Manual transmissions have a lot to offer the experienced driver. They have better fuel economy, they last longer than automatics, they extend your brake life, and, of course, they allow for better performance, since you can time exactly when you switch gears.
Nonetheless, the manual is on the way out: only 3.9% of all auto sales in 2011 included a manual transmission. In fact, the majority of new models, 64%, don’t even offer a manual transmission option. But there is a small bright spot for manual fans: sales have been climbing for their preferred transmission lately.
As we mentioned, manual transmissions are generally a cheaper option. It starts with fuel economy, which is better with a manual for several reasons. To start, you have more control over the vehicle, which is especially important when you’re downshifting or straining the engine. Automatic transmissions are improving all the time, but they’re still far from perfect, and thus create some real problems when your car is dealing with a lot of work.
Another aspect is how automatic transmissions are built. Most use a torque converter or v-belt to do the job of a clutch on the manual transmission. The problem is that these tend to slip much more often than a clutch pedal, although locking torque converters are starting to bridge the gap. In addition, automatics need more cooling elements, pumps, and other parts that create a power drain and siphon off that little bit more of gas.
How much gas do you save? Well, if you use the manual properly, scientists estimate between 5 and 15%. That’s pretty appealing if you spend a lot on gas.
Then there’s the other part that appeals to the thrifty driver: Manual transmissions are much easier to fix when they break, and are less likely to break in the first place. This is, pure and simple, due to the fact that an automatic clutch just has more moving parts, and many of those parts are complex. Modern automatics have a computer coordinating all the systems of the car with many sensitive sensors and parts. It’s really a Jenga game: all it takes is one wrong piece and the whole system can go out of whack. Manual transmissions are much simpler to repair and thus cost less. This can even reduce auto insurance costs, depending on the vehicle.
So for the frugal, this has appeal.
What Does the Future Hold?
Unfortunately for you stick shift lovers, you shouldn’t expect this trend to continue. Not many people really enjoy using a manual in the first place, despite the cost savings. Automatics are much easier to use and require much less concentration, and they don’t require you to make sure you’re constantly in gear. There’s also the infamous stopping on hills problem, which manuals have just never quite licked.
In short, manual transmissions can save you money. But you’ve got to be willing to work for it, and not many people are willing to pay the cost. Especially since it can be made up in other areas: for example, the Toyota Prius comes only in automatic and can’t be engineered with a manual due to its hybrid nature.
In short, enjoy your stick shift. It may not be around for much longer.