The Hidden Benefits of Stick Shift Transmissions

Jeep Wrangler.
A Jeep is best enjoyed when shifting.

In a driver’s search for improved gas mileage and more value, the hidden benefits of a manual transmission often get overlooked. Through extensive research, automotive technologists and experts have found that a stick shift can improve gas mileage by a notable two to five miles per gallon compared to an automatic transmission. Additionally, opting for a vehicle with a manual transmission can cut a cars price by $800-$1,200.

Stick shifts also improve the vehicle’s speed, sometimes significantly. This added perk comes courtesy of running a smaller engine. And many drivers find cruising in a manual transmission cool and fun, although that depends on the car.

Transmission Testing 1-2-3

manual transmissionManufacturers have introduced different types of manual transmission-equipped vehicles over the years, subjecting them to strenuous fuel economy and acceleration tests. Their findings were compared to similar automatic-equipped models that were rigorously tested. Results reveal that manual transmissions can deliver better acceleration rates and fuel economy compared to their automatic counterparts.

The Shift That Keeps on Giving

Operating a stick shift is a handy skill to have in situations where you’re a designated driver, emergencies, foreign rentals, and when you’re on a budget. If you’re charged with transporting people who shouldn’t be driving, you may have to drive a friend’s manual. Being adept at operating a stick is valuable in emergency scenarios where time is a critical factor.

Trips outside of the country can demand renting vehicles in places where stick shifts are customary. Automatics often have limited availability and come at significantly higher rental prices. In countries with challenging terrain, knowing how to drive a stick makes for a more enjoyable, stress-free trip. For example, navigating Costa Rica’s hilly roads during that country’s rainy season is far easier in a rented Jeep with a manual transmission.

Getting It in Gear

4WD stick shiftAnother hidden advantage of manual automobiles is they’re generally less expensive than automatics and maintenance over their lifespans usually runs less. Because fewer people know how to drive them, the demand for and the price of a stick shift is lower. This low demand can provide consumers with negotiating leverage when they’re shopping for a used vehicle. If you’re in the market for a truck or SUV with a stick shift you’ll probably have better luck. Manuals tend to sit on the lot longer, giving buyers a distinct advantage. Try the tactic of telling the salesperson you’d be more than happy to take that stick shift off their hands if they’re willing lower the price. One caveat to this is since relatively few consumers opt for manuals, they could be harder to sell later.

Of course, there are challenges with stick shifts. They’re available in fewer models, minimizing drivers’ choices. Smaller vehicles and sports cars typically feature more options in manual models. Stick shifts involve considerably more skill and expertise to drive. For instance, a stick shift is harder to get under way when stuck on a steep hill and in congested traffic a lot of shifting and working the clutch pedal is required.

Performing in the Clutch

Because there are contrasts in how the clutch and shifter feel and operate, drivers should test drive before they purchase a car with a manual transmission. For example, the stick-shift Ford Focus reduces motor sounds by lowering motor revs. On the other hand, the manual transmissions in the xD and the Forester have expandable, ambiguous shifters, making the driving experience less engaging. Technological research has also uncovered that the Scions skewed driving position is complicated by having to utilize a clutch pedal.

Deciding whether to make the move to a stick shift ultimately comes down to personal preference. Does having more control over operation trump your budget concerns? Is your daily commute through heavy stop-and-go traffic, making a manual an extra hassle? Would you chafe at having your choices limited? When making your decision, don’t forget to weigh in these hidden benefits of driving a stick shift.


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Photos courtesy of Joseph Wright.

Joseph Wright is a copywriter with Transamerican Auto Parts in Compton, CA. He has been a professional journalist for over 20 years. He lives in Los Angeles.

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