The age-old debate of automatic vs manual

15 September 2017

The age-old debate of automatic vs manual

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There’s a constant debate among drivers as to what transmission type performs best on the road – automatic or manual. There are some key differences between the features of manual and automatic transmissions that help buyers understand the different driving and ownership experiences associated with each.

Automatic transmissions:

• An automatic allows drivers to concentrate more on the road ahead while keeping both hands on the wheel making for a much easier operation.

• If you are a less experienced motorist, balancing a clutch in a hilly area avoiding an embarrassing stall or dangerous rollback can be challenging. Automatics have a creep function and, combined with modern hill hold systems, makes those hill starts a breeze.

• If you regularly find yourself in stop-start traffic, a manual can be a bit of a curse, particularly if your legs are aching after a hard day on your feet. Automatics make city driving far easier to handle.

• Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control and other automated systems leverage automatic transmissions to take greater control of the vehicle.

Automatics are not as cut and dry as they once were. There are many variations nowadays such as a direct-shift gearbox (DSG) and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to name a couple. They all behave differently, so remember to go for a drive to feel the difference before you commit to any purchase.

Manual transmissions:

• Maintenance on a manual transmission is low and they are relatively easy to service. Oil changes are infrequent and the most common item that will need attention is the clutch which is a simple mechanical assembly. An automatic transmission, in comparison can often be a costly rebuild at a specialist shop when a failure occurs. A skilled mechanic will often be able to diagnose and rectify internal faults on a manual transmission such as bearings and worn synchros, without the need of a specialist transmission shop.

• With a manual you’re able to select the best possible gear for the job, giving more control to the driver. Of course, this is perfect for those winding New Zealand roads and your fuel economy.

• If you want to use a vehicle for recreation like a track day or off road driving, a manual is a must. Automatics tend to be more conservative in their shifting patterns, so aren’t ideal for the track. Having said that there are some fantastic DSG boxes and conventional automatic transmissions that will give your shifting ability a run for its money.

• Vehicles that carry heavy loads benefit from the added strength and direct drive characteristics of a manual transmission, as they deliver maximum torque to your wheels without slippage.

Both transmissions have their place in the world and, in essence, do the same thing. The manual transmission is becoming harder to find as automatic transmissions employ more features to give the best of both worlds. It’s important to consider both and of course, the needs of anyone who will be driving the vehicle before making your final decision.


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