Manual Vs. Automatic Cars: Which Is Best?

What are the main differences between manual and automatic cars? We take a look at these as well as the benefits of both.
Published: Thursday, May 4th 2017
As automatic cars become more ubiquitous in South Africa, many motorists are considering whether they should purchase one. So, what are the main differences between manual and automatic cars? And, what are the benefits of one over the other? CompareGuru investigates…

Manual Vs. Automatic: The Mechanics

Many of us know the basic concept of a manual car versus an automatic one. Manual cars require manual gear changing, whereas automatic cars can change gears by themselves. It sounds pretty simple, but those not familiar with automatic cars might not know exactly how much driver input is required. For example, automatic cars aren’t able to simply sense when you want to reverse. You will need to put the car into reverse mode. Furthermore, there are varying degrees of control in different automatic systems. Manual cars, however, always require the driver to move the gear stick to change into any gear. In addition to this, you will always need to engage the clutch to change gears.

Different Types Of Automatic

There are different kinds of automatic cars, according to Furthermore, depending on the type of automatic, there are varying degrees of driver input needed.
“There are three principle types of automatic transmission: the traditional hydraulic or torque converter, Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and semi-automatic, which is sometimes known as robotised manual or automatic clutch,” DirectLine says.
Converters use gears in their transmission, with different systems helping the car know when to change gears. This is based on variables such as speed and acceleration. The driver does not need to facilitate the changing of gears. A CVT ditches the traditional gear system in favour of a belt and pulley system, according to Digital Trends. Again, the driver does not need to do anything to change gears while driving. Meanwhile a semi-automatic allows the driver to change gears without using the clutch. But, you will still need to use the gear stick. There are also dual-clutch transmissions, which are fully automatic, but function a bit differently to other transmissions. With the exception of semi-automatics, the general experience for the driver remains the same on the surface. Rather, it’s the technology that differs. Ultimately though, they achieve the same goal. But, when it comes to tangible benefits of manual versus automatic cars, what can the driver expect?

The Benefits Of Manual

Despite manual transmissions becoming less popular, as automatic technology becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, there are still a few benefits to choosing manual over automatic. Especially in South Africa, manual cars are on average cheaper than automatic ones. In our country, it is also easier to find a manual car rather than an automatic one. This means that the model or brand you’ve had your eye on will most likely have a manual option, but an automatic option is not always available. It is a different story in countries like America, where manual transmissions are rarer than automatics. In terms of maintenance, manual transmissions are generally cheaper to repair and find parts for. Some drivers also feel that they develop fewer problems due to simpler technology. However, it is difficult to prove whether this is anecdotal rather than hard data. Some drivers also prefer manual transmissions due to faster acceleration and the general ‘fun factor’.
“Manual transmissions usually have better acceleration, less weight, and less power loss than an automatic transmission in the same car. So, for those that love performance cars, especially sports models, a standard transmission is often a no-brainer,” the Transmission Repair Guy site says.
A manual transmission also gives you more nuanced control over your driving. This includes slowing down using gears rather than brakes.

The Benefits of Automatic

Manual cars have their benefits, but there is a reason that automatic transmissions have become more popular over time. While fuel economy was previously a problem for automatic cars, they are now generally on par with manual cars when it comes to petrol usage. The biggest benefit, though, is increased ease of use and convenience. For new drivers, automatic cars also have a less steep learning curve. The convenience of automatic transmissions is especially felt by those with reduced mobility or certain disabilities. According to, many drivers also feel that automatic transmissions are less of a distraction. This allows them to focus on the road more. Conversely, some drivers end up multi-tasking instead and get distracted by other things due to the reduced need to pay attention. Automatic cars are especially useful in peak traffic, giving the driver a more relaxed experience. Drivers don’t have to worry about stalling nearly as much. And, they don’t need to keep holding the clutch.

So, Which Should You Buy?

Whether you should buy an automatic or manual car depends on your needs. If you are strapped for cash, or very budget-conscious, you might not want to splurge on the higher cost of automatics. However, if easier driving and less stalling are significant factors for you, an automatic might be the way to go. In the market for a car? Visit PriceCheck's car page to compare cars NOW!