Top 5 Reasons to Drive an Automatic Car

Manual, schmanual. See why automatic transmissions make our driving lives easier.

5 reasons to drive an automa

I’ve been driving for 14 years now: 7 years with a stick shift, and another 7 with an automatic. I’ve seen both sides of the rainbow and can tell you where the gold lies. Before you shop for that next car or praise the merits of manual, consider these 5 reasons to stick with an automatic transmission.

Reason #1 to drive an automatic: they’re easy

Automatics are easy … and easy is good.

Why hand-wash your dishes when you have a perfectly good dishwasher? “Let me make your life a little easier,” the dishwasher says. “Go finish watching Weekend at Bernie’s. I’ve got these dirty plates.”

Automatic transmissions are no different. “Let me free up that right hand for better steering and radio-station-finding,” it says. “I’ll take care of these dirty gear ratios.”

While there’s undeniable allure to the old-fashioned stick shift, the automatic transmission makes our driving lives easier and reduces accident risks by lowering the degree of driving difficulty. Consider uphill stoplights, many of which can be found in Esurance’s Bay Area backyard. Navigating these stop-and-start scenarios in a manual without burning out the clutch or bumping into the car behind you is a significant challenge.

But not with an automatic. “Don’t worry, old buddy,” it says. “I won’t let us roll backward, ever. You just keep being you.”

Reason #2 to drive an automatic: you’re older now

Let’s get this out of the way, hot shot. That manual transmission you drove in college was cool at the time. (Cut to my 2 old Jettas nodding in agreement — or trying to nod before suffering spectacular electrical failure.) It was cool to downshift into third and slam the accelerator to pass a meandering slowpoke. It was cool to use your gears as a braking device while maintaining eye contact with your passengers.

But do you know what’s cool now? Paying your bills on time. Enjoying a nice, warm cup of tea when the weather turns. A good book. Not rolling into cars driven by people you’ve never met.

Thanks to my Mazda’s automatic transmission, I never rolled into another car in 4 years of San Francisco driving. Whether we were on a slight incline or a right angle, I knew my car wouldn’t dream of it.

Reason #3 to drive an automatic: technological innovation is good (in this case, anyway)

Automatic transmissions are a modern marvel that we take for granted. First developed by General Motors in the 1930s and “battle-tested” in American tanks during World War II, the earliest automatic was an instant sensation when it debuted for the masses in the 1940 Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic. As the legend goes, its pamphlet featured just 3 directions:

  • Start the engine
  • Select your direction
  • Step on the gas

How great is that?

Don’t get me wrong here — I get the retro thing and the importance of giving past technologies their due. If you stick to a manual to pay homage to our driving heritage, I can respect that.

If, on the other hand, you’re stuck on the stick because you think it’s a better way to drive, you may be watching the proverbial VHS cassette. Early consumer gripes about automatic’s slower response times, poor gas mileage, and higher maintenance costs are increasingly outdated thanks to 70+ years of technological progress.

Technology is helpful. Embrace it. And if you’re into the myth-busting thing, check out this article courtesy of Edmunds.com: 5 Myths About Stick Shifts.

Reason #4 to drive an automatic: it gives you more options

While the stick shift is experiencing a surge in popularity, automatic transmissions dominate the U.S. car market. A USA Today article from 2012 reported that just 19 percent of new vehicles on the market offered standard transmissions. So if you’re shopping for a new car or truck, the vast majority of your options will have automatic transmissions.

And don’t fall for old stereotypes (which were once true) about mpg and speed. The average automatic’s fuel economy isn’t nearly as deficient as it used to be. As another USA Today article pointed out, “Today’s automatics are now so sophisticated that they routinely best manuals on gas mileage.” The difference remains negligible in many of today’s models, such as the 2013 Mazda 3. The 2.0 liter automatic edition gets an average of 27 mpg while the 5-speed manual gets 28 (you can easily check your car’s mpg and compare it with others’ at fueleconomy.gov).

When it comes to speed, manual transmissions aren’t always faster. Many of the speedsters we consider the fastest — including certain Ferraris and Lamborghinis — are only available as automatics.

Reason #5 to drive an automatic: it’s a luxury in Europe

Automatic rental cars in Europe can be twice as expensive as their manual counterparts. Renting the most affordable manual transmission during one December week in London can cost as little as £160.60, while the cheapest automatic costs a whopping £347.00. In Prague, the story is similar: £190 for the low-end manual and roughly £345 for the most affordable automatic.

Because Europe totally gets it.

To conclude

Mounting an impassioned defense of a technology that most of us take for granted is an admittedly strange thing to do. But as the great comedian Louis CK points out, “Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.”

With that sentiment in mind, take a moment to really consider what the humble automatic is trying to do: shift for you.

That’s amazing!

And I didn’t even get into clutch repair.

Related link

Top 5 reasons to drive a stick

34 Responses to “Top 5 Reasons to Drive an Automatic Car”

  1. Big Lou
    February 17, 2014 #

    Why would I ever want give up fun for boring? You can have my stick shift when you can pry it from my cold dead hand!

  2. ramesh
    March 23, 2014 #

    i m in india . i bought an automatic after driving for 40 years here. now i came to know whats is automatic.

  3. Chuck
    April 27, 2014 #

    Try feathering the clutch in bumper-to-bumper traffic on an East coast interstate or big city beltway during "rush hour", or NASCAR week-end. Just sayin'…

  4. j
    June 4, 2014 #

    Rolling back (a resonable few inches or so) would be a lot less of an issue if the general populace would quit assuming everyone has an automatic and getting RIGHT on your back bumper on a hill

  5. DES
    July 25, 2014 #

    Ryan…Manual Trannies as a rule last way longer and less expensive to repair than any automatic. There are more things and more Expensive things that go wrong with an automatic than a manual transmission. Sorry staying with the Tried, True, and Trusted.

  6. CDN
    October 3, 2014 #

    Automatics are good for people like me who don't particularly like driving, and/or for the simply unco-ordinated – also like me. I am much less stressed with an automatic, and on a good day, it makes it enjoyable to drive, too. I mainly do it because of the necessity for work, and convenience at other times. For longer trips (e.g. over 300km) I often go with Air New Zealand instead.

    And I did try to learn…. I had thirty (paid) lessons in a manual car, and probably twice that unpaid, from my poor father – still wasn't doing very well. AA refused to teach me to drive in an automatic. Changed driving schools, was taught by a VERY patient former policewoman. Got into her automatic, stuck it into "D" – and once I got used to the thing "creeping" – a little spooky when you weren't told the car moves forward on its own – it was all good, away laughing. I did crash at low speed into the back of the garage a couple of times though. Note to self – foot on brake, out of P, into R, THEN let the car move. If I had to choose between a manual car, and not driving, I'd have to pick not driving…

    After all that, of course, and finally getting my full licence, I had to drive the work car. It is not a good look to be doing burn-outs and sticking rubber all over the road during hill-starts when you have your work's name written on said car… but I found myself doing them quite often. Eventually I threw myself on the mercy of my boss, who instructed the Transport Department to give me an Automatic before something REALLY horrible happened. Ten years later, automatics have really taken off in New Zealand, the work fleet is all automatic too, and it's no longer a problem.

  7. bugs
    October 30, 2014 #

    I feel like I'm in control of the car more using a stick shift. I also believe I keep my mind more on
    my driving.

  8. Rich
    November 3, 2014 #

    I taught my wife the ways of the 5-speed stick shift many years ago, and now she refuses to purchase an automatic transmission vehicle. Why? I can only surmise that it's because she enjoys driving more than sitting there pointing with a wheel.

  9. Andrew
    November 19, 2014 #

    I will have to disagree with you about maintenance costs–they are still much higher for automatics.

    When I was young, all I could afford to drive were used cars, and the only used ones I could afford were automatics. Because the target audience for automatic transmissions don't really care what goes on under the hood as long as the car moves, the automatic transmission fluid and filters usually get ignored. Based on my own experience, you can pretty much count on having to have your automatic transmission rebuilt at somewhere between 75,000 and 85,000 miles. Every automatic I have ever owned has needed a transmission rebuild at ever increasing cost. The last one I had rebuilt was in 1997 … it was a K5 Blazer, and it cost me $2500 I did not have. I swore off automatics after that. My full sized Dodge 4×4 (with a manual) had 167,000 miles on it when I sold it. It still had the original clutch and still shifted like new.

    So for repair cost consideration, manuals have it ALL over automatics. If you are the kind of person who trades in your car at 50,000 miles, its a non issue. But if you are the person buying that car with 50,000 miles on it, beware … transmission repair bills are coming!

    That said, I have no objection to automatics existing, they have their purpose, and if that is a person's choice, that's great. I choose a manual because I like the greater control of the vehicle they offer.

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