Manual vs. Automatic: Reliability and Performance Test

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The argument as to whether manual transmission cars are more reliable than automatic cars has been going on for some time. Both sides make valid points.
Automatic transmission enthusiasts say that not having to worry about changing gears makes for a safer, more focused driving experience. The stick shift proponents make the point that their transmissions of choice put greater overall control and performance right into the hands of the driver. This sort of potato/potatoe argument is entirely subjective. What isn’t so subjective, though, are the cold hard facts that spell out the exact differences in performance and reliability between manual and automatic cars.


In the all critical area of longevity, manual cars owners come out on top. When compared with their automatic cousins, most cars with manual transmission tend to last longer – a length of time that can sometimes translate to years.

Road Reliability

Manual cars have more gears than the average automatic, and are therefore capable of reaching speeds faster and handling uneven terrains better. While speed isn’t always at the top of everyone’s list when seeking an efficient car, the added control that manuals bring can make for a safer driving experience.

Fuel Cost and Economy

Since driving a stick shift car puts you in control of exactly how high and fast your engine burns, manual transmissions tend to get far greater fuel efficiency. With today’s gas prices, this edge can wind up saving you hundreds of dollars each year.

Cost of Repair and Maintenance

If the overall cost of maintenance and repair is an issue of concern (and why shouldn’t it be?) then you may want to consider limiting your search to manual transmission vehicles. Simply put, automatics are a lot more complex than manual cars and as a result, they cost a lot more to fix when they break. Sure, manual vehicles have clutches that eventually need to be replaced – but the cost of doing this is far lower in the long run than the accumulated fixes you’ll find in an automatic. On average, the cost to maintain a manual transmission car is a lot lower.

Asking Price

If you’re in the market for a car and money is an issue, buying a car with a manual transmission can save you thousands of dollars in sticker price. The reason? Automatics are seen as far easier to drive, and provide a comfort level far above those of manuals, which require a free hand to drive and a bit more work on the legs. At the end of the day, determining whether or not a manual transmission is more reliable than an automatic transmission rests on the capability of the person behind the wheel. In the hands of someone who doesn’t overwork their clutch leg, a manual vehicle can last hundreds of thousands of miles without even needing a clutch replacement. But if you’re the kind of driver for whom simply staying between the white lines is an issue, you’ll likely prefer the smoother driving experience that an automatic brings.