How To Decide On A Manual Or Automatic Vehicle

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

Once you have learned to drive and you’re looking to purchase a car, long before you consider what make, model and colour you want, you need to make a more fundamental decision.

Manual or automatic?

You’ve probably seen more automatic cars in American movies than you have on the road here in the UK but they are growing in popularity and are increasingly common in higher-end models.

Each have their own advantages and disadvantages and while there are factors to consider when deciding which to go for, often it comes down to nothing more than personal preference.

The below video is a great introduction to manual and automatic cars, especially for learner drivers:

This article will run you through the finer details of making that choice so that you have as much information as you can possibly need to make the correct decision.

Can I Drive An Automatic Or Manual Car?

If you are asking this question, then it’s a good job you have.

If you passed your driving test in a manual car then you are permitted to drive either an automatic or a manual transmission vehicle, however, if the opposite is true and you passed your test in an automatic, then it’s not as easy to just step in to a manual car.

You will have to learn the skills of driving a manual car and then upgrade your driving license.

Unfortunately, this means taking a further driving test to asses whether you are competent and safe to drive a vehicle with a manual gearbox.

What’s The Difference Between Manual Or Automatic Transmission?

As the name suggests, manual transmission requires the driver to do more manual gear changes whereas automatic cars will require minimal input from the driver when it comes to shifting through gears.

Firstly, let’s talk about manual cars.

A car with manual transmission will have three pedals in the driver’s footwell.

Clutch, brake and accelerate.

The clutch pedal is a vital part of the gear-changing process and needs to be depressed whenever the driver shifts from one gear to the next.

When you’re learning to drive, knowing how to find the bite and get used to smooth gear changes can be very tricky.

Once you have those skills, you’re able to select your gear as you wish and cycle through the 4, 5 or 6 gears, plus reverse, depending on how many your car has.

An automatic car does not have this much control.

There is no clutch pedal so straight away there is a significant difference in the footwell where there is only an accelerate and brake pedal.

The number of gears the driver can select is also different.

Generally speaking, an automatic car will have a Park, Drive, Neutral and Reserve gear.

As you drive, the car will automatically be selecting a gear for you based on speed and revs.

Put simply, the driver only has to think about whether they are driving forwards (Drive) or backwards (Reverse) and put the lever in to that position.

Pro’s & Con’s Of Manual Vehicles

Manual transmission remains the most common type in vehicles in the UK.

They’ve been used for decades and many drivers here would never consider swapping away from it, however, while there are many reasons for this favouritism, there are also some disadvantages to driving a manual transmission.

Advantages Of A Manual Vehicle:

You Can Drive An Automatic:

If you have a license for driving a manual car, you can jump in to an automatic car whenever you like without requiring further testing or training.

Driving Experience:

Many consider an automatic to be a more authentic driving experience, certainly more popular with the driving enthusiasts.

Driving an automatic car is a very different experience.

More Choice:

Due to how popular manual cars are here in the UK, there is much more choice in the new and used market – and they’re cheaper than automatics for that reason!

More Control:

Some argue that you have more control over the car in a manual transmission vehicle due to the freedom of gear selection.

This is helpful for using brakes to slow down, for example.

Disadvantages Of A Manual Car:

Harder To Learn:

When you’re just starting out learning to drive, a manual car can be very tricky to get the hang of.

Pro’s & Con’s Of Automatic Vehicles

Automatic gearboxes have been around in the US for many years.

Watch any old film or TV show and you will likely see the that the vehicles being driven are automatics.

This remains the case today in terms of automatics being overwhelmingly popular state-side.

The popularity has begun to move to the UK as well, although they are still some way behind that of manual.

Here are some of the main pros and cons to having an automatic car.

Advantages Of An Automatic Car:

Easier To Drive:

Most people find an automatic car much simpler to drive due to the lack of gear changes.

Good In Heavy Traffic:

If your commute involves sitting in heavy, slow-moving traffic, an automatic can be much more comfortable and simpler to use.

Smoother Ride:

As an automatic transmission takes care of all the gear changes, the result is that you generally have a much more smoother and enjoyable ride.

Concentrate On The Basics:

Learning to drive in an automatic car can give you more time to focus on the basics of driving, such as speed and road position.

Reliability/Less Wear:

Some people believe automatic cars are more reliable thanks to being less susceptible to drivers abusing the car through heavy and rough gear changes.

Disadvantages Of An Automatic Car:

License Restrictions:

As we stated earlier in this article, if you learn to drive an automatic car and subsequently pass your test in one, then you will need to take another test in a manual if you want to change back at any point.

More Expensive:

Generally speaking, automatic cars are more expensive to buy.

Higher Repair Costs:

Similarly, due to automatics being fairly rare still in the UK, parts are much harder to come by and mechanics with expertise with automatics also less common, so repair costs will likely be higher.

Conclusion

Your choice of whether to drive an automatic or manual transmission car will almost certainly come down to just that – a personal choice.

If you were looking at things objectively, then you would always recommend learning to drive in a manual car so that you have both options available to you should you wish to switch between them.

Another interesting side line on this topic is the emergence of electric cars.

These are rapidly gaining in popularity, but they do not have gearboxes.

If all cars go electric in the future, as they are expected to, then the days may be numbered for manual cars anyway.