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.

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

  1. Dan Callahan
    January 15, 2013 #

    Also, less likely to be stolen – fewer manual transmission cars mean fewer crooks know how to drive them and there's less of a resale market for them.

    • Robert
      July 18, 2013 #

      You failed to mention that for towing there is nothing better. I drive professionally and would not be caught dead driving a fully loaded tractor trailer with an automatic.

      Manual transmissions also allow for better engine braking instead of having to rely strictly on your brakes.

      I would rather use the compression brake and down shift my 18 speed transmission with 80,000 pounds behind me over just using my brakes which can fade and become useless once hot.

  2. David
    January 15, 2013 #

    All true except the fuel milage improvment. Although true as little as 3 years ago with the development of these new 6,7,and 8 speed automatics the auto trans has finally surpassed the manual in fuel milage gains. That being said I will stick with a stick because its gonna cost any fuel savings plus some when you have to replace that 8speed trans at 110k and us stick drivers are maybe doing our first clutch to the tune of 6-800.

    • Jluan
      February 13, 2013 #

      8 gears just to equal the gas mileage of a 5 speed manual…no wonder they HAVE to use a turbo to get any kind of acceleration out of a power-train setup like that.

    • y_p_w
      February 20, 2013 #

      The biggest thing is the lockup torque converter on the freeway. It might not compensate for the increased weight though.

      In addition to that, many autos are now computer controlled to shift later to improve fuel economy. Translation: gutless acceleration unless you stomp hard on the pedal enough that you can destroy the transmission if you do it often enough.

    • paul b.
      July 9, 2013 #

      I own my first stick back in 1982 it was a Nissan Maxima! What a blast to drive and I lived in San Francisco back then. I simply loved driving it!

    • Paul
      January 20, 2014 #

      Then the reality of it is, a stick shift is still more economic with money. The manual transmission has less centrifugal loss and therefore uses less energy to move the tires. Plus the newer manual transmissions are getting more gears as well making them more fuel economic then their counterpart, for example the t56 put into the Firebird in 2001. The t56 6speed can give that V8 the ability (depending on the drivers driving) to get 30+ mpg. The drivers driving is also more likely to be a reason for early clutch repair too, I've been driving on the same clutch in my car for a little over a year now and it's been fine, and I'm not sure how long it's been in there because the car is used. The clutch can be expensive but you can shop around on eBay making it a do it yourself job for about 300 give or take.

  3. Eric
    January 15, 2013 #

    Not only is it cheaper to replace a manual than an automatic, its far less likely that you ever will need to replace a Manual Transmission because they are simpler so less parts to break down and thus more durable. At most you may need to replace a clutch, and again that's rare.

    • y_p_w
      February 20, 2013 #

      I've had to fix a manual. Stalled in reverse and a gear tooth sheared off as well as several cracked gear teeth. The guy who repaired it couldn't find a used one and rebuilt it with a new gear. Said he'd never seen reverse break before and that straight cut gears are stronger.

      I've got the gear sitting in a drawer.

      • WB
        March 21, 2013 #

        Straight cut gears are not as strong as helical gears. Helical gears distribute a load across several teeth, where as a straight cut gear has only one tooth bearing the load. The guy is wrong.

      • Hugh
        June 6, 2013 #

        Actually the mechanic is correct. The helical gears are inherently weaker but are much more quiet than a straight cut gear. Most delivery trucks and cube vans use tranny cases out of light duty trucks but they pack them with straight cut gears to handle the extra loads put on them.

      • Matt Kenney
        September 22, 2013 #

        WB & YPW. I am afield service technician for an Industrial gear supplier. Hugh is quite correct in saying helical bevel gears are much stronger than straight cut gears as long as they are made of the same material (carbon steel vs. carbon steel, etc.) In helical gears the axial & tensile strengths are much greater due to the load being distributed over a much larger area. Also, due to their being more grooves in contact at the same time, this ends up making the travel much smoother cutting down on vibrations & play in the gears.

  4. Jason
    January 16, 2013 #

    Manual transmission is the way to go. Aside from fuel savings… If you are a seasoned stick driver and utilize engine braking with normal braking, you can easily get 100k+ on a set of brake pads. I have 125k on my vehicle and pad life is at 50% front to back. If you don't ride the clutch, it can last the life of the vehicle too. My previous car had 180k w/ the original clutch before I gave it away to a family member.

  5. Sharone
    January 16, 2013 #

    I learned on an automatic, but my first car is a manual, and I will never go back. It's definitely more complicated to maneuver places like Dallas freeways with a manual, but it's FUN. I get 33mpg out of my little Ford Ranger and I love the way I am so much more in touch with the whole driving experience. Also, in the process of learning how to drive it, I got interested in learning how everything worked, which sort of led naturally to doing my own mechanic work (that and the fact that I couldn't find a decent, honest, affordable mechanic).. and now I'm hooked. The guys down at O'Reillys are happy to teach me just about anything I want although they did laugh at me when I first came in and said I was going to change my own starter. I think it had something to do with me being a girl, although I can't imagine how that would make a difference. Each time I came in for advice or parts (one of the electrical connections was 'rotted' out), they got more and more serious and genuinely helpful. And that Orange hand cleaner is the best stuff ever, by the way! :)

  6. Dot
    January 17, 2013 #

    In those emergencies when you have a dead battery, you can push start a manual transmission. This can come in particularly handy when you are 8 months pregnant and come out of the shopping center to discover you left your lights on and your battery is dead. Plenty of helpful people out there to push the car for you! Just saying………..

  7. Tom W.
    January 19, 2013 #

    I am a retired mechanic with 40 years of experience. I'd like to add my 2 cents. In many cases manual transmissions don't improve fuel economy. That will depend on your driving conditions, how you drive and the particular vehicle in question. Often there is little to no difference.
    The improvements to our automobiles during my career have been incredible. In most cases the automatic transmission in late model cars will probably last the life of the car if properly maintained. The standard clutch however, has changed very little over the years an will probably need to be replaced 2 or 3 times during the life of a car at significant expense.
    As far as safety, your mama always told you to keep both hands on the wheel.
    To me, there is really only one reason to have a car with a manual transmission and that is personal preference.

    • Paul
      May 11, 2013 #

      My momma never said that…she drives a 5 speed just like my daddy. Clutches are not that significant of an expense-the shop I work at charges 500 for a clutch. Unless you don't know how to drive stick, a clutch will last the life of the car. You get better acceleration and hill climbing with a stick, because you don't have to spin 6-7 quarts of heavy liquid. This also taxes the engine. I live on a steep hill and constantly hear the sressive screaming

    • Jeff
      June 15, 2013 #

      Life of a clutch is depenant on how it is used, pretty much like other componets on the automobile. Someone who rides the clutch, or who does mostly city start / stop driving on a consistant basis is obviously going to need to replace the pressure plate, clutch disk and throwout bearing more frequently than someone who does all highway or a moderate mix.

      I really hate that on my last vehicle purchase I had to get an automatic simply becase they don't build the vehicle I wanted to buy with a stick. It should be the buyers choice, even if we sitck drivers have to pay more.

      Car makers dont really care to hear from the end consumer, they just build what is most commonly sold as the indicator of what people want. Of course car dealers dont order many low end basic "strip down" models becase their profit margins are lower.

      Personally I prefer stick shifts, hand crank windows, manual locks….you get the picture. Which is why one of my favorite vehicles is my jeep wrangler. There's nothing there that is not neccesary, pure function.

    • Sydney Jay
      January 20, 2014 #

      I've driven sticks all my life. I've personally owned two. Got to more than 140,000 miles on my first before it got totaled. It had the original clutch when it died. My second, which I still have, has 130,000 miles on it, and I'm still on the original clutch (though it'll probably conk out tomorrow now that I'm on here bragging). If you don't ride the clutch, you should never need to replace it. If you're not shifting, you should either be in gear or in neutral.

  8. Monte
    January 20, 2013 #

    I learned how to drive in a 2 1/2 ton stock truck with a 4 spd manual upper and lower gears! Count 'em, with reverse, that's 10 total gears (8 forward and 2 reverse)! Dad is really proud that I have never burned out a clutch too! From sports cars to large heavy duty trucks, manual is the way to go!

    • Just truckin
      May 2, 2013 #

      I learned to drive on the farm at 6 years old and then moved onto the big trucks at 10 years. The truck was a 47 kenworth with. 5500 gallon water tank on it and it had two transmissions in line (main box and brownie box) main trans had 15 gears and the brownie had 4 gears, then I had a two speed rearend, So how many possible gears did I have to choose from at 10 years old? 15x4x2= 120 and how many reverse gears? 4×2=8 hahahaha not bad for a busy little 10 year old. And this was not out in Iowa somewhere but right here California just south of San Jose back in 1985.

  9. Sandra
    January 28, 2013 #

    honestly none of these are really true, some opinions, other's false or questionable. For number 1, now a days most automatics have noticeably higher fuel economy than their MT counterparts, to the tune of 2-4MPG. For 2 yeah, it's more expensive to replace an AT than an MT, but an MT tends to take more abuse and requires more frequent repairs, particular to replace the clutch. Number 3, yes and no, sure you aren't playing with your phone, but people driving stick shifts tend to drive more aggressively and often don't have both hands on the wheel, both of which are dangerous. 4 & 5, well those are just straight up opinions

    • y_p_w
      February 20, 2013 #

      Manuals almost never need repairs for breakdowns, but clutches are wear parts like brakes and tires. That bring said, I've had to fix a manual, but the mechanic was stunned that it had broken.

    • Dakota
      April 4, 2013 #

      I don't mean to be rude but all your statements are either wrong or made up. Manuel does in fact get better mpg, I mean it ain't just 1 person saying they do its flat out testing. Clutches just like another person said are like brakes and tires its maintenance plus if you don't abuse them I bet you won't ever have to change them in the average time a person keeps a new car. As for both hands on the wheel honestly if your gonna wreck by the time you switch from 2nd to 3rd having 2 hands on the wheel ain't gonna help. Plus the correct way is to place your hand back on the wheel after every shift, people don't do this cause its annoying but people with autos are more likely to be to relaxed then someone diving a Manuel. Don't get me wrong you should be relaxed but not too the point you have your seat laid back one hand on the wheel cruise control on and eyes fading into dream land.

    • John
      October 3, 2013 #

      actually #1 is wrong; the difference is usually about 1 mpg. I checked a number of 2013 cars to arrive at that average. #2 MT does not take more abuse, nor more frequent repairs; those are just your own opinions. Folks who beat a manual or automatic vehicle will beat them regardless so your argument isn't valid. A clutch can easily last 150K in todays vehicles if driven properly. that isn't an opinion – its based on research. #3 partial agreement; less distracted with Manual, no factual basis that people driving stick are more aggressive. Aggressive driving is actually more common in automatic cars simply because there are MORE AUTOMATIC cars. It isn't the type of car, it's the type of DRIVER. Fact, not opinion. Easily verified. #4 and #5 can easily be proven via the research manufacturers have themselves conducted for years. Automatics were not invented to make it easier for people to drive. Automatics were invented in order to sell MORE cars. Hence the research into what people's preferences, sense of accomplishment was, etc. Therefore, both #4 ad #5 are valid statements.

  10. Alec
    February 10, 2013 #

    I admire the passion for le olde stick shift, I myself never having owned an automatic either, but please…please call the car for what it truly is. A manual transmission. The over usage of stick shift is dorky and usually reserved for the newly appointed shifting fanatics. Those with tenure know it is called a manual. Technically a semi-auto (fill in blank with manufacturer specific transmission technology name) is a stick shift. Shift into +/- mode and you're using a stick to shift…but it'll never be a manual. And thank God for that. :)

    • Mary Franzenburg
      March 6, 2013 #

      I thought the real word for stick shift was standard transmission….btw, love to drive a "manual", I have done so as much as possible. Another advantage is that nobody asks to borrow your vehicle BC they don't know how to drive it. I've always thought ppl'were funny who say driving a stick is so impossible. Its such a simple concept. Plus if your a girl who drives a stick, its a man-magnet.

      • Scott
        March 14, 2013 #

        I bought a 2011 Camaro with a manual transmission. My kids never ask to borrow it because they can't drive it! And nothing beats the fun of a six-speed stick when rolling through Mulholland Canyon and other twisty back roads.

      • Bill Lumbergh
        March 22, 2013 #

        haha, I never knew how to drive manual until my pops got a BMW. It made me want to take his car even more often! I laugh at folks who say their kids won't want to borrow the car, it SHOULD make them even more likely to take it for a spin.

  11. I had one and never will again
    February 13, 2013 #

    These two reasons reasons actually happened to me. I've had two major injuries in my life: if you fracture your wrist, or any part if your arm, good luck shifting. How about a broken ankle, or even just an ankle twist. It sucks. Clutches are expensive to fix. How about a trip somewhere and you get stuck driving the entire time because nobody else can drive a stick? Everyone should learn for that reason alone. Travel outside North America and its all manual transmission. But it's pointless to own. It's fun learning to drive one, but it's not fun once you have been doing it for a couple months. Traffic and hills aren't nearly as bad as everyone tries to make them sound, however, it's just easier with an auto. You could negotiate the price on a new car and it wouldn't cost extra anyway.

    • Natalie
      May 4, 2013 #

      I just learned how to drive a manual in September of 2012. It took me two days. I have loved it ever since and have no plans on returning to an automatic unless I have some sort of unfortunate injury & that is only temporary. Car repairs are expensive period. That's not enough of an excuse to make me go back. I get 5mpg better than my mom who drives the same car as an auto. I drive safer and far less aggressively in a manual because I have to constantly be paying attention to the road, even with cruise control. Unlike an auto you can't just stomp on the breaks. You have to be active in your driving. I find it to be a far better option.

  12. Jluan
    February 13, 2013 #

    Great article.

    Driving with 1 hand on the wheel is not dangerous unless you are just physically weak, in which case I am sure even pushing the clutch in will hurt your scrawny little legs.

    Almost every sports-car comes in a manual or with pad-shifters which are just an automated manual. Some sports cars only come this way. Manual transmission also allows for way more control over the car. It isn't just about gas mileage; it's about controlling your rpm's and engine load into/out of turns. It's about having better control over launch, acceleration, braking, and consequently, over cornering.

    There are some automatics that are barely rivaling or surpassing their manual counterparts, but they certainly aren't the norm. These cars make use of over-extended gear boxes, meaning poor acceleration sans the presence of forced induction. So, take your pick between sluggish driving or the hassles and costs of maintaining a boost setup.

    • funyuns
      March 18, 2013 #

      And even if it is hard, you adapt. My scrawny little (upper) right arm was sore for weeks when learning to drive a manual, then of course it went away on its own the more I drove.

    • Ah
      September 19, 2013 #

      Hilarious! I learned to drive a stick at 14 weighing a whopping 96 lbs. Perhaps I can serve as encouragement for those who fear the complexity and brute strength required to master these automotive beasts. I also knew how to pop a clutch with my girlfriends pushing in high heels and church dresses when the battery died. ;)

  13. cg
    February 14, 2013 #

    Been driving manual cars for 50 years, wouldn't have it any other way. Started with a 3 speed on the column, then 4, 5 and now a 6 speed, fuel economy is far higher and repair costs are far lower with a standard (manual) trans than identical models of the same vehicle with an automatic. Automatic transmissions are heavy that adds to lower gas mileage. Just look at manufacturers specs on mileage differences, there you go! Drivability in the winter is far better because you have better control on ice and snow; ex: you can down shift to slow down instead of hitting the brakes and skidding, you can feather the clutch for more control. You can start out in a higher gear to spin the tires slowly when you get stuck, try that with an automatic! Besides there is the fun factor of being directly connected to all that horsepower that you can downshift in a turn, counter steer and zoom away fast. Don't be a zombie buy a standard trans car! Unless, of course you want to be a clone of all the other boring auto rides out there.

    • Kyle
      March 16, 2013 #

      '03 Toy Highlander – auto w crappy mileage (AWD + V6) but saved me when I blew out a lumbar disc and couldn't shift my '98 Audi A4 (201K mi 5-speed Manual) for a month. Cost $800 at dealer (broke down only a mile away) to repair hydraulic boost to the clutch just recently – the first major prob EVER w the Audi (¿ a miracle some would say ?). So for the cost of 2-3 new car payments she's up and running again and I'm expecting another 70k miles (replace the timing belt again or chuck it all by then?). Had to roll-start my 5speed CRX when I was too poor for a new battery way back. Also drove manual Rabbit w left foot, hand-brake, judicious following distances and intersection-timing w a full leg cast on my right. Stupid in retrospect – but makes a good story. Wife's techno heavy '09 Hybrid Highlander is a geek fantasy but accel and brakes like a drunken sailor. So I love my manual, but I'll admit I broke down and splurged for a completely auto hydrostatic tranny on my new tractor, so much easier to mow efficiently!

  14. John
    February 21, 2013 #

    #s 3, 4, and 5.. are completely ridiculous. Especially since, sitting or driving in heavy traffic (or 'stop and go' traffic) is a nightmare with a stick shift. Heavy traffic will kill your buzz especially if you are on a longer drive.
    However, the first comment about less car thieves being interested cuz they dont know how to drive it is a good point. ;)

  15. Joseph Hall
    February 21, 2013 #

    Ever since I learned how to drive a stick shift in 2003 I have never wanted to drive an automatic again. I was forced to for a few years when my car died on me, but as soon as I could I got back in a stick shift car and I never looked back. Stick for life here.

  16. Zuriea Rogers
    February 23, 2013 #

    I love what I still call standard transmissions except in San Francisco. At stop signs on the sides of those cliffs in Pacific Heights you need 3 feet – one for each pedal.
    Otherwise yes! Standard, manual, non-automatic equals mote fun.

    • Nicholas Keen
      June 22, 2013 #

      American drivers with manuals consistently roll backwards when they engage gear at a red light turning green because they are not trained in the proper use of the hand brake. That would be an immediate fail on the UK test for "failing to maintain full control of the vehicle at all times".

  17. LinM
    February 24, 2013 #

    My mom taught me to drive on a car that her father had bought new, a '38 Plymouth. So I learned that manual shifting (and throttle & choke adjustments) were normal. My foray into automatics nearly cost me my life (driving them is minimally involving), so I've stayed safe with manuals ever since.

  18. Tom
    March 8, 2013 #

    I drove a stick for years the only time I hated it was when I was driving in the snow in Heavy traffic! My left leg hurt for hours afterwards One thing I do miss is I now have a ford Explorer While it is nice I love it but too much Automatic stuff like the 4wheel drive a lot of people think it is nice just to reach up and turn a switch and be in 4×4 mode. I prefer the old 2 speed manual with a 4 speed transmission you want power for climbing off road take a 4 speed drop it in 1st (Granny) in 4 low and you got power that you do not even think you had! To the person who drove the 5 speed with two speed you do not have a high and low in the transmission what you were driving was a 5 speed transmission with a 2 speed rear end!

  19. Martino
    March 9, 2013 #

    Great article, all valid points, not sure about that comment about theives not stealing your car because he doesnt know how to drive stick shift, please if hes good enough to steal your car, trust me he will drive away with it, ever since i was a young boy i was always interested and intrigued by the mechanics of cars, engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, all the moving parts of an automobile, with that being said, got my first car, parents wouldnt let me get it in manual transmission, so i got stuck with an auto, sold the car bought the same car in manaula trans and when you drive a stick shift car your more in tune with the car, the road your surroundings, you have the ability to use engine breaking and your brakes, the fact of being stuck in traffic in a stick shift car isnt bad, i live in miami, traffic is bad every where you go, what i love the most of driving a stick shift car is that i am control, if i want to feel the car i just drop the hammer down and get into the cornering and pull out of the turn fast as possible, i have three cars, two project race cars and ive torn down and rebuilt the trans just to ensure i can rag on it and its super easy and cheaper, whats a clutch gonna set you back 2-300 dollars??? STICK SHIFT FOR THE WIN!

  20. bob
    March 14, 2013 #

    Drove a manual for 40 years. Bought a subaru impreza recently. It has a fabulous continuously variable autotranny, with better mileage than the stick. Commutes are so much easier. Still get engine breaking with paddle shifters. Merging into fast traffic is easier. I love it and won't turn back.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your email address will be kept private.