The Difference Between Manual and Automatic Transmissions: The Ultimate Transmission Comparison

Automatic vs. manual—which is best for you? What are the true differences? These questions stem from an age-old comparison. Today, we’ve decided to jump into the discussion with helpful insight.

Both manual and automatic transmissions are complex by nature, as are all transmissions. Having fundamental distinctions, both transmissions handle uniquely. Let’s dive into an ultimate comparison, exploring the differences between automatic and manual transmissions in detail. The following content serves as a guide, creates a helpful reference, and answers pertinent questions.

Manual Transmissions

General Information:

Also known as “stick-shift,” the title of the manual transmission is fairly self-explanatory. When utilizing a manual transmission, the driver physically uses a stick to shift gears. In modern vehicles, the stick is positioned on the center console. In rare cases, there are toggle switches on steering wheels for certain performance cars. Vehicles with manual transmissions also have a third pedal, mounted to the left of the break. This pedal releases a clutch disk between the engine and transmission. Once the clutch is released, the stick must be manually switched into the desired gear. Then, the clutch can be engaged again.

Often, the idea of stalling is associated with manual transmissions, i.e. the vehicle momentarily stuck in the middle of the intersection. Stalling occurs when the clutch is engaged too quickly from a standstill. On the other hand, engaging the clutch too slowly degrades the disk. Automatic transmission drivers, please understand: learning to drive a manual vehicle takes time. Nearly any manual transmission driver will agree.

However, any manual transmission driver would agree that learning to utilize a manual transmission is rewarding. Not to mention that manual transmissions can improve gas mileage, and handling vehicles internationally is also extraordinarily simple.

Manual transmissions range from four to seven gears; however, the greater number of gears are typically found in classy sports cars.


  • Better gas mileage, about 3-5 mpg. Because the driver has complete control of RPMs, gas usage significantly decreases. However, this may not be true for a speedy driver who only shifts at high RPMs to maximize the speed potential of each gear.
  • Better control of the vehicle. Manual transmissions can slow without utilizing brakes as often as automatic transmissions, simply by downshifting.
  • Fewer repair expenses. Automatic transmissions are more complex than manual. Because complicated repairs often cost more, manual transmissions can be a cost-effective option. However, what is saved in transmission repair may be accounted for in clutch replacement.
  • Cheaper vehicle options. Cars with manual transmissions are generally inexpensive compared to vehicles with automatic.


  • Driving a stick-shift vehicle can quickly become tiring in daily commutes through traffic where a driver is constantly switching through low gears.
  • Learning about an automatic transmission can be difficult if you’ve only driven manual. The same is true about automatic driving; however, challenges relating to switching from manual to automatic are often disregarded.
  • In general, manual transmission driving requires experience and is difficult for any newbie.
  • As we mentioned before, stalling happens and – beyond the mild embarrassment – can prove dangerous.

Automatic Transmissions

General Information:

Automatic transmissions require less driver interaction. Once rare and exorbitantly expensive, automatic transmissions are a luxury enjoyed by the majority of American vehicle-owners.

In exploring the mechanics of an automatic transmission, Encyclopedia Britannica wrote:

"When the transmission is in the drive position, the driver has only to depress the accelerator pedal, and as the car gathers speed the transmission will shift automatically through its entire forward range of gears from low to high (ratios of the speeds of drive shaft and engine shaft) until the two shafts are directly connected through the oil in the fluid drive, which may be either a two-element fluid coupling or a three-element torque converter. When the car loses speed the transmission automatically shifts back from high to low gear."

Automatic transmissions are further divided into two classifications: traditional automatic and dual-clutch automatic. From a driver’s standpoint, both handle the same, requiring no manual input. Distinctions are only noticeable from the inside of the vehicle. Traditional automatic transmissions utilize a hydraulic torque converter to connect to the engine. Dual-clutch transmissions connect to the engine via a pair of clutches. They were designed to achieve heightened performance and improved efficiency; the jury is still out on the ultimate results.

Automatic transmissions range from four to ten gears, with more accessible options available with the additional gears. This is ideal. A greater number of gears allow improved fuel economy and quicker acceleration.


  • Reduced distraction. While some drivers handle the extra responsibility of shifting gears well, others would prefer to focus entirely on the road. For some, manually shifting gears may be perilously distracting.
  • Better for unique driving conditions. Automatic transmissions are best for stop-and-go traffic or hilly areas. Attempting to drive a manual transmission vehicle under such circumstances can be exhausting and, potentially, dangerous.
  • Better for quick acceleration. Simply because human interaction is largely out of the picture, modern automatic transmissions change gears much faster than manual.


  • Learning to drive in an automatic transmission car is permanent. For example, if you eventually switch to a manual vehicle, you could have to retake your driver’s test in an appropriate car.
  • Currently, automatic transmission vehicles are not as fuel-efficient as manual. However, with constant advancements in vehicular technology, this could easily change.
  • As mentioned, automatic cars are more expensive to purchase and repair.
  • Insurance rates can be higher with automatic vehicles, even though they are largely seen as the safer option. This likely stems from archaic assumptions about automatic and manual transmission vehicles that do not hold as well today compared to three decades ago.

Automatic Versus Manual: Which Transmission is Best for Me?

The answer to this question depends on you, both your personality and your practical life. If you’re a driving devotee, a manual transmission might be ideal. If you prefer to hop in your vehicle and not think twice about shifting gears, automatic is probably the way to go. For some drivers, automatic transmissions reduce unnecessary distraction. Furthermore, your daily commute must be considered. Manual transmissions are not suited for constant stop-and-go traffic; an automatic transmission is infinitely better for the daily commuter through traffic.

Advanced Transmission Center

Do you still have unanswered questions? Perhaps, you desire to learn more about the transmission itself. At Advanced Transmission Center, we are happy to answer your inquiries – and provide specialized services for automatic and manual transmissions. Call our Westminster (Northwest Denver) location at (303) 421-4140, our Lakewood (Southwest Denver) location at (303) 922-4102 or contact us online to get started today!

Written by Advanced Transmission Center