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Manual vs automatic cars: which are better?

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Last updated: 13/02/2024 | Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Choosing between a manual and an automatic is one of the first hurdles you'll face when buying a car

More and more UK drivers are switching to automatic cars, but manual cars are still the norm for most British drivers.

This simple guide will take a look at the differences between the two types and help you to decide which you’d prefer to drive.

In This Guide:

What’s the difference between manual and automatic?

Manual cars have a clutch pedal, which allows the driver to choose the gears themselves. This will mean consistently choosing between five or six gears, or the reverse gear.

In an automatic car, the gearbox is simplified, and the car will automatically choose the gears for you. You therefore only need to choose between Drive, Reverse, Park or Neutral, and only have to worry about two pedals; the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal.

Many people choose to drive manual cars because they feel it gives them more control over their car when driving and it can also be more fun.

There are several types of automatic transmission but for the purposes of this guide we'll be referring to a traditional automatic transmission.

Is it easier to learn in a manual car or an automatic car?

It’s definitely easier to learn in an automatic car as there is less to think about with regards to the actual driving of your vehicle.

Learning to drive a manual car can be quite difficult as you have to learn how to control the clutch and inexperienced drivers will often experience stalling the car.

It may therefore be quicker to learn in an automatic car and you may pass your test easily.

However, there are drawbacks to only learning in an automatic car.

If you pass your driving test in an automatic car, you are not legally allowed to drive manual cars until you have passed your test in a manual car. If you pass your test in a manual car it allows you to legally drive both types.

Which transmission type is better?

Automatic and manual transmission both have their advantages and disadvantages so it depends on what the driver wants out of their car when they’re deciding which type of transmission to choose.

Automatic cars are much easier to drive and require less effort generally.

If you drive a lot in places where there is traffic, lights and general hazards then an automatic car may be the better choice. You don’t have to worry about stalling or changing gear, so can concentrate more on the road or on directions.

On motorways and dual carriageways automatic cars can be much smoother too, many automatic cars will have a cruise control option allowing you to take your foot off the pedals altogether. A feature that manual cars do not have.

Manual cars provide drivers with more control than automatic cars. They are quicker from a standing start and are usually much easier to handle in extreme conditions, for example snow and ice.

Are manual or automatic cars cheaper?

In Europe, automatic cars tend to be more expensive than manual cars; the automatic transmission gearbox is far more complex and therefore automatic cars cost more to produce. 

Automatic cars may save you money in the long run as in recent years they have become much more fuel efficient than they used to be, about 10% so!

However, it costs more to fix an automatic gearbox and are more likely to break than a manual car, so if you plan on having your car for a long time you may save money with a manual.

The choice between automatic and manual transmission will depend on you as the driver as the cost of the car will be affected by how you use the car and how long you use it for.

Whether you own an automatic or a manual, it's always worth keeping an eye on their value as they can fluctuate month on month. With Motorway's Car Value Checker you can do exactly that as it gives you an accurate estimation based on live market data from from it's used car marketplace.

Is insurance cheaper in a manual or an automatic car?

It’s cheaper to insure a manual car than an automatic car, though the gap between the cost of insuring each type is slowly closing. It’s currently around 20% more expensive to insure an automatic car.

Automatic cars often need repairs more often than manual cars, and those repairs are often more expensive too.

Furthermore, if you only have a licence to drive automatic cars then insurers will probably charge you more as it’s thought that those without a manual driving licence are less skilled drivers.

However, if you are licensed to drive both types of car and you have been driving for a long time you should still be able to find a good deal for car insurance on an automatic car.

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