Manual or Automatic transmission?

Manual or Automatic transmission?

The transmission – or gearbox – is an integral part of the powertrain in any vehicle. Whether it be a new car or used car, the gearbox is responsible for transmitting the power from an engine to the wheels.

The gearbox is used as the car speeds up or slows down to change the gear ratio between the engine and the wheels.

What are manual and automatic transmissions?


gearboxes are exactly what the name suggests. It requires the driver to manually change the gears as the car slows down or speeds up.

Cars fitted with a manual gearbox are usually cheaper than automatics, and as they are easier to repair, costs to fix them will be significantly lower.


gearboxes will change the gear the car is in without any driver input. It decides which gear to move into based on the speed the car is travelling.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an automatic transmission with no clutch.

An automatic gearbox will generally give a smoother ride on long stretches of road, which may explain why automatic gearboxes are so popular in the US. In Europe, manual gearboxes are still the most popular, although automatic models are being introduced all the time.

There are also a growing number of automated manual transmissions featuring things such as button-operated gear changes.

Manual vs Automatic


A Manual gearbox has financial advantages. Cars with a manual transmission are generally cheaper to buy than their automatic counterparts.

Then there is the cost of fixing them if problems occur. Manual gearboxes are easier to fix and therefore cheaper to look after. Automatic gearboxes will need more regular servicing and if the battery runs out, they cannot be push-started in the same way a manual car can.

Ease of use

Many older drivers will tell you the manual gearbox is easy to use and gives you much more control over your car based on what is happening in front of you.

However, in busy traffic, the automatic means no repetitive gear shifting and use of the clutch and on longer stretches of road, it allows the driver to cruise easily. Some drivers will also argue an automatic allows more time to concentrate on the road ahead instead of fiddling with gears.

Plus, according to, driving an automatic can be less stressful than driving a manual car. It is quick to point out there is no difference in safety attached to the choice of manual or automatic gearbox though.

Fuel economy

Generally, an automatic transmission will use more fuel than a manual because they need more power to work, thus costing the driver more money in fuel. According to the AA, traditional automatics could use up to 10 per cent more fuel than manuals.

However, this does vary depending on the model and new, more efficient and environmentally friendly automatic gearboxes are being introduced all the time.


A manual transmission will allow more powerful cars to be controlled easier and can be easier to control in poor weather conditions. An automatic will make stop and start city driving easier to do.

Which one to choose?

The pros and cons to both manual and automatic gearboxes – and everything in between – will give you an idea about what each type is like. However, the type of transmission you go for is down to personal preference, the type of car it is and what the car will be used for.

As a general guide, if you want less complicated, less involved driving get an automatic. If you want more control over the power of the car, opt for a manual.

Learning to drive

If you’re learning to drive in the UK in an automatic, you will not be allowed to drive a car with manual transmission. You would be required to pass your test in a manual car to be eligible to drive one.

It doesn’t work the other way around, however. Anybody who has passed their driving test in a car with a manual gearbox will be allowed to drive an automatic.


Many cars are now offered with a choice of manual or automatic gearbox. Historically, the only cars to feature automatic gearboxes were luxury saloon style cars.

These days there are more and more small city cars and superminis available with an automatic gearbox. Examples include the Ford Fiesta, Seat Mii and the Citroen C3 are available as an automatic.