Comparison: Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

By Angela Monroe - August 6, 2020

Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

The battle of auto Vs manual has been raging for generations. Both have advantages and disadvantages, both win and lose in different categories.

In this article, we go over a few of the basics and look at auto Vs manual transmissions.

The gist of transmissions:

person driving

The ‘mission of a transmission’ is to deliver engine power to the wheels safely and efficiently by balancing the engine speed and power with the wheels. There are different types of manual and automatic transmissions – here are a few common ones…

Common Types of Manual:

Sequential – Used in motorsport. They don’t allow drivers to skip gears and result in a lot of wear. However, they allow for fast shifting.

Synchronised Mesh – The standard manual gearbox we’re all familiar with. In a nutshell, gears remain spinning ‘in sync’ with each other when the driver presses the clutch, allowing for easy shifts. 

Common Types of Automatic:

Torque Converter Automatic – Found on almost all autos, it uses a hydraulic mechanism to do the job of a clutch. It uses a ‘fluid coupling’ which is what it sounds like – high pressure liquid is used to connect the engine rotations to the transmission. Understandably, they are pretty complicated.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) – This is becoming more common. It uses belts or pulleys dependent on engine speed instead of metal gears and allows for smooth acceleration and improved fuel efficiency.

Tiptronic – This uses a torque converter which replaces the clutch but also allows the driver to manually select gears. A manual transmission without a clutch – popular in sports cars.

Auto Vs Manual: Types of Driving and Lifestyles….

Now that we know the gist of transmissions, we’ll compare their suitability per vehicle and lifestyle. 

Around Town

city highway

Winner: Auto

If you primarily drive around town through a lot of traffic lights, busy roads and tight parking, auto is far easier and more reliable. Constant pumping of the clutch and changing gears while rushing to work in stop-go traffic is not ideal. Most city cars are auto for this reason. Manual cars in this category are less desirable.

Rural Driving

Rural Driving

Winner: Both

This includes 4×4 vehicles. Modern automatics are fantastic for off-roading but manuals have pros too, such as more control in some off road situations. Highway driving doesn’t require much clutch use or gear changing which makes manuals easy. Autos are equally as comfortable for long distances.

Family Cars

father and son near lake

Winner: Auto

SUVs and larger sedans designed for passenger capacity and comfort often demand auto. The smoother acceleration makes a more comfortable drive. Furthermore, if you’re transporting a car full of noisy kids, using a clutch and changing gears is one less thing to worry about. As new drivers learn to drive, an auto makes things much easier, as do other features for first-time drivers.

Sports Cars


Winner: Manual

For those with a love of cars and driving, owning a sports or performance or classic car is a ‘lifestyle’. Selecting gears at your desired engine speed is part of the fun – especially when you’ve paid big dollars for the privilege. It’s no wonder many cars in this category come in manual.

Resale Value

car msrp

Winner: Auto

Depending on what kind of car you’re selling, autos are usually more desirable for the average driver. It’s this reason that automatic cars generally sell for a higher amount compared to their manual counterparts which can make a good choice for bad credit car loans. Additionally, if a previous owner hasn’t used the clutch and manual transmission correctly, damage is likely to occur. Make sure to consider the desirability and resale value of a car before buying it.

End of the Day

End of the Day

The choice between MT and AT ultimately comes down to the driver. If you can’t decide, think about your primary use of the vehicle. Stop-go driving in traffic or regular commuting – most will choose an auto. This has become the choice for Australian drivers as around 95% of new cars sold are auto. Driving a sports or performance car and enjoying the drive – most will choose a manual.

Angela Monroe
Angela Monroe is the Community Manager at The Positive Group, specialising in giving people the information that they need when they need it, and putting you on the path to a fair financial future. She has 8 years of experience in helping Australians find the right finance solutions, and regularly contributes articles to empower Australians with the knowledge they need to become financially healthy.


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