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Manual vs automatic cars

Compare insurance for manual and automatic cars

published: 05 March 2021
Read time: 5 minutes

Vehicles usually either have manual or automatic transmission – find out what this means and how it can affect your car insurance premiums

One of the many questions you’ll ask yourself before buying a new car is whether you want a manual or automatic gearbox. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both, not only when it comes to driving but also taking out insurance for your car – here’s everything you need to know before you decide.

What’s the difference between a manual and automatic car?

The difference between manual and automatic cars is all about transmission – a manual car requires you to change gears yourself while driving, while automatic cars will do this for you.

A manual car has three pedals – one for accelerating, one for braking, and the clutch. This allows you to change gears using the gear stick, and most manual cars will go from one to five or six – plus another gear for reverse.

Automatic cars only have two pedals, one each for accelerating and braking. There is no clutch as the car changes gear itself depending on the speed you’re going and the condition of the road. The gearstick generally only has four modes – park (P), reverse (R), neutral (N) and drive (D).

Semi-automatic cars are also available.

The majority of cars in the UK are manual, though this isn’t the same everywhere.

Manual vs automatic

Pros and cons of manual transmission cars

Here are the basic advantages and disadvantages to buying and using a manual car:


  • Manual cars are better at transferring power from the engine to the wheels – so you accelerate faster. However newer automatic vehicles with dual clutches are beginning to close that gap

  • You also have greater control over the car as you’re changing the gears – which can be useful in difficult driving conditions

  • It’s usually cheaper to maintain a manual car as the gearbox technology is less complex than in an automatic


  • Having one hand off the wheel when changing gears can affect your concentration. In an automatic, you can focus fully on the road ahead

  • Driving a manual car can also be uncomfortable, especially in high-traffic areas or over long distances, as your left foot will constantly have to be working the clutch

Pros and cons of automatic transmission cars

Here are the pros and cons of cars with automatic transmission:


  • Automatic cars are more convenient and easier to handle, as you only need to change gears for parking or reversing – and they also offer a smoother ride

  • Without having to think about gears and clutches you can concentrate more on driving – and give your knee a break

  • If you need to learn to drive quickly, it might be easier to get your automatic-only licence first to get yourself mobile


  • Automatic gear boxes are more complex than manuals, and you’ll generally find that automatic cars are more upmarket anyways – so you should expect to pay more for one

  • This can also mean insurance premiums are often higher for automatic cars, as the repairs involved are more expensive

  • If you have an automatic-only licence you won’t be able to drive manual cars – and in the UK this may be an issue as most cars are manual. You’ll need to retake your test to qualify for driving a car with manual transmission.

Are manual cars more fuel efficient?

This will largely depend on the make and model you have, and how old it is. Older automatic cars are likely to be less fuel-efficient than their manual counterparts, but more modern automatic vehicles often have improved technology. This means in some instances you might find an automatic variant offers greater fuel economy.

What is a semi-automatic car?

A semi-automatic car allows you to switch between manual and automatic transmission – but instead of a clutch, you’ll change gears using a switch or paddle and the car does the rest electronically.

Do you need a specific type of licence to drive a manual or automatic car?

If you learn to drive in a manual car, as most people in the UK do, you’ll get your full UK driver’s licence and you’ll be qualified to drive both manual and automatic vehicles.

However, if you learn to drive in an automatic car, your drivers licence will only allow you to drive automatic vehicles – if you want to drive a manual car you’ll need to retake your test in a manual vehicle.

Generally speaking, car insurance premiums are higher for people holding an automatic-only UK driver’s licence. In fact, between July and September 2020 the annual cost of cover for automatic-only licence holders was over £300 a year more expensive – and only under 5% of people looking for car insurance through MoneySuperMarket held an automatic-only licence.

Which is cheaper to insure: manual or automatic cars?

Largely due to the technology involved, you’ll generally find automatic car insurance is more expensive than it is for manual vehicles. This is true whether you hold an automatic-only licence or a full licence for both automatic and manual.

What else affects the cost of my car insurance?

Aside from the type of car you have and whether it’s a manual or automatic, your insurance premiums are also calculated with the following factored in:

  • Your age: Younger drivers tend to pay more in premiums, as they are at a higher risk of crashing

  • Your location: Your insurance will be more expensive in areas with high crime rates

  • Your car’s security features: Improving the security features of your car can decrease the risk of theft, and earn you lower premiums

  • Where you store your car: Keeping your car in a garage or driveway overnight reduces the risk it will be damaged or broken into, so your insurer may offer lower premiums

  • The level of cover you take out: Fully comprehensive car insurance policies offer the most coverage and are almost always  the cheapest option available

  • How you pay: Paying an annual lump sum up front for your car insurance generally works out cheaper than spreading the cost over 12 months

  • Your excess: If you volunteer a higher excess payment it tells insurers you’re unlikely to make a small or frivolous claim on your policy, so they’ll often lower the cost of cover

Will manual cars be phased out in the future?

The government is aiming to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles within the next two decades, and as electric and hybrid cars are essentially automatic – they don’t tend to have gearboxes – this could mean manual cars are effectively phased out.

Many manufacturers have been doing this for years, including upmarket brands like Mercedes and BMW, while now more affordable makes such as Ford and Volkswagen are now also offering increasingly more automatic options.

Compare car insurance quotes

Comparing car insurance quotes is a quick and easy way to find affordable cover for your vehicle, whether it’s a manual or automatic. Just tell us a little about yourself, your car and the cover you need, and we’ll search the market for a list of quotes that match your requirements.

You’ll be able to compare quotes by the overall monthly and annual cost of cover, as well as the protection you’ll get and the excess you’ll need to pay to make a claim. Once you’ve found the deal you want, just click through to the provider to finalise your purchase.

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