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The Advantages of Driving a Manual Transmission

By Natalie Josef, January 19, 2011

The year was 1991. The location—a vacant parking lot in Virginia. The mission … learn how to drive a stickshift.

I remember the first time I got behind the wheel of my boyfriend’s Suzuki Samurai. He was teaching me how to drive a stick shift and as I sputtered and stalled my way through the parking lot in that tin box, I remember thinking—why does this have to be so hard? But after a while, I got the hang of it, and was glad I did. I knew that most people couldn’t drive a manual transmission, but I wanted to be one of the ones who did.

Even though manual transmissions have nearly gone the way of the dinosaurs, I am grateful I learned how to drive one. You never know when you might need to. What if the bus driver on your African Safari passes out from the extreme heat and someone needs to get behind that wheel and drive everyone to safety? What if the pregnant mom driving her manual transmission goes into labor and needs someone to drive her to the hospital? Knowing how to drive a stick is not only practical—it can make you a hero.

Besides the possible hero scenerio, there are still many positive factors in actually purchasing a vehicle with a manual transmission.

They save you money
From the initial sticker price (usually $800 to $1000 less) to fuel economy (a mile or two per gallon more than automatic transmissions), purchasing a vehicle with a manual transmission saves you money—and who doesn’t want to do that? Stick-shift vehicles are also cheaper to service. The fluid needs to be changed less frequently and when a manual transmission breaks down, it’s usually just the clutch that needs replacing, which costs about half of what it costs to replace an automatic transmission. Finally, stick-shifts are much easier on the brakes since the driver is not constantly fighting an automatic transmission’s endless push to move forward.

They are easier (and more fun) to drive
Since there is a faster shift response, a standard transmission vehicle provides better control for the driver, especially in snowy, muddy, or otherwise slippery conditions. If you happen to get stuck in snow, it’s much easier to rock out a car with a manual transmission. And if you ever thought driving an automatic transmission was downright boring, get behind the wheel of a stick shift vehicle—it’s way more fun and you never experience those blacking-out-how-did-I-get-here moments that are common when driving an automatic. Sure, they are challenging at times, but fun. After all, you would never see a racecar with a manual transmission.

They teach you valuable skills
Everyone knows about the hills in San Francisco, but when you turn onto Divisadero from Lombard and see that giant hill in front of you, you begin to wonder if cars are even able to scale that monster. While driving a manual transmission would be a million, trillion times harder, driving an automatic up that grade is daunting enough. Whenever I start climbing a hill like that and have to hit a stop sign at each block, I invite my left foot to join in the fun. I put my left foot on the brake and keep my right on the gas pedal and then slowly ease off the brake and put pressure on the gas pedal, just like I used to do when releasing the clutch. This prevents rollbacks, squealing and smoking, and a heart attack. The only reason I know this technique is because I learned how to drive a stick shift.

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