There once was a time when a manual transmission–a three on the tree or a four on the floor–was known as a “standard” transmission. That’s because the “stick shift” was the basic transmission offered on every vehicle, while an automatic transmission was an expensive option.
But the number of vehicles offered for sale with a manual transmission has been declining in the U.S., particularly in the last decade. In 2006, nearly 50% of new vehicles offered for sale in the U.S. were available with an automatic or a manual transmission. That number dropped to 37% by 2011, and by 2016 was down to 25%.
The actual number of cars sold in the U.S. with a manual transmission is actually much lower, however, with experts estimating that fewer than 3% of new cars are sold with a manual here, compared with up to 80% in Europe and Asia. The migration of American drivers to automatic transmissions has even prompted sports car manufacturers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini to no longer offer manual transmissions in their new cars.
If you can find a car with a manual transmission, it’s really quite easy to learn how to drive a stick shift, and there are actually several advantages to shifting gears yourself.
Cheaper to Maintain
Manual Transmissions are usually easier to maintain, which means that they’re also cheaper to maintain. For example, a fluid change on an automatic transmission can cost about twice as much. And manuals are usually less complex than their automatic counterparts, which today are often computer-controlled. If you’ve ever experienced problems with your laptop, then you know how frustrating a computer-related issue can be.
Your Mileage May Vary
In testing, one leading consumer magazine found that–in addition to being up to $1200 cheaper on a new car–manual transmissions can increase fuel economy by 2 to 5 MPG, particularly on less expensive, entry-level cars.
No Time to Text
Look around you on the road, and it’s not unusual to see people driving with one hand on the wheel and the other hand holding a cellphone in front of their faces. Driving a manual transmission makes that much harder to do (at least in city driving) since you need one hand to change gears and one hand on the steering wheel. And since you’re more engaged in the driving process, there’s a good chance you’ll be more focused on the task at hand, which will make you a safer driver.
The first eight Fast and Furious movies have featured hundreds of fast cars and thousands of furious manual gear shifts, resulting in billions at the box office. With two more F & F movies in the works, it’s obvious that people love watching actors tear through the gears and tear up cars. Driving games like Forza and Gran Turismo are also immensely popular, partly because they allow players to select a manual gearbox on their virtual rides. Driving a manual transmission car in the real world can be just as fun, allowing you to imagine you’re driving the legendary Nürburgring track as you dance across the pedals and row through the gears on your morning commute.
According to one source, fewer than 20% of Americans know how to drive a manual transmission, so your manual transmission vehicle should be a less likely target for car thieves. And as an added bonus, your friends will likely never ask to borrow your car because–odds are–they won’t know how to drive a manual.