Difference Between Manual Vs. Automatic Transmission Cars

Manual vs. automatic. Which transmission type is better? Is it even a question of “better?” We’re asked that quite a bit here at Ottobot Motors, so we thought we’d have our technical experts unpack all of the details for you. We’re committed to creating consumer knowledge and empowerment down here at our dealership because we want to see the used-car buying public make the best possible purchases. Have a look at our used car buying checklist for the steps to take when purchasing your next vehicle, and continue to browse all of our technical know-how pages so you can shop like a pro!

What’s the Difference Between Manual and Automatic Transmissions?

There are actually many differences between these two transmission types, but the key differentiator between them is their primary shift mechanism. We’ve got plenty of used cars and SUVs here with either type of transmission, but let’s start at the beginning:

  • So what is an automatic transmission? Sometimes referred to as an auto gearbox (or AT), this transmission type shifts your vehicle through its gear range without any required input from you, thanks to sophisticated hydraulics and mechanical components.
  • What is a manual transmission, then? A manual transmission depends on you, the driver, to effectively shift through the gear range as required (or as desired).

But outside of this key difference, what else does having a manual transmission or automatic transmission mean for you? Let’s take a quick peek at some manual vs. automatic transmission benefits and drawbacks side by side:

PROs

Manual Transmission Pros

  • You feel like a race car driver. PERIOD.
  • Precision shifting when needed
  • Improved fuel economy
  • Easier to maintain
  • Cheaper to replace
  • Driving still possible even when damaged

Automatic Transmission Pros

  • Hands-free operation. Eat on the go!
  • Less clutter in the console area
  • Easier to learn how to drive
  • Enhanced traction capabilities
  • Arguably much quieter operation
  • Available electric shifting mimics manual

CONS

Manual Transmission Cons

  • Snacking in traffic is difficult
  • Your left foot often gets tired
  • Tricky to learn at first
  • Potential to stall vehicle when not focused
  • Can make emergency braking a challenge
  • Limited selection and higher demand/price new or used

Automatic Transmission Cons

  • Expensive to maintain
  • Failure leaves you dead in the water
  • Heavier & less fuel efficient than manuals
  • Less engaging drive
  • Often requires a flatbed to tow
  • Will never be as “cool” as a manual in certain vehicles

 

So which one is better? By now you probably have guessed from our manual vs. automatic transmission comparison that we’re not partial to either as both transmission types have an equal number of pros and cons — even side by side from a manual vs. automatic shootout perspective. You can take either transmission type and make a case for putting either in almost any vehicle. Take stick shift cars, for example. Even the cheapest, ugliest, and most undesirable brands will have a “fun-factor” that might make you take a second look. Your partner may declare that they’d never slide into the passenger seat of such a car, though you might secretly be thinking, “yeah, but it’s a stick shift.”

Conversely, an automatic transmission has its place in luxury cars as well as larger family SUVs. Those types of vehicles require ease of operation, which makes an automatic transmission more favorable, though the argument can easily be flipped. What if you needed more pulling power or control off-road? A manual transmission in an SUV can give you a considerable advantage in terms of torque and crawl capability over an automatic. It should be noted that if you’re taking a manual transmission SUV up the infamous Hell’s Gate climb on the Hell’s Revenge trail in Moab, you will have much greater torque and ease of forward progress. Sure, you might be staring into the sky for all of it, but if you trust your wheel placement and your spotter, you will have an easier time than with an automatic transmission that might want to shift on its own, causing you to lose traction. So when it comes to stick shift vs. automatic, ask which one is right for you.

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission: Description & Operation

In this brief section, we’ll take a quick look at the mechanical components of each transmission type to enhance your understanding of what actually goes into making your vehicle move. We’ll look at each transmission system and its key components:

  • Manual Transmissions are easily identified by their obvious features, mainly the stick shift and the clutch pedal. But what happens behind the scenes? When you step on the clutch pedal, the spinning assembly of the pressure plate/friction disks and throwout bearing make contact with each other and separate the primary driveshaft from the various internal gears (e.g., First, Second, Third, Reverse, etc.). When you move the shifter to your desired gear and release the clutch, the appropriate gears engage, and you’re on your way.
  • Automatic Transmissions are a bit more complicated. Hydraulic transmission fluid generates power from the torque converter (which replaces the clutch assembly of a manual transmission). From there, the gears can engage or freewheel (like when you coast to a stop). The lockup disk operates based on speed/rotation and essentially controls the power-generating-action of the different turbines. Inside the transmission itself, you have a complex network of valves, gears, solenoids, switches, and clutch packs. If just one of these components fails, so will your transmission.

So, at your next cocktail party, do you think you can elaborate on the difference between automatic and manual car transmissions? We certainly hope so!

Ottobot Motors Helps You Shift Your Knowledge

We want our customers to know what we know. It’s a great moment for us at our showroom in Dallas, TX, when a customer comes in saying that they never thought they were a “car person” but changed their tune after reading our how-to and information pages. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our manual vs. automatic transmission comparison article; we would love it if you could share it with your friends if you found it helpful. Lastly, our inventory of quality used cars under $15k have both transmission types available, so if you’ve always wanted to experiment with a manual or automatic, you can do it without making your budget pop out of gear!

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