What’s the difference between a manual and an automatic car?
Many cars come in both manual and automatic versions, but what’s the difference? Essentially, it’s down to the gearbox: with a manual car, you’ll have to change gears yourself, while an automatic car changes gears by itself, depending on the speed at which you’re driving.
This means that manual cars have some extra elements that don’t appear in automatic cars: a gear stick and a third pedal to control the clutch. Because of these extra parts, manual cars are more difficult to drive than automatic. Drivers of manual cars also sometimes experience stalling when trying to get their car into gear.
However, many drivers also feel that manual transmission cars are more fun to drive, and they give the driver more control over their car.
Are automatic cars becoming more popular in the UK?
Traditionally, manual transmissions have been more popular in the UK and Europe, while automatic cars are more popular in America – but that might be changing. 40% of new cars sold in the UK are now automatic models. That’s twice as many as in 2007.
Part of this might be because of the rising popularity of tax-free electric cars, which tend to have automatic transmission. The sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be illegal by 2040, so it’s possible that the manual gearbox could become a thing of the past before too long.
However, some drivers are still very attached to their manual cars – and manufacturers are listening. For instance, in 2019 Ford showcased a one-off electric version of its famous Mustang with a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s no reason why an electric car can’t have a manual transmission, so this could be a glimpse of things to come.
Is it better to learn to drive on an automatic car?
Automatic cars are easier to drive, as you don’t have to worry about clutch control or using a gear stick. For this reason, some people choose to learn to drive with an automatic car.
However, doing so comes with some drawbacks. If you pass your driving test with an automatic car, you’re only legally allowed to drive automatic cars. Learning to drive with a manual transmission means your licence will allow you to drive either kind, so you’ll have more options. Driving lessons are also typically more expensive if you’re learning with an automatic.
Another thing to consider is that the pass rates for drivers taking their test with an automatic are actually lower than the rates for manual cars. According to the DVLA, the pass rate for manual cars is 47%, while only 39% pass with an automatic.
Is it cheaper to drive a manual or an automatic car?
Automatic cars tend to be more expensive than manual, because the parts that make up an automatic gearbox are more complex. However, an automatic car might save you money in the long run through fuel efficiency.
In the past, automatic cars were less fuel efficient than manual versions – but this has changed with improvements in technology. Automatic cars built in the last few years will often have more gears than previous models, which allows them to work at a lower engine speed. In some cases, automatic cars are now actually more fuel efficient than their manual equivalents.
This means that you’ll be saving money at the pump every time if you drive an automatic car.
However, manual gearboxes last longer than automatics. If you plan on keeping your car for a long time, the greater durability of a manual car could mean that you’d save money on repairs.
In the end, whether a manual or an automatic car is cheaper in the long run will depend on you as a driver. If you regularly drive long distances but buy a new car every few years, an automatic car could be cheaper. If you want a durable car for a short commute, you might save money with manual.
Is insurance cheaper for an automatic or a manual car?
Car insurance is cheaper for a manual car, and more expensive for an automatic. Data from MoneySuperMarket, correct as of October 2019, shows that the average cheapest price to insure a manual car is £463 a year – while for an automatic, the cost goes up to £554. That makes automatic cars almost 20% more expensive to insure.
Automatic cars tend to be slightly more expensive to insure because the parts that go into an automatic gearbox are more complex and pricier – which means they’ll cost more for your insurer to replace if you’re involved in an accident. They also need repairs more often.
But if you’re only licensed to drive an automatic car, your premiums will go up significantly, because insurers tend to believe that motorists who only know how to drive an automatic car are less skilled drivers – and therefore pose a higher risk. Therefore, the average cost of insurance for automatic cars is higher – but you might not be affected.
If your driving licence allows you to drive both manual and automatic cars, chances are you can still find a cheap deal on automatic car insurance.
Should I choose a manual or an automatic car?
Whether a manual or an automatic car is better for you will depend on what you’re looking for. Before choosing a car, you should weigh up the pros and cons of both manual and automatic models.
Some advantages of a manual car include:
- Manual cars are more fun and exciting to drive
- It’s cheaper to buy a manual car
- Buying a manual car could save you money on car insurance
- Manual cars need repairs less often
- Learning to drive with a manual means you’re licensed to drive any car you choose
However, an automatic car has advantages too:
- Automatic cars are now often faster than manual versions
- It’s easier to drive an automatic car, and you don’t have to worry about stalling
- You’ll get better fuel economy with an automatic car
The choice is yours – just make sure you’ve considered all your options first.