If you’re on the lookout for your next vehicle, you might be wondering if a stick shift or automatic is better. While there is undoubtedly some subjectivity around the answer, having a comprehensive understanding of their differences can help you determine what is best for you.
To learn more about manual and automatic transmissions, BenchForce, a leader in ECU programming products, outlines all the essentials. In this piece, we’ll review different transmission types as well as the benefits and downsides of manual and automatic transmissions.
Let’s Talk Transmissions
If you’re an auto enthusiast, you know that the transmission is one of the most critical components of a car’s drivetrain. This “gearbox” is what converts and controls the combustion power from the engine.
As a car increases and decreases speed, it needs to upshift or downshift to the appropriate gear. Typically, the transmission has four or five gears (although newer cars such as the Ford Mustang and Ford F-150 now have ten gears). In some vehicles, a person shifts gears; in others, it happens automatically; and in some, no shifting happens at all!
With that thought in mind, let’s highlight the two transmissions types that most people know:
- Manual transmission
- Automatic transmission
It’s interesting to note that there is an array of other automobile transmission types, such as:
- Automated manual transmission
- Continuously variable transmission
- Dual-clutch transmission
- Intelligent manual transmission
- Sequential transmission
- Tiptronic transmission
Manual transmissions were once the only option in vehicles, but today, they’re actually far more difficult for people to find than automatics. In a manual transmission, the driver manually pushes the clutch to disconnect the engine and transmission and uses a gear lever to shift the car into a higher or lower gear. In an automatic, the car does all the shifting for the driver via actuators, processors, and sensors. Many auto enthusiasts like to optimize how a transmission shifts by reprogramming the engine control unit (ECU) or transmission control unit (TCU).
Benefits of Manual Transmission
With a better understanding of what a transmission is and what types are out there, let’s consider the perks of shifting yourself. Quick note: It’s important to realize that many of these benefits are dependent on your particular driving preferences. While many people are perfectly happy behind the wheel of an automatic transmission, others might prefer the active experience of shifting gears. Taking your preferences into account, a manual transmission can:
- Give drivers more control
- Be more “fun” to drive
- Allow for faster acceleration
- Be cheaper to repair
- Increase gas mileage
If you’re trying to enjoy your morning coffee during your work commute or are a major multitasker, a manual transmission probably isn’t right for you. Beyond the focus manual transmissions require, there are a variety of other disadvantages you should consider as well.
Downsides of a Manual Transmission
There is certainly an element of “cool” when driving a stick shift. Cars with manual transmissions look fast and fun in the movies, and for many people, learning to drive a stick was/is a rite of passage. But cars with manual transmissions do come with their own set of downsides. For instance, manual transmissions are:
- Difficult to drive in hilly terrain
- Challenging to resell
- Inconvenient in stop-and-go traffic
Further, even if you’re a seasoned motorhead, an automatic transmission will allow you to shift faster. However, it doesn’t mean the vehicle is shifting at the optimal time for your driving standards.
Benefits of Automatic Transmission
An automatic transmission boasts some pretty strong advantages. These upsides are especially appealing if you like to relax while you cruise. When it comes to automatic transmissions, they can offer drivers:
- Less of a learning curve
- More convenience and ease
- Better stop-and-go traffic driving
- More user-friendliness
- Easier resell
- Smoother driving
- Faster shifting
With the push for electric vehicles, all new cars are likely to be exclusively automatic. In fact, most electric vehicles only have one gear, meaning shifting is irrelevant.
Downsides of Automatic Transmission
From convenience to ease of use, automatics deliver some delightful benefits, but they too come with downsides. Cars with automatic transmissions typically:
- Need more servicing
- Are more expensive to fix
- Deliver less control
So, Which is “Better?”
It has been said, “If you don’t look back at your car after you park it, you own the wrong car.” You should love your car. Getting from point A to point B can and should be enjoyable.
Therefore, if you enjoy the experience of shifting a vehicle, then a stick shift is better. If you don’t want to worry about pushing in a clutch, finding gears, and timing the whole process, then an automatic is surely the right choice.
Optimize the Way You Drive
Whether you prefer a manual or an automatic, you can always optimize how a car shifts by reprogramming the car’s PCM and/or TCU. If you’re looking for a programming harness that works for your make and model, drop by BenchForce’s shop to browse our extensive options.