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.

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

  1. Jey
    November 21, 2014 #

    As a lifelong active biker(as well as a roadracer, retired) it was a no brainer driving "standard" transmissioned cars from decades ago till now and loves it in both types of vehicles. However the "handwrittting on the wall" maybe coming true cause EV vehicles(are coming) don't have "manual" transmissions. Til then I'll keep on riding my 2-whlr & driving a manual trans car.

    • Byron
      November 24, 2014 #

      When usimg cruise comtrol on the highway with hills there is no annoying down and upshifting that is common in an automatic.

      • tom
        December 3, 2014 #

        Wrong Byron. The Automatic transmission on cruise control in moutainous terrain is optimizing fuel economy by selcting the correct gear for road conditions. 2003 and earlier model cars were difficult in this regard and would hold the car in a higher gear far longer than needed, before down shifting wasting gas. 2004 and newer cars the transmission became more "fluidic" in that it would change gears sooner finding the sweet spot optimizing fuel economy. New cars still will get better milage with 7,8, and 9 speed automatics along with the CVT transmssions. The CVT transmission in my Subaru Empreza in real flat land highway gas milage reliably gets 31-32 MPG. On I-70 in Colorado's Rocky Moutains at posted speeds, surprise! 30 MPG As I write this, currently in development for Class 8 trucks (big rigs) is a CVT transmission. In early testing they were able to get 20% better fuel milage over the best 9,10,12,12,15, and 18 speeed manual transmissions on the market today.

      • Bob Noakes
        December 5, 2014 #

        Byron, When I go to Indiana from Florida I use I-65. Upper Alabama and lower Tennessee have some good hills to climb. My pickup has a 5-speed manual trans, in it. You can either run in 4th gear all the way or shift back and forth between 4th and 5th. Some times you still have to put up with up and down shifting. But all and all, I get better mileage with with a stick.

  2. Jossie Erazo
    November 24, 2014 #

    Since I learned to drive stick shift….. I just love it!!! I can't really explain why, but I do feel good knowing I know how to and maaaany people don't! Yes I love the acceleration when the light turns green and I go from gear to gear going ahead….. and you forgot to mention what you save on brakes….you tend to brake less cause you just start shifting to lower gears and barely touch the brakes. It's a great feeling driving standard transmission cars…….please don't take them out of the market!!!!!

    • Adolf
      January 17, 2015 #

      Best part about having a stick pickup, when people say can I borrow your truck to move something, and I say can you drive a stick, 90%of the time they hang their head in shame and say no. Also stick 4x4s perform better offroad and in the snow.

  3. D F Pace
    December 2, 2014 #

    You are also a million times less likely to have your car stolen if you drive a stick because would-be car thieves don't know how to operate one!

    • Riley
      December 14, 2014 #

      So true. We should get cheaper insurance since our manual cars have a built in theft deterrent systems. Teenagers even shy away from manuals.

  4. Priolosec
    December 5, 2014 #

    This article is based on personal preference, not facts. If you think a stick is fun, buy one. If you think you can better control your car in snow, or rain or think you're saving fuel—think again. A stick shift will not allow "traction control", which is an acceleration function in ABS brakes. A stick is LESS fuel efficient than modern automatic transmissions. For decades we have had "auto-lockup" in high gear, which is the same mechanical drive connection a stick has. And saving brakes by downshifting? Maybe, but you're burning up your clutch (which is A LOT more expensive to repair). I drove a manual shift for many year, but the "savings" over an automatic vanished long, long ago. Fun? Sure. More efficient? Nope.

    • drifterz28
      December 15, 2014 #

      What do you mean by "A stick shift will not allow "traction control""? My 97 camaro with a 6 speed has traction control.

    • Red
      December 18, 2014 #

      Wrongo, bwana: ABS works just fine with a manual transmission. You're right, though, that automatics generally wear less than the clutch/trans combo on a manual, and I'm very surprised nobody has mentioned that, when geared the same, automatics are faster because they shift faster.
      Most of the time, however, they are NOT geared the same, because it's almost impossible to get a low enough first gear in an automatic. Checkout the new Dodge Hellcat-engined Challenger and Charger for proof

    • Red
      December 18, 2014 #

      Oh, and the manual is still more efficient: they don't have torque converter slip and therefore losses. Look it up.

    • The Big Latino
      January 12, 2015 #

      You do understand that a moderate mechanic can change out a clutch for $300 parts and a days work, depending on overall knowledge of that repair? Clutch replacement is at 100,000 miles. You also don't have all the needless electronic sensors that go out on an automatic which cost a ton and leave you stranded when they go out. NO COMPARISON. Traction issues, really??? Why would u endanger yourself with severe winter weather driving. Automatics crash too.

    • Not an idiot.
      January 19, 2015 #

      Well golly jee, I don't know what that "traction control" button could possibly be doing in my manual transmissioned car. Must be for show.

  5. linda newman
    December 7, 2014 #

    I love stick shift. I looked for months to find a used one and they were like finding a needle in a hay stack. So got a new kia with the choice to drive it in stick or auto. I drive stick 80% and the rest auto only when I need my hands for something (not texting). Stick shift is the way to go.

    • John wilimas
      January 22, 2015 #

      Sorry – that's not really a stick shift

  6. Doug Bullock
    December 12, 2014 #

    I drove stick for 40 years and do NOT miss them ! The ONLY advantage is they can be push started .

  7. Riley
    December 14, 2014 #

    As much as I want to save the manual, it's days are numbered. Even the super car companies ie. Ferrari, Lamborghini are no longer offering the manual. Today's automatics shift faster, have more gears(getting better mpg), better computers, last longer and transmit power just as good as manuals. I predict all that will trickle down to the big 3 and all foreign cars who will also quit offering manuals one model at a time. There's too many lazy drivers that want comfort. My parents recently bought a used BMW Z4 to replace their Z3. They insisted on manual trans and had a really hard time finding on. They love their 6 speed Z4. I'll go with the stick as long as I can.

  8. Ragnar
    December 16, 2014 #

    Here in Norway most people drive a stick, its often surprising to hear when someone drives an automatic, might be more popular in the big cities.
    There's an additional advantage; on our slippery slope icy roads people succumb to the powers of no road grip and wind up getting stuck in a ditch, but a stick is more effective at accelerating and that helps you in getting yourself up, you can control the traction differently than in an automatic

  9. Phil Bearden
    December 21, 2014 #

    You've listed some great reasons, but omitted a key one: If your battery is dead, you can still start the car by pushing it off. Of course, if you have a 3-ton car on level ground and you're by yourself, it might be difficult…

  10. Aaron Leckinger
    December 21, 2014 #

    Stick shifts are great, except on L.A. freeways in traffic…

  11. Jeff
    December 24, 2014 #

    Unfortunately most of his reasons are outdated. I love stick shifts and driving a car with a great manual provides one of life's greatest joys. Driving a honda prelude Vetec, Acura Integra/RSX/Honda Civic SI with Honda's manual stick shift is one of the best manuals a young person could buy. I forgot Honda S2000 and Acura NSX. German cars like VW GTI, Jetta GLI, BMW 3 series and of course any Porche with a manual is what motivated many of my generation to go to college to get a good job. Back to why Glenn is wrong on many things. Sticks are no longer faster or more fuel efficient but they are probably much more cheaper now than ever to replace. For example a 2005 Honda Element (horrible example I know) gets better gas mileage in a stick than the four speed automatic but my wife's 2008 five speed automatic gets better gas mileage than the my five speed stick shift element. The new Dodge Charger Hell Cat can go 0-60 in 2.95sec while the automatic was around 3.3 to 3.5. The new corvette z06 automatic also breaks 3seconds while the new seven speed stick is few tents slower. Ferrari, Lamborghini and many more sports cars don't even have a stick available and even though Porche has made a new seven speed manual the top of the line porches don't have a manual as an option. This said, but a stick and learn how to drive one if you don't. Pushing buttons is not the same and the reason why young people do not car about cars like previous generations is because they don't know how to drive. The difference between driving a stick is like the difference between playing Mario Kart at your house, or Halo in a college dorm building with all friends there cs playing with complete strangers online. Yeah cars are quicker and you can play with friends online but there's something different about being 100% engaged. When you play Halo with your friends in the same room it's five times more fun than playing with them in different states with half of your attention distracted by other things.

  12. Jeff
    December 24, 2014 #

    Driving an automatic is like the difference between flying a Boeing 747 on auto pilot vs flying P-52 WW2 Mustang. Sure the 747 is faster but the doing barrel rolls in the P-52 is more fun. Race Car Driver vs Bus Driver.

  13. Angiegirl
    January 9, 2015 #

    Hi. I remember learning to drive a 'shift' in the Catskill Mts…as a teenager…My (then) current bf was brave enough to let me 'practice' on his Karmin Ghia (till I ran into a big bush)….lol. But, learning how to 'back out' with the shift and learning how to 'navigate' your legs/hands together to make the car back up out of a ditch was like a big accomplishment! lol. After that, he forgave me, and I got 'the hang of it'…lol. I have had several stick shift cars over the years, and I was proud when my friends would 'marvel' at my being able to control both clutch and gas on our huge hills here in San Francisco! I felt so proud! I learned right…and loved scaring them going back & forth while waiting for light to change on a big hill! Ha, ha..always kept control! I can drive anything…

  14. The Big Latino
    January 12, 2015 #

    Stick for life. Can't beat it…

  15. James Barends
    January 12, 2015 #

    There is a lot of data that shows a manual can eliminate nearly 80% of accidents for the under 20 drivers. The reasons are simple. The vast majority of their accidents are now cell phone related and as described above normal people can not text and drive with a manual. It also applies to DUI. Young drivers have a lot of trouble managing a manual DUI, though not true for older drivers. Third, the manual requires the driver pay more attention to the road since they have to shift as conditions change. My own experience is this works especially well with drivers who would normally let their attention drift.

    There is also another reason. The National Insurance Institute (NII) has confirmed the positive impact of manuals relating to texting and some insurance companies off discounts because of that. But you need to ask and you need to restrict the young driver to that car.

  16. Albert
    January 21, 2015 #

    An extra reason is when someone asks to borrow your car you can always be the nice guy and say yes. Then casually ask if they drive a stick. Nine out of ten would say no. You can then just say too bad.

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