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.

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

  1. jacob
    March 22, 2013 #

    1998 Honda civic hx
    298, 789 milles on the odo.
    Still gets 32mpg average and on the same clutch it was born with.
    Still rides like a champ!

    2009 civic hybrid automatic trans took a shit before 100k milles got 38mpg average. $6,500 to replace.

    Ill never go back to an automatic. ..

  2. dwever
    March 30, 2013 #

    "Automatics have evolved past manuals in efficiency and performance. I think the disparity will continue to grow," said Craig Renneker, Ford's chief transmission engineer. "There are many things we can still do to improve automatics, but manual transmissions are already close to optimal." Renneker said he thinks that the new 2011 5.0-liter V-8 Mustang "has one of the best manuals on earth. But at this point, we don't know what else to do to improve it," he said.

    In the end all the old reasons of going manual seem to be either gone or going. As the engineers at Car Talk said, "There are no good economic or mechanical reasons to choose a manual over an automatic anymore. So be as shiftless as you like." (also listing very well known supercars including some Ferraris, Lamborginis and Bentleys not even available in manual).

    Technologies like direct shifting technology (DST). DST offers extremely precise shifting that requires only 8 milliseconds; by comparison, we are shifting our manuals at 500 – 700 milliseconds!

  3. PeninaD
    April 2, 2013 #

    I miss driving stick…sure gave me something to do during rush hour traffic in NYC (admittedly, that was hell on my clutch plates). But after my back injury 23 years ago where the nerve damage made one leg weak, I had to move to automatic. Tried stick a few times since then…I still have the knack!

  4. Jedd
    April 3, 2013 #

    I'm a baby boomer and I learned to drive a stick the way so many of my generation did – on a VW Beetle. I married a girl who's a devoted MT fan and, except for a couple unusual situations where we had no choice, all of our cars have been manuals. When it came time for our son to start taking driving lessons, we decided that just dealing with the traffic in our area was enough of a burden while learning to drive; he didn't need to struggle with a clutch and a shifter too. So we hired a private instructor to give him lessons on an automatic. After two weeks of lessons on an automatic, he told me he wanted to learn to drive my car. The first couple lessons were rough but he stuck with it and mastered it. I still had him take the road test with the instructor's automatic, but that was the last time he ever drove an automatic.

    My current car is a 2012 Subaru Outback with a 6-speed. Everything about it is well-made, high-quality, smooth, and refined, but it just doesn't capture the manual driving experience the way the pre-2010 models did. It's fairly clear that Subaru wants to phase out the manual on the Outback. There are fewer of them on the dealer's lots, and they're mostly low-end models. You can't even get some of the high-end features that you could last year. I guess I can understand why they're doing this. The dealer pretty much gave me the all-weather package and the Harman Kardon sound system for free, which tells me they knew the car would be very hard to sell.

    My prediction: To placate us die-hards, car makers will offer an electronic clutch and shifter. It will feel sort of like the real thing, and the computer will do what it thinks you meant to do. Since there's no mechanical linkage, it will be dealer installable. Just bolt the clutch pedal to the floor and connect a cable to the computer. It will take some innovation to produce a shifter that goes through the gears but still has a simple PRNDL mode that won't confuse everyone else. As for me, once you take away the experience of really working the gears and the clutch, the whole driving experience will no longer be interesting. I'll then be ready for a Google car that does all the driving for me so I can do other things while the car is moving.

  5. Al
    April 18, 2013 #

    I'm so used to driving a stick I don't even think about it. My body is automatic. It's just muscle memory that's all. Better control, matching rpms with gear selection, quicker acceleration. Lighter weight, easier to overhaul, and in a pinch I can push start the car if my battery or starter dies on me. Also I like the engine braking effect so I never go flying down/off a hill. But overall it's the simplicity, acceleration and control. In a VW GTI VR6 Turbo there's nothing like it. It's a spaceship!

  6. charlie
    April 25, 2013 #

    Everyone should at least know how to drive a stick. How many horror shows are there where the person trying to get away hops in a car and freaks to find its a stck.

  7. Thomas Weatherly
    April 27, 2013 #

    Stick shifts increase safety because if you don't have the coordination to use a stick shift you should not drive a vehicle. Even if you don't use a stick shift the driving test should be given with a stick shift; it will eliminate people without the coordination to drive. I also suggest that states, cities, and counties build and maintain public transport for those without engine vehicles; in addition add or increase bicycle paths for folk too fearful to use the roads. Motorists should be educated about the fact that cyclists represent fewer

  8. Thomas Weatherly
    April 27, 2013 #

    Motorists should be educated about the fact that cyclists represent fewer folk competing for gas and in a truly free market – doesn't really exist – the demand down lowers price.

  9. Todd ziegler
    May 24, 2013 #

    I agree absolutely with this article 100 %. Everyone should at least learn how to drive on a stick..(..my preference, ) it makes you a better driver. You know what else will make you a better driver? Ride a motorcycle….you talk about making you more aware of and in tune with the road!
    When you do get back on 4 wheels…you're a much more attentive driver. The great majority of bike accidents are the fault of drivers……not riders

  10. Courtnei
    June 11, 2013 #

    I have driving a stick for almost 8 years and I love it. Stick shifts in my opinion are just better than automatics. They're faster, better on gas, and not everyone will drive your car. I drive an 07 Honda Civic 5 speed and I love my car. Nothing like a stick shift.

  11. Graeme
    June 14, 2013 #

    I drive a 2005 Hyundai Tiburon SE, and oh man, Hyundai has made some serious strides in quality execution in the last decade or so. I have owned several sticks, and drove my moms late 90s Stealth and Mustang, and there is no comparison. I look forward to getting a genesys very soon.

  12. Brklyn Mind
    June 14, 2013 #

    I have owned nothing but manual transmissions for the last 2 decades but alas regardless of how much I prefer manual transmissions, I am fairly certain that my manual days (and everyone elses) are coming to an end. It is exceedingly difficult to find any car other than the lowest end models with a manual. And I am sure that even economy cars will soon all be equipped with automatic or cvt transmission

  13. Cardinal
    June 14, 2013 #

    The problem with manual transmissions is that manufacturers like Honda will not honor the warranty on them.

  14. crashq
    June 17, 2013 #

    Reason number one is no longer true.. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of manual transmissions and all my vehicles have been equipped with them except my most recent vehicle (because it was not offered with a manual transmission).

    If you simply look at the mileage ratings for manual equipped vehicles versus the same model equipped with an automatic transmission, you will see that automatics get better mileage, and fior the most part equal (or beat) the acceleration of the manual transmissions (except maybe in the hands of professional race drivers) . Gone are the days of sloppy torque converters. With the added horsepower of modern injected multi-valve per cylinder engines, overdrive, and new technology such as lock-up torque converters, vehicles equipped with modern automatics are nothing like the similarly equipped vehicles of old. This is an outdated reason. That doesn't mean that I still won't buy manual transmission-equiipped vehicles.

    • Natalie
      June 17, 2013 #

      I find this to be false. My mom and I both own the Fiat 500. She owns the automatic while I have a manual. I get consistently better gas mileage and it was sold to me that I would.

      • crashq
        June 25, 2013 #

        Nicholas, how can you male such a blanket statement about all American drivers? True the hand brake can be used to make it easier to go forward from a dead stop from a stoplight on hills but there is no excuse to use it except on steep hills. A skilled driver can start from a stop on even steep hills without rolling back. I live in the SF Bay areas and can do that on the steeper hills in SF. If I can do it so can most other drivers. All it takes is practice.

  15. crashq
    June 25, 2013 #

    Natalie of course there are exceptions like your car. The overall fuel economy depends on the exact options on each car and the design of the transmission and engine. Automatics and manual transmission sometimes have widely varying gear ratios. One might be geared more for sporty driving

    Also, the overall mileage is dependent on the driver's driving style, the route taken, and environmental conditions so you cannot necessarily compare two driver's directly unless they drive the same speed on the same routes. If you go to fuelecnomy.gov you can look at the EPA mileage ratings. In the case of your car the manual is rated for slightly better mileage.

    My point is that it isn't a given that manual transmissions s get better gas mileage. Someone in the automotive industry should know this. They shouldn't be allowed to published information that clearly is not true.

  16. that guy
    June 26, 2013 #

    I think one thing that wasn't covered is that in a manual transmission that has a drive by cable (not wire) setup on the accelerator, you use litterally no gas at all when using the engine to brake. Couple that with not using your brakes as much and you can easily double the life of your pads and save tons on gas. I've driven roughly 15 vehicles in the 5 years I've been driving mixed between an automatic 96 civic, an automatic 06 4runner, a 5 speed 91 240sx, and a 78 Corvette with the 4speed. And I have to say, even the worst stick I've ever driven (my 240sx) and the best automatic I've ever driven (05 Mercedes clk320) there is no comparison. The manual is just a better drive. It keeps you focused on the task you should be paying attention to. and it keeps your stupid friends from trying to borrow your car. Even though my fiancee cant drive manual it bothers me none at at all (even on the 12 plus hour car trips with no cruise control). I'm very disappointed in new car manufacturers not offering manual transmission vehicles and to that point, the government for not offering an incentive or tax writeoff for those who drive one as the accident rates for manual transmission drivers who are distracted are nearly zero as compared to those who drive automatics. I will never buy an automatic so long as I live for the fear of losing touch with the 3000lb hunk of metal I move at 70mph amongst others.

  17. that guy
    June 26, 2013 #

    Oh, and I forgot to add, the 95 accord I drive daily in the stop and go traffic of the city is currently at 150,000 miles and still on the original clutch with 50% of the material left. And if I ever have to replace it in the future (which I doubt will happen with my tuned left foot) I can do the job myself for less than $150. flywheel, throwout bearing, clutch disk, fluids and all. How's that for added maintenance costs?

  18. Nita MAy Stolns
    July 9, 2013 #

    Being born on a farm I learned to drive a truck first with two backward gears… I did like the Manual, but now being a senior and having medical conditions with my knees I can no longer drive a stick.. I prefer a stick but my knees tell me 'no' . I get into bumper to bumper traffic and with the stop and go my knees really hurt.. I do however, agree that I like stick the best… I didn't realize it until I inherited my dads pick-up when he passed…

  19. Fred
    July 25, 2013 #

    I recently looked at a used Subaru with a 5 speed, when I told my wife about it, she said "Oh that would be great, then I could drive on the expressway again."
    She had learned on a stick, and scared herself by trying to shift an automatic, and trying to throw it into reverse. The experience made her refuse to drive on limited access highways.
    We haven't bought the stick car yet, but I'm convinced. It will also make it so we (she will) have 2 use the right foot 4 the brake.
    I cringe when I think about that. So standard shift IS the answer!!!!!

  20. Bob
    August 2, 2013 #

    The last manual I had was a Honda Accord, and the hand brake was next to the gear shift. I now drive an Avalon with an automatic and the parking brake is engaged by pushing on a pedal with my left foot, which locks when I stop adding pressure.

    One night years ago I was driving my daughter and several of her friends to a Girl Scout meeting in my old Honda when my brakes completely failed. Because I had driven the manual for years I reflexively began to downshift and to use the handbrake to stop. Because it was a natural response I did not panic and therefore scare the young girls. The next day I was able to drive the car to my mechanic using the manual and the hand brake. I am convinced this would be nearly impossible in my current car.

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