Manual vs automatic: which is best?

Automatic car

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Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to choose between buying a manual or an automatic, I’ve always gone for a manual.

For me, automatics take the fun out of driving. No longer do you have the nervous tension of knowing you could stall while pulling away at the traffic lights, thus missing out on all that friendly hooting from the cars behind.

And what about the quiet satisfaction you can derive from holding the car on the clutch when queuing while going up a hill?

A devotee of automatic transmission would dismiss these innocent pleasures and say their preferred option makes much better sense if, for example, you’re commuting 80 or 100 miles a day on a motorway.

And should you get stuck in a jam, your left foot won’t have to mimic Buddy Rich working the hi-hat as you inch forward, minute by grinding minute.

Fans of automatics tend to say that, once you’ve tried one, you’ll never go back to a manual.

But if you’re bitten by the bug, you’ll have to get used to the fact that automatics burn through more fuel because they do the work your left-side limbs do in a manual.

All other things being equal, you’ll get a couple of miles per gallon more out of a manual.

And when you consider that you’ll pay more for an automatic in the first place, and then pay more to maintain and repair it, the cost considerations can become significant.

You’ll probably find yourself paying more for insurance on an automatic, precisely because they’re more complex beasts and therefore attract higher bills when things go wrong.

Ah, yes, say the automatic lovers (that doesn’t sound quite right, but you get my drift), they may cost more in the showroom, but our automatics retain their value more, so you see the benefit when you trade on.

And if you torture your manual with late gear changes and you ride the clutch like it’s a fairground attraction, you’ll soon hear the first of a million hisses – and you’ll be keying in your credit card number at the garage with devastating frequency.

On the plus side for automatics, there’s no doubting the compelling safety argument that says you’re in more control of your car if you’ve got two hands on the wheel at all times.

And it’s undeniable that anyone hiring a car abroad should at least acquaint themselves with an automatic before collecting their vehicle – because that’s what it’ll probably be.

Getting used to an automatic while driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road is a recipe for unnecessary stress, or even worse.

If you’re in the US, avoid asking for ‘a manual’ – you’ll only get raised eyebrows. Ask instead for ‘stick shift’ – the eyebrows will still go up (everyone drives an automatic in the US) but the sense of alarm will be less tangible.

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