Before you go to the dealer to buy your next new or used vehicle, it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of the differences between automatic and manual cars. Both types of vehicles have advantages and disadvantages, and doing your homework will help you pick the one that’s best for you.

What Is the Difference Between Automatic and Manual Cars?

When you shop for a car, you have many decisions to make, including body style, color, engine type, and transmission. As with any major decision, it pays to spend a little time researching your options, especially when it comes to choosing a transmission style. Wondering whether you will be better off with a manual transmission or an automatic transmission? Your driving habits and personal preferences will help you decide.

The primary difference between an automatic and a manual transmission is the method the car uses to shift gears. In an automatic transmission, the car decides when you shift and automatically changes gears for you. In a manual transmission car, you are responsible for shifting gears using the clutch and gas pedals.

About Shifting

Shifting, whether it’s done by the driver or by the car itself, is an important part of driving. As you increase speed or rev your engine, your engine’s RPMs also increase. You’ve probably noticed that there is a gauge on the dashboard called the “tachometer.” This gauge shows the RPMs for your engine and has a scary-looking red area, which is fittingly called the “red line.” In order to protect your engine, you need to change gears before the tachometer needle reaches the red line area. In an automatic transmission, the car does this for you.

Advantages of Automatic Transmissions

For a lot of everyday drivers, and especially for those first learning to drive a car, an automatic transmission represents the simplest driving experience. There are several advantages associated with driving an automatic.

  • Rather than worrying about shifting gears, an automatic transmission allows you to keep your focus on the road. For some drivers, driving an automatic is less distracting.
  • Depending on where you live, an automatic might be the most practical choice. If you find you frequently end up in rush hour traffic, an automatic clearly wins out. Driving a manual transmission in stop and go traffic is simply fatiguing. Automatics are also easier if you live in hilly areas.
  • If you do a lot of multi-tasking while driving, an automatic can be helpful. If you’ve ever tried to eat a sandwich while shifting gears, you know that eating and shifting do not go together. The same goes for talking on the phone, drinking coffee, and handing toys to your toddler in the backseat.
  • In newer automatic transmissions, the car will shift itself faster than you could shift a manual. This can be helpful anytime you need to accelerate quickly, such as when you merge onto a freeway.

Advantages of Manual Transmissions

Just as some people love their automatic transmissions, there are also die hard fans of manual cars. Even though manual transmission vehicles can be more complicated to drive, there are several important advantages that go along with owning a stick shift.

  • Manual transmission cars typically get better gas mileage. Because the driver controls the RPMs of the engine, the car does less revving and uses less gas. The difference in gas mileage is usually between three and five miles per gallon.
  • Driving a manual transmission gives you more ways to control your car. If you want to slow down without using your brakes as much, you can downshift and let the engine help slow the car. This can save wear on your brakes and tires, but it requires practice.
  • It’s often less expensive to repair your manual transmission car. Automatics represent more complicated technology, so they often cost more to service. However, depending on how you drive, you may need to replace your car’s clutch at some point.
  • When you buy a new car, a manual transmission is generally a cheaper option. Buying a stick shift can save you several hundred dollars on the purchase price of your car.

Keep Your Options Open

It’s good to know the major differences between automatic and manual cars, but ultimately your buying decision will probably come down to personal preference. Both types of vehicle will get you where you need to go, and all it takes is a little practice to learn to drive a manual car.If you choose to buy an automatic, be sure you learn to drive a manual car anyway. Knowing how to drive a stick shift is an important life skill that comes in handy in emergencies.

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