Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Stick Shift

Today we start our series on our preferred modes of transportation. Come back each day to find out why our writers think their method is the best (and weigh in on the topic yourself).

As a lifelong driver of manual-transmission cars, it’s with a heavy heart (and well-toned left calf) that I report the sales of stick shifts are, er, not great these days.

According to, sticks made up less than 7 percent of U.S. new-car sales as of May 2012. Compare that to, say, 1987, when they accounted for a much meatier 29 percent of that pie, and you have a drop-off so steep it’s led Time magazine to forecast the ride’s extinction.

Now, despite my own clutch-crazy bias, I admit these figures do beg the question: Does this disappearance of the automobile’s 3-pedaled progeny make sense?

In a word, pshaw! In even more words, here are the top 5 reasons why this humble stick driver thinks you should make the move to a manual.

1. Stick shifts improve fuel economy

I can’t even begin to tell you how much gas I’ve saved with stick shifts over automatics. No, really, I can’t — since I’ve only ever had a stick, I have no idea what I’ve saved. Smarter people, though, like those at Consumer Reports, tell me it’s probably a lot. According to them, stick shifts can increase fuel efficiency by 5 mpg.

What’s more, sticks accelerate faster than automatics. And since vehicles are most efficient in higher gears, timely acceleration and upshifting is crucial to getting your best gas mileage.

2. Stick shifts save you more money (‘cause that never gets old)

When it comes to car repairs, sticks have a major leg up in a key area: the transmission. Replacing the transmission on an automatic tends to run in the neighborhood of $3,000. But on a manual? Just $1,200 to $1,500.

According to Edmunds, sticks are also often cheaper to buy than automatics. The cost of a 2012 Honda Civic, for instance, shrinks by $800 when you opt for the stick version.

3. Stick shifts promote safe, non-pixilated driving

Do you want to know a huge reason I’m not tempted to use a mobile device behind the wheel? It’s because, when driving a stick, there’s simply not a limb or appendage to spare! Caught up in the interactive motoring that stick shifts demand, it becomes far less tempting (or even possible) to tweet, text, like, pin, or tag.

While educating motorists on the dangers of distracted driving is the best prevention method, getting more people behind the wheel of a manual would be, I believe, sneakily effective in its own right.

4. Stick shifts give you a sense of accomplishment

The main question I hear from people about manuals is usually “Is it hard to drive a stick?”  Well, in the immortal words of the great Jimmy Dugan: “It’s the hard that makes it great.”

OK, in all seriousness, learning to drive stick is far easier than it’s often made out to be. But it does take a bit of determination. And, really, isn’t that a good thing? When the ability to drive doesn’t come so easily, aren’t we less likely to take that activity for granted later?

So let me dispel any false hope: when you start learning stick, you’re going to stall (repeatedly). You’re going to get flustered with the shift knob (repeatedly). You’re going to stop-and-start your way around the cul-de-sac more than the ice cream man. And then … it will all click, and you’ll be grateful for every second of it. (Or you’ll mentally collapse and never pick up a set of car keys again, but still.)

5. Stick shifts are way more fun

While saving money, cutting down fuel use, and promoting undistracted driving are all stellar benefits, I have to come clean: they’re also secondary. The chief reason I prefer manuals is, well, they’re just a blast to drive!

Faster acceleration and gentler braking? Check. More control and a sense of oneness with the road? Check. A cure for restless-leg syndrome? I have to confirm with our doctors but … check. A way to get excited about driving every day? Check and mate!     

Still need more convincing? Learn what my stick shift and I accomplished together.

The debate rages on! Find out why my colleague thinks you should drive an automatic … as if. Then, you can geek out on why hybrids and motorcycles might also be the way to go.

Insuring Driving Dogs (a.k.a. Dog Is My Pilot)

Driving dogs? Really? Yes, really. A charity in New Zealand recently began teaching shelter dogs how to drive — not only because it’s adorable, but also to show potential owners how intelligent dogs can be. Though the cars are modified (how’s a Schnauzer supposed to reach the pedals on a regular car?), the dogs do everything from starting the car to accelerating, braking, changing gears, and steering.

This video comes courtesy of ITN News:

Of course, watching this video got us thinking. What would be required to insure driving dogs? Is licking oneself at a red light considered distracted driving? Does pooping on the seat constitute an accident? Let’s find out.

Tell us about yourself and your car

Year: 2012
Make: Mini Cooper
Primary use: Business (This joyride is all about getting adopted!)
Estimated annual mileage: 10 (I’m only allowed to drive on a closed track.)
Ownership status: Hoping to find an owner soon.
First name: Sparky
Last name: the Dog
Marital status: Does sniffing each other’s behinds make it official?
Age: 3 (That’s 21 in people years.)
Email: Um, I’m a driving dog, not a tech nerd.
Primary residence: Shelter
Employment status: Full-time
Profession: Heart-warmer
Traffic violations: Have you seen how slowly that car goes?
Prior accidents: Not since I’ve been potty trained.

Liability coverages

Bodily injury: $100,000/$300,000 limit
Being cute doesn’t pay a lot, and I don’t want to put myself at financial risk if I accidentally hit my trainer.
Property damage: $10,000 limit
Can’t do too much damage on a closed track.
Medical and funeral services: Decline
No thank you. I’ve seen Pet Sematary.
Uninsured motorist bodily injury & property damage: $50,000/$100,000 limit
All those inexperienced new pups on the road seem to skimp on insurance.

Vehicle coverages

Comprehensive: Decline
Hitting an animal?! What kind of monster do you think I am?
Collision coverage: Decline
Not going fast enough to do that much damage.
Towing and labor: Decline
I just need a leash.
Rental car coverage: Decline
My feet wouldn’t reach the pedals of a rental car.
Customized parts and equipment: $4,000 limit
This car is tricked out just for me!

Since dogs would be incredibly expensive to insure (and since most dogs still can’t drive), we’ll just have to be content with having dogs as our copilots … for now. Check out our tips on how to get your dog to love the car.

Oh, and just in case you’re planning to teach your dog to take the wheel, our insurance experts asked me to warn you that we do not pay for claims related to driving dogs — it’s a Department of Insurance thing, I think.

Related links

Learn more about the driving dogs
Driving with pets

8 Killer Songs for Surviving Gridlock (and One Victory Tune)

Screeeechhh! Was that the sound of your brakes grinding to a halt? Nope. Unfortunately, that happened a long time ago. This screech was the sound of your sanity taking off, leaving you hanging in horrible gridlock with just boredom, desperation, and anger (a group that’s no laugh riot, to be sure).

Before falling back on your usual coping methods at the next standstill — futile GPS rerouting, distant staring, experimental telekinesis — there might be a much simpler portal to sweet serenity: music!

According to Psychology Today, out of all possible mental or physical exercises, listening to music has the most direct impact on mood. Good thing, since, as we know, traffic jams can really test our sunny dispositions.

Since Fridays just so happen to be the worst day for gridlock, here are some of the songs I like to listen to while staring into the belly of the traffic beast.

1. “I Believe I Can Fly,” R. Kelly
The first step toward attaining inner Zen, of course, is positive visualization. Or is it just a flat-out (though glorious) delusion? Either way, hit “Play,” leave your worries behind, and soar … soar!

2. Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart improves your overall happiness, says Psychology Today. And, coincidentally, the image of you feverishly “conducting” his work improves the happiness of adjacent drivers. Kudos, Maestro.

3. “Stuck in the Middle with You,” Stealers Wheel
You’re stuck all right. And the nose picker on your right (yeah, buddy, everyone can see you) is certainly a joker.

4. “Electric Avenue,” Eddy Grant
If this doesn’t get you bobbing your head, tapping your foot, and releasing your stress … maybe it will at least work as an alternate route?

5. “Moonlight Mile,” The Rolling Stones
Hopefully you can get out of this mess before the sun goes down. We’re just saying, if day turns to night and it’s still bumper-to-bumper, the bluesy vocals and serene, snail-paced guitar on this cut will help you make the transition without howling in anguish.

6. “Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rockwell
It won’t get that goofy kid to stop gawking at you from the back of his parents’ station wagon. But it will describe it.

7. “The Best Is Yet to Come,” Frank Sinatra
C’mon, let’s hear it: “We’re about to start moving … we’re about to start moving … we’re about to start moving …”

8. “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey
Well, maybe there’s still hope after all. And even if you haven’t reached your exit by now, this sing-along favorite will at least give you something to do as you wait. Bring it on, rush hour! Air guitars ahoy!


You’ve made it! You’re hungry, you’re tired, and your left leg has fallen asleep, but you’ve been unlocked from gridlock and you’re finally home. You deserve a victory anthem.

9. “We Are the Champions,” Queen
Does this one really need an explanation? You’ve slayed the dragon. You are the champion. “We Will Rock You,” also by Queen, suffices as a good alternate since you totally rocked it. (Additionally, this song works in trying situations, like waiting in line at the bank or working the Sunday Sudoku.)

Now, despite your best (and most melodic) efforts to improve traffic, sometimes frustration gets the better of people. To find out how anger on the asphalt can impact car insurance, and to learn ways to stay safe if things ever get heated, check out our insight about road rage.

What’s your traffic tune?

Have a song you particularly like to jam to during rush hour? Leave a comment and spread the word!

Related link

The worst traffic jams

Top 3 Reasons Why Cheaper Insurance Isn’t Better Insurance

With the new year comes the resolutions — join a gym, be more cultured, save money … you know the drill. But as you reassess your spending habits this year, we have one tip for you: don’t skimp on car insurance.

People who buy the coverage they really need, and not just the cheapest policy they can find, rarely look back with regret. But folks who skimp with bare-bones coverage are setting themselves up for a serious face-plant.

Here are the top 3 reasons why cheaper insurance really isn’t better insurance:

1. You might actually have to use your insurance

Having an ultra-low monthly premium is great … so long as you never actually have to use that coverage. When you’ve skimped on coverage or opted for a high deductible (or both), cheaper insurance isn’t likely to provide much relief if you get into an accident — in fact, it can become just another burden when everything else is going wrong. Opting for the low-cost/low-coverage option often means deferring serious payments until you’re already in crisis mode.

As it turns out, $20,000 in bodily injury protection, plus the same (though generally less) in property damage coverage, often won’t cut it — especially since the average cost of an injury-only accident is estimated to be around $126,000. And the more parties that are involved, the more likely expenses are going to skyrocket.

2. State minimums don’t always provide adequate coverage

Some states have high minimum coverage limits, while others have surprisingly low ones. But accidents don’t cost more in one state than they do in another.

Maine, for instance, requires drivers to carry personal injury coverage to the tune of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident, along with $25,000 in property damage coverage per incident (typically written as 50/100/25). Mainers are also required to carry substantial uninsured motorist coverage as well as medical payments coverage. All told, minimum coverage in Maine actually adds up to pretty good coverage.

On the other hand, Florida only requires drivers to carry 10/20/10 in personal liability. There’s no requirement to buy uninsured motorist protection in this state — even though a whopping 24 percent of Florida’s drivers are uninsured. (Maine’s rate is one of the nation’s lowest at 4.5 percent.)

Minimum insurance limits aren’t necessarily an indication of what you need. Buy insurance that will really protect you if something goes wrong.

3. Optional coverages can add a lot of protection

So you saved money by waving off those optional coverages. Awesome! Your bare-bones liability coverage will cover your stolen car, right? Wrong!

Options like comprehensive, collision, and uninsured motorist coverage aren’t usually required by law, but going without them leaves you responsible for a number of potential expenses. Standard liability insurance, which is the only required insurance for most states, protects other people and helps mitigate damages you may cause, but it doesn’t actually cover costs when something happens to you or your property.

If another driver accidentally damages your car, hopefully they’ll have liability coverage to take care of your costs. But what about an accident with a fire hydrant? That’s when collision coverage comes in handy and assists in fixing your car. And medical payments coverage can help you pay for hospital bills if you or one of your passengers is injured.

Take a look at optional coverages and decide whether you can afford to cover those costs yourself in the event of an accident.

Cheaper insurance isn’t always better

Although your minimalist insurance policy looks great for your wallet right now, it’s a safe bet that it probably won’t look so pretty after you get into a car accident.

Read up on your options with our coverages page or consult our Coverage Counselor® to help you find the coverages that are right for you.