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The decline of manual transmission cars
June 15, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Do you know what to do with a stick and a clutch? Only 15% of new car buyers in the US say they'll consider buying a car with manual transmission, and by 2012, only 6% of cars will be offered with a stick. Is it because it's a difficult skill to learn? Or is it really because it's too hard to shift when you have a cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in the other? Or is a manual transmission simply an outdated system with new fangled technology like CVT, DSG, SMG, and super-fast, 100 msec shifting automatic transmissions available?
posted by jaimev (267 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or maybe manual shifting offers no benefits, and the opportunity to wreck your transmission with a flick of the wrist.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:19 AM on June 15, 2006


On many levels I like a manual better, but for a daily driver in an urban area...

Clutching gets old fast in traffic. I'm very happy my cage is an automatic.

Luckily I have a motorcycle over which I still have total control.
posted by flaterik at 11:20 AM on June 15, 2006


I haven't owned a manual for years. Not for lack of want but I keep getting great deals on used automatics. If I was to buy new I would most likely buy a stick. I'm convinced they make you more aware as a driver, forcing you to pay attention to whats going on around you as a simple matter of keeping the car moving in your chosen direction.
posted by paxton at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2006


I always say I will never drive an automatic, but I'll cave in eventually. The DSG system will become standard soon enough...
posted by pepcorn at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2006


Right, my car shifts much faster than I could. Look at the new SMG-II:

SMG II is twice as fast with quickest shift time of 80 milliseconds vs. Ferrari's quickest shift time of 150 millisecond (Similar to M3's S2 or A2 selection)

Going to S6 mode, then turning off DSC is a dream --- or so I've heard. Besides I was under the impression that most high end exotics are all or nearly-all clutchless and instead opt for the F1 paddles on the steering wheel. True manual shifting I think is in the domain of the very price consciouss and is no longer regarded as superior in performance. In any case as a non-professional driver the new automatics do better than I could ever learn without intense training.
posted by geoff. at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2006


my current car is a stick (an automatic in a bmw is defeating the purpose!) and my future cars and trucks will be sticks. I love the control, the response - and apparently sticks are easier on gas too. I don't drive much during the week - I live and work downtown - but on weekends, on a highway and on the road to a trailhead, a manual transmission is a dream.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:23 AM on June 15, 2006


I enjoy driving a car with a manual transmission, but, as I get older, my left knee likes to remind me that automatics are nice too.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:23 AM on June 15, 2006


I'll keep liking my gear lever and 3rd pedal until I drive a car that can function in essentially the same way without that 3rd pedal. Automatic-based transmissions with manual functions are fairly pointless, since most of them ultimately decide to shift on their own. Audi/VW's DSG seems to be the most promising system, in that it is a true manual that lets the computer operate the clutch.

For normal everyday driving, most people are always going to prefer automatic. However, do your driving in hilly areas, twisting roads, or in any sort of performance environment and having the ability to manually select gears (and have them held), and the ability to utilize engine braking are still essential.
posted by ninjew at 11:27 AM on June 15, 2006


They'll have to tear my manual transmission from my cold dead hands.
posted by tula at 11:28 AM on June 15, 2006


manual shifting offers no benefits

Benefits would be the ablility to get power from a lower gear when you need it, as opposed to when your transmission deems you are worthy of it. Also, gas mileage is better when in the hands of the skilled shifter. I've taught the clueless how to drive a manual on my truck, and the clutch is still holding strong. You'd have the the Worst Driver Ever to break your clutch from shifting.

is it really because it's too hard to shift when you have a cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in the other?

If you can't drive a manual, while talking on the phone, eating a burger, and drinking a cola.. you don't deserve to drive. If you can't handle this level of multitasking, you'll never survive in heavy traffic.
posted by triolus at 11:33 AM on June 15, 2006


Anyone who doesn't see the benefits of a manual tranmission doesn't know how to drive. And DSG is awesome, CVT has huge potential, and nearly all manumatics are garbage.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:34 AM on June 15, 2006


Or maybe manual shifting offers no benefits, and the opportunity to wreck your transmission with a flick of the wrist.

Manual transmissions used to have huge disadvantages for otimal shiting and fuel consumption, but that was a long time ago, yes.

On the other hand, manual transmissions today have reasonable blovking mechanisms that prevent you from shifting from 4th to 1st gear at 50 mph.

What I find interesting is an irrational aspect not mentioned above: In some countries (my experience is European), stick is still prevalent - because driving automatic is equated with not being properly able to operate a car, and therefore not compatible with machismo.
posted by uncle harold at 11:34 AM on June 15, 2006


*Automatic* transmissions used to have...

... of course.
posted by uncle harold at 11:35 AM on June 15, 2006


Does anyone know how gas mileage compares between manual and automatic transmissions now?

Manuals have less parts, automatics can do neat things with optimizing engine revs, manuals weigh less, automatics are needed to use hybrid systems... hmm.

That being said, nothing beats downshifting when you want to, and having the power there when you want it, rather than half a second behind.
posted by anthill at 11:37 AM on June 15, 2006


My thoughts exactly.
posted by kosem at 11:38 AM on June 15, 2006


In the eight years we've been together, my wife has firmly refused to learn to drive my stick, which would be a lot more worrying if I wasn't talking about my car.

When this car conks out, I'm afraid I'll shuffle off into automaticland for convenience's sake, and she will have won.
posted by gurple at 11:38 AM on June 15, 2006


Yes, uncle harold, automatic drivers are weenies. Especially ones in tricked-out tuner cars.
posted by anthill at 11:39 AM on June 15, 2006


I travel a lot and end up renting automatics all the time. But my daily driver is a manual.

As someone who drives both, the clear winner is manual. Automatics never fail to shift at the wrong time during key maneuvers.

Lots of people love American Idol. Lots of people prefer automatic transmission. These two things go together in my mind.
posted by Binkeeboo at 11:40 AM on June 15, 2006


I love my manual transmission. It gives more of a direct connect between the driver and the drivetrain.
posted by mrbill at 11:40 AM on June 15, 2006


I will admit that most of the benefit in a manual is the 'fun factor' - I love rowing through the gears on a well developed manual tranny, though I will admit it can grow old in stop-and-go traffic.

I also love the ability to call up a particular gear on cue depending on the particular driving needs, especially on some nice winding roads there is nothing quite like it.

Having said that, DSG is probably the most promising new technology in trannies right now. I've driven DSG equipped Audis and I will admit, this comes closest to getting me to switch. Volkswagen has stated their goal is to move its entire product line to DSG once a higher-torque/engine power variant is available to permit the move.

BMW's SMG on the other hand is a very poor implementation of the same idea: lots of lag and jerkiness that show a bit of immaturity in their design. No doubt it will improve over time, but right now Audi's DSG (or soon-to-be renamed "S-Tronic") sets the bar.
posted by tgrundke at 11:41 AM on June 15, 2006


This is just anecdotal evidence, so take it for what it's worth: the two kinds of people I know personally who are adamant about never buying an automatic are either hypermacho men ("Me allow the car to decide when to shift? Never!") and very self-consciously "independent" women ("Sisters are shifting it for themselves...").

Me? I learnt to drive in manuals, have absolutely no problem driving manuals, and if I were regularly taking my car out for sporty jaunts around twisting mountain roads, I'd prefer a manual. But come on: who actually uses their car that way? When I'm stuck on the freeway in nose-to-tail traffic, I thank God I'm in an automatic. I've done it in both, and in a manual it's just a drag.

As for the supposed advantaged of manual transmissions: yes, it is possible to get marginally better gas mileage out of a manual than an automatic. Most people don't. They especially don't if the reason they like driving a manual is to be able to chop it down a gear and redline it as they overtake someone--dreaming of chequered flags the while.
posted by yoink at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Out of the twelve or so vehicles that I've owned over the last twenty-five years, all but one was a manual but I've just bought an automatic and I have to say that I'm pretty happy with it. I commute in an hour of stop-and-go traffic both to and from work every day and a manual was just too much work without enough benefit. I may buy some old European sports car with a manual for weekend drives but for commuting, I'll stick with the auto.
posted by octothorpe at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2006


Well, as a non-USAnian, I just have to chime in and say that automatics are for weenies. Well, not really. I've got both a manual (a Mazda) and an automatic (an old Range Rover) and think both systems offer benefits. The Rangie I use off-road, and the smooth shifting and crawl benefits of the auto are a plus. On the other hand, engine braking on really steep hills could be better.
posted by Harald74 at 11:47 AM on June 15, 2006


I am controlled by the perceptions of others. Therefore, because there's a cranky fart going on and on about avoiding some misperceived anachronism, I'm going to hold onto that clutch. And I'm going to be proud. And he's going to keep whining about my choices.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:48 AM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Or is it really because it's too hard to shift when you have a cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in the other?

It's not that hard, really.

I love the control. I hate having an auto tranny decide for me, because it ALWAYS decides wrong. And my shifting is MUCH smoother than an automatic.

But then again my PDA is a $0.79 pocket notebook from Wal-mart.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:48 AM on June 15, 2006


my future cars and trucks will be sticks

Not if they stop selling them! When my older kids started driving a few years ago I made them learn on a stick, so they could drive anything if the occasion demanded. When the time comes to train my six-year-old, there may not be much point in it.

(Nice post, by the way.)
posted by LarryC at 11:48 AM on June 15, 2006


Anyone who doesn't see the benefits of a manual tranmission doesn't know how to drive.

Seconded. But its also possible that people who don't live where there is "weather" don't quite see the benefits of a manual transmission.

I'd never buy an automatic given any choice at all in the matter. I will, in fact, pay a premium to get a stick shift, if necessary.
posted by anastasiav at 11:49 AM on June 15, 2006


Driving an automatic is *BORING*.
Driving a proper car is not.
posted by Spoon at 11:52 AM on June 15, 2006


Wow, the consensus is really against me here.

It's funny, in computers I require total control over everything, but in cars I've about had enough of shifting. I'm ready for an automatic.

Of course a big factor is that it's just driving in city traffic for the most part. Also in part my attitude is that if I have to settle for a front-driver anyway, then it's just transportation and I don't care too much except that it should be cheap and reliable. If it were a question of enjoying driving, getting a rear-drive car is a more important factor.
posted by jam_pony at 11:53 AM on June 15, 2006


I do find that my driving style is mellowing out as I get older. I used to be a rather competitive driver, not aggressive exactly but generally not willing to give up an inch to another driver who was clearly playing the same game.

Now, driving, for me, is much more about getting from point A to point B, and I could care less if some jackass cuts me off, as long as I'm keeping myself safe. I find that my new, mellower driver-self is less reliant day-to-day on the immediate shifting of my stickshift.

Then again, emergencies happen to everyone, and I'd much rather have the stickshift in a pinch if I needed it.
posted by gurple at 11:53 AM on June 15, 2006


My last standard shift was 8 years ago. Then we rented one on my honeymoon in the UK. I got used to driving stick again a lot faster than driving on the left. But shifting with your left hand is fun.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:54 AM on June 15, 2006


"On the other hand, manual transmissions today have reasonable blovking mechanisms that prevent you from shifting from 4th to 1st gear at 50 mph.

Years ago, i taught my gf to drive stick, because we went on a long road trip. And she did JUST THAT. Woke me right up, hearing the tires on my brand-newish civic screeeeeching, coming off the highway at 60mph in 1st gear. Boy, she must have really had to jam it into gear. Luckily, it was 3am and no one was behind us. I did all the driving after that.

And the transmission was fine, btw.

Still, automatics and power steering are wussies!

(also- down-shifting allows you to slow down on a snowy hill without using the brake.)
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 11:54 AM on June 15, 2006


When this car conks out, I'm afraid I'll shuffle off into automaticland for convenience's sake, and she will have won.

My manual's clutch just crapped out to the tune of $1200, I'm going to scrap it and get an automatic.

It's just really inconvenient to own a car that (evidently, grumble) nobody else I know can drive.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:56 AM on June 15, 2006


1930 version: Oh, and have you heard? There are some weenies out there who use electric starter motors to start their cars rather than hand cranking them! I know, I couldn't believe it myself when I first heard it. Plus they let the car handle advancing and retarding the spark automatically! Boy--it's a wonder they don't just carve giant W's into their foreheads.

1895 version: Oh, have you heard? There are some weenies out there who are riding around in horseless carriages? Can you believe it? They'll never learn the manly art of managing a horse. Me, I blame the vaudeville and it's debilitating effect on modern manners.
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, and could someone describe one of these "emergencies" which you were only able to survive due to your giant throbbing stick shift?
posted by yoink at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2006


Can hybrids work with a stick? That's the one thing that makes me worry that I'll have to give in to the automatic someday.

I agree with tgrundke; manuals may no longer save you much gas or make you much faster, but they're fun. I don't understand the idea of an automatic -- even a new fancy one -- in a sports car. Sports cars aren't fast just to be fast, they're fast because it's fun. Sacrificing a really enjoyable feature (the stick) to very marginally improve another enjoyable feature (the speed) strikes me as losing perspective. (Unless you're using your car's speed as a proxy for penis size, which I suspect is also common.)
posted by bjrubble at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2006


Manual gearboxes are the command lines of cars. They have their moments, but why the hell would 99% of the population care?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 12:01 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yes, excellent post--thanks for bringing up the topic. I loved driving a manual but gave it up about the time I developed a shoulder problem unrelated to the stick. But I'd love to teach my teenager how to drive one but probably won't be able to. Thanks again for the post.
posted by etaoin at 12:03 PM on June 15, 2006


blue_beetle: "Or maybe manual shifting offers no benefits, and the opportunity to wreck your transmission with a flick of the wrist."

anthill: "Does anyone know how gas mileage compares between manual and automatic transmissions now?"

Check out fueleconomy.gov's list of the most fuel efficient cars broken down by class. Each class shows the most fuel efficient on top, and then the most fuel efficient of the opposite kind of transmission. The only two automatic cars on top of their class (the Civic Hybrid for compact and Prius Hybrid for midsize) are both CVT (listed as "variable"). But in most cases, the difference is pretty dang small: only a couple of mpg.
posted by Plutor at 12:03 PM on June 15, 2006


Although this research didn't examine the role of the manual transmission, its potential risks are patently obvious. Operating a manual transmission is an inherently difficult and dangerous procedure…

Just because it's hard when you start learning doesn't mean it continues to be hard. The majority of people won't even have to think about it after a while, they just do it....

I love the way that even though the research didn't study the role of manual transmission in accidents, the author still links the two. Maybe Bob is just a kack-handed muppet...
posted by itsjustanalias at 12:03 PM on June 15, 2006


Never marry a man who won't buy tampons and a woman who won't drive a stick.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


And comin' off the line when the light turns green,
Well she blows 'em outta the water like you never seen,
I get pushed out of shape and it's hard to steer,
When I get rubber in all four gears.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2006


I'm with mr_crash_davis. A stick was fun (except in heavy traffic) but the knee is much happier with auto.

On my Insight I have the CVT. It's a little eerie - just steady acceleration with no shift points like you feel in an automatic.
You have to let off the gas to insert them if you're following - otherwise you gain on the car ahead every time they shift.
posted by bitmage at 12:07 PM on June 15, 2006


If you can't drive a manual, while talking on the phone, eating a burger, and drinking a cola.. you don't deserve to drive.
I realize your a troll, but there is a significant, measurable risk associated with multitasking while driving. In other words, if you're behind the wheel and you're not entirely focused on driving, you don't deserve to be licensed. The state should not license drivers who willingly put other people at risk.
If you can't handle this level of multitasking, you'll never survive in heavy traffic.
I've driven for seventeen years, including commutes in several of the most congested cities in America. Not only have I survived, I've never been at fault for a single accident in that time, but I have been struck three different times on the Mass Pike. Two times in the same location while traveling eastbound, just after the exit 14 tolls. I was struck from behind by someone talking on their cell phone each time. In fact, one driver told me to hold on while they finished their important call. The other time I have been involved in an accident on the Pike, I was the last car to be struck by an SUV traveling 65 miles per hour into traffic without slowing. Several cars were totaled, but since I was paying attention, I was able to get my car mostly out of the way. I escaped with only a slow leaking tire.
posted by sequential at 12:08 PM on June 15, 2006


Never marry a man who won't buy tampons and a woman who won't drive a stick.

I think you wanted an "or" there. "And" makes it funnier tho.
posted by jam_pony at 12:12 PM on June 15, 2006


I have always owned stick shifts...that said, thing s change. Do you prefer to use a typewriter rather than a computer or a dip pen rather than a fountain pen?
posted by Postroad at 12:12 PM on June 15, 2006


I have always owned stick shifts...that said, thing s change. Do you prefer to use a typewriter rather than a computer or a dip pen rather than a fountain pen?

Wort. Analogy. Ever.
posted by Pacheco at 12:15 PM on June 15, 2006


Gotta have a stick. It is more fun than an auto.
posted by caddis at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2006


Benefits would be the ablility to get power from a lower gear when you need it

My automatic gives me this ability. It's the main reason I bought it instead of a manual (that and the great deal). I love manual transmission though. It makes driving more interactive and fun.

In general I think it prudent that drivers learn how to drive both regardless of what they prefer or what they own. I don't understand the zealotry of one over the other, though.
posted by effwerd at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2006


I drive a stick because when I bought my car, a VW Golf with manual transmission was $800 less than one with automatic transmission. All this talk of control and fear of being bored driving (as if hurtling through space in a two-ton metal box isn't exciting enough on it's own) and "key maneuvers" and specific driving needs seems strange to me, though. Do all you people drive off the Autobahn or something? Do you really need that kind of precision handling fighting through traffic on the way to work in the morning?

Anyway, we're selling the car and signing up for iGo so if any of you manual transmission fans live in Chicagoland and are in the market for a low mileage 2000 VW Golf, email's in the profile.
posted by jennyb at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2006


geoff.: True manual shifting I think is in the domain of the very price consciouss and is no longer regarded as superior in performance.

Are you referring to the sticker-price of the vehicle? There is pretty much no difference between manual and automatic these days, in terms of price. Maybe a couple hundred dollars -- not enough for it to be a factor anymore. Ditto on gas mileage - a difference of maybe a few mpg.

Anectdote: When I was buying my Honda two years ago I had to go to a far-flung dealership in order to find one that had a manual Civic on the lot. Talking to the sales manager about this, he said that 15 years ago, half the cars Honda sold were manual, and now it was around 10%. Perhaps in days of yore people bought manual transmission cars because back then they were cheaper, and there was the (percieved?) fuel efficiency over automatic. These days, it seems to be more a question of driving style more than anything else.
posted by contessa at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2006


I've always owned automatics. One less thing to think about when driving means more concentration on the road. I just ordered a Prius and I love the CVT.
posted by mike3k at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2006


I own a standard. I wouldn't drive an automatic in a car. A manual offers a degree of control not available in an auto. Also, in the less than 50k range manuals are still generally faster than your "F1" style transmission (motor trend did a comparison where their paddle shift Ferrari shifted at 150 milliseconds and their manual shift Z06 did so between 122-126 milliseconds). Plus it seperates me from the Starbucks sipping types who generally have no idea how to operate a vehicle.



...



...



And everyone likes to do a sick burnout every now and again, right?
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2006


(also- down-shifting allows you to slow down on a snowy hill without using the brake.)

bad idea. brakes give you more control over your rate of deceleration. we wouldn't want to go skidding down that hill.
posted by caddis at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2006


I don't know Pacheco, looks fine to me.
posted by Richard Daly at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2006


contessa: The difference between manual and automatics in fuel economy is still pretty big, the slushbox in the auto is a source of a lot of power loss. We're talking about 2mpg here which is nothing to sneeze at over a whole tank of gas.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2006



Or maybe manual shifting offers no benefits. . .


Car rentals in Europe offer a far wider range of manuals than automatics and at a better rate. A visitor who cannot manage a stick pays a hefty premium.
posted by Neiltupper at 12:24 PM on June 15, 2006


Still, automatics and power steering are wussies!

As are power windows, power locks, MP3 players (what's wrong, you tech pussy? listen to the fucking AM band!), intermittent wipers, and GPS systems (find your own fucking way, Rand McNally!).

p.s. - Your preferred transmission sucks!
posted by NationalKato at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2006


Driving an automatic is *BORING*.
Driving a proper car is not.


Um, I want most of my driving to be boring. I'm really not looking for excitement when I'm sitting on the Parkway East waiting to get into the tunnel, I just want to get to work.
posted by octothorpe at 12:27 PM on June 15, 2006


flaterik writes "Clutching gets old fast in traffic. I'm very happy my cage is an automatic."

Eheh happy in a cage :)

Spoon writes "Driving an automatic is *BORING*.
"Driving a proper car is not."


Exactly. Don't you fall asleep at the wheel ? Automatic is cool only in heavy urban traffic stop'n'go, otherwise manual keeps me awake in long rides. Indeed semiautomatic shifts allow both automatic and up-down gear shift..sometime at wheel level, even cooler as you don't have to remove hands increasing risks.
posted by elpapacito at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2006


My current car has a manual transmission becuase I drive a fuel-efficient but underpowered Corolla. The manual transmission on such a car gives me capabilities that I can't get (easily) with an automatic.
posted by tippiedog at 12:31 PM on June 15, 2006


Different horses for different courses, as they say ...

I live in a very hill very urban area, so automatics make a great deal of sense.

That said, very few automotive experiences can compare to driving something like, say, a Lotus 7 up the Columbia River gorge and. Just. Wringing. It Out.

That said, semi-auto boxes are the THE answer when it comes to performance and control.

They were essentially invented by the Ferrari F1 team in 1989 (winning their maiden outing at the Brazilian GP with Nigel Mansell). After trickling into higher end production cars, they are now (finally, thank god) getting installed into more affordable cars.

And if you get the right kind of engine for a Lotus 7, you can now get them there as well.

http://www.super7cars.com/

Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!

Oh how I love being an adult.
posted by Relay at 12:33 PM on June 15, 2006


with new technology, i'd say the only realistic advantages of a stick over a traditional automatic are the ability to manage gear selection without having to first apply gas to alert the computer, being able to launch your car completely as you wish, and being able to pop-start your car. With F1 style paddle shifters and launch control the clutch is going to be gradually pushed out of the performance arena. also, autos are much better for towing.
posted by breakfast_yeti at 12:33 PM on June 15, 2006


So can we say that transmission for those who care about it comes down to a personal choice? Like you know, car color? Or those spinny wheels?
posted by geoff. at 12:35 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and could someone describe one of these "emergencies" which you were only able to survive due to your giant throbbing stick shift?

Pretty much any situation where you have poor traction. Mud. Snow. Loose dirt. Especially if you're stuck and have to rock out.
posted by randomstriker at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2006


Are you referring to the sticker-price of the vehicle? There is pretty much no difference between manual and automatic these days, in terms of price. Maybe a couple hundred dollars -- not enough for it to be a factor anymore.
Saving a few hundred dollars is significant. Maybe you don't value your money the same as I value mine, but I'd rather pay as little as possible without sacrificing quality. To each their own.

The difference between manual and automatic when buying my 2000 Honda Civic was approximately $1,200. Honda lists the current difference in MSRP as $800. I'm sorry, but that's a significant difference, which adds up to more over the life of a loan, should you take that route.
So can we say that transmission for those who care about it comes down to a personal choice?
If you primarily drive city miles or in traffic, and don't mind the premium for an automatic transmission, then yes. Otherwise, there are circumstances where each one is better suited, as has been illustrated in this thread.
posted by sequential at 12:39 PM on June 15, 2006


anthill: "Does anyone know how gas mileage compares between manual and automatic transmissions now?"

Moreover, does anyone have information on the percentage of accidents caused by automatic drivers compared to stick drivers? (In relation to actual percentage of each type on the road, of course) I'd be willing to bet anything that manual drivers get in FAR fewer wrecks, or at least cause far fewer of them.

I'm a comically bad driver in an automatic, but a great driver in a stick. Not only does the stick make me far more alert, but having that level of control makes all the difference in the world for my driving abilities, and particularly my confidence on the road. Driving an automatic scares the shit out of me, simply because I don't know how it will react. Surely there are those who feel the opposite way.

I think manual shifting is one of those old-fashioned life skills that everyone should learn, just because the situation does come up, and it's better to know how to do it. WHen I was in high school, my gf and I drove out into the country for a late-night rendezvous, and then afterwards discovered that the rear wheels of my manual Explorer were stuck in a ditch. Because she couldn't drive stick, she - about ninety-five pounds - had to push while I revved the 4WD. If she knew how to drive stick, we'd've been out of there a lot faster.

That said, the men and women I know seem to know manual in about equal percentagtes, but the women I know tend to love Jeeps, so that might have something to do with it. As for me, I think manuals and automatics are about equal for highway driving (you're in one gear most of the time anyway) but I'm far more comfortable having the extra control in stop-and-go traffic. Plus, you can come out of the light in first, drop into neutral and cost to the next stop, which does save quite a bit of gas in the long run.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:39 PM on June 15, 2006


I prefer the manual transmission...on my 12-speed bike.

*runs and hides*
posted by you just lost the game at 12:39 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and everyone should know how to ride a horse, too.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:40 PM on June 15, 2006


In a performance vehicle, a 'manual' transmission is a must for two reasons:

1. Shift exactly when wanted
2. Avoids wasting power in a torque converter (automatics rely on these)

Of course, with advances such as SMG/DSG, the term 'manual' no longer solely means 'stick-shift-and-clutch-pedal'.

In fact, as these technologies become cheaper to mass produce, I'd think that torque-converter based automatics are the technology that will be disappearing since they waste power and reduce MPG. Especially since SMG/DSG can act like an automatic when desired.
posted by jsonic at 12:40 PM on June 15, 2006


Anecdotal, of course, but I also think that driving stick tends to keep me more alert and awake than an automatic does. I feel more engaged (no pun intended).
posted by tgrundke at 12:40 PM on June 15, 2006


In the UK (and probably some other European countries?) manual and automatic drivers have different license classes. If you pass your driving test only in an automatic, you're not allowed to drive a manual. Pass in a manual and you're allowed to drive either. Consequently, almost everyone learns to drive and passes their test in a manual. Lots of people stick with it (ouch!) more through habit than anything else, I suspect, and hence the prevalence of manual cars.

Personally, if it's heavy stop-go commuter traffic, I've been spoiled by an automatic.
posted by normy at 12:41 PM on June 15, 2006


Yoink: Oh, and could someone describe one of these "emergencies" which you were only able to survive due to your giant throbbing stick shift?

You're sitting at a T intersection, waiting for a clearing in traffic so you can turn left. You see an out of control car, driver apparently dead, asleep, or suicidal, coming up on your rear bumper. You're going to be rear-ended and shoved into cross traffic if you don't move now. Fortunately, there's a clearing, in traffic, but a small one.

You grab first gear, hit the gas, and find your slot in traffic just in time to watch the poor fool behind you be the one to get T-boned. Oops. Sucks to be him.

Wait, what's that? You had an automatic? Oh, too bad. You got hit by the guy while you were waiting for the mindreading chip to realize that you having the pedal all the way down means you want to move right now, not when the torque converter decides to find a gear and route power appropriately. You're dead. Thanks for playing.

(Swap out for any situation where you want *instant* *now* acceleration in a gear of your choice.)

What else can I do? I can start my car without a battery. I can preselect a gear going into a turn, so I don't have a gearshift and potential loss of traction in a slippery situation coming out of it. I can get a little bit more power, and a little bit better gas mileage. I can have complete and total control of the vehicle because I don't have a computer second-guessing everything I do.

I used to wonder why anyone would choose to drive a stick. Then I learned how to do it, and do it well. Now... i wonder why anyone with the option would chose to drive an auto.
posted by jammer at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2006


Caddis: bad idea. brakes give you more control over your rate of deceleration. we wouldn't want to go skidding down that hill.

I'm not sure, but I think the theory behind ABS would disagree with you. Braking is what causes the skidding, if I remember correctly.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:45 PM on June 15, 2006


People still drive cars? How quaint.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:45 PM on June 15, 2006


Don't get me wrong, I love a stick. The last car I actually owned (I live in NYC now and sadly don't have one) was an old-style SAAB 900 Turbo and the fact that it was manual meant that I could drop into lower gear to force the revs up, which in turn kicked in the turbo. It was great fun. It was also a pain in the ass in city traffic, but on balance I didn't care.

Having said that, I agree with Pacheco about the typewriter analogy, but how about this: Until the late 1980s, my father -- a former professional race car driver -- refused to buy a car with ABS. When he was racing in the 1950s and 60s he had learned to pump the brakes to control drift and skid under hard braking and it had become second nature. He taught me to do it, because anyone who couldn't do it, he felt, had no business driving. You never know what might go wrong and you have to keep control.

At some point ABS got better -- he could feel the difference because on early ABS cars you could feel the brakes cycling quite clearly (you still can, I believe) and he knew he could do better. Modern ABS cycles much faster and he's finally given in -- it's hard to buy a car without ABS these days and he knows he can't perform better than it anyway. Now he says that if he ever has to come to an emergency stop he'll have to force himself not to pump the brake so he doesn't get in the way of the ABS.

Things change. I don't drive much anymore (NYC, remember?) but I played with that VW system a little recently. Sure seems nice.
posted by The Bellman at 12:46 PM on June 15, 2006


The reason this discussion is important (assuming its a reflection of the larger public opinion on this topic) is that we need to have car manufacturers know what people actually want out of their automobiles. And what I want out of my automobile is no-brainer driving, and a stupendous sound system that I can listen to in exquisite, totally insulated quiet. I basically want to be returned to the womb (only with good music) and ferried around in a pink cloud. That's "fun" driving. Not grinding along feeling the rpms, and symbolically wiggling your weenie with the tips of your fingers. If you want to work, walk!
posted by Faze at 12:46 PM on June 15, 2006


breakfast_yeti -
I've heard most of these arguments before, but I've never heard the "autos are much better for towing" one.
Care to explain?
posted by madajb at 12:52 PM on June 15, 2006


In New York City here, I walk manually.
posted by Juggermatt at 12:52 PM on June 15, 2006


Wait, what's that? You had an automatic? Oh, too bad. You got hit by the guy while you were waiting for the mindreading chip to realize that you having the pedal all the way down means you want to move right now, not when the torque converter decides to find a gear and route power appropriately. You're dead. Thanks for playing.

I'll grant you, jammer, that if you're sitting there at that traffic light already in gear with the engine revved up, then you can probably get away from the line a little quicker than me. In point of fact, though, my experience driving tells me that automatics tend to get the jump for the first 10-15 feet at a stop sign or red light. IT takes you significantly longer to depress the clutch, put the car in first, release the clutch and accelerate than it does for the driver in the automatic to just put his foot on the gas and go.

As I say, I grew up driving manuals. When I switched to automatics I noticed immediately that if I was lined up in "pole position" at a red light alongside another car I would tend to get moving faster. Of course, if they're actually trying to drag me off, then they're better off in the manual. But that's not what you're describing.
posted by yoink at 12:54 PM on June 15, 2006


Is it because it's a difficult skill to learn?
I really hope that's a joke ...
posted by kaemaril at 12:55 PM on June 15, 2006


I've been told by someone in the auto sales industry that manuals can be cheaper than automatics because you can get a really good deal on a manual if the dealer needs to move it.

The difference is that the dealer potentially can sell an automatic to anyone who is looking for a car. It is much harder to sell someone a manual if he or she doesn't know how to drive stick. The manuals have a greater potential to sit in the lot unsold.

FWIW, this person had a 2 door manual BMW coupe, which he picked up from the dealer late in the season when they had a number of them left unsold.
posted by adzuki at 12:56 PM on June 15, 2006


yoink wins
posted by frogan at 12:59 PM on June 15, 2006


I swore I'd never get a manual but was convinced to get Honda's CVT after I test drove an Element. I can't feel that sloppy shift that previous automatics had and as stated above, the mileage is marginally better with CVT that manual.

And that leaves more room in between the front seats and dash.

I do kinda miss the control of shifting, and I stepped on the phantom clutch more than a few times the first year.
posted by Red58 at 12:59 PM on June 15, 2006


I don't see what the problem is with manual - it becomes totally instinctual and 'automatic', and this is you working with the engine without even thinking about it. You just shift when it needs it, and it's a smooth easy motion.
I've only ever had stick shifts, and hopefully that's all I'll ever have to drive. It's the same with everyone I think I know or hang out with, it goes without saying, the cars we drive are 5 speed but if you don't, say you inherited a Pontiac 6000 or something, you don't.
I don't mind automatic cars - it's just a car, after all - but I hate all the weird sounds and things it's doing when you don't know what or why it's doing them.
posted by Flashman at 12:59 PM on June 15, 2006


Always had a stick. Until the car car read the road and traffic better than I can, I'll always want to make shift decisions myself. This is why CVTs and computer-actuated gearboxes miss the point. Sure they're faster to shift, but they still don't know when to shift. That makes a big difference on the highway and in snow, etc...

Man, I drove across Vancouver Island to Tofino in a rental last weekend, wishing I had my manual the whole way. A great drive, made that much less fun by a sloppy GM automatic.
posted by bonehead at 12:59 PM on June 15, 2006


The way I understanding it, automatics work better for towing by providing damping and isolation to the drive train. Sort of like one of those rubber composite doughnuts used in the drivelines of some German cars.
posted by Relay at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2006


Why do Americans call it "stick" and not "lever"?
posted by A189Nut at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2006


What else can I do? I can start my car without a battery.

Good point, don't need to carry jumper cables around with you, just get the car rolling about 5mph and bump-start it.


on early ABS cars you could feel the brakes cycling quite clearly (you still can, I believe)

That's not actually the brakes you are feeling, the automakers put that rumble in the pedal to let you know the ABS has engaged.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2006


madajb, I haven't heard that either, and the overwhelming prevalence of manuals on transport trucks seems to indicate the opposite.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2006


ever had trouble with your clutch-gas coordination on a steep hill? ever done this with a boat and a lake behind you? i believe that towing is mechanically easier on an automatic because it has a torque converter rather than a clutch which you will probably slip in many towing scenarios. anyone else have any information on this?
posted by breakfast_yeti at 1:02 PM on June 15, 2006


Swap out for any situation where you want *instant* *now* acceleration in a gear of your choice

It occurs to me that many people driving their automatics have never noticed that they have other options than "Drive." Most automatics allow you to lock the car into lower gears. Almost all automatics respond immediately to a floored gas pedal by dropping down a gear.

I'm not saying that you don't, in fact, have more control in your manual (and I grant you the ability to push-start it is nice), but mostly you're talking about fantasy contingencies that have nothing at all to do with real driving experience. It's like people who buy SUV's because "maybe some day I'll have to drive off road to save my life"--well, yeah, maybe. So I guess you should always carry rattlesnake antivenene around with you because "maybe" that will be necessary. And a rubber inflatable boat. And a tent. And the score of at least two Verdi operas (hey, what if some guy says "Give me the score to La Traviata or I shoot"?
posted by yoink at 1:03 PM on June 15, 2006


I'll grant you, jammer, that if you're sitting there at that traffic light already in gear with the engine revved up

If you're sitting at a light with your car out of gear, you're asking to die when someone rear ends you and you roll in neutral into the busy intersection. If you think you should disengage the transmission when you stop at a light, you don't know how to drive a stick.

You don't put your automatic transmission into neutral when you're stopped at a light. Why would you do it with a manual transmission (unless you're trying to wear the clutch out by pressing it twice as many times as you have to)?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:03 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, "towing something", I read that as "being towed".
heh.
posted by madajb at 1:04 PM on June 15, 2006


much harder to sell someone a manual

We were recently shopping for a used minivan, touring the local dealerships. When we asked if they had anything with manual shift they all looked at us like we were crazy. We were told on a couple of models that, if we special ordered a brand new one, it was an option, but most didn't have even an option. They all said they'd never dream of stocking a manual van and never saw used ones.
posted by normy at 1:05 PM on June 15, 2006


Juggermatt: In New York City here, I walk manually.

Ew.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:07 PM on June 15, 2006


I learned to drive with a manual car, I'm in the UK, so I've ended up staying with them. One thing that I've heard is that Manual tranmissions are simpler and they break less, they also are cheaper to repair when they break. Can anyone confirm this?
posted by invisible_al at 1:07 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and could someone describe one of these "emergencies" which you were only able to survive due to your giant throbbing stick shift?

On our first date, my then-girlfriend (now-wife) and I were merging onto a particularly nasty freeway in an automatic. Suddenly a guy turned onto the lane ahead of me, way too close to me. I had to choose: slam on my brakes and hope, or gun it and make it into a slot in the next lane over. There was someone right on my ass, so I chose the latter.

The half-second before that gear change happened was the closest to death I've ever felt. Luckily it kicked in in time. But the emergency room would have made a lousy first date.
posted by gurple at 1:10 PM on June 15, 2006


I agree with Jammer, especially about the bump-start abaility of standards.

Also, I'd like to mention that when driving a standard and those damned jaywalking pedestrians are sauntering across the street, you can put the transmission in neutral, and stomp the gas. This will cause said pedestrians to jump 3 feet in the air like squirrels and get the hell off the road and to the safety of the sidewalk. Not that I've ever done that, of course...
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:10 PM on June 15, 2006


If you're sitting at a light with your car out of gear, you're asking to die when someone rear ends you and you roll in neutral into the busy intersection.

Er, no. In either case you have to have your foot on the brake. If you are sitting there "in gear" then you have the clutch in, and the car is still free to roll forward unless your foot is on the brake. Unless, that is, you've put the car in gear and turned the engine off altogether. But then you're not really a candidate for a quick start.
posted by yoink at 1:11 PM on June 15, 2006


"You don't put your automatic transmission into neutral when you're stopped at a light. Why would you do it with a manual transmission (unless you're trying to wear the clutch out by pressing it twice as many times as you have to)?"

An excellent question, answered quite well here:

"Manual transmissions, on the other hand, are a different kettle of gears. In gear and with the clutch depressed, there are no moving parts at all aft of the clutch disc. But the throwout bearing is loaded and spinning, wearing out. The pilot-shaft bushing, whether it’s in the flywheel or elsewhere, is rotating relative to the transmission input shaft. This bushing has little lubricant, and lubing it involves separating the transmission from the engine, which isn’t cheap.

But perhaps most important, the pressure of the throwout bearing on the clutch’s pressure plate is putting force against the crankshaft’s thrust-bearing surface in the crankcase. Eventually, this thrust bearing can wear to the point at which the crankshaft walks in and out. This slight but pronounced fore-and-aft movement of the crankshaft can affect cam and ignition timing and wear the oil seals. Eventually this can precipitate a major bottom-end failure."
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:11 PM on June 15, 2006


yoink -
I've never been in an automatic that "responded immmediately" to a floored gas pedal.
I've been in dozens that responded after a beat or two, though.

You are right, most people have no need of the advantages that a manual transmission confers. That does not mean, however, that those of us who do choose a manual are hypermacho wanna-be racers.
It just means that we choose a different driving experience.
It's no different than someone who prefers a luxo-tourer instead of a Jeep.

For myself, the few times a year I venture somewhere that a manual comes in handy (camping in the backwoods, into unplowed roads, crawling across fields, etc), I find a manual _very_ handy.
And since, as yet, there is no option to swap out one for the other easily, a manual is what I drive the rest of the year as well.
posted by madajb at 1:13 PM on June 15, 2006


My dad drove UPS trucks that were stick shift and didn't have power steering for 25 years+ and his choice for of automatics for his cars tell me all I need to know.

Advantages of automatics not mentioned above
+Easier to find someone elseto drive your car if you're drunk.
posted by drezdn at 1:13 PM on June 15, 2006


Er, no. In either case you have to have your foot on the brake. If you are sitting there "in gear" then you have the clutch in, and the car is still free to roll forward unless your foot is on the brake.

Yoink, when the car behind you smacks into your car, your feet are coming off the pedals, whether you like it or not. If you're in neutral, you roll forward. If you're in gear with the clutch depressed, you stop. This is pretty basic knowledge.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:15 PM on June 15, 2006


A real man is secure enough to have his gears shifted automatically.
posted by Possum at 1:16 PM on June 15, 2006


Manual, meh.

If you like driving as a hobby, sure, go manual. If I want to have a good time, it generally happens outside of the car. I don't understand why anyone spends more than $25K on a car. Any car that costs more than that is wasted on me. And 90% of the population. So far, few of the arguments in favour of manual transmission seem to apply to low-end cars.

Now, maually configuring IP routing, that what real men do. None of this wussie DHCP crap.

And don't get me going on BUYING butter. Real men make their own butter, The taste, the texture... that store bought crap doesn't compare.

And using metal arrowheads? Paf! I can drop a gazelle from over a hundred meters back with a hand-knapped flint arrowhead. The obsidian ones are truly amazing. One hit to the neck and that baby is down. But these modern metal arrowheads dull so easily and are hard to sharpen. Real flint is so much more fun.
posted by GuyZero at 1:18 PM on June 15, 2006


On our first date, my then-girlfriend (now-wife) and I were merging onto a particularly nasty freeway in an automatic. Suddenly a guy turned onto the lane ahead of me, way too close to me. I had to choose: slam on my brakes and hope, or gun it and make it into a slot in the next lane over. There was someone right on my ass, so I chose the latter.

The half-second before that gear change happened was the closest to death I've ever felt. Luckily it kicked in in time. But the emergency room would have made a lousy first date.


Sounds nasty, but I frankly doubt that you would have accomplished the gear change more quickly in a manual. If the lag on your automatic transmission was that bad (i.e., the time it takes to depress the clutch, move the gear lever from 5th to 3rd or whatever, reengage the clutch, accelerate--as opposed to just flooring the accelerator and letting the automatic shift) it was either faulty or really crappy design. If we're comparing transmissions of equal quality, then the "emergency response" thing seems to me to be entirely in favor of the automatic.

Where you do have an advantage in the manual is in those moments where you get to plan ahead--chop it down a gear before you enter the corner, and accelerate smoothly through the turn etc. That's what makes driving a manual on a twisty mountain road so much fun. Anyone whose daily drive is over twisty mountain roads may have a good reason to own a manual. For the rest of us, it's fantasy projection, nothing more.
posted by yoink at 1:18 PM on June 15, 2006


I miss driving a standard, especially in snow, it was nice to have that control. But buying used limits choices.
posted by theora55 at 1:19 PM on June 15, 2006


Yoink, when the car behind you smacks into your car, your feet are coming off the pedals, whether you like it or not. If you're in neutral, you roll forward. If you're in gear with the clutch depressed, you stop. This is pretty basic knowledge.

JekPorkins, do you drive a manual? Next time you're at an intersection, try taking your foot off the clutch and brake simultaneously (with the motor idling). It's be a hoot, trust me!

(For any children watching at home: do not do this: the car will lurch forward like a drunken rabbit.)
posted by yoink at 1:21 PM on June 15, 2006


I've heard anecdotally that a M/T car breaks down less, since it doesn't have that fancy shmancy automatic transmission to get all befuddled up. Is this an opinion held by MeFites as well? By the industry in general?
posted by eurasian at 1:22 PM on June 15, 2006


Yoink, do you seriously not get it? When you get rear-ended at an intersection, you don't care that the car stalls. You care that the car stalling kept you from rolling into the intersection.

You're clearly not a person who really knows or cares much about driving, and that's fine. But if you don't get it, why pretend that you do?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2006


Why do Americans call it "stick" and not "lever"?

Because it's a stick, not a lever.
posted by The Bellman at 1:25 PM on June 15, 2006


No one seems to have answered the "when has a manual ever got you out of trouble in a real world driving situation" question, so here goes. In a situation where rapid deceleration is needed, engine braking(downshifting) in conjunction with you regular brakes will slow/stop you much quicker(saved my ass in city situation mant times). And to all of those saying that there's barely any differnce in price between manuals and auto's, well...that may be true in the showroom, but it's a different story in the service department. $250.00 for an *upgraded*(meaning I bought the more expensive one...i could have gone stock for $150.00)clutch and throw out bearing, and 450.00 for the install on my recent clutch change. That's $700.00 for a brand new clutch. Now go out and price a new automatic transmission, you'll be lucky to get the diagnostics done and the problem pinpointed for $700.00. I bought my car knowing that I was going to drive it 'til it died, so when i went to the dealer I got a manual trans, manual windows(how many people on here have had power window problems???), and made the dealer get the model I wanted without a sunroof(keep a car longer than a lease period and you'll more than likely have problems with that also). I didn't really save any money...on the sales floor, but I have/will down the road. I feel a car should be something that I as an average Joe with decent mechanical skills should be allowed to work on now and again...not a big fancy computer with wheels that requires another computer to be connected to it so an idiot light on my dash will know the oil has been changed. It's like an automatic motorcycle, it just doesn't make any sense to me...so maybe it's faster 0-60 from a dead start...but what fun is it? It doesn't matter anyways because I'll lose you when the road starts twisting and turning.

***disclaimer...I don't keep a cell phone plastered to my ear, have never applied makeup while driving and I can sip an iced americano just fine while shifting thanks, but if you can't...that's your deal, I don't care. Just drive whatever helps you *not* pay attention to driving...I'll be that "asshole" honking my horn and flipping you off when you cut me off or drift into my lane.***
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 1:28 PM on June 15, 2006


JekPorkins, do you seriously sit at all intersections in gear, clutch depressed, sweating? Because, as Click and Clack and mr_crash_davis all explain, there are good reasons not to do that.

Me, I sit at an intersection in neutral, clutch out. I keep an eye on my rearview. Somebody coming too fast, maybe I stick it in gear and put the clutch in. No big whoop.
posted by gurple at 1:30 PM on June 15, 2006


Kind of on topic: I grew up driving sticks and still prefer them. I am not a big car person though. I bought a Explorer Sport and really screwed up with the 4 cylinder.

I drive in town, in heavy traffic. The 4 cylinder Sport is the scariest car I have ever driven. Hit the gas, wait several seconds, start to accelerate, wait several seconds.

I have to turn the AC off if I need to do anything other than slow role out into an intersection.

Moral: Don't buy a 4 cylinder Explorer Sport.
posted by daniel9223 at 1:30 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and could someone describe one of these "emergencies" which you were only able to survive due to your giant throbbing stick shift?

The time my brake line disintegrated on the expressway at rush hour. (Or any of the other three or four times the lines or master cylinder failed entirely during that round of new mechanics).

Merging onto the Interstate on the way to work every morning. It's a short omigodwe'regonnadie ramp with very little visibility, and when I've driven (rental) automatics there they've usually shifted way too early and tried to get me killed. There's been exactly one exception to that.
posted by dilettante at 1:30 PM on June 15, 2006


I have heard the whole "manuals are a drag in traffic" from pretty much everyone, and honestly I just don't get it. Could somebody explain it to me? Far as I can tell, it's too much work to move your left foot as much as your right, but that can't be what people are talking about.
Then again, I've only been driving a stick for 4 years, so perhaps the charm just hasn't worn off yet.
posted by Iamtherealme at 1:31 PM on June 15, 2006


M/T car breaks down less, since it doesn't have that fancy shmancy automatic transmission to get all befuddled up

Automatics maybe used to have a reputation of being less reliable and more expensive to repair. Not sure how true it was years ago, but nowadays, I don't think it's an issue. They're so common (especially in the US) and have had years to iron out any basic problems. It's like the reputation diesel cars have for being clunky, noisy and smelly. At one time they were, but not any more.
posted by normy at 1:31 PM on June 15, 2006


JekPorkins: Do you have any response to the article mr_crash_davis posted which says neutral is the way to go? I generally went with your method when I was driving in the city, but I often wondered whether I was wearing out some part of the clutch linkage keeping it engaged like that at every light instead of dropping it out of gear. Now the guy quoted by mr_crash_davis (who sure sounds like he knows his shit) seems to say I was. No axe to grind here, just curious.
posted by The Bellman at 1:32 PM on June 15, 2006


When you get rear-ended at an intersection, you don't care that the car stalls. You care that the car stalling kept you from rolling into the intersection.

If you're about to be rear-ended, and there's no car in front of you, why are you still there at all? Instead of worrying about your choice of transmission and the amount of friction between your foot and the brake pedal, how about checking out that mirror every now and then?
posted by mendel at 1:33 PM on June 15, 2006


Recently, an overseas coworker was in the US from Poland and I took him to lunch. He was flabergasted that I drove stick, compared to everyone else he had seen in the US thus far. We got to talking, and his opinion was that he couldn't understand why anyone would want to drive an automatic. Driving stick was what made driving driving. I have to agree, I feel more like I'm in control with stick; and that alone makes driving more enjoyable. I'm PART of the driving experience.

And it really makes me sad that some of the new cars I really like manual isn't even an option. It really makes me sad.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:34 PM on June 15, 2006


Iamtherealme -

Automatic in bumper to bumper stop and go:
Foot on brake
Traffic moves forward slightly.
Lift foot.
Car rolls forward.
Put foot back down.

Manual in bumper to bumper stop and go.
Foot on brake.
Traffic moves forward slightly.
Take foot off brake.
Put foot over gas.
Lift other foot.
Push in clutch.
Move stick(lever).
Push in gas.
Let out clutch.
Car rolls forward.
Take foot off gas.
Push in clutch.
Wiggle stick(lever).
Take foot off clutch.
Put foot on brake.

Rinse and Repeat. For 30 miles.

(For those paying close attention, I probably missed a step. It's harder to write out than do)
posted by madajb at 1:37 PM on June 15, 2006


Me, I sit at an intersection in neutral, clutch out.

One of the nicest features of manuals, in my opinion: you can wiggle your toes stopped at traffic lights.
posted by bonehead at 1:38 PM on June 15, 2006


Manual transmission? Please. You want outdated, unnecessary technology? I'm connected to the Internet with a modem right now. A rotary modem.
posted by aaronetc at 1:39 PM on June 15, 2006


I miss column shifting.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2006


It is my experience that you either get it, or you don't. I enjoy driving a stick. I get great gas mileage. Rarely do I need to drop down for control, but I like knowing I can do it.

My gf swears I like driving a stick because I'm a control freak geek. It would be tactless of me to argue with her.
posted by QIbHom at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2006


As a follow up to my first comment, I just want to be clear that every car I've ever loved has had a manual gear shift, and I personally prefer them, BUT there isn't a lot of logic involved in that. I'm a bit of a control freak and enjoy been in-touch with the car but I don't think that's a valid reason for 95% of people. I imagine if you didn't have to pay extra for an automatic, you wouldn't be able to buy anything else.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:42 PM on June 15, 2006


Anecdotal, of course, but I also think that driving stick tends to keep me more alert and awake than an automatic does.

I haven't found that. Once you're up to fifth on the highway, you're just cruising along either way. You might as well have an automatic until your off-ramp shows up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:42 PM on June 15, 2006


I'm connected to the Internet with a modem right now. A rotary modem.

Whatever, I had to make this post using punchcards.
posted by drezdn at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2006


JekPorkins, do you seriously sit at all intersections in gear, clutch depressed, sweating?

I don't sweat, no.

Do you have any response to the article mr_crash_davis posted which says neutral is the way to go?

The article's about wear and tear, not safety. I've had manual transmission cars that hadn't had any transmission components replaced in nearly 200k miles. I'm not worried about wear and tear.

If you're about to be rear-ended, and there's no car in front of you, why are you still there at all?

Because I don't have ESP and I can't simultaneously look backward and forward. You? What, do you not wear your seatbelt, because you're so hypervigilant that you don't worry about getting into an accident and needing it?

And people who can't be bothered to drive a stick in traffic need to: a) get more exercise and b) stop being part of the pollution problem by living closer to work.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:44 PM on June 15, 2006


Should be noted that women who work at jobs requiring nice attire do not like to have stick shifts because they wear high heels.
posted by Postroad at 1:44 PM on June 15, 2006


Every post I've ever made was done by ritual dance. I call up the storms and inject the packets (encoding done by hand with charcoal on animal skin) into the phone lines with electrical interference.

Our rain-dance guys have really come quite a ways.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:46 PM on June 15, 2006 [2 favorites]


I tried, briefly, to convince myself that not being able to drive the manual transmission, given suitable opportunity to learn it as most people will probably have after a few years of driving, could be a reasonable choice. But I failed. I am not claiming that you 85% of Americans are stupid in general; perhaps your stupidity is specialized in driving, as it is in certain people I know and respect. Nor do I have anything against those who've tried the manual shifter and prefer an automatic. That I can understand, though my preference is for the stick shift. But there's really no excuse for not bothering to learn it well enough to see if you like it. Come on Americans, at least give it a try. Do it for those of us who are maintaining hope that vehicles with proper gearshifts will still be available in the distant future when I've saved enough money to buy a new car.
posted by sfenders at 1:50 PM on June 15, 2006


"Should be noted that women who work at jobs requiring nice attire do not like to have stick shifts because they wear high heels."

You're not really required to where heels...are you? High heels are just something the men in the office make you think you need to wear to look "proffesional". Truth is, we just like the way it makes you calves and asses look...
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 1:50 PM on June 15, 2006


Rinse and Repeat. For 30 miles.

Even worse is when the traffic's moving in waves and you have the scenario of stop - 1st gear - will we make 2nd? - ok, 2nd - no, back to 1st - no, 2nd again - stop - here we go again, 1st - stop - 1st - 2nd - wow, 3rd - back to 2nd - why can't that twit in the automatic in front of me brake more smoothly? - stop - etc., ad infinitum... I hate city driving and avoid whenever possible.

One of the nicest features of manuals, in my opinion: you can wiggle your toes stopped at traffic lights.

Automatics have neutral, too.
posted by normy at 1:51 PM on June 15, 2006


Metafilter: one of these "emergencies" which you were only able to survive due to your giant throbbing stick shift.
posted by snofoam at 1:55 PM on June 15, 2006


I spelled professional wrong...how unprofesional of me.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 1:55 PM on June 15, 2006


I dial into a 120 baud modem on a old PDP/11 and whistle in EBCDIC codes.
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2006


Automatics maybe used to have a reputation of being less reliable and more expensive to repair. Not sure how true it was years ago, but nowadays, I don't think it's an issue.

Depends on the tranny. Some can be reliable, others less so. The Ford 4EAT automatic, for example, is apparently prone to overheating and failure. The one in my Probe certainly did that, to the tune of a $2500 rebuild at only about 100K miles.

Stick, you're gonna have to swap out the clutch eventually (but mine is still fine at ~150K miles). But that'll almost certainly be a damn sight cheaper than rebuilding an automatic, *and* it will probably start failing slowly and gracefully enough that you'll have a while to prepare for the expense.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2006


Whoa nelly, there's a big cloud of smug in this room.
posted by fungible at 1:58 PM on June 15, 2006


Personally, I don't care enough about automobiles to have a preference as far as what kind of transmission I have. It's just a box of seats that gets you to where you need to go, most of the time with bad resale values.
posted by cellphone at 2:00 PM on June 15, 2006


Metafilter: Whoa nelly, there's a big cloud of smug in this room!
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 2:00 PM on June 15, 2006


Depends on the tranny. Some can be reliable, others less so. The Ford

Welll there's your problem, right there ;-)
posted by normy at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2006


I drive an automatic and although I like my 97 Prix, I notice how I am limited by automatic every day. (plus it's heavy)

I still have more to learn about how this transmission behaves in certain situations so I can work it harder, but I know that even when I've gotten all I can get from it, a manual transmission is functionally superior (and way more fun).

If I'm in a standard in third gear and my rpms are not too low, I can floor it and feel the acceleration in a fraction of a second. In my automatic, I feel like I'm confined to a narrower range of choices in a way. I do downshift/floor it but I have to use the right amount of power depending on what gear I want the trans to go into. And I have to be careful flooring it into third because it wants to go into second sometimes.(granted maybe a brand new transmission would be stiffer holding third).

My biggest complaint about my automatic is the way it seems to hit it's stride only toward the end of the gear. That's several seconds where I don't have the initiative. It matters in regular driving, and it really matters when a civic with a tacky wing wants some. Maybe not for everyone, but for me.
posted by modernerd at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2006


One of the nicest features of manuals, in my opinion: you can wiggle your toes stopped at traffic lights.

One of the nicest features of automatics, in my opinion: you can wiggle your toes at any time. Admittedly, one foot at a time only. But still, I don't have to wait for a traffic light.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2006



100 comments later and the manual diehards are showing off all the testosterone and the rest of us are yawning at the same old thing.

I live in a city. If I commutted 100 miles to work every day I'd run a stick, because I would have to do something to be more involved and make it interesting. I live in a city. I drive an automatic because I like letting technology do the work for me.
posted by cavalier at 2:06 PM on June 15, 2006


Depends on the tranny. Some can be reliable, others less so. The Ford

Welll there's your problem, right there ;-)


***Are you making a Ford joke, or a tranny(transexual) joke here? Not that there anything wrong with a good "chicks with sticks" joke mind you...i just need clarification.***
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 2:08 PM on June 15, 2006


Does anyone know how gas mileage compares between manual and automatic transmissions now?

The NPR report this morning said 5-10%.

...my experience driving tells me that automatics tend to get the jump for the first 10-15 feet at a stop sign or red light.

I disagree. I was in a situation similar to the one jammer describes. A truck was about to back into me. I was driving my girlfriend's car, which is an automatic. I floored it, and the car hesitated for what seemed like a couple of seconds before lurching forward and spinning its wheels. It was a close call. If it had been my manual transmission car, I would have been in control the whole time and out of the way.

When I switched to automatics I noticed immediately that if I was lined up in "pole position" at a red light alongside another car I would tend to get moving faster.

It sounds like you just upgraded to a more powerful engine ;-)
posted by hyperizer at 2:10 PM on June 15, 2006


I learned how to drive on an automatic, but my brother offered to give me a car (it had been in an accident, and was fixed), but it had a catch. I had to learn how to drive stick. By myself.

I absolutely adore my manual. Driving automatics now seems strange to me. I agree with tula wayyyyy up there, because they will have to pry my manual out of my cold dead hands. And the way my car is currently running, that's going to take a while. (98 Honda Civic EX)
posted by sperose at 2:10 PM on June 15, 2006


JekPorkins, are you sure you've ever driven a car?
posted by ninebelow at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2006


That's why you shift into a low gear to begin with, then apply the brake as needed. Well, i like to FEEL the road when i'm driving, with power steering, you have to GUESS how hard you're turning.

You can't imagine yourself ever being in a situation where you have to drive someone else's car, because the driver is injured or intoxicated? The car is a stick. You better learn fast. 2030 version: Oh, and have you heard? There are some weenies out there who give the Central MCP full control of their vehicles instead of driving them themselves!
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2006


"when driving a standard and those damned jaywalking pedestrians are sauntering across the street, you can put the transmission in neutral, and stomp the gas."
posted by modernerd at 2:17 PM on June 15, 2006


I love my manual 1997 Hyundai Elantra--I get better mileage in it than my brother's 2004 automagic Elantra. Since I drive between Cincinnati and Cleveland once a month those 500 miles work out to quite a bit of savings. I also agree with Tula, as long as there's that option for a manual, I'll take it.
posted by vkxmai at 2:19 PM on June 15, 2006


I never thought i'd go automatic, but after driving the audi S4 with a 6 speed auto w/ locking tourque converters and paddle shifters, i am a changed man. It's arguably a more fun car than the full manual (I've driven both). Being able to flip it into full-auto mode is perfect when you run into traffic. The auto gets better milage (possibly due to gearing differences), but does lose a fraction of a second in the 1/4 mile. With DSG becoming more widely available, i'll probably never go back to a manual.
posted by jba at 2:25 PM on June 15, 2006


There's pros and cons to both. My car(Integra GSR) is a manual. My gfs(Toyota Corrola) is automatic. Mine is more fun to drive on empty, twisty roads. Hers is better for an hour long drive in bumper to bumper traffic. Ideally I'd like to have a relatively inexpensive automatic car for commuting and a sportier, manual shift, car for the weekend. Someday I hope my funds will permit that arrangement.

I laugh when I read accounts of would be car thieves being unable to steal a car because it's a manual. On a more, ah, legitimate note, I'd hate to be in an emergency and needing to get somewhere and the only vehicle available was a stick shift and not being able to drive it. I think that like a lot of things-being able to setup a LAN, knowing how to change a tire, having basic carpentry skills-driving stick isn't *essential* knowledge, but it's good to know.
posted by MjrMjr at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2006


Yoink, do you seriously not get it? When you get rear-ended at an intersection, you don't care that the car stalls. You care that the car stalling kept you from rolling into the intersection.

JP, once again you misunderstand my point. The car will eventually stall, yes. But first it will lurch forward. Thus, there is no "magic stopping effect" for those who leave the car in gear. If you really want to be safe, use the hand-brake.

Oh, and for someone so knowledgeable about cars, I'm surprised you weren't aware of the toll it takes on the car to sit with the car in gear and the clutch disengaged.
posted by yoink at 2:34 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and for someone so knowledgeable about cars, I'm surprised you weren't aware of the toll it takes on the car to sit with the car in gear and the clutch disengaged.

Who said I wasn't aware of that?
posted by JekPorkins at 2:44 PM on June 15, 2006


Jek Porkins: You don't put your automatic transmission into neutral when you're stopped at a light. Why would you do it with a manual transmission (unless you're trying to wear the clutch out by pressing it twice as many times as you have to)?

- but -

Jek Porkins: The article's about wear and tear, not safety. I've had manual transmission cars that hadn't had any transmission components replaced in nearly 200k miles. I'm not worried about wear and tear.

So . . . which is it? Again, I love manuals for all sorts of reasons, but I don't pretend that one of them is safety. I just think they're more fun as long as you don't have to actually drive anywhere that has traffic or stop lights.
posted by The Bellman at 2:47 PM on June 15, 2006


Wow, you really put the sting on me there! Golly!
posted by JekPorkins at 2:49 PM on June 15, 2006


So, some people just drive to get from place to place, while others go from place to place so they get to drive? Does that sum it up?

Bonus points: Can you drive a manual and still not care either way? Can you drive automatic and still enjoy the drive itself? Important People Want To Know!
posted by splice at 2:55 PM on June 15, 2006


If you can't drive a stick, you can't really drive. Call me old fashioned, but the automatic tranny=american idol thing is exactly right in my mind. Also chalk me up with the "feeling the car and road" crowd. Manual transmissions are safer because they keep a driver from falling asleep from boredom.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:59 PM on June 15, 2006


So people who think driving is some kind of hobby like manual transmissions, and people who think it is a way to operate a transportation device don't care.


Many people are incapable of driving a car with a manual transmission. Automatics can be operated with one hand and hand controls.

With the huge number of new amputees entering American society recently, manual transmissions are unpatriotic.
posted by Megafly at 3:08 PM on June 15, 2006


In regards to top of the line race technology, electronic clutches have been the marquee since the 80s (the introduction of Porsche Dopple Kaplung technology in the GT1 a k a the current DSG (dual clutch systems) as well as the use of F1 gear changes).

On a track, a proper sequential will in the hands of 99% of the drivers put up faster times. Why? Easier to concentrate; don't have to worry about matching revs, downshifting perfectly. You'll have two hands on the wheel and your mind on the race line/powerband instead of not missing a shift and blowing your tranny.

Nevertheless, the introduction of sequentials has been tepid in the realm of consumer cars. SMGs in the hands of an adept driver is still slower than a proper manual 6 speed. The only real advantage they offer is the additional 7th gear for acceleration purposes. The new e90 M5 has so many transmission failures, you'd be amazed at how poorly they perform.

Ferrari's F1 technology is the benchmark atm, Audi's DSG (adaptation of PDK) is good for upshifts, but poor for downshifts and it cannot handle the high torque levels yet for their marque cars (hence why it is on the A3/GTI instead of on the S8, S4, S6 etc...)

An interesting anomaly is the new 997 (model #) 911 Turbo's Tiptronic S system:

It is still a slushbox (torque converter) but it is the first to be integrated seamlessly with the car's stability control as well as suspension management, as well as its Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG turbo chargers). The result is faster 0-100kmph times than a manual!
In addition to this, it has smart sensors that automatically downshift to optimal torque/rev levels during "agressive" breaking (for performance driving). Unfortunately, it is an old MB 5-speed box so it suffers on the top end where the gear ratios will hinder it in 0-300kmph performance.

In 5 years the PDK/DSG/F1 generation will be honed in and it will slowly trickle down into more consumer pseudo-sports cars. Autoboxes will continue to get better.

Nevertheless, the true enthusiast, like myself, will always drive manual (except, perhaps with Track cars that necessitate sequentials for extra performance). There is nothing like it that replecates the true connection between man and machine.

Controling the torque, making perfect blipped downshifts, controlling drifts...

I don't want a machine to do this for me...
posted by stratastar at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2006


In the United States, at least, I don't think any law enforcement vehicles are equipped with automatic transmissions. Different states equip their cops with different vehicles, but I can speak for Virginia and Maryland and say the transmissions in their cruisers are automatic. Seems to me that, of anyone out there on the roads, cops are the ones who absolutely need vehicles that should be able to out-perform other vehicles on the road. They may have more powerful engines under their hoods, but the cops don't seem to need that extra edge of being able to shift precisely when they want to. If it's good enough for them...
posted by emelenjr at 3:11 PM on June 15, 2006


nota benna, the Ferrari F1 as well as the SMG trannies both shift you nearly 150-200 rpms below the exact shift during agressive driving in order to protect the tranny for missing a shift and damaging the engine... It still has compromises, something that an expert would not take kindly to!
posted by stratastar at 3:11 PM on June 15, 2006


Seems to me that, of anyone out there on the roads, cops are the ones who absolutely need vehicles that should be able to out-perform other vehicles on the road... If its good enough for them...

You're looking at this from the wrong perspective.

Cops shouldn't have to be pro drivers, nor are they for the most part. An extra task of developing driving skill should not be placed on such a large workforce (an often uneducated one, sorry to any intelligent cops hehe). The extra performance for the cop cars as a result of the manual would be negligble for things such as high-speed chases, where their v8 engines are often enough to get with the cars they're following.

Furthermore, it hinders the officer's ability to communicate and perform other functions (radio, computer, gun etc)...

In Italy, there are 2 special high-speed chase cop cars that are Lambo Gallardos. Most probably E-Gear though hehe
posted by stratastar at 3:15 PM on June 15, 2006


I'm an unabashed car snob and transmission snob.

Manual transmissions make better drivers. You have to develop an appreciation of wheel speed, rpms and engine vibration to drive a stick properly and all of these indicators are important to knowing the current state of your car. Also, you get instant, unavoidable feedback if you guess wrong.

Manuals are cheaper to buy, cheaper to fix and use less gas compared to traditional automatic transmissions (w/ torque converter).

Manuals are vastly more fun to drive.

If you enjoy motorsports, you don't have another choice.

If you ever need to drive someone else's manual you had better know how to get it rolling.

I drove two manual cars for three years in stop-and-go Long Island traffic and I never tired of it. The trick is to put yourself in first (or sometimes second) and just creep. Let a bigass gap form in front of you, you'll find that it collapses down to nothing then comes back before you have to brake.

These are all true and valid reasons for preferring a manual to an automatic, but they're not the reason I refuse categorically to purchase an autmatic.

I program computers for a living. I know computer programmers. This is more than reason enough to prefer ceteris paribus fewer computers to more computers.

Unless the computerized way is demonstrably better than the manual way, I'll stick to the manual way. For me, with my skillset and style, manuals are vastly superior.

ABS can be better than a human driver for one reason: you have one brake pedal, ABS has four.

Traction control can be better than a human driver because of reaction time limitations.

Now the new DSG boxes might change my mind, simply because they are better and faster and don't have a @#$% torque converter, but until I can get one of those in a WRX, I don't really care.

Also, a sidenote about the whole intersection, hit from behind thing. If you get hit hard enough to skid your tires, it makes no difference at all if the engine is on, off, in gear or out of gear. The only thing keeping you stationary is your tires' grip and once that's gone, it's gone.
posted by Skorgu at 3:18 PM on June 15, 2006


Furthermore, it hinders the officer's ability to communicate and perform other functions (radio, computer, gun etc).

i.e. even though manual transmission offers benefits in certain driving conditions, it can sometimes be a distraction from the job at hand, and thus would be a distraction for cops.
posted by emelenjr at 3:24 PM on June 15, 2006


That, and cops don't need high-performance cars. If they did, they wouldn't drive Crown Vics, for crying out loud.

I concur with Skorgu. And yes, it all depends on how hard you're hit. But don't sit at the light in neutral.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:28 PM on June 15, 2006


This may also be a case of US exceptionalism. Are there figures for the rest of the world somewhere?
posted by sien at 3:29 PM on June 15, 2006


I think manuals make better drivers. But they also require people who care about driving well. In the USA, that's 5 percent, at most. I am never less than stunned at the number of people on the road who don't seem to realize they are in a large metal capsule hurtling through space (and at other people) at high speeds, trusting all the cushy amenities of modern american life to keep them safe and happy and the fuck with everyone else -- hence the SUV phenomenon. Life in a padded cell can be sweet, I suppose, if you have enough effexor in your bloodstream. You can drink, eat, watch a DVD, listen to 4000 satellite radio stations, talk on the phone, put on your makeup, discipline the kids, and all the rest. But really, your responsibility is to pay attention and drive. Manual transmissions require that you do so. They are doomed in this society. More's the pity. Baaaaaaaaah. Sheeple in cars.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:34 PM on June 15, 2006


And no one has pointed out the counter-example to the cops: people who drive for a living (long-haul truckers) use manual transmissions -- sometimes with a couple of dozen gears. Ask any trucker why.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:36 PM on June 15, 2006


"If you can't drive a manual, while talking on the phone, eating a burger, and drinking a cola.. you don't deserve to drive. If you can't handle this level of multitasking, you'll never survive in heavy traffic."


You realize, there are people who live in places without heavy traffic, yes?
posted by stenseng at 3:42 PM on June 15, 2006


100 comments later and the manual diehards are showing off all the testosterone and the rest of us are yawning at the same old thing.

I don't think so. Anyone who's sane enough not to care would've left long before 100 comments. So, anyone still reading probably wont object to my taking up a few paragraphs here:

"So people who think driving is some kind of hobby like manual transmissions, and people who think it is a way to operate a transportation device don't care."

Whether or not you intended that seriously, I have to disagree. Driving is not my "hobby". I really don't care that my car doesn't go very fast in a straight line and can't handle corners at all. I do know how to drive fast, so I can appreciate that the manual transmission has certain advantages and disadvantages there, but that's really immaterial to my daily life.

However, like most of us, I do spend a lot of time driving. So, I'd prefer the car not to do things that annoy me, such as shift gears when I don't want it to, not shift when I do want it to. All the examples of traditional "automatic" transmissions I've used do that from time to time, like the great majority of those produced. Manual transmissions in my experience vary much less in quality and are on average much better, although I suppose there are exceptions like a certain 1973 VW in which trying to find 2nd gear is a minor adventure.

The manual shifter just has no disadvantages for me. All the slight theoretical advantages that *don't* really matter: the ability to push-start it, better engine braking, lower cost, potentially better efficiency, easier to get unstuck in the snow, more immediate response, being able to tell exactly how fast the car is going by the sound of the engine (one less thing to look away from the road for), arguably better reliability, and the fact that I understand exactly how it works mechanically. These things would be enough to tip the balance in favour of the stick shift if it were a close call.

It isn't a close call, because the computer automatically deciding to do something, however small, that noticably affects my life, based on less information about the situation than I have, is so often wrong in practice that it's bloody annoying until you get used to it, and then just a sadly inferior experience compared to the manual gearshift. Since I spend a fair bit of time in the car, I'd rather choose the less-annoying option.

To go with the usual car vs. computer analogy (probably unwise as usual), the automatic would be like MS-Windows automatically deciding to go ahead and install some patches and updates while you're using the system, without even asking permission. Hey, great! You don't have to worry about telling it to apply all those patches. I can imagine how some people might like that. But when it accidentally slows the system down to a crawl for a few moments, just as I need the computer to go 'round a corner in my latest spreadsheet, it is the kind of minor annoyance that when repeated often enough adds up to a noticably less satisfying day. Those little things important, and I can go find some scientific research to back that up if for some reason I need to. The technological devices we use should behave in a predictable way. It's a user interface design imperative: surprise the user as little as possible. Personally I would rather not trade a few more little more surprises for ... well, for nothing in my case, and for nothing more than an easier learning curve for my sister, who prefers the automatic just as strongly as I don't.
posted by sfenders at 3:50 PM on June 15, 2006


don't sit at the light in neutral.

I do sometimes sit in the light in neutral, in small part because it's not my habit and thus it serves to remind me that just because I'm stopped, it doesn't remove my responsibility to keep track of who's coming up from behind. I figure if there's an intersection I didn't notice placed exactly in my blind spot and someone turns through it so as to be able to crash into me without my seeing them coming, I'll just have to live with that.

DSG with paddle shifters and an automatic mode sounds good to me, but way too expensive and complicated to be taking over in the near future as the ubiquitous way to drive the wheels.
posted by sfenders at 3:59 PM on June 15, 2006


making perfect blipped downshifts

Wow, you're driving a car without synchromesh? That's hard core. It's also incredibly unlikely. Maybe you drive a big rig? In which case, sure, the gas savings really start to add up. Otherwise, you're just playing at being a boy-racer without actually helping your gear box at all....

being able to tell exactly how fast the car is going by the sound of the engine

Er, wha...? So you imagine that in an automatic there is no relationship between engine rpm and the car's speed? Or that you haven't a clue at any given moment which gear the car is in? And you find it easier to estimate speed from engine noise than from, you know, LOOKING? (I know I'm a bigot, but I still think blind people shouldn't drive!)

Man, you can tell when people's attachment to something has nothing to do with actual demonstrable benefits when they throw such utterly implausible arguments out there.

Look we all get it, manuals are more fun to drive. If I was promised open roads every time I drove, I'd prefer a manual. When I get on the 405, though, and know that I'm facing a trip that might well involve 2 hours in stop-and-go traffic, I thank my stars I'm not in a manual. 2 hours of stop-and-go (and yes, I do try to let the gap open up in front of me and smooth out the flow behind me etc.) can give me a cramp in the leg even driving an automatic.

There's nothing at all wrong with manuals--when I drive them it's all entirely second nature--but all this "people who drive automatics are American Idol loving wussies" is really sad. If you prove your manhood to yourself by keeping a manly grip on your gearstick, you have issues that probably don't make you the "safe alert road-conscious driver" you'd like to think you are.
posted by yoink at 4:07 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and as for the "I don't want computers making decisions for me"--automatic transmissions LONG predate the use of computers in cars. There is no essential connection between automatic transmission and "computer controlled driving." Also, almost all modern cars--automatic or manual--have computers making thousands of decisions ever second about aspects of the car's performance. If it's "I Robot" anxiety that keeps you away from automatics, then it will keep you away from all modern cars.
posted by yoink at 4:11 PM on June 15, 2006


My wife made me switch to an automatic transmission when I inadvertantly caused our VW Passat (manual transmission) to roll down a giant hill to its death [NB: Links to .mp3 file of my wife mocking me on CarTalk on NPR]. I did manage to get a little mileage out of it for a project that I'm working on. I now drive a Subaru Outback with an automatic transmission but still mash on the "ghost clutch" from time to time. Sigh.
posted by scblackman at 4:17 PM on June 15, 2006 [2 favorites]


breakfast_yeti had a good point upthread that was mostly ignored. There is one area that manual transmission will always be superior to automatic, and one of the main reasons i will always endeavor to own a manual; you can pop-start them.

This little trick has saved me more than once in cold Wisconsin winters when my battery has died.
posted by quin at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2006


I learned how to drive on an automatic (early 1980s), and I wish I'd learned how to drive on a stick, 'cause then I could've driven anything. (My then-girlfriend who taught me how to drive stick a few years later would definitely agree.)

My New Beetle's a stick, and it does just fine in the traffic, stop lights, and hills of San Francisco.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:19 PM on June 15, 2006


Links to .mp3 file of my wife mocking me on CarTalk on NPR
Awesome!
posted by kirkaracha at 4:20 PM on June 15, 2006


So you imagine that in an automatic there is no relationship between engine rpm and the car's speed?

The relationship is more complicated, since it depends also on the throttle position. Perhaps I didn't drive the thing I noticed that in long enough to learn the exact nature of that relationship, but you'll note that I did put that a the list of things that "don't really matter". My point was that, along with "manuals are more fun to drive", that has essentially *nothing* to do with why I prefer them.

It's not that I don't want computers making decisions for me. I do! When they can do it better than me, that is. In this case they can not, and in fact they do a noticably worse job than me. Not that I'm particularly good at it. Not that it's usually an important life-or-death decision. Not that they do a really bad job of it. It's just that they very often get it slightly wrong, and save me absolutely nothing of value by doing it. As you said, it is "entirely second nature" to do it yourself. So therefore, inescapably, it is not the thing to automate until the computer *can* do a better job of it; which I'm sure some of the fancy expensive ones I've never seen probably do. I'd take one of those if such high performance mattered to me, then.
posted by sfenders at 4:21 PM on June 15, 2006


scblackman: so that was you! Awesome!
posted by drezdn at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2006


Always swore I'd never drive another manual. Then I got this funky old 5-speed turbo Volvo wagon for $900 to use for a few months; that was a few years ago and now I'd rather drive it than any of the nicer automatics we own. In my forties I discovered that Shifting is Fun! Also- I just push it into neutral as I roll up to red lights & stop signs without pressing in the clutch pedal at all. Good times!

posted by squalor at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2006


I'm pushing 50, drive in urban commuting hell about 40 miles a day, and happily drive a manual.

I do this because I have a turbocharged, intercooled sports car, and an automatic would waste alot (most) of my car's potential. There is no automatic out there that would let my motor wind out enough to properly use the turbo.

To each his own -it doesn't upset me in the least that other people want automatics. I do believe that manuals make for better drivers, though. You have to learn at least the basics of how your machine works to operate a manual efficiently. Automatics don't require much other than point and steer.

The thing that gets my goat, though, is that I may lose the ability in the future to buy a manual transmission because our "all gain, no pain" population can't be bothered with learning anything but the bare minimum.

As for manuals being lesser technology than the new automatics or hybrids - bull. Manual transmissions are a much more efficient and straightforward solution to gearing a motor than the Rube Goldberg machinations of the modern automatic tranny.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2006


The manual vs. automatic debate comes down to personal choice. They are both useful in their own ways, and they are both very current technologies.

I'm fine with my automatic, which I use to commute in extremely heavy traffic. I get good fuel economy (I'd wager better than the average driver of the manual version of my car) because I pay attention and am able to avoid much of the pointless braking that others do. However, I can't wait 'til I can get back to commuting by 24-speed bike. It's a daily running of the bulls— thousands of pounds of steel versus you on a 30-pound bike— and more of an adventure than most people are willing to handle. Keep yer Starbucks and yer "all gain, no pain" internal combustion, weaklings!
posted by zennie at 4:36 PM on June 15, 2006


scblackman, that was a great Car Talk snip. And more power to you on your "project." I can see why your mind might occasionally be on more complex things than parking brakes.

(P.S. your wife sounds like a lovely woman, even if she is having some fun at your expense.)
posted by yoink at 4:38 PM on June 15, 2006


But don't sit at the light in neutral.
My driving instructor (here in the UK) always told me that when your car came to a complete stop you put the car into neutral and applied the handbrake. Always (apart from very specific circumstances, like parking on an incline, etc)

Of course, not many people follow that advice if you're only going to be sitting at a light for, like, five seconds ... but if I can see I'm going to be there a while that's exactly what I do. I don't need to give myself cramps by keeping the clutch depressed all that time, thanks :)
posted by kaemaril at 4:40 PM on June 15, 2006


Every car I've ever owned had a stick shift. But they are getting harder and harder to find, though. Giving up your stick shift means reconciling yourself to being an old fart. Next thing you know you'll be looking at minivans.

Ugh! I'd rather die!
posted by bim at 4:46 PM on June 15, 2006


Fascinating discussion - for ages I've been meaning to post an AskMeFi pondering why North Americans prefer autos over manuals, when in the rest of the world manual is pretty much the norm.

I spent too much time trying to figure out how to frame the question so I wouldn't start a religious war...

(trying to bite my tongue: ever wonder where the stereotype of the arrogant American comes from? It's little things like this. My gods, are people here really trying to argue that "autos are better because we all prefer autos, so we're right and you're just wrong, poopy-heads!"?)

Personal choice? Manual. No explanations, no justifications, no arguments incited. Yes, I have owned both, and driven both in city commutes, on the highway, and along twisty mountain roads.

My only two comments would be :
a) F1 autos are tuned to suit the particular track, just as much as the engine, chassis, brakes, drivetrain, and tyres are - a luxury that isn't available to normal drivers on normal roads.
b) People who actually prefer autos in small 4-cyl cars need their heads read. That ain't "driving", that's just "getting from A to B"...
posted by Pinback at 4:49 PM on June 15, 2006


On your SUV, stick or auto?
posted by caddis at 4:54 PM on June 15, 2006


We were recently shopping for a used minivan, touring the local dealerships. When we asked if they had anything with manual shift they all looked at us like we were crazy.

A manual minivan?
I've never heard of such a thing, let alone seen one.
If you find one, can you take a picture?
posted by madajb at 4:56 PM on June 15, 2006


"A manual minivan?
I've never heard of such a thing, let alone seen one.
If you find one, can you take a picture?"


They're available.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:06 PM on June 15, 2006


I used to drive a minivan with a 5 speed manual column shifter. It was awesome. 5 on the tree is the only way to go.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2006


I drive a 60s beetle because of my exceptionally good taste. Automatic is not an option. Nor is an internal light.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:13 PM on June 15, 2006


scblackman, my condolences on having to drive an automatic now.

But, man, I admire you for being able to laugh at yourself publicly like this. I'd missed that Car Talk segment. Cool project, too, and a very classy on topic link to it.
posted by QIbHom at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2006


ever wonder where the stereotype of the arrogant American comes from? It's little things like this. My gods, are people here really trying to argue that "autos are better because we all prefer autos, so we're right and you're just wrong, poopy-heads!"?

Dude, the only people being "arrogant" about which of the two is better are the pro-manual crowd. They're the ones saying that automatic is for "wussies." The pro-automatic crowd, American or not (and, for the record, I'm not an American), is saying "manuals are fine, but there's actually no serious disadvantages to driving an automatic." Yeah--so arrogant!
posted by yoink at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2006


Next thing you know you'll be looking at minivans.

Ugh! I'd rather die!


O.K., this is a derail, but can anyone explain to me the whole thing about minivans? Now, if you want to drive a "sporty" vehicle, I get why you don't want a minivan. But if you want a practical vehicle that moves a lot of people and other junk around safely, why on earth would you prefer an SUV or a truck over a Minivan? And yet you see so many people using SUV's to do precisely the jobs that minivans are designed to do.

The SUV is in every possible way inferior to the Minivan for anything that doesn't involve going off-road. It's clumsier, worse handling, less safe in a crash, harder to park, gets worse mileage etc. etc. The minivan is in every way a more sophisticated piece of design and construction than the bolt-a-shiny-car-body-to-a-truck-chassis SUV. And yet people who are quite happy to drive the SUV would rather die than be seen in a minivan. I don't get it....
posted by yoink at 5:19 PM on June 15, 2006


"You can't imagine yourself ever being in a situation where you have to drive someone else's car, because the driver is injured or intoxicated? The car is a stick. You better learn fast."

That's how I learned to drive a car: I was 12, my stepdad got plastered at a party that he took me to (there were lots of kids my age there), and he forced me to drive home. It was a 1965 Ford Falcon with a 3-on-the-tree.

That was actually pretty fun, except for the plastered stepdad.

To be fair, I already knew how to use a clutch because I'd been dirt-biking for a year previous.

These days, all my cars are sticks... and boy, I love my good ol' Rock Crusher. I can burn the tires in all four gears, and dang if that ain't fun! :)
posted by zoogleplex at 5:20 PM on June 15, 2006


There are a lot of people posting in this thread about the performance virtues of stick. I'm certain none of them have ever come near a performance-tuned automatic transmission, because the objections they're raising are simply ridiculous. Modern high-end performance automatics are more than the 3 speed transmission your cab driver uses to drive his Lincoln Town Car, and they have addressed every single concern mentioned in this thread except the guy who said stick shifting was more fun.

I bought my BMW M3 cheap - they knocked about $5000 off the price - because it had a close-ratio 5-speed automatic instead of a stick, and no one wanted it. Having lived with that transmission for nearly 10 years, I wouldn't go back to stick if you paid me. And it's 10 years old - the modern state-of-the-art performance automatics are really awesome.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:26 PM on June 15, 2006


"manuals are fine, but there's actually no serious disadvantages to driving an automatic."

Yes, I think that's exactly the kind of thing he was calling "arrogant" (I'd call it more willfully obtuse) when given as an explanation for why 85% of Americans won't even consider going with the obviously superior technology. If the best that can be said about it is that the disadvantages aren't that serious, that's not much of an explanation for this puzzling cultural preference. All the obvious reasons for preferring the automatic, such as the clutch pedal giving you cramps in the leg, or you're missing an arm or whatever, do not apply to anything like 85% of any large population.
posted by sfenders at 5:28 PM on June 15, 2006


"they have addressed every single concern mentioned in this thread except the guy who said stick shifting was more fun."

In most cases, not true. My model is available in an automatic configuration (although the concept of a turbocharged engine with an automatic tranny still doesn't make sense to me). You would think that the manufacturer would understand their own motor better than anyone else, and yet the automatic regularly shifts about 1500 RPM too soon. Not only does that waste the fun factor, it wastes gas.

Easier does not always equal better.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:39 PM on June 15, 2006


I was required to know how to do two things before my father allowed me to drive. Drive a stick and be able to change a tire. My first car was an automatic and I hated it, but I think it had more to do with the fact it was an 81 Malibu rather than the transmission. Every car since then has been a manual and I don't see myself giving in to the automatic any time soon. (Although the older I get, the more my knee screams when I get stuck in Atlanta traffic and have to shift.)

"Should be noted that women who work at jobs requiring nice attire do not like to have stick shifts because they wear high heels."


Feh. While my father was concerned that his daughter would know how to drive anything put in front of her, my mother was concerned that I would be able to drive anything and still look cute. My mom made me and my cousins learn to drive in heels, flip-flops and combat boots.

Of course all these years of driving a stick, I have issues driving automatics. Specifically, I have a tendancy to double foot the brake, I've also attempted to shift gears for the autos when they don't shift when I think they should.
posted by teleri025 at 5:40 PM on June 15, 2006


Modern high-end performance automatics are more than the 3 speed transmission your cab driver uses to drive his Lincoln Town Car

I think it's a bit unfair to put the really good ones in the same category with "automatic" in this context (as was done by the initial post, causing some confusion), since they have so little in common with the usual kind. Anyway, most of the best high-performance cars with an automatic shifter also have manual sequential controls like that Ferrari. Of course I don't think anyone mentioned the big advantages that commonplace automatic transmissions do have over tranditional manual shifters for racing: It's easy to hit the brake and the gas at the same time, and you can keep both hands on the wheel.

I notice that nobody here has anything bad to say about the CVT. I heard that the old ones had some problems, but maybe they've improved.
posted by sfenders at 6:00 PM on June 15, 2006


Everyone is talking about acceleration. I like the mechanical braking you can effect with a manual.
posted by wfc123 at 6:54 PM on June 15, 2006


That may be true ikkyu2, but I bet the stick version still beats your auto. That being said, there aren't many cars on the road that can hang with an M3. It's like a Porsche with a back seat.

On the average car, even the average performance oriented car, the difference is bigger, at least in acceleration. As for efficiency, on the highway the modern auto matches the manual due to the lock-up clutch. Around town the manual has an advantage assuming you don't juice it. Since juicing it is so much more fun when you are manually shifting I would give the advantage to the auto in town, at least when I am driving.

I got the stick version of my car, Accord MT6, just because I like driving a stick; it is more fun for me. It is about a second faster to 60 than the auto version. Fun doesn't mean full throttle acceleration, although that too is fun. It is just the joy of shifting and control, often with at least a little oomph, but even without it is fun. It is just personal preference. I can see why someone would prefer the convenience of an auto.

I think a lot of people don't drive sticks simply because they think they don't know how to do it. Pshaw. Anyone can do it. I had essentially never driven and had no knowledge of manual transmissions when I bought my first manual transmission car. I went into the dealership, told them I was interested in the shiny new car that had a stick and they took me out for a test drive. I stalled it a couple of times in the parking lot, and I think the salesman was a bit nervous, but he wanted the sale so he didn't say anything. After a half dozen or so starts I started getting the hang of it. That car really had balls, turbocharger the whole bit. We got to an open section of road and as I started off he told me to punch it, hard. We were glued to the back of our seats and ten minutes later I was in his office negotiating the final price. There was a big hill in town and I probably burned off a bit of clutch the first few times I launched up the thing but learning to do this on my own was simple. I think people are just afraid of looking foolish. Ge over it.
posted by caddis at 6:55 PM on June 15, 2006


Manual ... automatic ... whatever ...

Isn't that what two car garages are for anyway?

You know, you put a practical car in one bay (a Jetta or a Subaru Outback or a Maserati Quattroporte), and the fun car in the other (a Miata or a Lotus or a Ferrari Enzo).

Oh, and as far as performance is concerned, sticks are faster.
posted by Relay at 6:57 PM on June 15, 2006


"manuals are fine, but there's actually no serious disadvantages to driving an automatic."

Yes, I think that's exactly the kind of thing he was calling "arrogant"


That's arrogant? "What you do is fine, but there's no reason not to do what I do?" Geez--I guess you must be one of those guys who complains about arrogant Canadians getting all up in everybody's grilles.
posted by yoink at 7:03 PM on June 15, 2006


Actually, I am one of those arrogant Canadians getting all up in everybody's grilles.

I can see why someone would prefer the convenience of an auto.

Yeh? Why? After all this, I still have no idea. Neither can any of the people with such a preference who I've consulted so far over in real life articulate any sort of sensible explanation for it. I guess it's just one of those eternal mysteries, like why Phil Collins was so popular.
posted by sfenders at 7:25 PM on June 15, 2006


As an aside after listening to scblackman's wife, it's a PARKING BRAKE NOT AN EMERGENCY BRAKE.
posted by Joeforking at 7:31 PM on June 15, 2006


I think it's pretty hilarious to be called "arrogant" for saying "manuals and automatics are both valid choices" by someone who says that those who drive automatics are just "stupid."

sfenders, if you can't be bothered reading the many, many accounts people have given you of why they prefer to drive automatics in certain circumstances, at least don't pretend that "nobody has any sensible explanation for it."

Driving a stick shift in stop and go traffic is a bore. There--that's my perfectly sensible explanation. You feel that having "feel" for the road in some strange mystical sense is more important than being pissed off with the "shall-I-bother-to-go-up-to-second-yes-oh-fuck-we're-stopping-again" dance, that's fine. But it's unbelievably arrogant (and it would be oddly uncanadian except that you've worked it into the usual canadian "everything we do differently from the yanks is clearly a sign of our moral superiority" shtick) to suggest that the fact that others of us don't weigh those things in the same way is somehow a sign that we're "stupid."

I am not an american. I learnt to drive in a non-American country. I learnt to drive in manuals, and then eventually we bought an automatic. I enjoy driving both, but these days I'd always choose to buy an automatic because the occasions on which I get to drive for "fun" are so infinitesimally small compared to the occasions when I drive just to get from point A to point B.
posted by yoink at 7:42 PM on June 15, 2006


Err, I'll just note that I didn't call anyone arrogant other than myself. Cheers.
posted by sfenders at 7:51 PM on June 15, 2006


Err, I'll just note that I didn't call anyone arrogant other than myself. Cheers.

So I thought "oh jeez, I must have misread who posted the line about "that's exactly the kind of thing he was calling arrogant." I'll have to apologize grovellingly. But, unless there are two people here posting as "sfenders," you quoted a line from my post and said that "it was exactly the kind of thing Pinback was calling arrogant." O.K., you can just weasel out of that by saying "I didn't say it was arrogant, I just said that Pinback would find it arrogant." But that would be pathetic.
posted by yoink at 7:58 PM on June 15, 2006


Not only did I expressly say that it was he who called it arrogant, not me, I also specifically disagreed and called it instead obtuse. That was, in fact, the only time my reprehensible insults ever in this thread included you, until now. (Although due to my own mistake the rash characterization of that one choice of people who have for no good reason deliberately chosen not to bother when given the opportunity to learn to drive a normal car as "stupid" could easily be read that way, it was not so intended. For that I apologize.) Now however, I am obliged to admit that my own stupidity is also far greater than I had suspected, or I would not be replying to this nonsense.

So anyway, the shall-I-bother-to-go-up-to-second bit has never troubled me in the least, it's just the yes-oh-fuck-we're-stopping-again that feeds my frustration in that kind of traffic. Which is fortunately quite rare around here. It's not as though even in that depraved form of driving the automatic is likely to make any better a choice than I. In fact it's probably going to be more indecisive and change gears more often. Depressing the clutch in addition to brake pedal in order to stop is no burden either. Ah, but I guess the automatic does have the advantage (depending on the gear ratio of its competition) when travelling steadily at less than a slow walking pace. I hadn't thought of that. Well, there's one point for the automatic.
posted by sfenders at 8:25 PM on June 15, 2006


So... autos are easier to sell, presumably meaning you get a better price, due to more potential buyers.

Does the opposite become true if selling a sportscar, due to the testosterone / buying it for fun driving thing?
posted by -harlequin- at 8:51 PM on June 15, 2006


Am I the only one concerned that so many people say they need their cars to be manual in order to pay attention while driving?
posted by obol at 8:58 PM on June 15, 2006


In fact it's probably going to be more indecisive and change gears more often.

O.K., I'll ignore the attempts to justify your crass rudeness, but I do just have to comment that this shows you've never driven an automatic in the kind of traffic conditions for which I'm claiming it is well suited. Given that you therefore haven't a clue what you're talking about, can we just marvel for a moment at your arrogance in saying that people who do make an informed choice (who in no way disagree with your right to make your own, contrary choice) are "stupid."

Sheesh.
posted by yoink at 9:22 PM on June 15, 2006


Am I the only one concerned that so many people say they need their cars to be manual in order to pay attention while driving?

No. I guess they think that "automatic" is the same as "autopilot."
posted by yoink at 9:24 PM on June 15, 2006


And everyone likes to do a sick burnout every now and again, right? posted by BackwardsHatClub

Hell, yes!

Should be noted that women who work at jobs requiring nice attire do not like to have stick shifts because they wear high heels.
posted by Postroad


Never bothered me any, I can drive manual in heels just fine (up to 4", higher than that & I'm usually ready to kick 'em off for something else by the time I reach the car anyway &, knowing this, I bring an appropriate pair of driving shoes if I'm driving). Each to her own, I suppose.

Drive what you like, but I'll stick with my stick, it's just what I like to drive, even in hour long bumper-to-bumper.
posted by susanbeeswax at 9:33 PM on June 15, 2006


I think it's pretty hilarious to be called "arrogant" for saying "manuals and automatics are both valid choices" by someone who says that those who drive automatics are just "stupid."

Driving an automatic is a perfectly valid choice, if you're stupid. Just kidding. I love driving manual transmissions, but my new car is an automatic -- but I'd prefer it to be a manual. I just didn't really have a choice.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:58 PM on June 15, 2006


"it's probably going to be more indecisive and change gears more often."

Okay, well, maybe not. Whatever. Probably more often than I would in my current vehicle which has a very wide powerband and no trouble starting off in 2nd at low speed, yes. Sadly, I've spent more than enough time in an automatic sedan with no air conditioning in Toronto rush hour traffic.

"people who do make an informed choice"

It seems you may have again thought I was talking about you there in the very sentence where I explained that I wasn't. It's that the choice I described is precisely not an informed one that was my complaint.

One more time, it doesn't make sense to claim a strong preference for the automatic transmission if you never tried anything else and aren't for some reason unable to. Particularly because buying a car is already such a big decision that it makes sense to try out the alternatives. Obviously there are many motivations for such other than stupidity, such as laziness, fear of the unknown, ignorance, haste, gullibility, devotion to convention, susceptibility to salesmanship, etc. Most of them are probably best avoided.

Now autopilot on a boat, there's a great example of a similarly inept automated control system doing a job I could do better, and I wouldn't want to go without it. It actually does what it was somewhere claimed that the automatic transmission is supposed to do, and frees your attention to wander rather than just one of your legs to sit there uselessly, and occasionally an arm.
posted by sfenders at 10:21 PM on June 15, 2006


I am consistently surprised when I find out friends can't drive a stick. I love my manual.

While this is a problem on long road trips (I gotta sleep sometime), it is nice when no one is bugging me to borrow the car. ;)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:41 PM on June 15, 2006


While I'm here, to forestall the next foreseeable misunderstanding, I called "obtuse" not the statement that automatic transmissions aren't so bad, but its use as a response to the question of why people prefer them. Right, I'm off to do something else now.
posted by sfenders at 10:52 PM on June 15, 2006


Incidentally, touching on that earlier debate, I was always taught that a manual should be in neutral when you're waiting at an intersection, for safety reasons. (stuff like your foot slipping off the clutch can hop your car into the path of high-speed cross traffic, or if there is a mechanical failure such as the clutch cable snapping (which seems unlikely these days) if a pedestrian is in front of the car they'll be injured, etc etc).
posted by -harlequin- at 11:07 PM on June 15, 2006


As caddis mentions, it's a question of control/performance vs convenience. I can certainly understand the convenience; driving to work eating an Egg McMuffin, driving while getting head -- not that I'm condoning it -- driving while smacking the kids in the back seat telling them to shut up. I drive a manual and always have, but I won't deny the fact that sometimes I wish I had an automatic. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

But I'm all about manual 'cause I enjoy the performance and control of it, despite the fact that I drive a lame-ass Toyota Echo sedan. Then again, a full tank lasts me for two weeks so I can't complain :P.
posted by freakystyley at 11:10 PM on June 15, 2006


Dude, the only people being "arrogant" about which of the two is better are the pro-manual crowd.

Do you actually read what you write, or do you just hack it out and hit Post?

Your very first post in this thread started out calling people who would only buy a manual "hypermacho men" or "self-consciously "independent" women"

And you have the gall to call other people arrogant?

Amazing.
posted by madajb at 1:11 AM on June 16, 2006


mr_crash_davis -
Do you own one of those?
posted by madajb at 1:12 AM on June 16, 2006


I live in a country with narrow, wiggly roads in a variety of conditions and plenty of steep grades. Automatics are great for the city but once you get out of town, they are no fun for me. I learned to use engine braking in hilly terrain for greater control and automatics are just not suitable for that driving style. But it's like electric razors versus wet shaving, or valve amps versus solid state - there are factors of taste, ludditism, and genuine advantage to consider.

Like an earlier poster, I'm always changing imaginary gears in automatics.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:50 AM on June 16, 2006


In some countries (my experience is European), stick is still prevalent - because driving automatic is equated with not being properly able to operate a car, and therefore not compatible with machismo.

I would hazard a guess that it has more to do with the fact that you have to pass your driving test in a stick than any supposed EU machismo.

Should be noted that women who work at jobs requiring nice attire do not like to have stick shifts because they wear high heels.

Oh for the love of Harold J Christ. I don't believe my footware has ever come into play when deciding on driving a car. Today I'm wearing the four inch stillettos? I have two choices: A) Drive with the stillettos on or B) take the buggers off and drive. 99% of the time I go with A.

Fascinating discussion - for ages I've been meaning to post an AskMeFi pondering why North Americans prefer autos over manuals, when in the rest of the world manual is pretty much the norm.

I asked something similar and the responses were quite interesting.

And points to madajb for pointing out the shaggy hulking thing under the bridge.
posted by romakimmy at 4:36 AM on June 16, 2006


wfc123: Everyone is talking about acceleration. I like the mechanical braking you can effect with a manual.

It's statements like this that makes me wonder how much the manual advocates know about driving. (There are a half-dozen positions on an automatic transmission lever for a reason.)

sfenders: One more time, it doesn't make sense to claim a strong preference for the automatic transmission if you never tried anything else and aren't for some reason unable to.

From my point of view, it doesn't make sense to advocate for adoption of a technology based on subjective and perceived differences in performance and control. Human perception of time is notoriously unreliable with a tendency to expand when we feel a lack of control, and constrict when we are engaged and in control.

Now granted, I'm more than willing to accept that the subjective and perceived advantages are good reasons to prefer one technology over another. But for that mystical 85% of drivers out there, the performance and control differences are going to be trivial, and I frequently find myself annoyed waiting behind slow manual drivers who rock back a full foot before getting into gear. I strongly suspect that timed trials involving a broad spectrum of drivers for a broad spectrum of typical tasks would find that automatics are as good as manuals, and probably have a tighter variance.

I've driven both styles, and I've ridden motorcycles which make the car tranny and clutch feel like an awkward kludge. I'd rather have the automatic. (Especially now that I'm healing up from a left knee injury.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:47 AM on June 16, 2006


Got a pickup, and tow stuff? Better get an automatic.

Stuck in stop and go for an hour every day? Yep, an automatic makes sense there, too. But that's not exactly driving, is it? More like rolling, with audio and environmental controls.

The smaller the engine, the more likely that the manual transmission is going to give you better performance(not likely to get an expensive modern 6 speed automatic with paddle shifters on a Yaris, are we?).

I like manual transmissions myself, but have an automatic in our F-150. The wife's sports sedan, with the 2.5 liter V-6 that positively sings, is a blast with a manual and I can't imagine even considering buying that car with an automatic(I also don't have to sit in stop and go traffic).

A modern, 5 or 6 speed, with the option to demand shifts via paddle or tip stick automatic is more likely to minimize the differences inperformance between a manual and auto. But those are usually on more expensive vehicles, although I would note that the Honda Fit comes with a paddle shiftable 5 speed automatic, but it is a $1,300 option(a little less than 10% of the total price of the car).

I've never driven a CVT, but the son-in-law has one on his new Mercury Mariner hybrid.

My daughter's car is the exact opposite of the FPP, and didn't even offer an automatic of any sort.

I like driving a manual transmission, and hope they keep making them available.
posted by dglynn at 7:48 AM on June 16, 2006


To counter yoink's semiclued ranting again: revmatching a shift is useful even *with* a synchro'd transmission, and is not just a sign of boyracerism... unless you have somehow found the magical synchromesh that'll handle a two or three gear drop smoothly and with as much grace as my tranny does when I get on the binders at 80 and rev-match a downshift to second at 30.

And I do that both on the street and on the track... although, admittedly, less on the street. And, thank you very much, but I've received hours upon hours of high-performance driver training from professionals, and exercised it on closed circuits myself in real competition, so I'm not just picking this up from The Fast and the Furious.

If you want to rip into double-clutchers, though... go right ahead.

Automatics have a purpose: they make people who just don't give a damn about driving happy, and provide an alternative for those not physically able to shift by themselves. That's one thing that I think the Europeans posting here might not get: unlike in many European countries, for the vast majority of Americans driving is not a lifestyle choice -- it is an absolute and utter necessity, and one that many consider a pain, and want to do away with as quickly as possible.

This is why we have 6000 pound, insulated, isolated, everything automatic, luxury gas guzzlers. People don't want to drive -- they have to drive. And they want to think about it and work at it as little as possible. And they, often, can't figure out why anyone would give a damn about being just a little bit more in touch with the system they're operating, and think that doing so must be a sign of hypertestosterone, boyracer arrogance and wankery.

(And many of the most strident anti-manual bigots I've known have never touched anything but an auto. I bet that would be true of the majority of them in this thread. The ones who have are usually a bit more honest about saying, "Yes, it may be a superior way to drive, but, really, I don't care about driving.")

Automatics are popular because people are lazy and apathetic. And... I'm fine with that. I just wish auto drivers would be a bit more upfront about saying, "Yes, I am a lazy and apathetic driver", rather than projecting their insecurities upon people who chose to be more involved in the process.

(And, as with any complex process, be it cooking, painting a fresco, or writing code, I will continue to maintain that those who are more involved in the process tend to be better overall, and certainly are less likely to screw up spectacularly when things go outside their bounds of familiarity.)
posted by jammer at 8:12 AM on June 16, 2006


I'm not sure what the discussion is really about. Is it about lamenting the fact that manuals account for fewer sales in North America? Is it about whether one enjoys driving an manual vs auto? Some of the posters seem to infer that there is some stigma with driving an autobox.

Really, it is all about personnal preference and convenience. That is all it's about.

Sales of manuals throughout europe and asia are still relatively good, so I can't see them eliminating the stick anytime soon.
As a former mechanic (still a hobbiest) I prefered working on an autobox. Less guck and toxic dust to get in your face and lungs.

I like a stick in a sporty little car, and I like my slushbox for everyday driving.

There you go. Case closed and no big deal.
posted by pezdacanuck at 8:13 AM on June 16, 2006


I'd just like to respond to ikku2's post about his M3 automatic. The best traditional automatic transmission will never be better than the best manual, which will never be better than the best SMG.

In an automatic transmission the engine isn't connected to the drivetrain. The engine spins a propeller immersed in hydraulic fluid. There is another properller that is very close to it in the same fluid. The spinning of the engine's prop pressurizes the fluid and exerts torque on the opposed properller which is then connected to the driveshaft, differentials, etc.

In order for your input on the engine to affect the wheels, it has to pass through the torque converter which takes time. The best autobox in the world still has a torque converter which puts an upper limit to the speed a shift can occur at.

The only good thing about TCs is that they do have a substantial effect on the torque available which is why towing with an auto can be a good idea.

With regards to the idea that you need a manual to pay attention to the car, what I was trying to say is exactly the opposite. You, the driver, can pay attention to any car. A good driver can control any car well, even an auto. What a manual does is train you, the driver, to pay attention to the car as failure to do so causes noises, jerking, etc. Driving a manual predisposes you to appreciate smooth transitions and the relative speeds of the various spinning bits of your car.

Driving an auto has no such effect. Because the machine is being smooth for you, you can easily miss the feel of other aspects because you have less feedback. If the car drives for you, you don't learn to drive. If you have to manage more of the functionality yourself, it requires that you learn to do said management. That skill, of feeling the weight transfer, hearing the engine noise, feeling the clutch and brake and throttle respond differently and checking it all against the butt-dyno and your own sense of equilibrium makes you more well qualified to judge the stability and state of any given car. Learning to steer, go and stop does not teach any of these skills and I posit that this creates less skillful drivers.

Again, I don't claim to be objective. I loathe slushboxes and I think everyone should learn on a manual. I think new drivers should be licensed for the class they learn in and need a new test to drive cars with the power to weight ratio of an angry mongoose or that weigh more than an elephant. I think most people shouldn't drive at all and I think that the reason most prefer automatics is because they don't want to drive, they have to drive. This culture of vehicular dependency is the part of American culture I like least.

Those are my opinions, and you don't have to disagree. Manuals are objectively better at transmitting power to the wheels and using an automatic is a tradeoff in efficiency. If you are willing to accept that tradeoff, fine but don't pretend its not there.
posted by Skorgu at 8:46 AM on June 16, 2006


It's been hinted at, but explicitly stated: over 80% of the cars in Europe have manual transmissions. If you plan to drive in Europe, you pretty much need to know how to drive a manual. (My Danish ex-wife insisted on having a manual transmission in the 'States, because if she could only drive an auto, she wouldn't be able to drive when she went to visit. No argument here!)

But in the U.S., where both options are pretty common, it comes down to:
Manual = more control, better acceleration, better fuel economy, cheap to buy and maintain, but you have to learn a (pretty simple) skill
Automatic = easier, more convenient, less to learn

I am shocked -- shocked, I say -- that most Americans choose the latter.
posted by LordSludge at 9:34 AM on June 16, 2006


jammer: And they, often, can't figure out why anyone would give a damn about being just a little bit more in touch with the system they're operating, and think that doing so must be a sign of hypertestosterone, boyracer arrogance and wankery.

Well certainly. I can understand why someone would want to be "more in touch" with the system they're operating. After all, I use shell scripts, emacs, fountain pens and a safety razor myself.

It's not the claim that you want to be "more in touch" with a system that is a sign of hypertestosterone, boyracer arrogance and wankery. Your posts and terminology of discussion reek of it. And... I'm ok with that. Just grow a backbone and be a bloody man about it. Cut this passive-aggressive crap of claiming that you just want to be touchy-feely with your car and then go on at length about your track experience. Just shout your barbaric yawp and claim ownership of your boyracer arrogance and wankery. The truth will set you free dude.

jammer: Automatics are popular because people are lazy and apathetic.

Is that a bad thing? I'm willing to bet that there are some things in your life where you are lazy and apathetic. You just want the job done as quickly as possible so you can move on to the things that you are passionate about.

Skorgu: I think most people shouldn't drive at all and I think that the reason most prefer automatics is because they don't want to drive, they have to drive. This culture of vehicular dependency is the part of American culture I like least.

Well, while I agree with the culture of vehicular dependency, why is it the case that people should "want" to drive? And if someone drives just for utility, why shouldn't they take advantage of whatever assistive devices that makes that task easier? You can make the same argument about any feature added to a system. Riding bareback likely gives you a better feel for the horse, but most people prefer saddles. You could get a great feel for the dynamics of how to handle wheels and a load using a pushcart. The bicycle and the ICM removed the need to deal with the fickle personalities and dietary needs of beasts of burden. And you certainly can't get a real feel for the terrain through which you travel at more than 6 miles per hour.

With regards to the idea that you need a bicycle to pay attention to traffic, what I was trying to say is exactly the opposite. You, the driver, can pay attention to traffic. A good driver can pay attention to road traffic in any vehicle, even in a cage. What a bicycle does is train you, the cyclist, to pay attention to traffic conditions as failure to do so causes near misses, accidents, etc. Riding a bicycle predisposes you to appreciate rules of right-of-way, conditions at the curb, and the status of parked vehicles.

Driving an car has no such effect. Because the machine is a closed box, you can easily miss environmental cues because you have less feedback. That skill, of using your peripheral vision, using frequent head-checks, listening for animals, making eye contract with pedestrians and drivers, makes you more qualified to judge the state of any situation. Learning to steer, go, stop and change gears does not teach any of these skills and I posit that this creates less skillful drivers.

Again, I don't claim to be objective. I loathe cages and I think everyone should learn on a bicycle.

Personally, I strongly suspect that reducing the complexity of the driving experience is likely to lead to more safety rather than less. Cognitive multitasking is a myth. If you really want safety, strip out anything from the vehicle that serves to distract the driver from road and traffic conditions.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:57 AM on June 16, 2006


> making perfect blipped downshifts

Wow, you're driving a car without synchromesh? ...you're just playing at being a boy-racer without actually helping your gear box at all....


No, no, no. If you're braking and need a lower gear (as in approaching a corner) heel-toe downshifts, which involve the aforementioned "blipped downshift", are the only way to do it smoothly. Most people just accept the associated jerk of the downshift to the drive wheels -- proper heel-toeing smooths that out. (Driving a non-syncromeshed tranny would require a double-clutch as well.)

Heel-toe downshifting is a required technique if you are driving near the limits of adhesion -- in particular, threshold braking. Now it's rare that you'll be doing this on public roads (or it should be!), but it's a nice skill to have. Of course, it's mandatory for most competitive autosports*. But it takes practice, which you can do every time you come to a stop. (Just don't do it in traffic when learning!)

But, yeah, it's part of the whole driver-engaged sports car experience, like kissing the redline or managing the weight transfer in a corner. It's not something everybody enjoys. Those people drive automatics.

------------------------------------

*
Here's what happens
when you botch your heel-toe downshift -- it would be much worse if there was no heel-toe at all. (The first corner, not the spin.) See how the rear of the car steps out under braking? It's like somebody momentarily yanked the parking brake. And yes, that's me driving.
posted by LordSludge at 9:59 AM on June 16, 2006


I'm ok with that. Just grow a backbone and be a bloody man about it.

I think it's time for the arrogance accusations in here to stop.

If you really want safety, strip out anything from the vehicle that serves to distract the driver from road and traffic conditions.

If you really want safety, put a huge steel spike in the center of the steering wheel of every car, positioned such that even the smallest bump or lurch will instantly kill the driver.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:03 AM on June 16, 2006


JekPorkins: If you really want safety, put a huge steel spike in the center of the steering wheel of every car, positioned such that even the smallest bump or lurch will instantly kill the driver.

Well, that is going a bit far. But seriously, there are many other cases where automation has been accepted as a desired safety feature because it permits the operators to focus attention on more critical safety issues. I see no evidence that manual transmissions are effective at improving safety. They may actually be mildly bad for safety due to user error. And the hypothetical examples of quick escapes in crisis situations is unconvincing because we know that human performance and decision-making is spotty in those cases. The assumption is that everyone who drives a manual is going to become an enthusiast working on their technique, rather than reaching the minimum level of performance necessary to comfortably follow the flow of traffic.

But, metafilter loves its magical thinking in talking about vehicle safety issues.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:29 AM on June 16, 2006


The assumption is that everyone who drives a manual is going to become an enthusiast working on their technique, rather than reaching the minimum level of performance necessary to comfortably follow the flow of traffic.


As I understand it, the assumption is that reaching the minimum level of performance necessary to comfortably follow the flow of traffic with a manual transmission makes a person a safter and more aware driver.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:32 AM on June 16, 2006


KirkJobSluder: I think we agree, but you seem to contradict yourself a bit:

What a bicycle does is train you, the cyclist, to pay attention to traffic conditions as failure to do so causes near misses, accidents, etc. Riding a bicycle predisposes you to appreciate rules of right-of-way, conditions at the curb, and the status of parked vehicles.

vs

If you really want safety, strip out anything from the vehicle that serves to distract the driver from road and traffic conditions.

If you really want safety, don't drive. Certainly don't ride a (motor|push) bike. Showering is right out.

"We live in the interface between radioactive molten rock and hard vacuum and we worry about safety." -- Chris Hunt

I'm arguing less about absolute safety and more about responsible control of a dangerous vehicle. If we lived in a world where someone could drive "just for utility" and only endanger themselves by their lack of control then fine. We live in a world where several tons of high-kinetic energy metal does non-trivial damage to anything and everything it hits if it is out of control. The ability of the driver to control a vehicle is directly and unavoidably related to how much attention that driver is paying to all of the available inputs. Manual transmissions train drivers to pay attention to more inputs than automatic transmissions do.

Look, driving is dangerous and we can and should minimize that danger. Automatic transmissions (and cars vs bikes) make driving easy and the easier something is to do the less thought will be put into when and where to do it. I argue that in America the balance is improperly skewed towards easy and away from the responsibility that everone should take when they get into a vehicle. And since it could be me or someone I love in the wrong place when some stereotypical Bud-swilling 300-lb NASCAR fan in a six-ton SUV comes careening (more likely rolling) through an intersection, it matters to me that that driver be as well trained as possible.

It also matters to me that if my loved one is driving, he or she have the ability to react as quickly and effectively as possible to the danger. Thats why I won't buy a car without a manual transmission, ABS and all-wheel-drive. My opinions are my own and as much as I think we'd all be better off if I ruled the world, I don't and that means I can only act to reduce the effect that idiots have on my life.
posted by Skorgu at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2006


In a situation where rapid deceleration is needed, engine braking(downshifting) in conjunction with you regular brakes will slow/stop you much quicker(saved my ass in city situation mant times).

In any modern car, this is incorrect. The brakes have sufficient power to lock the wheels, and adding engine braking to the drive wheels is only going to make things less controllable, possibly even spinning the car if it's rear wheel drive. It won't stop you faster, it will stop you slower.

Reminds me of people who yank the "emergency brake" in a panic stop. Just... don't.

Engine braking is used for long, long downhills -- especially in loaded 18-wheelers (see "Jake brake") -- because it prevents the brakes from overheating and failing.
posted by LordSludge at 10:51 AM on June 16, 2006


why is it the case that people should "want" to drive?

I don't think people "should" want to drive in any universal moral sense or anything, but it seems natural to expect that people will want to drive. Moving across large distances as efficiently and quickly as possible is after all one of the things the human body evolved to do as well as it could. Extending ourselves through technology to do that even better is perceived as desirable.

why shouldn't they take advantage of whatever assistive devices that makes that task easier?

Easier to learn is not easier to use, and I guess mistaking one for the other is a common failing of human nature. I wouldn't claim that the manual transmission is necessarily easier to use, but I don't think it's significantly harder in the way that's important. It requires slightly more physical effort, but since there is so much capacity for physical effort going entirely unused in the average human body behind the wheel, that doesn't seem like a bad thing except for those who live lives of routine physical overtaxation, which I suspect is a minority of those who drive. On the other hand, since like I said we are possibly somehow conditioned by evolution to have a bias to as little physical effort as possible, maybe that is more often a factor than pure logic would predict.

The important part is mental effort, attention, and I'm not convinced that the automatic in normal driving is any easier on the brain overall. Whatever brain subsystem deals with moving muscles might get a bit more work, but I'd guess not anything more than it can handle without interfering with the other functions that are the bottleneck. You can ignore engine speed much of the time, but you still need to mentally monitor vehicle speed so that isn't a large gain. On those occasions where you need to accelerate with any precision, it feels to me like the automatic requires more mental effort at the critical moment, since you have to press the accelerator carefully and then wait for the reaction which will come at a moment that requires some calculation to predict. In any case, it's such a small difference that I suspect it makes no practical difference compared to the overall attention and care that driving requires. Surely not enough to have any measurable effect on safety.

So despite all those uncertainties, I beleive that by far the largest part of the popular perception of the automatic as easier to use is in fact mistaken projection of the more important fact that it's easier to learn.
posted by sfenders at 10:58 AM on June 16, 2006


Is this the part where I state my personal preference and then make up a bunch of reasons of negligible importance to support it?
posted by electroboy at 11:14 AM on June 16, 2006


Sorry, you missed that part. This is the part where we dance debate the negligable reasons behind anyone's personal choice that we disagree with.
posted by Skorgu at 11:33 AM on June 16, 2006


i was sure this thread would be done by now, but since it still seems active i'll bring up another point:

In any modern car, this is incorrect. The brakes have sufficient power to lock the wheels, and adding engine braking to the drive wheels is only going to make things less controllable,


There are instances where you don't want to use the brakes, where engine braking is more useful. Snow. My car doesn't have ABS and it's far safer for me to downshift (carefully) to keep from sliding. It's not uncommon during a blizzard for me to not touch my brake until i'm doing less than 5 miles an hour.

Another area that manual is more useful also involves snow and ice. On extremely slick streets, it can be useful to start off in second gear. The lessened torque allows you to actually begin forward momentum without spending all that energy spinning your tires.

i'm not arguing that automatic transmissions are bad or anything like that, but since someone up-thread was asking for real world examples of how a manual was safer to drive, i figured my experiences might be relevant.
posted by quin at 11:45 AM on June 16, 2006


JekPorkins: As I understand it, the assumption is that reaching the minimum level of performance necessary to comfortably follow the flow of traffic with a manual transmission makes a person a safter and more aware driver.

I wouldn't call this an assumption. The theory that quite a bit of real-world data follows a normal curve is an assumption. The idea that rocks fall down when dropped is an assumption. What we have here is a mythical opinion being presented as a gospel truth.

Skorgu: I'm arguing less about absolute safety and more about responsible control of a dangerous vehicle. If we lived in a world where someone could drive "just for utility" and only endanger themselves by their lack of control then fine.

And monkeys might fly out of my arsehole as well. But the fact of the matter is, most people over time have lived in cultures where there was a need to transport quantities of goods larger than what could be comfortably carried over distances further than could be comfortably walked. We can talk about an ideal state in which motor vehicle use was purely recreational, but I certainly don't expect to live there in my lifetime.

Let's put this on the table. We are both concerned with improving motor vehicle safety. I take a look at the statistics and the facts and see that the primary factor in most accidents is that drivers must respond to huge volumes of data in order to make quick safety decisions. So how do we improve this situation:

1: Reduce the number of inputs competing for the driver's attention.

2: Focus the drivers attention on the inputs that matter: road conditions, pedestrians, and the status of other vehicles on the road.

3: Apply Murphy's law to human error. If it is possible for a person to shift into the wrong gear at the worst possible moment, they will do so.

The ability of the driver to control a vehicle is directly and unavoidably related to how much attention that driver is paying to all of the available inputs. Manual transmissions train drivers to pay attention to more inputs than automatic transmissions do.

Well, there is the problem. There are a huge number of inputs that drivers don't, and probably shouldn't have competing for their attention: tire pressure, temperature, and tread condition, quantity of corrosion on the undercarriage, break-line pressure, thickness of break pads, exhaust temperature, catalytic converter performance, air intake, gas intake. If you are flying the Space Shuttle, you might want to have access to some or all of those statistics. (Although Shuttle pilots have a highly trained and advanced team that filters through this information for them.)

Attention is a limited resource. When you add one thing to a driver's attention, you subtract from their ability to pay attention to other things. When I'm sharing the small city roads I live on (or for that matter, the sidewalks), I want the drivers to maximize their attention on the environment around them, and minimize the distractions from their own car.

Why? Because we know (at least as far as we can know) that helps to reduce accidents in most settings.

Look, driving is dangerous and we can and should minimize that danger. Automatic transmissions (and cars vs bikes) make driving easy and the easier something is to do the less thought will be put into when and where to do it.

Certainly. And in many other cases, automation is a strong safety feature because it reduces user error, and permits people to focus their attention on more critical forms of decision-making.

And since it could be me or someone I love in the wrong place when some stereotypical Bud-swilling 300-lb NASCAR fan in a six-ton SUV comes careening (more likely rolling) through an intersection, it matters to me that that driver be as well trained as possible.

I would field this question to the equally hypothetical monkeys that just came out of my ass, but they are too busy writing Waiting for Godot.

There are simply too many variables at hand here to say that a manual would be safer than an automatic in this case. Just as an example, the automatic Pontiac Montana Van I currently have on loan gets better acceleration than the manual 4 cylinder Mazda hatchback I used to drive, or the manual pickup I sometimes drive. I also have to accept the possibility that panic might produce the one time in a thousand that I miss the gear or pop the clutch. Of course I could just ask the monkeys to fly me away.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:15 PM on June 16, 2006


sfenders: I don't think people "should" want to drive in any universal moral sense or anything, but it seems natural to expect that people will want to drive.

Most often what I "want" is to transport myself, passengers, and cargo between two distances that is further than I can walk. If I'm in a cage, well, sorry but I've not had the privilege of the experience that one cage is better than another because it had a manual transmission. I'll admit that manuals are more fun on the twisties, but they get old quick at the four-way stop signs.

Easier to learn is not easier to use, and I guess mistaking one for the other is a common failing of human nature. I wouldn't claim that the manual transmission is necessarily easier to use, but I don't think it's significantly harder in the way that's important.

I'm not making that mistake. I'll bet a nickel that if you tested a wide variety of casual motor vehicle users with both systems that their actual performance will be pretty darn close.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:39 PM on June 16, 2006


What we have here is a mythical opinion being presented as a gospel truth.

That's a bit redundant, don't you think?

I'll admit that manuals are more fun on the twisties, but they get old quick at the four-way stop signs.


Nonsense. The 4-way stops provide yet another opportunity to start from zero, which is half the fun of driving a manual. It's the 405 that sucks with a manual, but the 405 sucks regardless and the solution is to avoid it.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:49 PM on June 16, 2006


I think attention might be an imperfect term to use here. Attention implies that there is a conscious attempt to process a piece of information.

The argument that I am putting forward is not simply that having more inputs to consider makes you a better driver. Rather, the process of learning to coordinate those inputs does. The ability for the human mind to process, distill and factor a myriad of different inputs into a single impulse is unequalled. We are built to take inputs from a huge number of passive senses and build a cohesive picture of the world we inhabit from them. Feeling vibrations through the pedals and stick is no more a distraction than feeling the air move over your arm hairs is a distraction when running.

The human mind excells at supressing inputs that are not immediately useful. We get tunnel vision and dull our senses under stress, we do mind-bendingly stupid things when our adrenaline kicks in. We sink to the level of our training. Police officers have been known to stop in the middle of a firefight and pick up their shell casings because thats the way they trained. If you'll pardon the turn of phrase, we switch into automatic.

To bring this back around to the subject at hand, the better you drive on a daily basis the better you will be at reacting to the rare excursion from normalcy. If your skill at driving stops at point-and-go, you will have an inferior reaction to an emergency situation than if you have a more well-developed sense of the capabilities of your vehicle.

Ideally, everyone should train for situations similar to real-world emergencies (skids, high-speed manuvering) but this is problematic. Driving in a manual forces you to consider not only the limits of the car but the effects your actions have on it.

Can a driver who learns on a manual be a bad driver? Of course. My position is that the average driver would be a better one (not a Good Driver) if he/she learned to drive a stick originally.

Your list of inputs that drivers should not be paying attention to strikes me as a list of the exact opposite.

About half of those (brake pads/lines, tire wear/pressure, air/gas intake) have effects that can be estimated from the driver's seat by the feel of various pedals and the car's performance in everyday driving. The rest are things that should absolutely be known to the driver. If you are aware that your car has an EGT problem, I hope you will drive that car differently, likewise an underbody corrosion problem.

Driving a large metal object at high speeds is not an activity that should be undertaken lightly. You, as a driver, are solely responsible for the condition and actions of your vehicle and your awareness of same is part and parcel of that responsibility. I recognize that drivers are imperfect creatures and make mistakes, but I disagree in the strongest terms imaginable that the answer is to remove the driver's input from the loop.

Your Space Shuttle example nicely proves my point. The Shuttle pilots don't land the shuttle. There are a suite of (IIRC) 4 computers that must all agree on a single course of action for each input at each stage of the descent. To be sure there is a manual mode if the automatic one fails but the preferred mechanism is for the computers to handle all of the descent until the actual touchdown because they are better at it. There are too many inputs that cannot be related through a simple interface and the costs of error too high for reentry to be trusted to an infallible human pilot no matter his or her skill.

When cars can drive themselves I will happily concede that that will be an increase in safety over an involved driver because at that point computers will be able to outperform a human. In the current situation I cannot help but fail to see how removing control and feedback from the single element wholly responsible for the safety of everyone concerned can be a good thing.


Also, I would like to add this. I have specifically avoided bringing statistics into this because I am unconvinced that there are useful statistics to measure this, or at least I have no ready source of same. You have explicitly mentioned statistics so I would beg a cite for the "statistics and the facts" you used to reach your conclusion.
posted by Skorgu at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2006


I'll bet a nickel that if you tested a wide variety of casual motor vehicle users with both systems that their actual performance will be pretty darn close.

You'd win that bet for reasonable definitions of "pretty close". But I'll bet a quarter that the difference would be even smaller if you randomly assigned a vehicle to each of them rather than letting them self-select as they normally do. Until someone does that, which side has the advantage in safety will be impossible to guess.
posted by sfenders at 12:52 PM on June 16, 2006


Oh, look, a minivan with a standard transmission:
Dodge Caliber
Used Dodge Caliber
MSRP Range: $13,425 - $19,425

The 2007 Dodge Caliber is a 4-door, 5-passenger wagon, available in 3 trims, ranging from the SE to the R/T AWD. Upon introduction, the SE is equipped with a standard 1.8-liter, I4, 148-horsepower engine that achieves 27-mpg in the city and 32-mpg on the highway. A 5-speed manual transmission with overdrive is standard. The R/T AWD is equipped with a standard 2.4-liter, I4, 172-horsepower engine that achieves 23-mpg in the city and 26-mpg on the highway. A variable speed automatic transmission with overdrive is standard. The 2007 Dodge Caliber is all-new for 2007
posted by etaoin at 3:54 PM on June 16, 2006


"mr_crash_davis -
Do you own one of those?"


Sadly, no. Our minivan is an eight-year-old Ford Windstar. My daily driver is a Toyota Cowrolla, though.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:48 PM on June 16, 2006


etaoin, a Caliber is not a minivan. Crossover-wagon-suv-whatever, but definitely not a minivan.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:49 PM on June 16, 2006


I love these threads. There is just something wonderful about someone perched on a soap-box screaming "I AM RIGHT, YOU ARE WRONG! My God is real, your God is a sham - die Fucker", or words to that effect. Hee hee. The whole thing is pretty funny. Who, in the end gets the soggy cookie? Everyone. Mmmm - bittersweet.
posted by caddis at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2006


I drive a manual because my daily driver is a '73 VW bus. I honestly think it focuses my attention on driving and less on talking, drinking, etc. Funny how so many automatic users are blabbing away on their cell phones or to their friends and driving stupidly.
posted by melt away at 7:01 PM on June 16, 2006


One thing not mentioned so far that is much more easily done with a manual transmission than an automatic, and that saves lots of wear on brakes, is the classic chauffeur stop mentioned in the linked article. You can of course do chauffeur stops in cars equipped with automatic transmissions, but the fine control of releasing the brake pressure at just before the instant of transition from moving to static friction on the brakes at full stop is much more difficult to do consistently with the vagaries of the torque converter pushing against the vehicle somewhat variably, and anyway, you need to immediately shove the brake pedal down again to keep the automatic from forward creeping on level or slightly downhill ground.

Beyond being a bit of smooth driving "cool," there is economic value to the technique, as quite a bit of brake wear occurs cumulatively in the little jolts of "stickiness" at the end of braking to a stop, as the brake system component surfaces (pads or shoes, and discs or drums, respectively) come into static friction conditions with each other. Typically, in my manual pickup trucks and cars, where I do chauffeur stops by habit, I get at least 100,000 miles on factory brakes, and then only usually need to replace the front pads. I've got a 2001 Chevy S10 that is my current daily driver, and at 87,000 + miles, it's got about 50% of the original front pad thickness left, so I expect to see 150,000 + on this set of brakes.
posted by paulsc at 7:25 PM on June 16, 2006


I read this whole thing (I almost stopped, and then ikkyu2 mentioned his M3...) so now I'm going to comment.

Mefilter: I am an American. I asked my dad to learn how to drive stick; he got his American, female friend with a pick-up truck to teach me on the fire trails carved through our local forests. The only car I ever purchased was a manual. It was a '79 MG B, and it rocked. Except it kept falling apart (heck, it only cost $500, and I bought it as a hobby car, so I got what I deserved -- and loved it dearly). I eventually sold it (for a profit, yay) to contribute to educational debt reduction.

I've had four other cars in my life -- all automatic, and ALL FREE. So here's my theory for why more Americans drive automatic cars: there are more of them. They're easier to come by. The same theory, in reverse, works for Europe/everywhere else with more stick shift cars in use.

Plus, they're cheaper (not side-by-side, I have no doubt that whatever the margin, a 2000 blah blah stick is cheaper than a 2000 same blah auto; but more choice means you're more likely to find a cheaper automatic that is more in line with your other requirements for a vehicle -- and try telling someone in Texas that a/c isn't important!).

Haven't people ever noticed that you can only buy what's for sale? Which makes me realize, this is clearly a Mac/PC debate in disguise!
posted by obliquicity at 10:58 PM on June 16, 2006


I've only ever owned manuals, and would never have contemplated buying an automatic -- until I went to see my current car. I had thought it was a manual, and almost left without a test drive when I found out that it wasn't.

I'm glad that I didn't. My next car will almost certainly be a manual as well, but that's because the cost differential here in the UK means there are just so many more of them. I suspect I'd prefer another auto. But I can't say I've noticed any significant lack of control, fuel economy, reliabilty, etc. etc.

And I like that you just point it in the direction you want to be, put your foot down and it just goes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:31 AM on June 17, 2006


Seems to me that, of anyone out there on the roads, cops are the ones who absolutely need vehicles that should be able to out-perform other vehicles on the road... If its good enough for them...

You're looking at this from the wrong perspective.

Cops shouldn't have to be pro drivers, nor are they for the most part. An extra task of developing driving skill should not be placed on such a large workforce ...Furthermore, [standard shifting] hinders the officer's ability to communicate and perform other functions (radio, computer, gun etc)...


You are correct about the automatic/hinderance part, but cops *do* have to take driving skills classes as part of their training. They also get an engine/transmission/suspension that is superior to 'normal' cars (I have driven one, it was choice!), so I don't think that 'police vehicles have AT, hence good enough for me' applies.

When has a manual ever gotten you out of trouble in a real world driving situation?

Two times that come readily to mind. The first, a semi pulled in front of me to make a left hand turn (across my lane) and the brakes failed when I stomped on them. I downshifted through the gears and turned left into the lane that he was blocking, which allowed me to avoid hitting the trailer. Unfortunately, an impatient driver was riding the berm to go around the semi and was going to hit me, so I chose to roll down the highway embankment towards the interstate steering with one hand & bracing my infant son's car seat in the back with the other. From there, I just turned the car ('69 VW Beetle) up the hill again to bring it to a stop. I didn't use the parking brake when the truck turned in front of me because there was gravel in the intersection and I would have slid into the trailer.
The second, I was driving a bank route for a delivery service (in an '82 Rabbit diesel) and was at the end of my allowed hours - about 4 am. Two blocks from home, I was stopped for a train and fell asleep at the wheel. My habit in a standard shift is to put in neutral and apply the parking brake for long waits, where in an automatic, I would have just held the brake & probably rolled into something after dozing off. I quit that job soon after; the pay was fantastic, but waking up behind the wheel was just too scary.

Other perks for standard shift: Skip shifting, hand braking, chirping through three gears, lighter weight to push, and my '79 Datsun took only $30 and a sunny Saturday afternoon to replace the clutch. I always buy used, so cost to repair is a factor, although to be fair my favorite car was an '84 Lincoln Mark VII automatic with a 5.0.

I have driven motorcycles and semis and almost everything in between. I like the way a standard shifted vehicle becomes an extension of my body while driving, but it is not an essential. Just get me and whatever items I want from point A to point B. I think that any car preference boils down to how you view the vehicle - is it an accessory or a tool? Either choice (or a blend of both) is perfectly acceptable.
posted by figment of my conation at 10:24 AM on June 17, 2006


Wow, that post is a lot bigger than it looked in the little window! Wassup with that, Matt?
posted by figment of my conation at 10:25 AM on June 17, 2006


So much arguing and anger over other people's choice of transmission. I'd love to see the flame wars that a boxers, briefs, or commando thread would elicit.

I've always owned sticks, and prefer them for the most part unless if I'm sitting in bumper to bumper to traffic. And I only read about 3/4 of the thread, but I don't think anyone brought up the push start factor; if your manual tranny car won't start, you can always push start it whereas with an automatic you don't have that option and have to rely on the kindness and availability of another motorist with jumper cables to help you on your way. Also, if your engine suddenly dies while driving a stick, you can still control your car enough to pull over and come to a safe stop. On the other hand, most automatics seize up altogether (that includes the steering wheel locking up) under those circumstances and are basically uncontrollable.
posted by Devils Slide at 12:41 PM on June 17, 2006


the push start factor

breakfast_yeti, BackwardsHatClub and i all mentioned it Devils Slide, but the conversation was pointedly fixed on how driving a stick does/ doesn't make you a better driver.

(It does by the way ;)
posted by quin at 1:10 PM on June 17, 2006


Skorgu: Feeling vibrations through the pedals and stick is no more a distraction than feeling the air move over your arm hairs is a distraction when running.

But isn't this based on a huge whopping fallacy that information about the state of a vehicle is absent with an automatic transmission? Do you do something different when you drive an automatic, such as wrap yourself in cotton batting and stuff your ears? Because I just have never had the sense that I'm getting a lack of feedback from an automatic.

But here you have changed your argument. First it was that conscious awareness of these inputs is a good thing, and therefore manual trannys are superior because you are mindful of them. Now it's mannual trannys are superior because they become second nature and you are not mindful of them.

To bring this back around to the subject at hand, the better you drive on a daily basis the better you will be at reacting to the rare excursion from normalcy. If your skill at driving stops at point-and-go, you will have an inferior reaction to an emergency situation than if you have a more well-developed sense of the capabilities of your vehicle.

And to me, (having considerable experience driving both) this seems like a profound misunderstanding, I've never had the sense that driving an automatic was point-and-go (except for an 80s Caddie that was gifted to me, it felt worse than a boat). Many of the feedback mechanisms you cite are also present in an automatic transmission vehicle. I feel what the vehicle does through the seat, wheel, pedals and my ears.

Or perhaps this is an over-generalization. I've driven automatic transmission vehicles that had really great road-feel due to their size, suspension, and steering. I've driven manual transmission vehicles that had really bad road-feel for the same reasons. Some manual transmissions have shit for feedback through the clutch, and lever, and some can be twitchy. For some automatics you hear and feel how the car is accelerating, and for others you don't feel anything.

We sink to the level of our training.

Exactly, if you want a person to be prepared to perform an emergency maneuver, you take them to a safe place to practice that maneuver. And you make them do it on a weekly or monthly basis.

You can't assume that training and practice for one context (day-to-day) will naturally transfer to a different context (emergency). We know that this kind of transfer is problematic, which is why trainers have moved towards increasingly realistic technologies. The transfer problem is extremely well studied in the field of human performance, training and education. You can certainly say that this problem just doesn't apply to the operation of a manual transmission, but until you provide something more than just rhetoric, I'm obliged to be skeptical.

Hence my bet above. I think that most drivers train to parameters that are defined by road conditions, laws, and local traffic patterns. These are nowhere close to the maximum performance of their vehicles. My hypothesis (based on the transfer problem) is that the actual performance of most manual drivers is not going to be significantly different from most automatic drivers.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:11 PM on June 17, 2006


breakfast_yeti, BackwardsHatClub and i all mentioned it Devils Slide, but the conversation was pointedly fixed on how driving a stick does/ doesn't make you a better driver.

(It does by the way ;)


Whoops, my bad.
posted by Devils Slide at 4:04 PM on June 17, 2006


Since a couple people appear to have actually mentioned my comment - one or two may actually have read it also - I will respond.

I never said that my M3's automatic transmission gave better 0-60 or quarter mile times than the same car with a stick. I said I've lived with it for 10 years and I wouldn't take the stick if you paid me.

That's because I'm an approaching-middle-age doctor who rarely drag races and frequently drives across town to get some groceries. I can only think of two or three times that I've wished my car had a stick, and one of them was when someone who couldn't drive stick asked to borrow it.

On the other hand, I used to wish my 1965 GTO had an automatic every time I drove it on the 10 or 405 in slow'n'go traffic.

I did drag race that car, though, and I have to admit that nothing I've ever done in the M3 compares to the fun of burning rubber at 50 mph while powershifting into third gear.

So yeah, basically you're all right.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:46 PM on June 17, 2006


I can only think of two or three times that I've wished my car had a stick, and one of them was when someone who couldn't drive stick asked to borrow it.

:)
posted by caddis at 6:12 PM on June 17, 2006


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