How to Decide if You Should Buy a Manual or an Automatic Car

Posted by: Dan on 18/08/2016

Category: General

Should You Buy A Manual or An Automatic? How to Decide


Buying a new vehicle usually requires a big checklist. Sure, there are those who’ve had their eye on a dream car for years, but most buyers are open to a wide variety of models and options. This is where deciding between a manual and an automatic becomes a big decision.

Beyond just the basic decision, though, there are many factors to consider concerning cost, lifestyle, and your own personal tastes. Here are some pros and cons of each to help you decide which transmission is best for you.

Pros of a manual

1. You already have a manual licence (or know how to drive one)

Any question surrounding a manual car must begin with whether or not you have a licence to drive a manual. Whether you have sat a manual test or not, you may still be permitted to drive one. While checking your local laws is a necessity, numerous Australian states permit a driver to drive a manual (even if they only passed an automatic test) once they graduate to a full licence.

2. Driving a manual is fun – and a must for car enthusiasts

Let’s get this out of the way: driving a manual is fun. If you’re a “car guy” or “car girl,” manuals are surely made for you. You know this because you’ve always got oil on your hands during weekends, your neighbours are always complaining about how loud your engine is, and your significant other often has to explain why talking about drivetrains – and only drivetrains – at the dinner table is a no-go.

For someone who is always engaging in car customisation, fine-tuning, and modifications, a manual really is hard to beat. Sure, you can be an enthusiast and drive an automatic, but doing so just doesn’t allow you the same opportunity as owning a manual does.

Manuals are great when you want to feel like you're not just driving the car, but driving with the car. Not unlike the difference between an acoustic and an electric guitar, the latter may be more complex, but it offers you greater variety in its use. For those who find that driving an automatic feels like it’s missing something – or is just plain boring – then a manual’s extra ask in driving skill can be a fun and worthwhile challenge.

3. You’ll save on purchase price and maintenance costs

The cost factor is another great advantage of a manual. They usually have a lower purchase price, and they typically use less fuel, depending on the make and model. Of course, since manuals tend to be sporty cars, you may end up using more fuel if you drive like Jeff Gordon.

Automatics, on the other hand, usually cost more upfront and have slightly worse fuel economy.

Repair costs are also a factor. Manuals are typically cheaper to repair than automatic cars, and if you’re the sort of driver who rarely finds yourself in the repair shop, a manual could be more affordable overall. So, when exploring your new car options, consider purchase costs, fuel costs, and repair costs. You should take the combination of these three into account when making your decision.

Pros of an automatic

1. They make your commute easier

If your daily drive is longer than 20 minutes, and regularly involves either heavy traffic, a school drop-off zone, or both – then an automatic is likely your best bet.

Manuals are at their best on free-flowing and open roads. This is great if you live in a more regional part of Australia or find yourself on a manual-friendly road like the Autobahn. But if you’re regularly driving in a major Australian city during peak rush hour, you’ll thank your lucky stars you're driving an automatic for all the stop-and-start action.

Those gear changes are challenging in congestion, to say the least. So, if your daily driving is rigorous, then look to an automatic.

2. Driving an automatic is safer

Lest you get some cheeky sneers from a guy at the carwash who fancies himself the next Danny Zuko, keep this in mind: driving an automatic is safer, easier, and makes driving more enjoyable than wrestling with gears and clutches. It’s easier to keep both hands on the wheel, you’ll have an easier time driving on inclines, and you’ll have a greatly reduced risk of stalling.

3. Almost anyone can drive an automatic

Even if you’re licensed to drive a manual, you may find yourself new to or uncomfortable with them – and the learning curve can be steep. This can be a big factor if you’re looking to buy a car in just a couple of weeks or months. With an automatic, it’s much easier to get in the car and drive – no special practice or driving lessons required.

A word on resale value

Statistics show that just 13% of Australian cars sold in 2014 were manuals. This statistic may seem to make the case for automatics, but it’s perhaps best viewed like a vinyl record: yes, far fewer people buy them these days than in the past, but they still serve a unique purpose.

And depending on where you buy your vehicle, the potential to get a deal can be considerable.

While the demand for manuals may be on the decline, it doesn’t necessarily mean that trend is permanent. Just like vinyl records have enjoyed a comeback, buying a manual might potentially be a good investment, especially if it’s a nice sports car – since the demand for luxury cars has risen in recent years. In addition, since there aren’t as many available, when you do go to sell, you might have a larger pool of buyers than you would for a more common automatic.

So, consider whether or not you can get a discount on a manual, and pay a little more for a “once in a lifetime” ride that might pay good dividends later.

The bottom line: use the microwave test

Probably the biggest downside of an automatic is that driving one – compared to a manual – can feel a lot like making a pizza in a microwave instead of in a wood oven. Sure, it will do the trick, but you may feel like the full experience and enjoyment is absent.

That being said, sometimes a quick and easy dinner is ideal – just like an automatic may be ideal for someone who just wants a car to go from Point A to Point B. And if you’re someone who lives in the inner city and drives in heavily-congested traffic to and from work everyday, an automatic is perhaps your best bet.

But if you regularly get the chance to enjoy long, expansive freeways, spend many hours in the car, or just really love your cars, then a manual is a must for you.

What other factors would you use to decide between buying a manual or automatic? Let us know in the comments below:

Image: Pixabay