speed up as u like)
posted by WizKid at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2007

"Manuals do perform a little better, and get a little better mileage"

This is actually no longer true, if it ever was.

Well, it's as true as it's ever been here in the UK. Automatic cars regularly achieve 1-5mpg less than their manual counterparts. My father checked this out just recently when he got a car last year. I'm fairly sure that engines in British cars are the same as those in American ones.

Maybe the manual driving style is different in America. Here in the UK almost everybody drives manual, from grandmothers to speed freaks. In the US, I suspect that only drivers who want performance drive a manual. So they may have a heavier foot, and poorer fuel consumption, than everybody else.
posted by humblepigeon at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2007

Humblepigeon, it depends what kind of automatic transmission you have, generally the manual transmission gets better mileage and performance, but not always. In the case of continuously variable transmissions, you probably get either as good a performance or as good a mileage as a manual, depending on how it is set up.

Itheearl, I'm going to have to pay attention to what my feet are doing next time I back up. I haven't noticed a perceptible lag in my ability to brake a manual in that instance (and emergencies do come up in parking lots), but maybe I do shift my foot from gas to brake.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:47 PM on June 11, 2007

Automatic cars regularly achieve 1-5mpg less than their manual counterparts.

...Quickly counteracted by shifting an extra thousand rpm higher. Hey, that's really what stick is all about anyway.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:55 PM on June 11, 2007

This is kinda weird... I am also a 20 year old, male, college student and last month I was looking for a car. I considered used but wound up buying a new (2007) Mazda 3 automatic. I considered manual, but decided on automatic for the following reasons:
* Mileage is almost identical
* Eventough I can drive stick, I am not 100% comfortable yet
* Manual is less available
* Manual has a lower resale value because most want automatic
* I have no idea where I am working when I graduate and I want to keep this car for at least a few years
* I live fairly close to NYC so traffic can be unpredictable
* Semi-automatic, auto-stick, etc can satisfy most sporty cravings

I have no regrets about my purchase, especially when I do hit traffic or want to eat/use my hands while driving. Good luck with your new car. Email is in my profile if you have any other questions.
posted by coolin86 at 10:44 AM on June 12, 2007

On the off chance that you read this, let me say that while I do have a strong preference for a manual transmission, I find cruise control much more important. Even if you don't drive long distances on open highways now, you never know what the future will hold. Past about 2 hours, the lack of cruise control gets very tiring. Before that, it's not so bad.

As far as considering a car with a manual transmission, you certainly should! :)

I've driven both, and in fact have one of each right now. I prefer driving the manual, but don't as much because it has over 200,000 miles on it, while the auto has about 75,000 on it. I much, much prefer the manual in the snow, thanks to the vastly increased control over the amount of torque being transmitted through the tires, and prefer the interactivity of acceleration and deceleration (even at sedate speeds) one gets with a manual.

I save my hatred not for automatics, but for SUVs. Give me a station wagon any day. ;)

BTW, I recently had to have the clutch replaced on my manual. It cost around $400. Just servicing an automatic should it begin to wear out will end up costing more.

Also, I hate to admit it, but it's perfectly easy to eat or use your hands while driving a stick. It only takes a moment to shift, unless you never become proficient at it, which won't happen. I do like that it gives me an excuse to not talk on my cell while I'm driving when one of those annoying prats calls me up and refuses to stop talking at me. I can say "I can't shift while I'm on the phone, bye," and hang up and not seem as rude.
posted by wierdo at 2:08 AM on June 18, 2007

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