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.
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.
And I didn’t even get into clutch repair.