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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Why automatic transmissions have not replaced manual transmissions

A car is made of many moving parts, but the most important moving part is the transmission. The transmission ultimately transmits power from the engine to the driving axle. This is what makes your car move. There are two types of transmissions you can choose from, even in 2018: Manual and Automatic. Both of these types of transmissions allow for your car to make it from home to the store, from soccer practice to church, from the gym to Starbucks, to pick up your kids at school and drop them off at a friend’s house. Both manual and automatic transmissions allow for your car to change gears, again, transferring momentum from the engine to the driving axle, and reducing or increasing speed. Gears are what allow your car to reduce or increase. The gears make your car efficient, and will use less energy, whether electric or gas, to get you from point A to point B. Choosing the right transmission for you isn’t as easy as you might think. To make the best decision you need to learn the pros and cons of each option, and make an informed decision on what best aligns with your desired driving experience.

So what’s the general consensus of which transmission is considered best? So far there hasn’t been a general consensus. It’s similar to film vs. digital for photographers. It all depends on your own taste, style and the picture you have in mind for your own driving experience. The truth is both manual and automatic transmissions have an upside and a downside. You won’t get perfection either way–there will be reasons to not choose each. But you do get a distinctly different driving experience with manual and automatic transmissions, and for some that is enough to make the decision right there.

To make the best decision for you, look at the general outline of what each of these engine options:

  1. Automatic Transmissions: The first automatic transmission is thought to have been invented in 1932, but wasn’t really introduced to the general market until General Motors came out with the Oldsmobile in 1940. Automatic transmissions are generally considered to be easier to learn and simpler to use when commuting on a daily basis. You don’t have to worry about learning gears 1-5, shifting, or how to use a clutch. The automatic transmission does all of this on its own. For new drivers, this creates a smaller learning curve to get started on the road and driving on one’s own. Because automatic transmissions remove the need for you to be shifting with your right hand (if you’re in the US) or left hand (worldwide), it allows you to have both hands firmly on the wheel 99% of the time. This is considered to be a safer way to drive, and gives you more ability to correct if confronted with any driving issue such as a road block, a fast stop, an accident, etc. Automatic transmissions are also more ideal for stop and go traffic (you don’t have to worry about 1st-2nd gear) and hilly terrain (constantly downshifting to get up the mountain). Additionally you don’t have to worry about stalling in the middle of the street, at a stop sign, a stop light, etc. Automatics can create more peace of mind while driving and allow you to focus on the road and not on the car, or shifting gears. Automatic cars are often a little more expensive than manual, but with a myriad of financing options and companies offering novated leasing services, this is usually not a factor when making the purchase.
  2. Manual Transmissions: If you like to feel connected to your car and have a say-so in your driving experience, the manual transmission is the one for you. You become the pilot, and it is never on automatic. Many people prefer a manual transmission because it allows you to really feel like you ARE in the driver’s seat again. You have control over what your car is doing at all times. There are other plus sides to a manual: they’re usually cheaper on a both new and used car lots due to the fact that more and more people don’t know how to drive them. They’re also less costly to maintain, and are less likely to be stolen (always a plus). Because you have greater control over your driving experience, you can easily reduce the cost of needed fuel as well. Manuals have been proven to be more fuel efficient. Often when you watch films, such as James Bond, the hero is driving a manual car because the experience shows a great deftness, athleticism and relationship with the car. Sometimes more expensive cars will be outfitted with a manual transmission because part of the fun of enjoying the car comes with driving it completely one’s self.

Overall the transmission you choose says a lot about how much effort you want to put into your driving experience. If you want to just relax and not have to do much, the automatic is the one for you. If you want something more involved, but cheaper and lower-maintenance, then go with the manual.

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