Should You Drive a Manual Car?

People who enjoy driving a car with a manual transmission love them with a passion and would never consider driving anything else. Sadly, however, manual vehicles are becoming increasingly rare. Only 20% of driving lessons conducted at driving schools, for example, are in a manual car.

It’s understandable why people would choose to drive an automatic – it’s easier, potentially cheaper on fuel, and you don’t have to think about the dreaded clutch. Throughout much of automotive history, manual transmissions were a standard in most cars and automatics were a luxury designed to relieve the driver of the skill and attention needed to shift gears.

Today, manufacturers offer automatic transmissions with a manual-like experience, such as direct-shift transmission (DSG), Tiptronic and paddle shifts.

Some companies have also stopped manufacturing manual versions of vehicles. For example, over a decade ago, 80% of new utility vehicles were sold with a manual transmission. Out of New Zealand’s top three selling commercial vehicles in 2020 – the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi Triton – only the Hilux still offers a manual transmission.

But if you’re wondering if getting a manual vehicle is worth it in 2021, here are some reasons why you shouldn’t completely write it off.


Generally, manual vehicles are cheaper than their automatic counterparts. Maintenance costs are also low, and they are relatively easy to service. The clutch is the only specific item that needs more maintenance and repair compared with an automatic, but this generally isn’t needed for thousands of kilometres. The gear and engine oils also deteriorate more slowly, so doesn’t need to be changed as frequently.

As they have a variety of more complex working parts, automatic transmissions can be costly to repair and usually need to be rebuilt at a specialist shop. In comparison, manual transmission issues are easier to diagnose and fix.


The best thing about driving a manual vehicle is having full control over the gears and when to shift. This lets the driver react more thoughtfully to whatever conditions are thrown their way. Braking is also a lot easier without the torque converter found in automatic vehicles. In particular, manual transmissions can be helpful for commercial vehicles carrying a heavy load, or towing.

Automatic transmissions are designed to choose the best gear for any situation, but as they tend to err on the side of caution, this can result in shifting to a higher gear too soon and wasting engine power. It can also make it slower to respond to unexpected conditions. Even though most of the latest automatic vehicle models come with a ‘manual’ mode, it’s seldom used over the long term.

Downsides of manual transmissions

As with anything, there are cons to manual transmission. Learning how to drive a manual can often take longer because you need to learn how and when to change gears and control the vehicle at the same time. It also requires precise control on hills to avoid stalling or rolling back.

It can also be tiresome to manage gear shifts in heavy traffic due to constant stopping, starting, and changing gears. And, as there are fewer and fewer manual cars on the market, it can make shopping for a new car challenging.

At the end of the day, it comes down to your personal preference. The manual vs automatic debate will continue until one or the other stops being produced in the market, with manual vehicles looking to be the likely loser as automated driving grows.