October 13, 2014

Manual or Automatic: Which One is Right for You?

When you’re shopping for used cars at our Oklahoma City buy here pay here car dealership, you’ll have to make a decision: should I get a car with an automatic transmission or a manual? Though automatics are far more popular in the United States, both manuals and automatics have their own advantages. Knowing what those advantages are will help you choose the right used car from our Oklahoma City used car lot.

Manual Transmissions

Chances are you know at least one person who still drives a manual transmission because “they’re just better than automatics.” While manuals do offer some advantages over automatic transmissions, there are also some myths and misconceptions surrounding them.

Advantage #1: Less Maintenance

One of the biggest advantages of manual transmissions over automatics is that they are mechanically simpler. This means they require less work to maintain and are cheaper to repair should anything go wrong.

The most common repair needed for manual transmissions is replacing the clutch plate. The clutch is the coupling between the engine and the transmission, and it gradually deteriorates with frequent use and with time. A clutch repair or replacement usually costs around $500 to $1,500, depending on how damaged the system is or if any other parts need to be replaced.

In contrast, automatic transmissions are much pricier to repair should anything go wrong. Modern automatics use a complex combination of electronics, hydraulics, and mechanical connections to provide power to the wheels – this extensive HowStuffWorks article [link: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/automatic-transmission.htm] gives a good overview of the complexity of automatic transmissions. Because they are so much more complicated, they also cost much more to repair and maintain: an automatic transmission rebuild can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.

Advantage #2: Better Fuel Economy (Usually)

In general, a manual-equipped car will get better gas mileage than an automatic. Manuals, because they are simpler, transmit power from the engine to the wheels more efficiently than automatics do. The clutch plate in a manual forms a better connection to the engine, letting more power get to the road with less loss. This, in turn, means the engine doesn’t have to work as hard to get the car moving, leading to better fuel economy.

That said, some modern cars are turning this trend around: many newer automatic transmissions are actually more efficient than manuals. These high-tech automatics are generally found on eco-friendly cars and SUVs. In the end, if you’re looking to get the best mileage possible on your used car, make sure you compare the manual and automatic versions to see which one does best.

Advantage #3: Manuals Make You More Attentive

Finally, manuals have another benefit that is a little less tangible: they make you a more attentive driver. Since you have to pay attention to what the engine and transmission are doing, you won’t be able to “zone out” and drive on autopilot.

This isn’t to say that manuals are necessarily safer – studies exist that show both manuals and automatics are more accident-prone. However, it’s impossible to argue that manual transmissions leave less room for distraction and demand more involvement from the driver.

Disadvantage #1: Harder to Use

So if they’re easier to maintain and get better mileage, why do most people shy away from manual cars? The chief factor is that they’re simply not as easy to drive, especially if you live in a city or someplace with a lot of traffic. Shifting a car smoothly requires practice and patience, and even then they can be tiresome to operate in traffic or at low speeds with frequent stops.

This disadvantage fades as you learn how to operate a manual effectively, but for new drivers it can be a major sticking point. If you drive in traffic often or do a lot of running around in areas with stop signs or traffic lights, a manual might not be very appealing.

Disadvantage #2: Less Common

In the event that someone else needs to drive your car, a manual transmission could be a major problem. Why? Chances are the other person won’t know how to work it. In the United States, less than 7% of all cars sold in 2014 were equipped with manual transmissions. Though the number of drivers who can operate a manual is undoubtedly higher than that, it’s still a significant minority of all drivers on the road.

In other words, if you’re planning on getting a car with a manual transmission, you should be aware that you’re part of an extreme minority. It’s quite likely that many people, from friends and neighbors to the mechanics at the lube shop, won’t know how to drive your car.

Automatic Transmissions

In contrast to manual transmissions, automatics are far more common and popular with most new and used car buyers. They also have a few advantages that drivers may appreciate over manuals.

Advantage #1: Easier to Use

The biggest advantage of automatic transmissions is that they are simply easier and less involving to drive. Because they don’t need to be constantly monitored and shifted, an automatic is much easier to drive in traffic. Automatics also don’t have problems with hill starts or rolling backwards from a stop.

Because of this, automatics make the process of learning to drive and getting around easier for everyone. If your primary concern when you’re buying a used car in Oklahoma City is just getting from place to place, an automatic might be right for you.

Advantage #2: No Clutch

Beyond being simpler to work, automatics also do away with the most tiresome part of manual transmissions: the clutch pedal. Because the clutch is the only link between the engine and the transmission, it takes a certain degree of force to disengage it by pressing the pedal in. Cars with heavy clutch pedals can be tiring and difficult to drive. They require a lot of effort to use, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

In contrast, automatics don’t have a clutch pedal and thus save you the effort of operating it. This might seem like a matter of convenience, but in truth the clutch pedal has been linked to some negative physical effects. Operating a heavy clutch for long periods places strain on your joints and muscles. Over time this can turn into lasting soreness or other physical problems. Automatics sidestep these problems entirely.

Advantage #3: Better Acceleration and Torque

Unless you’re a skilled racing driver, you’ll probably get better performance out of a car with an automatic transmission than you will out of a manual. This is for two reasons: automatics shift faster and smoother than manuals do, and they produce more torque at lower RPMs.

The idea that automatics shift faster than manuals is contentious at best. Many skilled drivers like to think that they can outshift an automatic. On older and less-advanced cars, they could be right. However, on today’s more advanced automatics, there’s simply no contest. After all, there’s a reason many luxury and performance automakers like Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Ferrari, and Lamborghini offer dual-clutch automatics and paddle-shifters rather than stick shifts in their new cars.

Also, automatics produce more torque – the rotational force that drives the wheels – at lower RPMs than manuals. This has to do with the way an automatic is built. Instead of a clutch, the engine and transmission are mated together with a torque converter, a fluid coupling that lets the engine run while the car is sitting still. When the engine accelerates, the torque converter multiplies the amount of torque available to the wheels, making the engine “pull” harder. This makes automatics preferable for towing heavy loads or for fast acceleration – most drag racers use automatics, for instance.

Disadvantage #1: More Complex

As we noted above, automatic transmissions are very complex pieces of machinery with dozens or even hundreds of moving parts. This makes repairs more expensive and time-consuming.

Also, automatic transmissions require a little more regular maintenance. If you have a car with an automatic, you should regularly check the transmission fluid to make sure the car has enough to function properly. Operating your vehicle with low transmission fluid could result in burning out the transmission, a mistake you and your wallet will surely regret.

Disadvantage #2: No Engine Braking

One great thing about a manual that automatics can’t match is engine braking. This is a technique used by drivers to control their speed simply by shifting gears rather than by pressing on the brakes. Because manuals offer a direct mechanical link between the wheels and the engine, you can actually use the engine to slow the car down from higher RPMs by downshifting into a lower gear.

Automatics, on the other hand, offer less capability for engine braking. They can do it to some degree, but the overdrive systems and lack of direct coupling make it less efficient and practical. Over time this means more wear on your brakes and less precision through turns.

Disadvantage #3: Less Fun

One thing you’ll hear over and over again about the manual vs. automatic debate is that manual transmission cars are simply more fun to drive. Even though they aren’t quite as practical as their automatic cousins, manuals are more engaging. They fully involve the driver in the process of driving. Automatics, on the other hand, keep you an arm’s length away from the action. If you’re looking for a fun, exciting driving experience, a manual is the only choice.

No matter what kind of car you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find it at our Oklahoma City buy here pay here dealership. The KEY has a huge number of popular used cars from major manufacturers, so you’ll be able to find the perfect car for your personality and your budget. Visit us today to check out our inventory, or get pre-approved online in under two minutes!


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