It''s a tough question to answer. Should I buy a manual or an automatic? The real question is, which is right for you? There are many factors that help decide wether you would be better off with a stick or not.
Ease of Use
The main factor in deciding between manual or automatic is ease of use. It''s plain to see that automatics are just easier to drive than manuals. If you have a physical handicap to a leg or arm, you may require an automatic, or at the least one would be much more comfortable for you to operate. The elderly will find automatics much more beneficial as well, especially if they suffer from arthritis. If you live in or have to commute to a city, you may want to steer clear of a manual as well, because you will be using that clutch alot. As you drive your current car, evaluate what you can do, and what you do as you drive. If you have a manual already, is is just too inconvenient? do you get frequent pain in your legs, arms, and especially your lower back? You may want to consider an automatic. If you have an automatic, do you find that your car is sometimes sluggish, especially up hills, or that it hesitates when you want to accelerate? You may want the extra control offered by a stick.
Shopping; Buying and Selling
Are you buying your next car on a tight budget? That is a sure sign to look into manuals, as they can be from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars less expensive than automatics. Especially if you are looking the sub-$5000 range, looking at manuals will open up a much wider range of vehicles and possibly allow you to afford something with other features, such as luxury additions or greater reliability. If you''re planning to resell the next car you buy, you may want to still look for automatics, as they have a slightly higher resale value, and you''ll have a wider range of interested customers, since everyone who can drive can drive an automatic.
This one has really been beaten into the ground, but it''s worth mentioning. If you find yourself spending lots of money on gas every week (or many times a week!), you may want to consider a manual. If you compare two cars that are identical except for thier transmissions, the manual will always get better fuel economy. This will be more pronounced if you do alot of highway or country road driving, and less important if you do alot of city driving. Many current midsize and compact cars get over 35 miles per gallon on the highway with a manual transmission.
It''s worth mentioning a couple more points regarding fuel economy. First, a manual transmission can provide better economy, but it depends on how one drives. Shifting at low engine speeds will help maintain high fuel economy, but someone who winds their car up to 6500 RPM before they shift will be using more gas to get around. Also, a manual transmission can make an economy car perform a bit better than an automatic. In small cars with small engines, the power sapped by an automatic transmission is more noticeable. Having a manual transmission in this type of super-econocar can help offset any lack of performance.
Not quite as important as the others, but it is still an issue. Manual transmissions are cheaper to repair and replace than automatics by a few hundred dollars. No one buys a car expecting to have problems, but they happen. Especially if you are buying an older car, a car with high mileage, or one with questionable ownership history, reconsider before buying an automatic. You may want to inquire of several shops how expensive the typical transmission replacement is for the car you''re interested in. Note also that automatic transmissions are more prone to wear, especially wear due to heat. Extra steps should be taken to ensure that an automatic transmission is always well-maintained.
The last, but certainly not least important factor on many people''s lists, is driving enjoyment. Manual transmissions are just more fun to drive. There is a different feeling that you get from winding the engine up and shifting into 3rd and 4th on twisty country roads, or downshifting for a spurt of acceleration when passing. Younger car owners will get a kick out of being able to spin the tires with ease by ''dropping the clutch'', and anyone who is a manual devotee will tell you there just isn''t anything like getting a good grip on that shifter and putting it through it''s paces.
''Manumatics'' and CVTs
''Manumatic'' (or ''Autostick'') refers to a type of transmission that functions as an automatic but has a mode that allows for manual gear selection. One example is the ''Tiptronic'' transmission offered on Volkswagens and Audis. These transmissions do not have a clutch; instead, gears are selected electronically. This type of transmission really closes the gap between manual and automatic; they are often 5-speeds, helping minimize the fuel efficiency and performance differences, and they allow the driver to choose between hassle-free driving and the enjoyment of picking one''s own gears. They are generally a more expensive option than an automatic on midrange and luxury cars.
CVT stands for Continually (or Continuously) Variable Transmission, and operates much like an automatic from the driver''s point of view. Simply select your driving range and off you go. Instead of a traditonal gearbox, it functions by a system of pulleys and chains or belts which allow an infinite range of gear ratios. This means that the transmission''s electronics can choose the ratio most suited to the current conditions and select it with no gear changes. Thus, it provides a smoother ride overall compared to automatics or manuals. CVT''s are lighter than manual or automatic transmissions, and are used currently in the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid vehicles, as well as some higher-end cars like Audis. The main downside to the CVT is they are a bit less fuel efficient than automatics. This is emerging technology, and things may change in the near future.