Automatic vs manual cars: which is best to learn with?

January 5, 2022 agha.alasdair@gmail.com

Automatic vs manual cars: which is best to learn with?

This is a question asked by all would be learner drivers – is automatic or manual transmission better? Should one ditch the old gear stick in favour of a modern more easy ride? 

We’ve put together an essential guide to the pros and cons of manual and automatic.

What is the main difference between manual and automatic cars?

It’s important that we start with the fundamentals – manual cars have a gear system that you operate by shifting the gear stick and pushing down on the clutch pedal. The overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road in the UK are manual cars.

Automatic cars, on the other hand, change gears for you ‘automatically’ depending on the speed you’re travelling. It also doesn’t have a clutch pedal.

Should I learn in an automatic car?

Pros

  • Much easier to drive: Most people prefer automatic vehicles for their convenience. They’re easy to drive as there’s no clutch to control. Many people find clutch control the single most difficult thing about driving an automatic. All you need to do is select D for Drive and forget about manoeuvring the gear stick and clutch until you either need to park or reverse.
  • Fluid ride: Cars with automatic gearboxes offer a seamless transition between gears, this gives the driver a pleasant ride without any stopping and starting.
  • Better in cities/rush hour: If you’re constantly braking and accelerating in traffic ridden towns or cities, it can become cumbersome to constantly press down on the clutch pedal. Automatic cars require much less effort, so you can concentrate fully on steering through complicated junctions and other traffic safely.

Cons

  • Price: If you’re planning on buying an automatic car after passing your practical exam, the main disadvantage of automatics is that they generally cost more to buy than cars with manual transmissions. This holds for both new and used cars so they may not be ideal if you are on a shoestring budget!
  • Potentially boredom: Many driving enthusiasts believe that automatics take the fun out of driving. Many enjoy having a physical connection with the car and therefore enjoy the feel of touching the gearstick and pressing down on the clutch.

Should I learn in a manual car?

Pros

  • Control: A manual car gives the driver more control over the car as you decide which gear to use in any given circumstance. This can be of use in conditions that may require more attention.
  • Speed: While some automatics are now fitted with dual-clutch technology, manual gearboxes traditionally work better when it comes to transferring power from the engine of the car to the wheels. Manual cars therefore tend to be better for accelerating at pace.
  • Cheaper to maintain: Manuals tend to require less maintenance given their reduced complexity. Having said that blowing the clutch can rack you up a hefty bill! 

Cons

  • Safety: While automatic cars rarely require you to take one hand off the steering wheel, manuals require you to do this whenever you change gears. This is a potential distraction which can result in reduced safety.
  • Leg pains: Having to repeatedly press down on the clutch means that your left leg rarely gets a break. This can result in over stress, aches and pains in your leg muscles.

Manual vs automatic – fuel efficiency

While traditionally manual cars are believed to be much more fuel efficient than their automatic counterparts, automatic technology has improved significantly in recent years. In a number of cases you may find that automatic cars give you more miles to the gallon than some manual cars.

Is it easier to learn to drive in an automatic car?

While manual drivers can attest to the fact that shifting gears and working the clutch become second nature, this skill is one of the most difficult things to get to grips with. Automatic cars allow the driver to focus on the road and get rid of the need for you to have to take one hand off the wheel when switching gears. 

Another big pro is eliminating the need for dealing with stalling. Polls show that young drivers feel the biggest amount of anxiety from stalling. Stalling will only occur in an automatic if there is a problem with the car – not your driving.  

If I learn to drive an automatic, does that mean I can drive a manual?

If you are licensed in an automatic, you are not allowed to drive a car with a manual transmission on public roads. You’ll need to get qualified in a manual car to drive an automatic. Having said that, if you’re licensed to drive a car with a manual transmission in the UK, you’re allowed to drive automatic cars on public roads. 

What about insurance?

Automatic gearboxes tend to be more expensive to replace and tend to be found on cars with higher specifications. Having said that, there doesn’t tend to be a huge difference between manual and automatic cars when comparing like for like in terms of car price. 

What about when I travel abroad?

If you’re travelling to Europe, you are more than likely to have limited automatic gearbox options. If travelling to North America on the other hand, it may be difficult to rent a manual car because the majority of the population drive automatic cars.

The cost of hiring manuals and automatics will vary depending on where you go. In North America and Australasia, it tends to be cheaper to rent an automatic car because the supply of them is relatively higher. On the other hand the opposite is true in Europe. 

So which is better: automatic or manual?

It’s important to take all the points discussed in this article and choose which sounds better given your individual circumstances. Generally, however, automatic transmissions will be best for someone who does a lot of driving in densely populated areas. It is also best for people who have mobility issues.

If you are in a situation where you travel longer distances a manual car will probably be the right choice for you. 

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