Manual vs automatic cars

More than a million of us bought cars with automatic gearboxes last year, and it looks like sales will soon outstrip manual cars. So, what’s making more people choose to drive automatic cars, and which type should you choose?

To help you select which type of car might best suit your needs, we’ve taken a look at the differences between the two, as well as the pros and cons of both.

Manual vs automatic transmission - What are the differences?

Close up gear stick

Manual

  • On a manual car, it’s up to the driver to change gear
  • Manual cars have five or more forward gears
  • Manual cars have a clutch pedal that needs to be pressed before changing gear

Automatic

  • On automatic cars, the gearbox changes gear for you
  • Most automatics will have park, neutral, drive and reverse gears
  • Automatic cars don’t have a manual clutch, so there are only two pedals
Automatic gear stick

Manual vs Automatic Driving Licenses:

If you take your driving test in a car with a manual gearbox, you're also qualified to drive an automatic. However, if you take your driving test in an automatic car, you can't legally drive a manual. You'll have to take your test again in a manual car. Find out more on the DVLA site here..

The four types of automatic gearbox:

Did you know there are four different types of automatic gearbox?
Every automatic gearbox will fall into one of these four basic categories, but some manufacturers have their own names for the systems they use, so it's worth asking the seller exactly what is under the bonnet.

Here's a summary of each one and how they can affect your drive:

1. Traditional automatic

Smooth gear changes and reliable, but better suited to larger cars. Often found in more expensive models like Jaguars and BMWs.

2. Continuously variable transmission (CVT) 

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. Twin-clutch automatic gearbox

The smoothest option, but can have reliability issues. Often found in high performance cars like Porsches and Mercedes.

Manual vs automatic - pros and cons:

We know that a car with an automatic gearbox may, in theory, be simpler to drive, but let's take a look at how else manuals and automatics can differ.

Car on road

Manual Transmission – The Pros & Cons

The pros:

  • A manual gearbox can be better at transferring power from your engine to your wheels so 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

The cons:

  • 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 Transmission – The Pros & Cons

The pros:

  • 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

The cons:

  • 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

Looking for something else?

Topics