Manual vs automatic cars

So you’re buying a new car but can’t decide between an automatic or manual gearbox? On the face of it, it’s a simple matter of whether or not you want to change gear yourself or let the car do it for you, but there’s actually a bit more to consider before making a decision.

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 - the differences:

Close up gear stick


  • 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


  • 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 pedal


f you took your driving test in an automatic car, you can’t legally drive a manual in the UK. You’ll have to take another ‘upgrade’ test first.

Automatic gear stick

The four types of automatic gearbox:

Did you know there are four different types of automatic gearbox? Here’s a summary of each one and how they will 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 Land Rovers.

2. Continuously variable transmission (CVT)

Very reliable, but can cause high engine revs making the car noisy.

3. Clutchless manual gearbox

Operates much like a manual gearbox but uses electric motors to change gear. 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, but most expensive option. Often found in high performance cars like Porsches and Mercedes.

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.

Car on road

Manual vs automatic - pros and cons:

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


The pros:

A manual gearbox is generally 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 and repair 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 a little more difficult.
Manual driving requires more multi-tasking skills than an automatic.


The pros:

Automatics should be easier to drive because there's no need to think about the clutch and gear stick.
Twin-clutch gearboxes are capable of seamless gear changes.
They're useful for people with a disability or limited mobility.

The cons:

Automatic cars are more expensive to buy, maintain and repair than manual cars.
Traditional automatic gearboxes often use more fuel than manual gearboxes, which means they're not great for efficient driving.
Some drivers think automatics offer a less enjoyable driving experience.


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