All you need to know about automatic cars

Automatic car

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Automatic cars are becoming increasingly popular among British motorists – and it’s not difficult to understand why.


It’s quicker and easier to learn to drive in an automatic than a manual transmission because you don’t have to master the clutch and the gear stick. Some experts also argue that automatics are safer because you can keep both hands on the wheel during gear changes.

Shifting opinion

Manufacturers are fine-tuning the technology, too. Conventional automatics now share the road with a variety of different types of automatic, such as an automated manual, a dual clutch and an innovation called continuously variable transmission (CVT), which claims to offer a pleasingly smooth ride, particularly in the urban cycle. All this technology can sometimes make it difficult to decide whether a car is actually manual or automatic, particularly if it has a manual override. But if a vehicle doesn’t have a clutch, it is usually classed as automatic. However, you should contact the DVLA if you are in any doubt as you clearly aren’t permitted to drive a manual car if your licence restricts you to automatics.

Testing times

To reiterate, if you learn to drive and take your test in an automatic, you cannot then get behind the wheel of a manual car. You would have to take the practical driving test again to prove that you could safely operate a car with a clutch and gear stick, although you would not have to re-sit the theory exam. If you were caught driving a manual car without the appropriate qualification, you would be treated as if you were driving without a licence and incur a penalty of three to six points, a fine of up to £1000 and a possible driving ban. It’s gets worse, because your insurance would also be invalid so it would not pay out in the event of any claim. Plus, you could be charged with the additional offence of driving without insurance, which carries a penalty of up to eight points and a maximum fine of £5,000.

Manual override

It’s not a problem the other way round. In other words, you are legally allowed to drive an automatic car even if you take your test in a manual vehicle. It can be frustrating if you are restricted to driving only automatic cars. If you are buying a car, for example, there is a greater choice if you can opt for a manual vehicle. Automatic cars tend to be more expensive, too. Hire cars and courtesy cars are also more likely to be manual than automatic, although this is changing, especially overseas. And you can usually specify which you want when you book.

Repair costs

That’s not all. Repair costs are typically higher for automatic cars. Then there’s the price of fuel. Traditional automatics use about 10% more fuel than manual cars. The newer versions are more fuel-efficient, but a car with CVT still consumes about 5% more fuel on average. A car that guzzles a lot of gas can be expensive to tax. The rate of vehicle excise duty is directly related to CO2 emissions – and the more fuel a car consumes, the more CO2 it emits. You don’t need special insurance for an automatic, but the make and model of your car will affect the premium.

Group decisions

Insurers divide cars into one of 50 insurance groups, according to a number of factors that are likely to affect the cost of a claim, including the value of the vehicle when new, the cost of replacement parts and the time it is likely to take to repair the vehicle. Automatics can therefore fall into a pricier category than manuals, so can be more expensive to insure.

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