Automatic vs. Manual Transmission: What’s the Difference?

Automatic vs. Manual Transmission: What’s the Difference?

Take a drive and notice all the various vehicles on the road—different colors, different makes, different models, cars, trucks, buses, and the like. Classifying everything on the road is like classifying the animal kingdom—full of sets and subsets. While there might be thousands of different cars and trucks out there, they all break down into one of two categories: manual or automatic. Every car or truck on the road is either manual or automatic, one or the other. What’s the difference between automatic and manual transmissions? We will discuss it here.

Manual Transmission

In the very beginnings of car manufacturing, the manual transmission was the only show in town. Every vehicle had a manual transmission because the automatic didn’t exist yet. The manual transmission has fewer gear plates in it and is less complex than the automatic. The driver is responsible for shifting gears by first letting off the accelerator, depressing the clutch pedal, changing the gear using the shifter, and then releasing the clutch. It is a hands-on, active way to drive a vehicle. The driver is in control of what gear the vehicle is in at all times. This means that power from the engine doesn’t go to waste in changing gears too soon. Because vehicles with manual transmissions have less technology, they are lighter-weight and more fuel-efficient. They tend to be cheaper than vehicles with an automatic transmission in the same model, too.

Automatic Transmission

The automatic transmission was patented in 1927 but didn’t become a mainstay in cars until the 1950s.

Automatic transmissions take all the responsibility of changing gears from the driver, completing the work automatically. The driver simply puts the vehicle into gear, steps on the accelerator, and away he goes. Automatics are easier to drive and have smoother shifting than manuals. It is, far and away, a more passive form of driving, but it’s much easier to learn. Most drivers and passengers don’t even realize the car has shifted gears.

Which Is Better?

It is a matter of preference, of course. There are enough differences between automatic and manual transmissions that there are strong opinions on both sides. Fewer people know how to drive a manual transmission, and manufacturers are making fewer models that feature it. That small fact makes the manual transmission more theft-proof. If a thief sees a stick shift in a car, they will likely pass it up because they can’t drive it. Automatics are better for stop-and-go city driving because working the clutch and shifting gears can get tiring after a while.

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