Is It The End of The Road for Manual Transmissions?

2019/07/16

So far this year, manual transmission sales have made up just two percent of American car sales—and just 20 percent of 2018 models even offer the option. Since their introduction in the 1950s, automatic transmissions have been criticized for having worse fuel economy, lower reliability, and greater repair complexity than manuals. Nonetheless, they’ve gradually gained ground on manual transmission sales.

Many enthusiasts consider manual transmissions to be irreplaceable. Here’s a look at why manuals are an endangered species on the American auto market, and why learning to drive them is still worth your time.

Why manual transmissions are disappearing

Ask drivers anywhere and you’ll get some huffing and puffing about the superiority of one transmission over the other. The truth is, automakers themselves can’t decide. Ferrari doesn’t even offer manual transmissions anymore, citing “almost zero demand,” according to the LA Times.

One reason for this low demand could be a growing skills gap. Ask the average American to drive stick and you might as well be asking them to translate Sanskrit to Latin—they just can’t do it! Only a few drivers these days bother to learn how to drive a manual, and fewer still feel inclined to perfect the skill. The fact that so few vehicles are sold with manual transmissions makes it practically unnecessary.

Some high-powered automakers no longer offer manual transmissions because they can’t handle 400-plus-horsepower powertrains. Automatic transmissions can engage and lock up with hardly a peep from the rear wheels, and they shift faster than any human being on the planet.

Available with upwards of 10 forward gears, modern automatic transmissions not only rival but often outdo manual transmissions in terms of fuel economy. Manual transmissions can’t pack as many gears in to keep their engines in the most efficient range. Still, despite the advantages of an automatic transmission, the stick deserves your consideration.

Should you consider a manual transmission?

Driving a stick shift is a more engaging driving experience. Driving enthusiasts swear by it, saying that even manumatic transmissions can’t make up for the stick and clutch. A manumatic is basically a manual gearbox with paddle shifting, a computer-controlled clutch, and gear changes. Dual-clutch transmissions fall into this category as well.

Repair complexity is another valid critique of automatics. With the right tools and parts, an experienced DIY mechanic can rebuild a manual transmission; automatic transmission repair, on the other hand, is almost unheard of even in professional auto repair shops. The automatics are too complicated and time-consuming to work on, including for the pros.

Another reason to consider a manual transmission for your next ride, even though fewer than a hundred 2018 models are available with three pedals, is that it keeps drivers engaged. If your teen driver is focused on rev matching and using the proper clutching and shifting technique, they’ll be less prone to dangerous distractions, such as texting while driving.

For those who trot the globe, manual skills can be essential. If you’re planning to drive abroad but have only ever driven two pedals, it might be difficult to find a suitable rental car in Europe, for example. In many parts of the world, you’ll have to stick to buses or cabs if you don’t know how to drive stick.

No matter what you drive, it’s also essential to think about how you drive. Read the owner’s manual, for starters, to learn how your vehicle works. Take a comprehensive driving course, perhaps even competitively, to really hone your skills. Remember to drive without distractions, and learn the proper way to maintain your vehicle—whether it’s an automatic or a manual. If you’re a DIYer, replacing a clutch or rebuilding a manual gearbox can be incredibly rewarding.

Visit napacanada.com to check out our range of drivetrain products, or head to one of our 600 NAPA AUTOPRO shops for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on manual transmission maintenance and repair, speak to an expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

By Benjamin Jerew

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