Manual Transmissions: Tomorrow’s 8-Tracks?

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There are two things pushing the manual transmission off the stage – or at least, off to the sidelines:8 track lead 2

First, there is government pressure – lots of it – that’s got the car companies sweating nights to figure out ways to make what they make use less gas while still delivering what car buyers (most of them) expect in terms of power/performance.

This is no easy trick.

De-powering the engine (or making smaller engines) is problematic because cars have become heavy, in order to qualify as “safe” per Uncle’s edicts… but making them lighter – so they could get by with less engine – and use less gas – would make them less “safe”…

Round and round we go.

So, what to do?

One way to squeeze an extra 3-4 or so MPG out of a given car without gimping its performance is to get rid of the manual transmission.

The same car with the same engine but with an automatic – a modern automatic – will usually deliver better EPA numbers than the same car with a manual because modern computer-controlled automatics can be programmed to shift gears “just right” (and at just the right time) for optimum mileage while a manual under the control of a human driver is inevitably less precise.manual RIP

Especially as far as the EPA’s tests – the ones they use to determine the city/highway mileage numbers touted by a given car and which are used for purposes of determining compliance with federal fuel efficiency (CAFE) edicts.

This latter business (CAFE) is crucial.

Huge money at stake. If an automaker doesn’t meet its CAFE target – currently 35.5 MPG (average) it gets hit with fines, which are then folded into the price of cars, which makes those cars a harder sell vs. competitor cars that did make the CAFE cut. And so we get more automatics.

And with them, some other things.

You may have noticed, if you’ve driven a new or recent model year car with an automatic, that they are in a hurry to shift up to the highest gear they can short of lugging the engine (sometimes, they actually do lug the engine). Sometimes, they will shift up to a higher gear when the car is going downhill – which makes the car feel as though you’re stepping on the gas.

And pretty much forces you to ride the brakes.

Not good for the pads – but better for the MPGs.Benz nine speed image

This is the computer programming – which is programmed for maximum fuel efficiency.

If the car has a manual, the driver’s tendency is to not move up to the next-highest gear until the car feels ready for it – which may be less than optimum, mileage-wise. As when the car is going downhill and the driver keeps it in fourth rather than fifth to take advantage of the engine-braking effect )instead of riding the brakes) to keep the car from over-speeding.

Modern automatics also have a leverage advantage because they have more gears, so each “step” up requires less of the engine (which means less fuel used, at least potentially). For example, almost all the manual transmissions in service today are five and six-speed transmissions while many of the newest automatics have seven or eight forward speeds.

Some have nine – and they are working on ten speed automatics.

In some of these, the top two or three gears are overdrives – each a bit “deeper” than the preceding. The idea being to cut engine revs at cruising speeds to idle, basically.

It’s possible the same could be done with a manual, but the problem is expecting the driver to deal with that much shifting. Rowing an eight-speed would be … busy. Big rig truckers do it (with more than eight speeds) but that’s a different animal.Shifting Gears

It would also require a very complex transmission – as automatic transmissions have already become. The replacement costs for some of these boxes are not spoken of outside of closed doors because they are stroke-inducing. In some cases $5,000 or more – just for the transmission. Not including the labor to remove the croaked one and install the new one. If you knew this going in… would you buy in?

Most don’t know.

But then, probably nine out of ten people under 30 today also don’t know how to drive a car equipped with what was once called a standard transmission… and so they have little interest in buying a car with a manual transmission.

Plus, traffic sucks.

A stick-shift car is great fun … if (cue Sammy Hagar) you can get out of second gear. Aren’t constantly doing leg-presses (though modern manuals have hydraulic assist clutches and are easier to shift than ever).

But it gets old when you can’t… and are.

Which is a major driver behind the marginalization of the manual. Something like 94 percent of all new vehicles sold in recent years have automatics. The less of something people buy, the rarer it tends to become.

The final nail in the coffin, though may be the performance advantage of modern automatics. This is a recent development.

Observe – with gimlet eye – the baleful fact that most exotic supercars are automated. And even the lesser exotics (for example, the current Corvette) tend to be quicker with the automatic. Zero to 60 – and around a race track. They launch perfectly, the shifts are spot-on – and more consistently executed – because the compudah is inhuman and does not suffer from the less-than-perfect reflexes and timing of even the most skilled human driver, who will eventually make a mistake. Lap after lap, launch after launch, the automatic is always on the money while the human driver sometimes is.Mini manual

Usually, if he’s really good.

But never always.

Of course, fractions of a second differences in 0-60 and lap times only matter when you’re racing for money. No human can feel the difference between a 5.4 second 0-60 run and a 5.3 second run.

The trouble is the car companies – some of them – have forgotten that fun matters more in a street car than fractions of a seconds difference in instrumented testing stats. That the whole point of the exercise is to break traction on the 1-2 upshift and let the ass end skitter around until it hooks up again. That, no matter how perfectly timed a modern automatic’s shifts may be, shifting for yourself – even when you miss one – is all the difference.

Of course, some of us still have 8-tracks in ours cars, too… . depends on you to keep the wheels turning! The control freaks (Clovers) hate us. Goo-guhl blackballed us.

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  1. Well apparently a manual transmission is the number one anti-theft device these days since kids cant drive them. Nothing gives you a better feel as a driver than that direct linkage with the engine. Drove manuals all my life but as said quite difficult to find in a modern car. Real shame. Just another result of fluoride chemtrails and the overall dumbing down of the population I guess for our insect overlords. Regarding a previous comment a miata with a manual is a heresy. Why the hell would you get one in the first place? As an aside can you imagine that sammy hagar video made today with all the government goon worship? I cant.

  2. I got married “late” so my kids are all still young. First won’t drive for another four years (wait. The driving age is still 16 right?). You mean it will be next to impossible to find a stick shift for my children to learn on and drive? Or worse, that it won’t even matter?

  3. Eric,

    Just this week, the blog came out with a survey that showed the decline in purchases of manual transmission cars. It showed a 20-year decline, and that of all features people look for in purchasing a car, manual transmission ranks near the bottom with 1.7% of buyers wanting one.

    When I went shopping for my recently-purchased MX5 Miata, I had trouble finding one within my state that had a manual transmission. The week I bought it, there were only 4 out of 54 in the state available for sale for a used one; I didn’t want to spend over $30K for a new one. I still had to drive 125 miles from home to pick it up, though.

  4. A newspaper article today (18 February) discussed the wrangling between car manufacturers and the feds over pending proposals to require new cars to have automated braking using radar to prevent collisions. The manufacturers have mentioned the complexity to applying the technology to manual-transmission cars.

    This pending requirement, combined with other rules being phased in, will kill off the stickshift in new cars. If self-driving cars become the norm, which is starting to seem inevitable with such rules as these passing, then that will cinch it.

    I work for Mazda at a low level, but speak only for myself and not the company. Employees have a sweet lease deal as a benefit. The base CX-5 Sport is theoretically available with the smaller 2.0 engine and a manual, but after trying three times to get one as a lease vehicle from late 2013 to mid–2015, I found that no such versions were ever at any of the ports. Very few manual CX-5 Sports apparently actually enter the US. My guess is that dealers cannot sell them, since so few buyers in the market for such a vehicle can drive a stick. For my lease cars I had to accept an automatic version, which for 2016 automatically bumps you up to the 2.5 engine in the CX-5.

    It’s a shame, because the Skyactiv stickshift is a blast to drive: butter-smooth, easy, fun. The manual Mazda6 sedan I leased in 2014 was wonderful. (It was metallic black, “Jet Black”. Since the grille and other trim were black on every 6, the car was entirely blacked-out and looked sinister as hell. People would move out of my way when I was in the passing lane on a highway, heh heh.) But with the regulatory changes afoot, any stickshift looks like a dead end…

    • Marketeers and dealerships think the manual version is because someone doesn’t want to spend the money for an AT. Hence pairing it only with the smallest engine option. The result is even lower demand.

    • Wouldn’t that mean there’s no reason for insurance any more…?

      I mean, seriously: How can people be so WILLFULLY STUPID?

      If the car drives itself, there’s no reason for you to carry insurance, really. If an accident occurs, it’s a product defect, and BOTH parties are injured – so the party to sue is the manufacturer, “defect in materials or workmanship.”

      Question: Does that mean auto insurance is merely grasping for whatever they can get before they go under?
      Or, do you think it will be the worst-case option: Mandatory auto insurance, liability, etc, even though we aren’t driving?

      I don’t think the sheeple will ever allow themselves to understand, we are just numbers to TPTB. We don’t matter. The whole world is Auschwitz, and we’re the inmates…
      Herd animals (collectivists) are rabbits and sheep.

      I do wonder about a pack, though. (I.E., a tribe is a collection, but not necessarily collectivist. Like my question about, when does a corporation become a de facto part of government? E.G., Zuckerberg’s wish to censor those critical of Islam on FB. By nature of what FB is, shouldn’t IT be a “public utility” as well? It’s how many people get their “news,” such as it is… And therefore, shouldn’t it be subject to the “fairness doctrine” by default? Is it not operating with government assistance and therefore essentially a part of the government, akin to the Military-Industrial complex of the warfare-welfare state? Just some things to ponder.)

    • “I work for Mazda ”

      Way off topic, I know, but as a Mazda guy, could you give me an idea of which SUV/Crossover Mazda would be a good one to buy used? I really like the looks of them, but I’m leery of Mazdas since my wife bought a 626 new in ’99. The automatic transmission in it was terrible, and failed totally , needing to be rebuilt twice in about 70k miles.

      • Just my opinion here. If you’re looking for one a few years old, the Tribute (= Ford Escape) seems to have a good reputation. Also, though it’s a bit thirsty, the CX-9 seems to hold up well. I know a few people with well over 100K miles on their CX-9s without having required major work, only brakes and the like.

        For something newer, the 2013–2014 CX-5 has a good rep. The CX-5 replaced the Tribute and is an all–Mazda design.

        Don’t know what happened with your 626, but to be honest, Ford had a heavy hand in a lot of Mazda stuff back then. That heavy hand wasn’t all good. Two rebuilds in such a low number of miles is ridiculous if you’re absolutely sure no abuse was involved, and I would have been all over the Mazda field reps over that. As in, “Give me a new tranny at your expense, or I invoke the state lemon law and call the feds about this unsafe vehicle.”

  5. I wish I’d bought the manual when I could, but I was misled by the EPA. My CVAT had to be replaced at 52,500. It changes gears too late, and paddle shifters won’t let me manually upshift until it’s too late. That’s a big part of why I can’t achieve the EPA estimate.

  6. EP: Thanks for the video “I Can’t Drive 55” – good one.

    My vehicle: 2012 Infiniti G37 – 7sp auto. Let it shift (instantly) or snick the lever to the left and shift manually (with rev-matching) – until hitting the rev limiter if desired. Good in or out of traffic. No thanks, to manuals (small, lightweight, vehicles excepted) – I’ve had both.

  7. Would love to know how to do manual, but no one to learn it from and quite frankly it is a pain in the ass to drive that way. If you can’t make it simple and easy to learn then don’t complain when people start fazing them out.

      • I was fortunate to learn from my father.

        He let me drive his Duster when I was about 8 (he controlled the pedals). Curves gave me problem back then. I still remember the time I ran the car into the curb (under 30mph and probably slower) while going around the corner.

        I spent time really driving with the 4sp Toyota Corolla (1980). The gears were not difficult to switch. The most difficult part for me then was shifting into 1st from a stop especially on a hill. With practice it became easier.

        Hopefully, I’ll be able to one day train my nephews with my 6sp Sentra.


        I can sympathize with you if you do not have access to a manual to practice.

    • When I was 6 and my sister 5, my mom went back to work, because my dad was in seminary (grad school). So she had to drive and dad had to ‘reteach’ her on the manual. She had learned on one (automatics were few and far between in the early 40’s), but fell out of practice when she was not using ‘the skills.’
      Of course back then she also had to actually parallel park to get her license. I don’t know how many times she ran over dad’s toes.

    • I bought a Subaru WRX, manual, first year it was available.
      I had my father drive it home – I couldn’t drive a manual.
      Then I sat in front of the house, on the hill (like a 20% grade, probably), and learned the friction zone. Within 15 minutes I was driving it.

      Unfortunately, I DID go through 3 clutches… Each one was different. Different friction zone, different snap or tightness, and even with revving the engine – it didn’t always shift smoothly.
      But it was a Fucking BLAST to drive!!!!

      I had the benefit of already taking the Motorcycle Safety course, so I’d learned a little about shifting. But it’s like coding for computers: You learn one language, you have a leg up on every other language. (Unlike human languages, where only a few really fit. E.G., English and German are similar; Spanish, Italian, Portuguese are similar. But learning Eng. or Germ. won’t help with Spanish/Ital./Port.)
      C is comparable to C++ is comparable to Java is comparable to Javascript is comparable to Pascal or Fortran, even. (Though with Pascal and ForTran, you’re getting a bit like the German–> Portuguese barrier.)

      Point being, you get an insurance discount for the Motorcycle course, AND get the license endorsement, AND learn more about shifting manually – so it’s worth it.

      I’m still getting to the point that the Cloverian “anarchy” might be a good reprieve from Uncle Sam’s un-lubed shafting we take… (Hey, it works in Baltimore and Detroit and Ferguson… “They” get “room to destroy.” We get the bill… WTF, if I’m going to pay the fine/do the time, might as well have the fun of the crime and PURGE…)

  8. Eric, Back in the early 60’s when I was a kid, my friends and I went to some drag races, quarter mile, in Sanford Maine. The conventional wisdom was that an AT could never beat a stick. So, many were shocked when it did happen. I think it was a Chrysler hemi-head. Two of my friends had a cheve 409 and a 425 with four on the floor, great muscle cars. Saw a racer called the Green Hornet race. And, I got one of those big 78 records of the GH engine revving and racing. Loved your article on carburators among many others. By the way, if I were asked to name the top ten or twenty living defenders of human rights based on their clarity of thought, you would be on that list. Your replies to clovers remind me of the poet Milton, “Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

  9. Final drive ratio in automatics tend to be much lower than in manuals in like-model comparisons. That is the only reason automatics rate impressive economy performance over manuals in government tests. Real world, not so much. That umpteen speed automatic is seldom in those overdrive gears for any length of time. Even the slightest pressure on the accelerator and the engine is howling. Even worse with a heavy payload, crappy weather, the constant nuisance of automated climate control dialing a/c into operation, hills, stop and go, winter weather – that high tech automatic might as well be a PowerGlide.

    • That’s where I was going next CC. You give me that final drive from the AT in my MT, and I’ll get even better mpg by not down shifting in my MT. My ’03 Escape MT buzzes like a bee at 3000+ rpm in 5th (highest) gear for 65 mph. Betcha it it could easily pull 65 mph at 2200 rpm if geared properly. Still gettin’ 30mpg however.

  10. Eric, I continue to be surprised by the recently evolved claim that an AT will get better mpg than a MT. Maybe this is a new thing, but my personal experience invalidates this claim. And I don’t care what the EPA tests say. Every AT I drove got worse mpg than advertised (lots ‘o rentals), and every MT I owned got better. CVT’s were/are worse! Despite VW’s diesel fiasco, the new Passat 6 sp is 2 mpg better than the AT and the EPA even admitted it. Granted this a diesel (which I can’t figure out why all these car companies don’t go diesel/electric for their hybrids (but bye-bye MT’s)). AT’s can’t resist downshifting when you step on the gas (wasted fuel). AT’s can’t resist continuing to turn the TC when you coast (wasted fuel) while I nudge the MT into neutral (saving fuel). The manual tranny weighs less than the AT (wasted fuel). Something is rotten in the state of Denmark! I am an engineer, I taught myself to drive stick in an old F150 3-on-the-column, and my first purchased automobile was a ’77 Ford Grenada with a four-on-the-floor attached to the venerable 250ci straight six in which I taught my wife to drive stick and, yes, I am still married and to the same person 36 years later!

    Long time reader, first comment. Had to get a chop in!

    • Two more things: clutches and synchronizers. I traded that Grenada in at 190k with no work on the original engine, tranny, and clutch. Even in ’77 the syncs were so good that, after fist gear, you could shift without the clutch and the Mrs. was able to pick up on that (and thought it was really cool (me too!)). I’ve owned MT’s from the start and taken them to 150-200+k and never had to replace a single clutch. Finding the natural shift points just makes a MT that much more enjoyable. Own 2 right now: ’03 Escape with 5sp/2.0L (135k) and ’09 Vibe with 5sp/1.8L (95k). Shoulda bought that Passat!

    • Hi Big Red,

      I’m with you!

      The issue here is “building to meet the test.” The government decrees “x” MPG. The car companies build (and tune) their cars to achieve that on the test.

      It’s probable that a skilled human driver could get better mileage out of a car in real-world driving with a manual rather than an automatic. But that’s neither here nor there as regards the government’s tests, unfortunately.

      Like so many things nowadays, what you and I are and do (and don’t do) as individuals is not the criteria. It’s what other people – the mass – do.

      “Most people” can’t drive… therefore, give them “safety” technology. And automatics.

      • Eric, you said:
        “The issue here is “building to meet the test.” The government decrees “x” MPG. The car companies build (and tune) their cars to achieve that on the test. “

        So… Playing Devil’s advocate: How is that different from the VW mess?
        Or is it just that VW got “caught”?

    • I don’t think anyone here is saying that an AT will get better mileage than a stick. What Eric is reporting is that the EPA rates them higher, and their benchmarks are what the builders have to meet.

      • PtB, Autos probably do get better mileage for most dummies who only know how to select D. They have higher speed rear=end ratios, always have. The new trannies have a lower first gear and an even spread between the next gears and a couple OD’s with an engine tuned for just that slice of bread. The manuals get lower speed gearsets on the rear with higher first gear ratios and less gears. The designers can make whichever one be the best and the stupid masses have spoken, I want D. Let ’em have D, dammit.

        When I get my way though, look out(as if this could ever happen) and all cars get little versions of Eaton Fuller 13 and 18 speed transmission you only shift by matching rpm on transmission and engine. One button for range, lower and upper, and a button to split the top gears. If fuel mileage were the main thing as they want us to believe, that would be the ideal set-up. 17% difference between gears as opposed to 40%, a no-brainer. Go back to those old vacuum gauges that showed the best mileage. Lots of people here don’t even remember them but instead of a big tach in the dash on my ’77 El Camino SS, there was this big gauge that showed how much your foot was in it. Amazing what good breathing and exhaust would do with one of those gauges. Mainly, mine just went all the way over to “bad” and stayed there. It was sorta hilarious when I put that Eddie Browder engine in it. Back off and hold 90 and the sucker would surge up there to “good”. What a great citizen I was comrades…….after I chunked everything the govt. had deemed mandatory.

        • “those old vacuum gauges” – yeah, I remember cars w/vacuum gauges. But they weren’t dials on the dash, they were called windshield wipers. If you couldn’t see, let off the gas and the wipers would speed up.

  11. One fun thing I encountered when purchasing my latest auto was asking the kid/salesman (I am in my 50s) to give me a chance at a car with a ‘standard’ transmission, and him pulling up in a box with an automatic. I guess this just shows, as EP says, that automatics *are* the standard transmission nowadays.

    The capper was that after the test drive (in a vehicle with a manual; the only one of its model on the lot at the moment) he asked me if I liked the car. When I said ‘yes’, he started filling out the paperwork from the photocopy of my documentation he took prior to our excursion. I said, “Hold on a minute there, Bubbalooey! Just ‘cuz I like the car doesn’t mean I’m gonna buy it today.” He bailed, and came back a couple of minutes later with Big Lou, with his big hair and his big chest with a big gold chain displayed upon it, who asked what the problem was. When I repeated my reluctance to take the plunge, Big Lou shook his big forefinger at a nearby banner and proclaimed, “But it’s got a million-mile warranty!!!” As if I (50s, again) am going to get a million miles out of any car.

    Needless to say, this establishment did not receive my patronage.

  12. Who here on this bulletin board has had their automatic transmission fail them? I have not, with owing cars for over 30+ years. But every manual I have had has required a clutch change, to the tune of roughly $1000 each time. Changing the ATF on the automatic is no big deal. So, my opinion is, that barring the auto transmission failing, owning an automatic would cost less.

    Depends on your driving too: Sports cars, econoboxes, and trucks are typically always have a better driving experience with the manual.

    • I know of two VW DSG transmission failures (local people; they get their cars repaired at my buddy’s shop). The cost was unbelievable.

    • When I had to take care of a fleet (for a small broke college), it seemed like every Chrysler minivan in it needed a transmission (thankfully all were over 100,000 miles). Some of them were scrapped at that point, because most 80’s and early 90’s models engines would be blowing lots of blue smoke by then too making the repairs cost far more then the van was worth. My last year there we finally found a donor that gave enough so I could start trading in the minivans at 80,000 miles, which was far better then the $300 we were getting for scrap. Now a days they lease everything, and never have anything over 4 years old. Must be nice.

      Though the 2001 that I own, has 150,000 miles on it with the original trans is still going strong, and no smoke either. Hoping it makes 200,000.

    • The automatic trans in my car has been working fine for over 40 years with only regular maintenance. Those old 3-speed Torqueflites used to be the gold standard. From what I’ve read though, Chrysler trannies went into the toilet when they introduced the 4-speed FWD models.

    • “Who here on this bulletin board has had their automatic transmission fail them?”
      As a 2 vehicle family man, we have had 1as a minivan for nearly 20 years. The 97 Caravan (Mitsubishi trans) was redone 2x before 200k and same w/the 03 Grand Caravan (4 spd auto). It happens.

    • When I first came back from overseas the last time (spring of ’98) I got a ’92 Ford Taurus withy an AT. It had two big issues: First the engine mounts failed making the thing totally un-steerable. Luckily this happened in a parking lot so I was able to avoid additional mishap. Fortuitously, this was addressed by a recall so the cost of repair was recompensed. Second, the tranny started coming apart. I was able to limp to a tranny shop where they said I had two options: A) Replace the tranny, for more than the car was worth, or B) Replace the filter and flush and change the fluid, and get between a week and a month of additional service before croaking completely. I went with option B and started looking for a new, or at least different automobile. As it happened, Kia was breaking into the Midwest market at the time, and I got a brand-new ’99 Sephia with MT, crank-down windows, no AC, no cruise control, no radio (just the way I wanted it) for FRN 8 K. Last year, after 185+ K miles on the ticker, a close-up meet-and-greet with the rear bumper of a Hummer H3 put the final nail in the coffin of that marvelous machine, and the tranny had never had so much as a hiccup.

    • “Who here on this bulletin board has had their automatic transmission fail them? ”

      My wife’s Mazda 626 had a transmission failure, total rebuild at about 33k and again around 70k. It was typical of that model we were told.

  13. Your $5k estimate may be low on replacement for some transmissions, I was quoted $6,500 for an ’06 Audi A6 4.2 auto 6 spd that had given up the ghost, this was my wholesale cost and was parts only, I forgot what the core chg was and this was several years ago. No independent tranny shop wanted to touch it either, so I was at the mercy of the dealer. Best drubbing I ever took was off loading it to CarMax for whatever they were willing to write the check for.

    • Yeah, it’s sick… I have a good friend who owns a shop; he and I jibber-jabber about this stuff all the time. He shows me the cost – to him – of replacement transmissions. This is not counting his labor to R&R. Some of these transmissions cost so much it’s literally not worth fixing them (oops, replacing them) unless you just really like the car and don’t mimd spending 40-50 percent (or more) of its current value (the car, I mean) on a replacement transmission for it.

      • Keep in mind that manufacturer service parts are becoming a bigger profit center than ever. By the time the independent mechanic buys them at the dealership the mark up could be 3-4X what the manufacturer cost was. Maybe more.

      • eric, complexity was one thing that always put me off Ford auto’s. Ever see a C-6 torn down? A plethora of parts doesn’t even get close. I bought a tape with rebuild instructions for GM 350 and 400’s and Ford C-6. When the guy got to the C-6 he said “while I’m going to show you how to do this, I don’t recommend doing a home rebuild’. ” But if you must, you’ll need two sheets of plywood for parts instead of the one for the GM’s”. No joke, it was terrifying as well as special tools.

        • Oh yeah!

          I am a fan of GM turbohydramatics for this and other reasons. GM – for all its many flaws – makes great automatic transmissions.

  14. “…tend to be quicker with the automatic. Zero to 60 – and around a race track. ”

    I can see the 0-60 being quicker due to quick shifts and torque multiplication from the converter (ever drive a car with a 5K rpm stall and a transbrake?) but am a bit skeptical about an auto being faster on a road course – are the new automatics sophisticated enough to trail brake into the turns (not that most amatuer drivers have the balls to do this) and hold gears on demand?

    • DBB, some can hold a gear but there’s no modulating going into the next gear or if you need to downshift and that’s where you’ll lose traction and control.

      I never figured out how and really didn’t want to learn how to keep FWD cars on the edge.

      Being able to steer with the throttle is a must on a performance car.

  15. My hunch is that standard transmissions are safer than automatics. Standard transmissions keep your mind on your driving and force you to stay alert. With the automatic transmission, the tendency is to drift off and stop paying attention to the road. Other developments in cars have the same tendency: quiet interiors, rolled up windows, bluetooth. If I want to drift off into my own little world, I have a stereo in my living room for that, with all the classical CD’s I need. When I am behind the wheel, I feel it is my obligation to watch the road.

    • I agree with everything but quiet interiors. Noisy interiors contribute to a lot of fatigue when you are on a long distance trip. I like a quiet inside. Or at lease one with not a lot of tire noise. Engine noise okay as long as it’s not overrevving, but tire noise contributes to fatigue.

  16. “If the car has a manual, the driver’s tendency is to not move up to the next-highest gear until the car feels ready for it – which may be less than optimum, mileage-wise”.

    Safety or fuel efficiency: choose ONE to optimize. As we should all know by now, you get what you measure and reward.

    Thank goodness we live in the efficient, free-enterprise West rather than in the inefficient, centrally planned socialist system where everything is controlled by government! Oh wait…

  17. Way back when my dad had a couple of Mitsubishi cars–Plymouth Champ and a Dodge something or other–with hi/lo 4-speed transmissions, effectively giving an 8-speed trans. Those were good cars giving good gas mileage.

    The cost of repairing or replacing a modern automatic trans is incredible, and I hear that the CV transmissions are far worse. For those of us who keep our cars long-term, a manual makes good financial sense.

    • Hi Ross,

      The cost of repairing cars has become a function of the cost of the cars themselves. People now routinely spend $35k-$40K on a “family” car (loaded Camry, minivan, etc.) and $50,000 cars (and SUVs) are very common. These cars are expensive because they are elaborate. This includes transmissions.

      A replacement old-school automatic such as GM’sTurbo 350/Turbo 400 still costs less than $1,000 today; something more modern (with overdrive, but without a got-damned computer) such as a 200R4 only costs a bit more.

      The latest-gen seven and eight (and nine) speed boxes?

      You don’t want to know.

      • I never had much luck with the TH350 back in the 1970s – at least in a 4wd pickup in the mountains. It seemed to suck both fuel and power, and was pretty well used up by 75k miles. Also, terrifying to come down really steep hills in low range where you had to use the brakes.

        • Hi Tall,

          The TH350 was lighter-duty than the TH400 and, of course, cooling is critical with any automatic. I never had any problems with the TH350 myself… but I used them in cars rather than 4WD trucks.

          • Back in the 70’s and 80’s when GM made 1/2 T pickups with 4WD and 350’s I knew a lot of people who worked hell out of these pickups and Blazers too. Pull huge trailers in Tx. heat and never have a problem. Before congress took the risk out of subsidy farming, it was common during harvest to see those old 1/2T and some 3/4T GM pickups out there doing the dirty work and that’s what the hired hands drove year round. Nobody wanted to bang up their new shiny rides so they continued to use and abuse those pickups. There’s still a fair amount around. The “new” old abused pickups now are the early 90’s GM’s that just keep on.

        • I never pushed a stock th350 too hard but never had any trouble with them either. Heard a lot of bad things about the elctronic lockup versions of them…
          We used to run th350s behind big blocks on the super gas cars (9.90 index, ~130 mph) but they weren’t exactly stock and still less reliable than an similarly built th400.
          Gonna have to try a full manual 4l80 one of these days, they’re almost getting affordable…

  18. The Mrs and I have a Mazdaspeed Miata with a six speed stick in the garage. Sadly the next generation will never know the joy of doing a heel and toe on the brakes and gas as you downshift going into a corner.

    • Hell, FD, I have to get on this forum to find anyone who knows what heel and toe might be. As far as auto’s go in a pickup, I’m torn between the ability to modulate to the nth degree in 4WD with an auto and having the forget about it it’ll be ok manual transmission.

      A luxury car or SUV, I’ll take an auto but a sports car has got to be a manual. I like a close ratio transmission you can choose to use a lower gear and higher revs on a curve to stay on the edge. If you’re not on pavement, that ability to fine turn your power is like night and day to an auto. There are a couple of caliche roads I’ve hauled on so many times I have them down pat in certain big rigs. One has a big sweeper with a big bank on the inside I love to hug and build power that takes it up top at the end of the curve when you’re WOT and bring it onto the straight as all 18 get traction.

  19. A recent carjacking was foiled in my area because the thief couldn’t drive stick. Buying a manual if your forced to live in an area with a high crime rate may be cheap insurance. Most car thief are generally young, so most won’t be able to drive your car.

      • even a clutch replacement is no longer as cheap as it was, nor do they last as long as they used to last.

        from another forum, on the cost of a new clutch:

        “Clutchmart wants $1300 -.

        Dealer wants $1070.

        Worth the extra $200? Pretty sure warranties are the same.

        Wanted to go independent — but 3 quotes were for $1600+

        Its a 2010 Mazda 3, 6 speed. 6 years old as of 2 weeks ago. about 80K. think thats average, but seems short. wife is the only driver.”

        • Hi Bill,

          The cost probably has a lot to do with the layout (FWD, transverse mount) which makes it a more labor-intensive job. In something RWD, removing the transmission to get at the clutch is about as easy as it gets.

          • manual & RWD?

            where do you find that nowadays, a few sportscars?

            I’d think any U.S. mass market manual would have the now standard transverse-mount, FWD layout.

            oh, now his dealer estimate is well over $2,000 – for a new flywheel, & other parts.

            • Ford is about the build its last RWD sedans (MT available). The Ford Falcon in Australia is coming to an end.

              This will leave BMW and few domestic market MB’s. with MT’s available.

            • You’re right, Bill. Only a handful of RWD models available and virtually none (other than muscle coupes/sporty cars like Mustang and Miata) offer manual transmissions.

        • ONLY 80K and the clutch is gone? Perhaps she needs some skill-building on how to use that gear train. Please dn’t beoffended, but that’s not many miles for any clutch.

          As Eric pointsout below, most of that is labour… that engine is shoehorned into that bay, and has a whole pule of junk hanging on to it. Of course, I recently had opportunity to buy one of these cars that needed both Cats changed…. my wholesale cost, even shopping online, was about %1500 for the pair…. and that does NOT include my labour. The only reason I considered it was because I live in a non-smog burdened county, thus could drop the cats and bash the matrix into powder them our it out. The car would run just fine….

        • I also have a 2010 Mazda3 with the 6 speed and 60K miles (but my clutch is fine). Wish it had the SkyActiv 2.5’s fuel efficiency but I’m not getting a new car for at least 100K more miles. Hopefully Mazda will still be making a fun to drive car with a stick by then.

          Car was $800 cheaper without the automatic to begin with anyway. That money saved up front would easily pay for a clutch replacement when needed. Even stodgy old Consumer Reports remarked last year that consumers should buy a Mazda3 with the stick.

          • Hi CLiff,

            I would never buy a small/sporty (or economy) car with an automatic. The manual gives you much more control, the car is almost always much more fun to drive and (big factor) it costs a lot less up front and down-the-road.

            I’m about to post my review of the Hyundai Veloster. The base engine with the automatic is a gimp. There’s just not enough torque to work well with the automatic. Other manufacturers have turbocharged their little engines to address this… but now you have the cost (up front and down the road) of the turbo…

  20. I have to say, with stuff like paddle shifters, you can kind of have your cake and eat it too performance wise. It feels weird not clutching, though.

    • Paddle shifters are not a substitute for anything. I despise car salesmen who tell me that the car has a manual feature. I usually look to the side and say bullshit. I’ll just let the slushbox shift.

    • Flappy paddles aren’t the great deal they seem to be. For one thing, the tranny will still sometimes decide to shift down, sometimes not. Also, you have no idea what gear you’re in unless you look at the dash (was that 3rd or 4th? With a stick your muscle memory reminds you where you left the shifter). Finally, you can’t run from 5th to 3rd or whatever to downshift. And in the case of the VW/Audi DSG, if you decide to shift the opposite way the computer expects, that .2 sec shift time takes much much longer.

      I do use the manual mode from time to time, but usually if I’m joyriding I just put it in sport mode and leave it.

  21. My old man often said that the automatic transmission was the worst thing to happen for this country. It allowed women to drive, which encouraged feminism. I thought that was really silly at the time, now I realize it was wisdom…

    The most viscerally fun car I drove when I was younger was an MGB- a torquey four, with 2 SU’s and a tight 4 speed in a light stiff package- was just great. Not fast, not practical, not really reliable, just great.

    • I wondered why my grandmother never drove. She hauled me 8 blocks or so once in my grandfather’s Ford pickup, 3 on the tree. I was content to walk after that.

      In the 50’s our car(57 Chevy)was in the shop for tranny problems, teething problems on the first of the aluminum cased Powerglide’s. We had a loaner with a standard. Then I realized why my mother never drove before we had an auto. There were no auto transmissions for mass market when both these women “learned” to drive. Must be something to do with not being able to walk and chew gum(and talk) at the same time. Seems like my mother never stopped talking when driving. Driving to the next town over, Mama, turn up the radio, we like this song. Then she turn it down and tell us it drove her crazy. Then again, most things did even when we just wanted to hear music and actually weren’t fighting. Strange my dad didn’t have those problems, none of them. “You don’t want me to have to pull over”. Damned if he wasn’t right.

      • My wife drives a manual just fine, but her dad made a rule with all of his girls – learn to drive on a manual, or you aren’t getting a license.

        She does pretty good with most of them, although I do confess to abject terror when I had her drive an old IH flatbed with a 5 and 2.

  22. My 1987 Acura Integra had a cable actuated clutch. It wasn’t difficult to drive at all. On the other hand, my 2007 Mustang has hydraulic clutch and its a lot harder. Traffic beign what it is in Houston, I find my 2010 Legacy a lot easier to drive, but the Mustang is not impossible at all. People have lost the sense of driving. It’s sad, but there is not a whole lot we can do about it.

    I keep hoping for a reversal in some of the more egregious trends, but I don’t see it happening.

    • You ought to try Austin traffic. If I don’t leave the house early enough, 40 minutes to travel 8.5 miles is a fairly common occurrence. Throw in 10% grades (Hill Country, don’tcha know!) and a manual is just not viable here.

      • Forty minutes for eight and a half miles? Good grief…. the “come on down we’re wonderful” come-ons to convince folk to move there never mention that.
        I can get farther in that same time on my bicycle…. inclduding some pretty signficant hills…. 10% ain’t that steep. Sounds like downtown seattle any time between about 1400 and 1900 hrs.

  23. With hydraulic clutch mechanisms the siting in traffic thing isn’t what it used to be. But why is traffic so bad for MT drivers? Because of all the AT drivers. The AT brings about a stop-and-go flow that doesn’t happen when most people are driving MT cars. If a large majority of people drove MT cars then the annoyances of having an MT when traffic got bad largely go away. Why? Because the move two feet and stop move two feet and stop behavior the AT encourages goes away. If you have a MT car around in crowd of AT drivers you have to do this dance too otherwise people will force their way in front of you just because it looks like they can get ahead. Many ills of north american driving are due to most people driving AT cars IMO. The bad habits they encourage. Especially the ATs in mundane vehicles like mini-vans. Damn those things encourage congestion causing driving and slug behaviors.

    • Brent, driving a big rig the first thing you learn is to avoid that sort of traffic. 40 years ago stopping at a bar and chillin out was often the answer if you couldn’t avoid being at that point at that time. The second thing you learn is when you find yourself in that situation is going as slowly as possible but try to keep up, a fine line of timing and blocking 4 wheelers who love to blast around you and get in that space you created just so you wouldn’t run over the stupid critters. A couple times in big city rush hour traffic and you figure out quickly where you can pull off and chill till the onus is off. Friday afternoons this can be an impossibility unless you’re ready to stop for several hours.

      Why highway planners can’t bite the bullet and build enough more lanes than what is needed 5 years ago is a mystery to me.

      • Back in the mid 90’s I frequently had to haul an all terrain drill rig (on a 53′ Landoll) into and around downtown Chicago. The local boys were unwilling to work in Cicero/Cabrini-Green areas. Traffic wasn’t the only thing that sucked about that – good times. FWIW St Louis was worse, with Kansas City tied for suckage.

      • More lanes doesn’t work because all it takes is one driver per lane at any given stretch of high traffic volume to tip things into stop and go.

        I’ve arranged my life with regards to avoiding such traffic, but I am forced into it from time to time.

        • “More lanes doesn’t work because all it takes is one driver per lane at any given stretch of high traffic volume to tip things into stop and go. ”

          Sartre ( I think) said “Hell is other people”. That certainly fits in any discussion of driving in traffic.

      • Eight I used to wonder about why they build to what was needed two years ago…. at first I refused to believe it, but the fifteen years or so I’ve watched WashDot (Washington State’s insane Dept of Transportation) “at work” (pardon the euphemism) has convinced me the impossible is the reality. WHY? Simple. If they project far enough ahead and build today what will be suitable for today AND ten years from now, they won’t have any projects needing built in a few years. Its a make work gummint job security schtick. And part of what confirms this is to watch the way they wilfully figure out how to make any project far more complex, even in the choice of method used. Don’t forget, the LOWEST paid idiot-stick monkey on the jobsite is getting “prevailing wage”, last I heard about $36/hr plus bennies…. THAT is a big enough gravy train to protect long term.

        • Tionoco – you are right, at least in part. But you also need to keep in mind that all the ‘planning’ is done by gunvermin burro-craps, who are far from omniscient. A few years ago (several, by now, I guess) a new exit was built on I-270 in the People’s Republic of Montgomery County, MD, a dozen miles outside the DC belchway. The projection was that it would take 6 years for the exit to be used to capacity. It took 6 months.

        • Damn Tionico, hasn’t your state purchased kick-stands for their shovels yet so that they won’t need DOT employees to do that job?

          • Brian, shovels? The only shovels I see are in the hands of the contractors hands. In this last boom I’ve seen some of the tiniest equipment imaginale. Tiny track hoes that replace what I used to do with a pick and shovel. No more jackhammers, just little hammers on skid loaders and track hoes. I’m not bitching though, I get to bring that machine out and then take it back in.

            I went to a site a couple weeks ago where a freshwater pond was being built near Knott(tx). There was huge JD 8WD tractor pulling a 35 ton dirt scraper. He was building a 1.3 million barrel water pond, 550X550’X23′ deep at the deepest point. That machine worked circles around a D7 on the same job.

            • “a freshwater pond was being built near Knott(tx). ”

              Hmmmm….in East Texas I never heard that term. The ranchers there always called them tanks. 😉

  24. Eric,

    Sad commentary on the decline of the manual standard.

    Most people (probably ≥90%) do not race their ride for stakes. I agree that a few tenths of a second would matter little to most people in most cases.

    Unless I drove in constant traffic (or was physically unable), I would prefer a manual transmission.

    But then, probably nine out of ten people under 30 today also don’t know how to drive a car equipped with what was once called a standard transmission… and so they have little interest in buying a car with an automatic.

    Did you mean without instead of with?

      • I’ve been a long time reader, but never commented before. Not really sure why I feel compelled to do so now, but… I’ve got a bunch of nephews. I drive a ’92 Ford GT 5.0L five speed, an ’07 Ford E250 van, and an ’03 V-twin 1312cc bike. Not a one of them has ever asked to drive one of my vehicles! 😉

        They can’t drive a stick, think the van is too big and scary, and know that they’d get the same result climbing on my bike as climbing on my girlfriend. Old school rocks!

    • I would prefer a manual transmission.

      I’m one who wouldn’t, at least not anymore. In my younger days I never thought twice about it and drove manuals without thinking. Now, in my 60s, it’s just too much hassle to shift gears and I’m living proof the computers shift better than people do.

      My main concern about automatics is the supposed higher cost of having them worked on. At this point, though, I’m willing to take that chance.

      • The manual in my 91, 3.0L 4×4 toyota p/u is original, with no repairs, and runs as reliably and is as much fun as when I bought the truck 418,000 miles ago. Forgive me father, for I have bragged!

      • “ I would prefer a manual transmission.”
        While I still like the idea of manual transmissions, and understand why Eric promotes them, I can’t deal anymore. I was tired of the congested commuting I do last time I bought a car, and now have had to have an arthritic left knee replaced. So while I hope manual trannys will remain available, I’ll have to pass.

    • “Unless I drove in constant traffic (or was physically unable), I would prefer a manual transmission.”

      Back when I bought my ’02 PT Cruiser Limited with a 5 speed, a client said, “I bet that’s awful in Richmond traffic”. I replied that in traffic, I’d much rather have the 5 speed so that I could jump when there was an opening. One client who was meeting me during the afternoon rush in Midlo told me that she saw me ten minutes earlier coming off the ramp of the Parkway, “then you were just gone”.

      I had outrun her to the meetup spot by 10 minutes in about 3 miles of rush hour traffic, me in my 5 speed car and her in her SUV with A/T.


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