Manual vs Automatic

Drivin’ L.A. with Andrew Chen: Manual vs Automatic Transmissions

Manual vs Automatic — you can’t talk about a car without touching on the subject of transmission type, and inevitably, someone nearby will launch into a one-sided lecture about why a manual transmission is better than an automatic transmission.

Car enthusiasts typically rally behind the manual transmission, with subjective reasons as to why it’s better, like “it’s more fun to drive” or “you feel more connected to the car.”

And even though I physically row through the gears on a daily basis, I tend to disappear into the bushes a la Homer Simpson whenever this “debate” arises because a battle of opinions and preferences always ends with the same result: nobody changes their mind. (Mostly because there’s no one from the other side of the argument present. Ha!)

Trying to argue that a manual transmission is better to a person who’s never used one or doesn’t care to use one is like speaking English slowly and loudly to a non-English speaker — they’re still not going to understand. I don’t think anyone has ever converted a casual or even non-car enthusiast into a fan of the manual transmission. What would be the selling points? More effort required when driving? Adding even more stress when crawling through stop-and-go traffic?

Manual vs Automatic

While I feel that daily-driving with a manual transmission (especially in a congested city like Los Angeles) should only be reserved for those that absolutely love the art of driving, I still think it’s a good idea for everyone to know how to operate a manual transmission and do so consistently for a month or so. It’s the same reason that I think everyone should work in the restaurant or retail industry at least once in their life — you’ll learn so much about yourself and others, and the experience will help you appreciate everything that much more.

Operating a manual transmission also makes you a safer driver because you’re forced to pay attention more often (you need to know when to shift!) and both hands are occupied so there’s no opportunity to text, surf the web, or take a selfie with your phone. And for the rest of you who have automatic transmissions: put your phone down! You’re piloting a 3,000 lb machine that’s capable of doling out death to you and everyone around you!

Having driven my 6-speed manual Nissan 350Z for over 10 years, I can really appreciate how much automatic transmissions have changed. They’re fast and smooth, and most feature seven or eight gears for better fuel economy. If you’re talking about all-out performance, there’s no way I can manually change gears faster than I can click a paddle-shifter.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference and the type of driving experience you’d like to have — no one transmission technology is absolutely better than the other, especially when most of the cars we’re talking about will never see a race track.