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

47 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.

  10. Pablo
    December 22, 2014 #

    I keep going back and forth on this issue basically because my wife absolutely hates stick shift and refuses to learn to drive them.
    At the same time, I don't know how to explain it, but I really enjoy driving manual trucks. It just feels good… helps you focus more on driving, less on distractions. Automatic transmissions have really come a long way, but they are still more costly to maintain. The tranny in our family van died at like 100K, and thanks to the fact that i had purchassed extended warranty, it didn't cost me but $100 to replace it. Still, will it last past 200K? With a manual transmission that just isn't an issue. Chances are pretty good that transmission will last longer than the engine.

    I keep thinking that maybe I'm just being weird, and holding on to this "stick shift fetish" for the wrong reasons, because automatics really are a lot better nowadays than they used to be, but then what's wrong with just driving what I enjoy?

  11. Widco Transmission
    December 23, 2014 #

    This article is very informative!

  12. So…
    You want me to drive an auto, because it's easier, which means that I have an extra arm to text, call my friends, and mess with the radio?

    Maybe some rollback wouldn't be an issue on hills if everyone didn't bunch up and get as close as possible to your car and slowly inch forward even though the light is red. Go to brazil and tell me if there's an issues in Belo Horizonte…

    "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." This… This makes no sense, in anyway shape or form. I like to drive stick because I'm in control of the car, I'm aware of my surrounds, and paying more attention to what's happening with my car.

    You then bring up variety into the equation. If I'm looking for a car that is manual, I will look for that specific car. I.E. a nissan 370Z with a manual, or a 135i with the N54 engine.

    You need to learn the difference between an automatic and a Dual clutch transmission as well. You mention Ferrari's and such. Since you bring those up saying that automatics are now faster than manual, take a look at the FR-S/BRZ/Gt86. The automatic version is slower than the 6spd manual version.

  13. christian
    January 18, 2015 #

    "Thanks to my Mazda’s automatic transmission, I never rolled into another car in 4 years…"

    she should read my op-ed piece
    "Top 5 reasons why you probably shouldn't posses a drivers license if you can't operate a brake pedal."

    Ive had an aftermarket lightweight flywheel, aftermarket clutch, and a 6speed manual transmission in my M3 at 5,500ft above sea level with a naturally aspirated motor, and I don't seem to be having any of the problems you've described. In fact, I've never once rolled into anything or hit anyone else in my entire driving career because I'm busy concentrating on driving and not texting or doing some other dangerous task thanks to an utterly dangerous and terrible automatic transmission; I've seen so many careless drivers do so many astonishingly stupid things they wouldn't have even attempted to have accomplished in a manual car.

    So thanks automatic transmissions for making our population more oblivious about cars and driving safety. I would love to see your license revoked along with the other 50% of the population that can't be bothered to figure out how to operate a vehicle without "rolling into" other vehicles or god forbid, pedestrians.

  14. TJ Minter
    January 20, 2015 #

    As a car enthusiast / formula drift pro am driver I can tell you there are many many upsides to a manual transmission. Not only do you have considerably more control over your vehicle, the construction and design are very durable. If you find yourself in a situation ( I sincerely hope you don't ) where your car is in a oversteer/understeer situation automatic transmissions will flail all over the place trying to find the proper gear to correct the mistake. Now switch to a manual in the aforementioned situation. An experienced driver will recognize the situation and will make the proper adjustments needed to recover from the slide. The clutch is a great tool for car control as well. Engine braking has saved many a cars on the road today mine among them. Say your cruising along in your automatic, then someone pulls out in front of you. What do you do? Hit the brakes right? Ok cool. Now in a manual. If you have any more than basic knowledge of how to drive a manual you will know that the lower the gear the higher the Rpms. Simple concept. Now the higher the rpm WITHOUT your foot of the gas the engine naturally wants to slow the speed is spinning witch creates a lot of friction slowing the vehicle without the use of the brakes. So coupling these to together will drastically decrease your braking distance. Personally I feel if you just drive because you have to. Get an auto. If you like to drive and enjoy the feel of the car. Manual is 100% the way to go

    • k
      January 26, 2015 #

      Glad to see others understand the upsides of a manual outweigh the convenience of an automatic. That's why rigs weren't offering autos until recently. I know I'll never drive one for my own safety more or less someone else's.

  15. Anthony D
    January 20, 2015 #

    So basically I should drive an automatic so I can text and drive, change the radio, or otherwise be distracted from the road? Haha no thanks, I'll keep my insurance rate lower (unless one of those "higher beings" in an auto rear end me). I honestly find driving a manual ten times easier than an automatic, and I started driving in two different automatics.
    If autos are so great why would motor companies still make manuals? It certainly isn't for a few enthusiasts

  16. justbimmers
    January 21, 2015 #

    Let's see if you burn out a clutch parts cost around 200.00 rebuilding a automatic trans average is around 3k. I will keep my manual thank you !!!

  17. Augy
    January 22, 2015 #

    Automatics are more expensive to rent out because not everyone can drive a stick shift while anybody can drive an automatic so they price what's more in demand higher. Not because it's luxurious -_- smh

  18. tp
    January 24, 2015 #

    Real drivers use three pedals enough said ;)

  19. Victor
    January 26, 2015 #

    I used to drive a stick my whole life, until I started commuting in the Bay Area. Using the clutch every 5 seconds to inch along for a half-hour, really made me appreciate my new car with an automatic.

  20. brian
    January 31, 2015 #

    manuals are easier to work on and ask anyone that knows how to drive manual you dont let your car roll backwards especially in a tractor trailer

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