What type of transmission is better, Manual or Automatic?

When buying a new car, it’s important to understand what’s on the market. Will you stick with manual handling? Switch to automatic? Or make the move to electric?

Whatever your requirements, learning about the different types of cars is important. It allows you to make the best decision — meaning you can find your dream car that will last you for years to come.

To help you select which type of car might best suit your needs, we’ve taken a look at the differences between manual, electric and automatic cars, to present you the pros and cons of each.




Manual cars

Manual cars are the most common on UK roads. With a manual car, you will need to monitor and change gears in order to build up or drop down speed.

These cars:

  • Have four or more forward gears, and one reverse
  • Have a clutch pedal that needs to be pressed so you can change gear

In order to drive a manual transmission vehicle, you will need to have a manual licence. However, if you only have an automatic licence, you will need to upgrade to a manual licence to drive a manual transmission car.

Types of manual transmissions

There are three types of manual transmission gearboxes, although only one — the synchronised or constant mesh gearbox — is still commonly in production.

1. Sequential manual transmission

With a sequential transmission gearbox, the gears change by moving a lever up and down. Sequential gearboxes are often used in motorsport — their simple design means that they’re easy to use, so shifting between gears and speeding up is a doddle. The only downside with sequential transmissions is you can’t skip gears; you have to go through them one by one.

2. Unsynchronised transmission

Invented in the 19th century, this is the first type of manual transmission. Gears are engaged by sliding them on the shaft. This type of gearbox was difficult to engage, as the timing had to be correct in order to allow the gears to mesh easily with each other. These types of gearboxes are only found in vintage cars.

3. Synchronised / constant mesh gearbox

The constant mesh gearbox is what is used in modern manual cars. The gears are arranged in an H shape, and you can skip gears in order to get to your desired speed faster.

Manual Transmission – The Pros & Cons


  • A manual gearbox can be better at transferring power from your engine to your wheels so you can accelerate more quickly
  • Cars with manual gearboxes are generally cheaper to buy, maintain, repair and insure than automatics
  • Some drivers think manual gearboxes are more fun to drive than automatics
  • If you learn to drive in a manual, you are also qualified to drive an automatic


  • You have to change gear manually, which requires more thought and effort
  • It's more difficult to learn to drive in than an automatic
  • Driving in heavy traffic, or conditions where you have to change gear a lot, will be harder work
  • Manual driving requires more multi-tasking skills than an automatic




Automatic cars

Automatic cars are gradually becoming more popular in the UK as drivers realise their benefits.

These cars:

  • Automatically change gear without input from the driver
  • Have four settings: park, neutral, drive and reverse
  • Only have two pedals — there is no manual clutch

You can drive an automatic car with either a manual or automatic licence.

Types of Automatic car

There are four different types of automatic gearbox, although each manufacturer may have a different name for what’s under the bonnet.

Check with the car salesperson to find out exactly what you’ll be dealing with. Here's a summary of each one and how they can affect your drive:

1. Traditional automatic

A traditional automatic has smooth gear changes and is relatively reliable, but is often thought of as better suited to larger or more expensive cars.

2. Continuously variable transmission (CVT)

A CTV is a totally different kind of gearbox with no fixed gears, so there are no gear changes. Very smooth and reliable, but can be noisy.

3. Clutchless manual gearbox

A normal manual gearbox that uses electric motors to change gear automatically. Cheaper than other types of automatic, but can give a jerky ride. More common in cheaper and smaller automatic cars.

4. Dual-clutch automatic gearbox

Sometimes also known as a twin clutch transmission, these systems have two computer-controlled clutches rather than one manual clutch pedal. This eliminates the need for the driver to manually change gears. It is the smoothest option, but they can have reliability issues. Often found in high-performance cars like Porsches and Mercedes.

Automatic Transmission – The Pros & Cons


  • Automatics should be easier to drive because there's no need to think about the clutch and gear stick
  • Some automatics are capable of smooth, seamless gear changes
  • They're useful for people with a disability or limited mobility


  • Some automatic gearboxes can give a jerky ride
  • Automatic cars are more expensive to buy, maintain, repair and insure than manual cars
  • Some automatic gearboxes can use more fuel than manual gearboxes
  • If you learn to drive in an automatic, you're not qualified to drive a manual car




Why are electric cars automatic?

Electric cars are fast becoming a smart alternative to the usual petrol and diesel, thanks to a rise in environmentally conscious consumers and the ever rising cost of fuel.

Electric cars are automatic, as they do not need a clutch due to their inability to stall.

Types of electric automatic cars

Pure electric

Pure electric cars, also known as 'battery electric vehicles', have only one power source, in the form of an electric motor which is powered by a battery pack. As these vehicles rely entirely on electricity for fuel, they produce zero tailpipe emissions.

Most of the pure electric vehicles on the market offer a range of 100 miles, though more expensive models offer more.

Plug-in Hybrid

The plug-in hybrid is the most common type of electric car in the market. Unlike pure electric, these cars feature a combustion engine as well as a battery and electric motor. There are no manual plug-in hybrids. The car will first be powered off the battery and electric motor, then by the usual diesel or petrol engine once the battery has depleted.

The key advantage of a plug-in hybrid is the ability to cover much longer journeys than a pure electric vehicle, without the need to charge it up. The downside to this type of electric vehicle is that they still produce tailpipe emissions and when these are not running on electricity, some are less efficient than petrol counterparts due to the weight of the electric motor and battery.

Extended Range Electric Vehicle

Like plug-ins, the extended range electric vehicle also features a battery pack, electric motor, as well as an internal combustion engine. The difference is that the electric motor always drives the wheels, with the petrol or diesel engine acting as a generator to recharge the battery once depleted.

Range extenders can have pure electric range of up to 125 miles.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

This type of electric car uses a fuel cell stack that uses hydrogen to create electricity. The fuel cell, unlike a battery, does not need recharging and will continue to generate electricity whilst it is being supplied with hydrogen.

These vehicles can be refuelled at a filling station in a similar way to petrol and diesel cars. The current models on the market have a range of around 300 miles. The downside to this type of electric car is there is a lack of hydrogen filling stations in the UK to support their roll out.

Choosing your perfect car

So whether you’re looking for a brand new car or buying second hand, remember to weigh up the options and choose what is best for you. From the traditional manual transmission to modern electric vehicles with automatic gearboxes, there’s plenty to choose from on today’s market.

Looking to insure your manual or electric vehicle? Look at Swinton Car Insurance today.

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