Finding a manual transmission in a new car – even a new economy car – is becoming as hard as finding a curbside parking spot in New York City.
There are at least two reasons for this – one of them unnatural, the other a natural evolution of the unnatural.
The unnatural reason is government, a force – literally – which forcibly alters the course of what would otherwise naturally occur. It – to be precise, the people who are “the government” – has been using force to countermand the market (a natural force) for decades by, among other things, requiring all cars and trucks to use less gas, no matter what it costs us.
One such cost is the now-almost-universal automatic transmission – which has added to the cost of what used to be optional in almost all new cars – especially economy cars and pick-up trucks, most of which which used to come standard with manuals.
Automatics – today’s automatics – are computer-controlled transmissions that can be programmed to shift in such a manner as to deliver the highest possible MPG numbers on government fuel economy tests.
Manuals are human-controlled and so more variable.
But there’s a catch.
A con, actually. As is invariably the case when it comes to government – which is a force both malicious and incompetent at the same time.
The automated-equipped modern car touts such-and-such city/highway mileage – and it did achieve those numbers on government tests. But in real-world driving, the actual mileage is often less. While the manual-equipped car’s is sometimes more – assuming you can find one so equipped.
The automatic’s programming is “to the test” – which has an effect on how the car drives. These two variables invariable come into conflict.
The transmission will seek the highest possible gear as soon as its programming (based on input from sensors) tells it an upshift is possible.
Most modern automatics have multiple overdrive gears – some as many as three of them (manuals generally have one overdrive gear). The idea here – if the goal is to score best on the test – is to get the transmission into the highest overdrive gear soonest, in order to reduce engine RPMs – which will generally increase MPGs.
The programmed urge to upshift often produces a sluggish feel. Which prompts the driver to push down harder on the accelerator to restore the right feel.
Unless the driver drives as if there were an egg under the pedal, any significant demand for acceleration will result in a downshift; sometimes several – which is necessary to restore the proper leverage relationship and cause the vehicle to move rather than just cruise.
Now the RPMs are up – and the mileage goes down.
So, it’s basically a trick. Very much of a piece with the mileage-touting of small – but turbocharged – engines as opposed to the mileage delivered by the larger (but not turbocharged) engines they replaced.
It is absolutely true that the smaller engines get better mileage . .. provided you don’t use the turbo (boost) much. But that means driving without much accelerating. If you accelerate in a manner as to replicate the acceleration the larger/no-turbo’d engine would have provided, you end up with the same and sometimes worse mileage, because the smaller engine ends up having to work harder to replicate the acceleration/performance of the larger engine which it replaced in the name of “efficiency.”
So you’re not really saving gas.
And you’re paying higher cost – for the turbocharger and its peripherals (e.g., the intercooler and specialized exhaust plumbing, higher-capacity cooling system and so on) that generally come with the turbo. There is also the potential down-the-road cost of replacing some or all of these parts.
As is also true with regard to the modern automatic. Whatever its touted gas-savings, these are reduced by the cost of the automatic itself, which is a more expensive transmission than a manual transmission because it’s a more complex device. Especially the modern automatic with its multiple overdrive gears and elaborate electronic controls. If it breaks and has to be replaced the cost can be more than the fix is worth relative to the value of the car.
Manuals rarely fail – and modern manuals often go 150,000 miles or longer on their original clutch. This is a wear item that will eventually have to be replaced but the cost is usually less than $1,000 vs. several times that to replace an entire (automatic) transmission.
Meanwhile, the manual-equipped car may give better mileage in real-world driving – even if not on the window sticker – depending on the human driver. If the driver is good at his job – knows when to shift up and down – he can outperform the programming of a computer, which controls the shift action based on fixed and so limited parameters.
It’s analogous to ABS/traction control reducing control/traction in certain conditions – because its programming isn’t as smart as a driver who knows how to.
But automatics are now the dominant transmission in new vehicles, even trucks – where manuals used to be the mainstay. This has been the case for going on 20 years now, with the tendency increasing with each uptick in the federal fuel economy fatwas.
Which brings us full circle to the natural consequence of the unnatural.
An entire generation that has grown up in an automatic-only or automatic-mostly world. They never learned to drive a manual-equipped car and so they don’t buy them. Which has created an artificial and synergistic “incentive” for the car manufacturers to manufacture fewer manual-equipped cars.
Thus, the automatic – with eight, nine and even ten speeds – is now the de facto standard transmission in more than 90 percent of all new vehicles.
As is the cost, in dollars as well as fun. Even if an automatic did deliver the mostest MPGs, even if they shift perfectly, every time – you’ve still lost something that maybe can’t be quantified in city/highway terms, but which is priceless.
Not necessarily the third pedal. The option to decide whether you want it rather than some freaky control freaks, i.e., “the government.”
They can’t stand the idea of us being able to choose whether to buy a car that gets 15 MPG or one that gets 30 MPG – on paper or in the real world.
In other words, they can’t stand the idea of the market taking precedence over their bullying.
Maybe someday, we’ll tire of this.
. . .
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