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

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

  1. Monte
    January 21, 2013 #

    Nope, still want a stick. Much more fun, keeps your attention on the road, and with very little experience, you can manage those hills without burning the clutch. I still vote for the manual.

  2. J
    February 1, 2013 #

    A good read – humorous writing!

  3. Rob
    February 2, 2013 #

    clutch repair in a manual? Dont get me started on clutch repair on an automatic. Yes,ryry, they too have clutches. Rolling back into other cars? Well maybe you should be driving an auto. In 20 years I havent rolled back or burnt a clutch. its good that automatics give the driver an extra free hand, they need it to reply to that all important text message.

    • KristiDee
      February 6, 2013 #

      I agree Rob, I focus on JUST driving so much more in a standard. My mind tends to just wander in an auto. I love my standard, wouldn't have it any other way. These points are all just a matter or opinion. Driving a manual is really no harder than an auto when shifting becomes second nature to you and manuals tend to be cheaper then their automatic counterparts.

  4. Jluan
    February 13, 2013 #

    I will never buy an automatic at any age. Unlike many seniors, when I am no longer able to drive efficiently, I will do the world a favor and stop driving.

    Are you saying that people who drive manual can't pay their bills, drink tea, or enjoy a good novel? Invalid reasoning; conclusion does not follow from premise.

    Many of the automatic only options are crap. And we don't live in Europe.

    From a mechanical standpoint, manual transmission is preferable.

    • Reiner Studenroth
      April 26, 2014 #

      In a manual you have far greater control, nothing beats coming out of a corner downshifting a listening to the engine revving up. There is a difference being able to drive or going and being driven. I enjoy driving a manual. People who like/love automatics also like their food pre-chewed at mouth temperature because it's easier, yeah give me a break!!!!

    • Bill Tyree
      June 15, 2014 #

      I am eighty years old so I guess I will soon be a senior. I drive a stand shift (manual) and prefer it because it allows me to control the vehicle rather than have the calculations of some engineers I have never met control it. Among other things I can downshift, steer with the throttle in a four wheel drift and rock myself out of mud very well on my own without burning my clutch, than you.
      I feel grateful that there are still a few standard shift, rear wheel drive vehicles available for those of us who like to drive and are able.
      But it is good to have some transportation available for those who can't or won't.

  5. Motoguy510
    February 17, 2013 #

    A 2013 Mazda with a 2.0 liter engine only gets 27-28 mpg? Hahaha thats nothing to brag about. My 1997 Camaro z-28 with a 5.7 liter engine and 6 speed manual trans gets the same mileage and is way more fun to drive than some 2.0 liter with a slushbox trans.

  6. Steven
    February 20, 2013 #

    Drove boring automatics for my first 5 years of driving, learned to drive a 5 speed Celica, loved it. next car? 5 speed Cavalier and loved it for over 2 years. it's recently been totaled and I am feverishly hunting for a new manual trans to continue enjoy driving. if it can make a 2002 cavalier exciting to drive, can only imagine the joy of driving a newer one on a nicer car!

  7. bigroaddriver
    February 20, 2013 #

    The statement Ferrari's and lambo's only come in automatic is false they use tectonic gearing with an automatic clutch. You know tthe little spoon on the steering wheel. They do also have an automatic version. …just so you dont embarrass yourself. I have to wonder what other glaring errors you made in this article.

  8. bigroaddriver
    February 20, 2013 #

    Oh btw having lived in Belgium Europe… automatic trannies are very rare. Most of them don't want them. If you drive an automatic there… the will tell you that you cannot drive. The fact the rental places charge more is so they can milk American tourists.

  9. Daniel
    February 22, 2013 #

    I've been driving a manual for over ten years after several automatics, and love it. I also have never rolled backwards on a hill and hit somebody. It's called learning to properly drive before you go out in real traffic. This article didn't make a single good enough point for me to consider an automatic a better choice. ” It's easy” ? Well driving makes traveling easier in the first place, using a manual is a breeze as long as you have all four limbs, so what's your point.
    Oh, ”It's for the Lazies”, that's more like it. Lol I'm not hating here, though. To each their own, but there's just no real justifiable reason that makes an automatic a better choice, unless one has a physical issue, or are lazy and/or want to do multiple things while driving, which unfortunately too many people do. Manuals force you to pay attention to traffic and surroundings.

    And btw, making ”automatics are a luxury in Europe” one of the top 5 reasons just shows how few the real advantages of an automatic transmission are.

    However, there are many applications in professional driving, where automatics make sense, like an ambulance or Mack trucks (15+ gears?? Just kill me now) And if the author thinks that a Ferrari has the same type of automatic that a civic uses,…I rest my case.

  10. Patty
    February 22, 2013 #

    You get more control in rain or icy conditions. See people spinning their wheels in an automatic? That is easy to avoid in a stick shift. I love driving a stick, and it's up to $1000 cheaper when you buy the car. It's also a theft deterrent, since so many people can't drive stick transmissions these days. There have been a few stories where carjackers had to ditch cars cause they couldn't get them to move. LOL!!!

  11. mazda rx7
    March 5, 2013 #

    Sorry ryan but it sounds like u never learned how to drive a stick properly, or learned anything about cars.

  12. Bill Simpson
    March 17, 2013 #

    I've been smoking & driving since 1976 & have had acouple of wrecks, most have been from drinking but not all.

    • D Montero
      April 24, 2013 #

      You've also been smoking and commenting on the wrong article!

  13. LoveToDrive
    April 10, 2013 #

    Granted, I can agree with most of these points as well as most of the "Top 5 Reasons to Drive a Stick" on the same website (with each page having a link to the other at the bottom of the article). But I have to point out, if we're to take these articles seriously, why does this one state, "Early consumer gripes about automatic’s slower response times, poor gas mileage, and higher maintenance costs are increasingly outdated…", and the other article states, "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". It's a bit contradictory.

  14. Graham Hill
    May 29, 2013 #

    A perfectly executed downshift brings a smile to every manual driver every time. Worth it just for that!

    Main reason I prefer stick though is that you can select the proper gear for a corner exit. Automatics will up shift to the highest gear when you brake before the turn in. Then when you need to feed in the power on the exit, it will hunt for the lower gear. Not smooth and controlled at all.

    Second reason is that you can skip gears. I typically go 1-2-6. A manumatic flappy paddle is so annoying – up-up-up-up-up-up all the time so you just leave it in D.

  15. Bill
    September 16, 2013 #

    Nobody heard of using your parking break on a hill, letting the clutch out until it engages and THEN releasing the parking brake so you don't roll into the car behind you? I've driven in SF
    for 40 years, and never rolled back on any hill.

  16. MS Kati
    October 3, 2013 #

    Since many don't seem sold on the article, here are my 5 personal reasons for automatic:

    1. It is easier. I don't have to pay attention to shifting gears or rising RPM, and that does actually make it easier to drive.

    2. It is less distracting. Those saying manual is less distracting make me laugh because you have to focus on many other things an automatic driver does not. It may feel safer -to you- because you aren't texting and driving, but I can just as easily drive automatic and not text, and then I don't have to worry about RPM, what gear i'm in, etc.

    3. No chance of damage. Sure, 90% of you have never burned out a clutch, but 10% of you have burned out one or more clutches. 90% of you have never rolled, and of the 10% who have, 90% never caused an accident. Some did, though. Purely avoidable.

    4. It can actually lead to better gas mileage for certain types of drivers. Hyper-miling is much more effective in a manual, but for someone just commuting and not really paying attention, the smooth acceleration and shifting of an automatic can make up for it. I'd list this as the weakest reason, though, as your mileage may vary (pun intended).

    5. Emergency situations are more practical in an automatic. You don't have to worry about stalling when you start the car or anything like that, and having the extra hand free can help you with everything from killing a spider to staunching bleeding.

    • PghMike
      January 8, 2014 #

      But you can't pop the clutch in an automatic, which I've had to do when I accidentally completely killed my battery.

  17. mannes
    October 23, 2013 #

    I'm European and around here 80% of cars are with manual gearboxes. It's just a natural thing to change gears. You do it without thinking.

  18. craig
    November 6, 2013 #

    276,000 miles on my Tacoma and the original clutch is fine…… Easier on the brakes, changed front brakes twice and rear never……. Safer and better control….. The new owner got a good vehicle…… My new car has a stock too…..

  19. Bennett
    November 10, 2013 #

    I love how all the comments on the manual page are "stick! stick! stick! stick!" and almost all the comments on the automatic page are "stick! stick! stick! stick!"

  20. PghMike
    January 8, 2014 #

    I drove a stick from 1985 (on my first car) through this year, and never burned out / had to replace a clutch. And although I live in Pittsburgh, which is probably as hilly as SF, rolling back was never an issue after the first two weeks driving. And I *never* hit a car rolling backwards!

    The only valid reason to drive an automatic is when the model you want doesn't come in a stick, or if you have to share the car with someone who refuses to learn to drive a stick. Unfortunately, in this country, fewer and fewer cars come with manual transmissions as an option.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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'…

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

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