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Manual vs. Automatic: Which Car Should You Get?

Consider the pros and cons of each.
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“Automatic” may seem like the smart and easy answer, especially with today’s traffic. But if all you need to make a decision on is the amount of time it takes to read the first word of this paragraph, you may not be so smart after all.

When it comes to manual vs automatic cars, how do you decide?

So many things need to be considered and that’s not even taking into account newer gearboxes like the continuously variable transmission (CVT), dual-clutch transmission and the automated manual transmission, but more on those later.

I won’t bore you with the “hows” of the manual transmission (M/T) and automatic transmission (A/T) but I will, however, be deliberate in detailing facts about cost, savings, operation, and repair and longevity so you can make a truly informed decision.

Cost

The price difference may not be huge, but it’s substantial. Take the Toyota Vios XLE for example. The M/T goes for P791,000 while the A/T is priced at P841,000. That’s an extra P50,000, which is good enough for some two months’ worth of groceries for a family of four, or a decent enough upgrade of wheels and tires and cabin sound system.

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It even gets worse with second-hand vehicles. I looked up a 2018 Vios E—the M/T with a mileage of 9,000 kilometers was selling for P510,000 while the A/T with 20,000 kilometers on it was even more expensive at P648,000.

Savings

You’ll definitely save some money with the M/T but the sad truth is, it’s really not by much. Comparing the 2018 Yaris from my previous test drives, the CVT version got me 13.6 kilometers per liter while its M/T counterpart returned 14 kilometers per liter on combined city and highway driving.

That’s savings of a little over P1,800…per year!

Modern “traditional” A/Ts have also vastly improved throughout the years and its perceived fuel economy deficiencies versus M/Ts are now negligible.

Will P5 a day be worth the countless shifting between first and second in traffic? You tell me.

Repair and longevity

When it comes to manual vs automatic cars, A/T designs are a lot more complex, which makes an A/T more expensive to repair when it breaks. And with more moving parts, it generates more heat than an M/T. Heat, fluid and metal parts are never a good combination.

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You may argue that the clutch on an M/T needs to be replaced regularly, especially if you’re a clutch driver, but its long term repair costs will still be significantly cheaper than an A/T.

M/Ts are expected to last well over 120,000 kilometers while the average for an A/T is 100,000 kilometers.

Operation

The M/T comes with a learning curve. Is it steep? Depends really on the student.

If your hand-eye coordination is good, expect to go solo (in a controlled environment) in a couple of weeks. Otherwise, you’re looking at a couple of months of driving school.

A/Ts are the transmission world’s version of RTW. Provided you’ve learned how to drive defensively and a have a valid and legally procured license, you’re good to go.

One thing to love about the M/T is its power delivery. With the driver controlling shift points sans any computer or solenoid intervention and a driveshaft connected directly to the crankshaft, virtually no power is lost on torque converters and clutches, which puts all that horsepower and torque right at your fingertips for steep ascents, overtaking, or to just have a thrilling weekend drive.

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Of course, I’m talking about mainstream cars here. Sports cars, with their dual clutch and super computers shifting at the speed of light, are on a totally different level altogether.

Other transmission types

A CVT uses a belt-and-pulley system, which gives it an infinite amount of gear ratios and allows the engine to operate at peak efficiency no matter the road and drive condition. That’s great for fuel efficiency, but without any specific gears to lock onto, there is no gear-shifting feedback, which makes the drive bland and without excitement.

Dual clutch transmission feels like an A/T but it isn’t, since it has a clutch—two in fact. What makes it different from a real “manual” is the computer, solenoids, and hydraulics doing all the shifting for the driver. With upshifts taking only eight milliseconds, fuel efficiency is very high. Unfortunately, cost, initial and maintenance, are also very high. It’s also expensive to produce on the assembly line and needs fresh gear oil regularly.

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Automated manual transmission is something found in mass market units like the Suzuki Dzire (known as Auto Gear Shift). It pairs a traditional M/T with an electronically-controlled clutch so that it can shift automatically without the need for a physical clutch pedal.

Transmission trivia

If you can drive an M/T, you can drive an A/T. The same cannot be said for A/T drivers.

M/T still dominates the world market. In a 2017 study done by Statista Research Department, M/T had 43 percent share of the automotive market, A/T had 31 percent, CVT 15 percent, and dual clutch 11 percent. Surprisingly, a 2025 projection indicates that M/T will still rule, having 40 percent market share compared to A/T’s 28 percent.

In the U.S., only 18 percent of the population knows how to drive “stick.” While that percentage may vary from country to country, it would still seem to be a safe bet that there will be carjackers who don’t know how to drive an M/T and will just go for an A/T instead.

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Driving in traffic, especially on an incline, is so much easier in an A/T.

Choose the ‘box that’s right for you

While there’s really no wrong or right answer on the manual vs automatic cars debate, the thought process is also not as easy as 1-2-3.

Think of it more in terms of advantages and disadvantages, monetary consideration (acquisition and repair), points on durability and reliability, location (where you’ll be driving a lot), and more importantly, personal preference.

Make these top of mind as you decide the type of transmission on your next vehicle and you’ll be smooth shifting in no time.

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Eric Tipan
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