If you’re old enough to get a driving license, you’re taking all the steps you need to secure that all-important piece of paper.
Hopefully, you’re doing the right thing and taking the time to pick out a good driving school. We’ve got the best of them evaluated and reviewed right here, so you don’t have to worry about making a bad choice.
But then comes the actual process of learning to drive itself. While it is nowhere near the common choice it was 20-30 years ago, there’s still a choice of driving style available to today’s drivers.
Do you want to drive automatic or “stick,” otherwise known as manual?
If you’re not sure what we’re getting at, allow us to elaborate.
The Big Difference
The vast majority of people getting a driver’s license for the very first time are probably only familiar with seeing the automatic gear shift in the center position of the car, between the driver and passenger seat.
It’s usually just “R” for reverse, “D” for drive, and maybe the numbers “1” and “2” for alternative gears.
But some of you with more hands-on parents may have noticed that your parents drive with a gear shift that has numbers going from 1-4, and they have a third pedal in the car that you don’t see in other vehicles.
So what’s going on?
Driving manually, as it is called, means that at certain moments indicated by the sound of the engine and a display on the car called a tachometer, you change the gears. This changes the gear your car is currently using in the transmission to propel itself.
Lower gears have more power, but they can’t move the car very quickly. On the other hand, higher gears are not as powerful, but they are great for maintaining higher speeds once you’ve already hit them.
When you drive manually, you are making all the decisions on when you want to switch gears from higher to lower power, and you do this by using both the gear shift and that third pedal, referred to as a “clutch,” to execute the move.
When you drive a car with automatic gear shifting, all you do is put the car in “D” and let the car itself decide when to make these changes in shifts.
Now, there’s no getting around it, learning to drive an automatic is easier than learning to drive manually.
In America today, between 5-7% of the cars on sale still sport a manual gear transmission, so clearly, the number of people that drive it is in the minority.
So why then, would you want to consider this option at all?
There are a few reasons, though ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether these reasons are right for you.
It Makes You A More Focused, Better Driver
Driving manually is a much more focused, attention-demanding activity.
The fact that you need to switch gears yourself when rising or dropping in speed means you often simply can’t pick up your phone and use it, the way drivers on automatic do.
This means you are more focused on the act of driving, and, because of the initial challenge in hand/eye/foot coordination that comes from switching gears, these tend to be much more aware drivers, with a better sense of their car and driving in general.
If you enjoy the act of driving, then driving manually is going to be something that you will naturally lean towards.
When you drive manually, you choose when it’s time to shift gears. When you drive on automatic, the car is in charge of making these decisions, and depending on the age of the car, it may not be all that great at making a determination on when to shift gears.
Someone that learns to drive manually pays more attention to road conditions in order to maximize the effectiveness of gears. Someone that drives on automatic never needs to do this.
More Fuel Efficiency
To be fair, in recent years with more modern cars that have computers monitoring driving activity, this has become less of an issue. But for older cars, there is a definite boost in fuel efficiency for people that drive manually versus on automatic.
Depending on the road conditions, a manual driver can save anywhere between 5-15% on fuel versus someone that lets the car make all the choices about switching gears.
Of course with newer cars on the way, including self-driving cars, these smarter, computer-assisted vehicles are now capable of making much more precise judgments about fuel efficiency and gears.
It’s Good For Emergencies
You may not ever imagine how it would happen to you, but you might find yourself in a situation where driving manually is the only option. You may be traveling to another country, suddenly find yourself in desperate need of a vehicle, and the only car available for rental is one with a manual transmission. If you’re not prepared for this, you may find yourself facing more obstacles than you needed to.
It’s Good for People Who Travel Cross-Country
If your work demands that you travel in other countries a lot, or if you simply like to travel, being able to drive a stick shift car will give you an advantage.
When you travel a lot, you may find yourself in a situation when you need to rent a vehicle to go around a city you’re visiting. It’s not that there’s a shortage of automatic cars for rent, but what if you come across a community when manual transmission cars are still the popular choice?
If you’re well-traveled, you’ll know this is highly likely. You can always ask someone else to drive for you, but it may cost some bucks, and it won’t be comfortable driving around with a stranger behind the wheels for you.
This is a worst-case scenario, but at least you’re prepared if it happens to you.
Your Car Is Safer
Lots of people hate driving manual cars and this includes car thieves! Unless you’ve left the keys in the car, with a 50” flat screen TV sticking out the rear window and a sign on the license plate that reads “steal me,” most car thieves are going to look for the easiest, surest car to jack. And there’s nothing more embarrassing than being caught stealing a car because you couldn’t drive it away.
In Seattle, on June, 2014, a 70 year old woman grabbing something from the trunk of her car faced a gun pointed to her head from a group of teens. She dropped her keys, the teens got into the car and then tried—and failed—to drive away with it because it was a manual transmission.
Security footage shows the frustrated, panicky teens fleeing the scene on foot. This type of story is repeated dozens of times around the country every year.
It’s up to you to decide whether you want to drive manual or not. It’s harder, but it’s more rewarding and, if you’re interested in driving in other countries, a manual transmission is still a popular option.
So Should You Do the Stick Shift or Not?
There are several benefits in learning how to drive a stick shift car.
It’s far more engaging to drive manually as you will have full control over when to shift gears. As you focus more on these tasks, you get to pay more attention to the road.
Manual cars are also less expensive to maintain and repair, and using one saves a lot of fuel.
But of course, there are some disadvantages, too.
For one, it can get tiresome to drive a manual car in heavy traffic and it’s not easy to master all those gears when you first learn to drive. Furthermore, it’s difficult to control the gears in certain road conditions, or when you’re driving uphill.
Still, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to drive manual or not.
It’s harder, but it’s more rewarding. And, if you’re interested in driving in other countries, remember a manual transmission is still a popular option.