Manual vs. automatic transmission in cars

automatic and manual gears
Automatic vs Manual

In recent times, taking away the effort of daily tasks has been all the hype. There are drones that will autonomously take pictures, tiny personal transporters that eliminate the need for walking, and smartphone apps that make just about everything possible without moving anything but a thumb. Of course, the advancements in technology are helpful for fast-paced daily life, but sometimes ease can take away the fun.

One of the ways this shows through is through the upcoming extinction of manual transmission vehicles. Like every other aspect of modern life, new transmission technology has been making driving ever easier. Nearly every modern economy car in production today has a form of automatic transmission, continuously variable transmission or, in some cases, no transmission at all.

Two weeks ago, I bought my first five-speed manual transmission car – a 2007 Kia Spectra5. When I first stepped into the car for a test drive, seeing the manual gearbox was daunting, yet exciting. Having very little experience driving manual, I knew there would be a steep learning curve with the car.

My experience so far has been largely positive. It’s immensely satisfying to be so in-tune with the car and have so much control. Instead of simply directing the direction and speed of the car like I do in an automatic, it feels as if the car is an extension of myself, and I control its every move. Controlling the gears lets me use the engine to slow the car down when gravity pulls me down a hill, preventing wear and tear on my brakes.

Of course, there is a reason why automatic transmission was created. Sitting in stop and go traffic is a nightmare. After driving this car for a few more months, I’m sure I will have a beefy left leg from pushing in on the clutch so many times.

Without a doubt, driving manual is more tiring and requires a lot more focus from the driver. Even one small slip up can cause potentially expensive damage to the car or put the driver in danger. Missing the correct balance between gas and clutch can cause the car to lurch or stall the engine and cause a backup of traffic. I am guilty of such mistakes, but luckily the drivers behind me have so far been understanding and I haven’t yet been honked at.

Even worse than stop and go traffic is driving on hills. Even after having the car for just a couple weeks, I’ve been in a couple terrifying situations while trying to start the car facing up a hill. In an automatic transmission, hill starts are as simple as building some torque up with the gas pedal and letting go of the brake – rolling back into the car behind is no issue. But in a manual, it takes time to do the fancy footwork required to get moving, and in that time there is nothing keeping the car from rolling backwards as fast as gravity wants to take it.

On top of the fear of running into the car behind, there is a risk of causing significant damage to the car’s clutch while rolling backwards.

Driving manual subjects the driver to stressful and scary situations that don’t happen to drivers of automatic transmissions – it is not for the faint of heart. But there is a sense of accomplishment and pride in being able to operate such a vehicle. Many people growing up in the era of automatics do not have such knowledge.

Although most economy cars are equipped with automatic transmissions, manual is still prevalent in sports cars, so knowing how to work a clutch opens up a whole world of driving fun. I may not be good enough to drive a manual sports car yet, but I sure can’t wait until I am.