Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Stick Shift

Chances are you don’t drive a stick. Why on earth not?

5 reasons to drive a stick

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 Edmunds.com, 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.

Check back tomorrow to see why my colleague thinks you should drive an automatic … as if.

120 Responses to “Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Stick Shift”

  1. Steven
    February 10, 2014 #

    My car has a manual transmission. I never had any form of 'stress' driving in heavy traffic, or shifting gears to much in town( at the many traffic lights) If you drive stick for some time it becomes such a common thing as toching your nose when you feel an itch. Stick driving also gives me the feeling I control the car.

    • Nancy Halpin
      September 1, 2014 #

      Kids can't answer cell calls OR, most importantly, they cannot text while driving shift. Work it? Oh yeah. This Grandma has a couple of years to save up for it!!!

  2. Soakee
    February 11, 2014 #

    Not to brag, but if you've driven one long enough then you know how to hold a cup of coffee with one hand and drive with the other; or drive a left-hand-drive car with your right arm in a sling. Then there's driving without using the clutch to shift – tricky but entirely possible.

    • Rena Lynn
      February 12, 2014 #

      ABSOLUTELY

    • kime
      September 3, 2014 #

      Just learned how to drive stick shift two years ago, and i have so much fun. Driving coffee with one hand is no problem, and also if you stuck in traffic still no problem. You just have to master it.

    • Gary Mundhenke
      September 6, 2014 #

      Yeah, I once had the linkage on the clutch pedal break. Had to shift without the clutch not by choice. :)

  3. Rena Lynn
    February 12, 2014 #

    Yep, sums it up quite accurately. I am part of a VERY small percentage of women who PREFER the manual transmission to the automatic.

    Point # 2 (for me) is that the manual transmission NEVER gets old (fast acceleration never does either). I love to go through all of the gears while I am driving. It is more FUN that way!! You need to "become one" with your car. It is part of the driving experience. Driving a manual car gives me a sense of control. I drive a 1998 Mustang Cobra Convertible (not in winter) so the "saving gas money" idea doesn't apply to me. HA HA. (Although I get 22 MPG the way I drive). lol. Driving it gives you the sense of YEE HAW!!

    Points #4 and #5 are very accurate!!

    • Max
      September 12, 2014 #

      Modern automatic transmissions can shift faster than humanly possible. While in the past automatics have always been slower, in recent years advancements have been made which drastically improve the fuel economy as well as the shift/acceleration of automatic transmissions. A modern automatic can shift faster than some of the most experienced manual drivers, and a hell of a lot faster than an average one. As far as repair cost goes manuals have gotten much more expensive in later years to replace, not necessarily the labor involved but the parts themselves have increased drastically in price all but evening out the cost difference for automatic and manual maintenance.(I just had to spend 1500 dollars to get my clutch rebuilt on my beetle, soon I will have to spend even more to get the transmission rebuilt or replaced which will be just as expensive) So much for my manual being cheaper to maintain. Meanwhile I have a volvo s40 automatic with 150000 miles and the transmission is still going strong, not as smooth as it used to be but won't need work for at least another 50000 miles.

      Stick is more fun to drive, but that's about it these days.

      • Max
        September 12, 2014 #

        and my beetle has just over 114000 miles on it. I have taught some people to drive manuals using it, and they have put some wear on it over the years; but when I drive it, I baby the hell out of it.

  4. Kris
    February 15, 2014 #

    I miss driving a manual, but demanding it really limits your options. My current model has manual option (diesel too!) all over the world, except north America. It seems manual is mostly offered in stripped-down or performance trims. And good luck finding one used. I swear people with manuals hang on to their cars longer.

    • Marina
      April 1, 2014 #

      Yes, they do. It is so difficult to find a replacement! My current car has automatic transmission, because my previous car got smashed up and I needed a replacement quickly and could not find one with manual transmission. Not even a pickup!
      I've had this car for 8 years, and it is a great car in so many ways, but from time to time I get this feeling something important is missing and realize it is the option of deciding which gear to use.
      Since moving to California I have mostly been riding my motorcycles…

  5. Fay
    February 20, 2014 #

    I love my "stick"! I have been driving manuals since I bought my first car in 1988. My dad started teaching us how to drive stick using his old manual pickup when my siblings and I would hit our early teens. What a right of passage! My dad also told me two reasons to get manuals: 1. Most of your friends & family can't drive stick so they'll be least likely to ask to borrow your car. 2. Most car theives also can't drive stick. (Would like to stats on this!)

  6. Elisa
    February 26, 2014 #

    I learned how to drive a manual Saab back in the 70's and passes my road test in it. Although I drive an automatic now, driving a stick is still a thrill, makes me feel more in control of my vehicle.

  7. cycledan
    March 12, 2014 #

    I used to drive a manual transmission. I don't anymore simply because my wife doesn't know how and it is too annoying to own a car she can't drive. However many of your points simply aren't true anymore due to technological improvements. In all my years of driving, I have never had to repair an automatic transmission. I have had to replace a broken clutch cable though. As for gas mileage and acceleration, there is negligible difference. On many high end sports cars, the automatic transmission will actual result in better 0-60 times. Also in traffic which I sit in for most days while commuting, it is a lot easier to not have to keep clutching. Yes, I did it almost automatically without thinking with a stick but honestly, it is simply less of a pain in an automatic. I don't get the fun factor thing at this point in my life. Driving my car to work is just something I have to deal with. I don't think a manual transmission makes my commute any more enjoyable. Now if I bicycle to work, then I am enjoying myself.

    • E Benjamin
      August 29, 2014 #

      Ive never owned a manual that needed transmission repairs, minus one clutch replacement. On the other hand, Ive had many automatics where the transmission started to slip or not engage gear at all (and no, it was not the result of a broken shift cable) I imagine the hilly terrain didn't help the situation at all. Besides better fuel economy, better control of vehicle, easier maintenance and higher reliability (less moving parts), a manual will still do something a modern automatic can never dream to do; be push started in the case of a dead battery or failed starter. It is just less likely to leave you stranded.

      Yes, its true that a manual can be somewhat of a bear in traffic or uphill stop and go but I think the benefits outweigh the inconveniences..

  8. eddie
    April 4, 2014 #

    Now automatics are a lot more efficient , my manual transmission is not cheap either over $2500 to replace , labor on clutch replacement on front wheel drive and parts are very expensive too my clutch set is about $ 300 and if i have to replace the flywheel it cost about $ 423.00, if you take care of the a/t it last the life of the vehicle that wont happens with the clutch , in the end manual are better on gas and more reliable vehicles.

    • Douglas
      August 8, 2014 #

      Wow…………that is a lot of $$$$ for manual tranny repairs! Where did you get that quote from?! The entire clutch set (clutch, pressure plate, and throw out bearing) for my Chevy is only $160.00………..complete!! They even include the alignment tool. I have had 2 auto transmissions leave me stranded (and almost broke) in the last few years and I will never own another one! The most I have ever lost while driving a manual was the use of one gear, and I had the other 4 speeds to make it home on. In over 50 years of driving I have only had to replace 1 clutch on any of my vehicles. Good luck with your automatics.

  9. Jonathan
    April 8, 2014 #

    I miss my stick!

  10. Martin
    April 9, 2014 #

    Don't forget the fact that you cannot jump start an automatic !

  11. Rob
    April 15, 2014 #

    Sticks are not faster since computers took over. Computerized automatic is about 1/2 second quicker in the 1/4 mile. Proof on the drag strip,check out you tube.

  12. Hannah
    April 24, 2014 #

    When I take my manual for small repairs, or inspections, it is laughable how many mechanics and car salespeople cant drive it. Yes, I am a girl, and when I bring my car to the garage, the mechanic men are all very suspicious of a woman driving a manual tranny. They cant even pick my car up from the "finished" lot since they cannot and will not learn to drive one…, and sheepishly have to get the female clerk to bring it around for me.

    Recently, a driver texting and eating – smashed into me, totaling my rare manual 4WD SUV. It took weeks to find an acceptable replacement. New model manuals sold in America are very basic models, and rarely come in FWD or AWD,, nor do they have any bells and whistles (unless you are buying a camaro, mustang, or Porsche, even then…).

    My daughter will be driving next year, and her only choice will be to learn a manual because that is all I will have.

    • Pat
      July 23, 2014 #

      Hannah, you should think about Subaru. I just bought a 2014 XV Crosstrek AWD Suv. What a great car. Only getting 34MPG.

      • Pat
        July 23, 2014 #

        Forgot to mention, it is a 5 speed Stick

  13. Gershon
    May 3, 2014 #

    I lived mostly in hilly country. My experience has been that automatics effectively have only one gear: The wrong one. One case, however, when an auto is needed: Rush hour traffic from LA north to Palmdale/Lancaster is a moderate slope at less than 5 mph. Hell on the temper and the clutch. Fortunately I did not do that move.
    An objection to autos is that they are programmed for gas mileage and insist on shifting when I want more torque. The top 50%+ of the engine's power is inaccessible, so most people get a huge engine when in most cases, 1.6 liter would do and the mileage goal actually gives much poorer results. Dumb, dumb, stupid.
    I want a pickup for my next car. Stick shifts for me are essential AND unavailable. Damn their eyes! I guess I will have to walk.

  14. john
    May 10, 2014 #

    driving a stick car is REAL drivers driving and more safer…I'm saving my 6spd jeep wrangler for my son when he gets his license….he won't be able to sprint up to speed too quickly…he can't drag race this thing to get into any trouble and driving stick you need two hands so no cell phone or texting. I have been driving stick cars for over 30 years and I still prefer the manual trans over automatic

  15. Henry
    May 28, 2014 #

    For many years I drove manual transmission only and loved them. Not anymore. Too much trouble.

  16. Louis HR Muller
    June 2, 2014 #

    My school's driver ed car (in 1957) was a stick shift 1957 Studebaker. All these years later I have a 5-speed 1992 Probe and a 5-speed 2007 Mustang. I like playing the controlling role in driving.

  17. Linda Shine
    June 29, 2014 #

    I miss my stick. However, I got a great deal on my Prius which doesn't come manual. My stick was 22 years old when I had to give it up.

  18. Joe
    June 30, 2014 #

    Maybe less likely to be stolen as many people can't drive stick.

  19. prash
    June 30, 2014 #

    I am from India, in India, 80-90% of the cars or vehicles are stick drive. Even though the traffic in India is insane.. I never had any issue driving a stick vehicle. I had 2 wheelers and 4 wheelers, all of them are manual transmission. I loved it. I miss my stick drive car here for fuel ecomony and the way those vehicles keep you alert behind stearing wheel. :)

  20. Craig B.
    June 30, 2014 #

    Some people never learned how,or are afraid to learn. I knew a woman that needed to use her boyfriends car (with a manual) while her car was repaired. Her boyfriend was unable to teach her and became frustrated and angry. She REALLY needed to learn, or rent a loaner.
    I took her out in my truck, turned off the radio. I told her to watch my feet, and listen to the engine. I started and stopped 4 times. Gave her the same instructions: watch and listen.
    then I had her try.
    She was driving with only one stall in less than 20 minutes.
    She and her boyfriend traded in her car for a new sporty car with a manual.

  21. DeCouseau Zhoyieerre
    July 21, 2014 #

    I learned to drive a stick in the military on the old jeeps where you had to be precise on letting off the clutch pedal and giving it the right amount of gas in order not to stall or start off in in a jerky manner. When I bought a manual Nissan it was such a breeze to drive almost like driving an automatic because commercial cars were so smooth compared to military jeeps. You didn't have to be precise with the gas pedal and clutch pedal for the clutch to catch the gear when starting off in 1st gear especially when trying to start from a dead stop on a steep slope.

  22. reddyteddy
    August 16, 2014 #

    Been driving my l998 Jeep Cherokee Sport since it was new.. But guess what, I got it from my wife when she got tired of it and I had a l987 Lincoln Town Car…Needles to say this old stickhead ended up driving the Jeep everyday… Five speed w/on demand four wheel drive (just clutch and pull up the lever). Live in Tn and used to get the tow rope and go out on snowy/icy days and pull people off the curbs/ditches they had slipped in.. (notorious bad drivers here when its clear and dry/) Made a lot of pocket cash as you wouldn't believe what people will pay to get going again…Put an automatic tow on it 5 yrs ago and the money just gets easier… I look for bad weather…. Everytime I drive an automatic w/someone with me they keep asking what Im reaching for….Ha Ha…Gonna keep it until it falls apart 350k on it now and no signs of quitting..

  23. Terry Kovac
    August 24, 2014 #

    I totally agree with all of the items on the list. Been driving only manuals for 40+ years and so far my children are following suit. I drive 70 miles round trip to work and I'm sure it helps me to save on gas even though I have an AWD. I still have the original clutch at 146K and just recently replaced the front brakes mainly due to a really good sale at the dealership. I agree that fewer cars would be stolen if more were manuals. At the Auto Bell car wash, out of 15 young people only one of the girls could drive a clutch. I sure hope they don't stop making them for the U.S.market.

  24. Scott R
    August 25, 2014 #

    I love manuals except when I am stuck in a 5 mile highway stop n go gear mixer, clutch,1st,brake and repeat and repeat!

  25. Cathy McNamara
    September 22, 2014 #

    I drive a 2004 Honda Civic 5 speed with 204500 miles. It is great on gas 40 mpg hwy and still on the original clutch!

  26. Sunny
    September 23, 2014 #

    I drive a 2005 Honda Civic coupe EX. The 5-speed is butter slick. Good pedal weight and clutch travel (not far, like German cars), lightweight and short throws, notchy engagement. Only complaint is that I sometimes miss Reverse (but I'm also impatient). Even with traffic woes, I'd never trade in the manual shifting experience. If you like driving, you will drive manual transmission. I can't fathom otherwise.

  27. Dale Haase
    September 25, 2014 #

    One more advantage with the manny trans: car thiefs don't know how to drive 'em.

  28. t
    October 1, 2014 #

    All people should learn to drive a manual first, so that they know not to have the left foot on the break peddle while accelerating. This way the break lights aren't always on and you can see them activate when actually braking. The old autos had lower top speed and slower acceleration (when the manual is operated correctly), but what gets off the line quicker? I have been driving since the late 90s. Even my stock, auto, 1994 3.8L v6 mercury Sable station wagon could smoke a rices out v6 eclipse manual stoplight racing. Now it's all about SMGs and most autos are SMGs now a days. Granted I still need to learn to drive a clutch.

  29. Fred D. Bear
    October 9, 2014 #

    You forgot #6:

    Most young car thieves and car jackers have no idea how to drive a stick so they leave your car alone.

  30. J. Hammer
    October 14, 2014 #

    None have mentioned the ability to pop the clutch in the event the battery is too low to start the car. To my knowledge, you can't do that with an automatic transmission.

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