You can imagine that we get a lot of skepticism about why we’d come up with a business for trying to help keep the manuals alive. People are always asking us why we’re doing this and why anyone would want to learn to drive stick shift. For some, they’re learning for work reasons (valets, longshoremen, UPS drivers, etc…). But for many others, they’re learning because they want to drive a stick shift. It’s not about need. It’s about something much bigger than need. So, in no particular order, these are the most common reasons why people say they prefer to drive a stick shift
1) Emotional Connection - Feeling More Engaged
First and foremost, driving a stick shift is a completely different feeling and one that I would argue is better. Driving a stick shift makes you feel way more connected to the car and the environment around you. Because of that direct connection, you have a much better sense of what the car is going to do when you make a change, which enables you to make better choices for the environment. That engagement also makes you much more focussed on the task at hand than, say, the infotainment system, your phone, or something else. You simply do not have the mental bandwidth to focus on anything else. While that may not seem like fun, consider how distracted drivers are more likely to get into accidents than non-distracted drivers. Distracted driving — including texting while driving — is the cause of more than 58% of crashes involving teen drivers and that nearly 4000 people per year are killed in accidents that were caused by distracted driving. Being more connected is also just more fun. I do all sorts of things simply for the enjoyment of it. I go for long bike rides fairly frequently, snowboard, swim, cook somewhat complicated meals, and do all sorts of things simply for the enjoyment of the task. Sure, I could find more efficient or easier ways of getting things done. But why would I? Driving stick shift turns what otherwise would be a boring drive to the store into an opportunity to have fun.
2) Buying a classic or older sports car
Hey remember when Ford made those awesome automatic Mustangs in the 60’s and 70’s? Yeah, me neither. If you’re going to buy a classic or sports car from any year earlier than say the mid-2010’s, you’re going to be buying a stick shift. Automatic and electronically controlled transmissions only started to match the performance of stick shifts starting somewhere around 2000 - 2010. Ferrari’s first paddle shifter came out in 1997 on the 355. By the time the Ferrari 430 came out between 2004 and 2009, about 90% of the units sold were paddle shifters. More modestly-priced cars started coming out with competitive electronically controlled shifting cars in the years following. So, if you’re looking for a sports car or something with some power built before the first decade of the millennium, you’re going to be buying one with a manual transmission.
3) Faster / Better Gear Selection Response
Usually, with most automatics (the reasonably affordable ones), the transmission moves too slowly and often puts it in a different gear that I would not choose in a manual transmission. Take, for example, driving on an onramp to a highway. Looking at the traffic I’m merging into, I might want to punch it up a little. In a stick shift, that’s pretty straight forward. I just downshift and rev the engine so that I have more power to get me ahead of the other cars. The response happens as fast as I can move my hands to shift and my feet to press the clutch and gas pedals. But with an automatic, sometimes it feels like I’m sending a telegraph. “Dear engine, at thy earliest convenience, if thou is inclined, would ye be persuaded to deliver a bit of power to my wheels?”. I find this especially true if I’m renting an automatic. When I travel, I usually rent the least expensive car I can find. Note though that if you know how to drive a stick shift, you can usually save money on a car rental if you’re traveling abroad. Depending on the nature of the automatic car that I end up renting in the states, I might get an immediate response or I might not. This is especially true with torque converters, AKA “slushboxes”. I don’t know about you, but I generally like to know that a car is going to quickly respond to my input. To be fair, much of this criticism is only aimed at affordable family cars. High-performance cars generally have pretty quick dual-clutch electronically controlled transmissions, for a price. They can actually shift faster than I can and often get better gas mileage at higher speeds, but those benefits come at the cost of both the initial purchase and maintenance.
4) Cheaper Maintenance Costs
While the manual transmission is generally considered to be an old technology, when it comes to cost savings, old is good. Old means parts are plentiful. Old means just about any mechanic will know how to repair it. Old means years and years of continuous improvement and refinement. All of that experience and improvement results in lower parts and labor costs, not to mention reliability. On top of all of that, manual transmissions are much simpler than automatics from a mechanical standpoint. All of that adds up to Automatic transmissions often being much more expensive to repair when things go wrong. This is especially true for electronically controlled dual-clutch transmissions. Yeah, the performance is amazing, but so are the repair bills.
5) Less Expensive When Buying New
In addition to being cheaper to maintain, stick shifts are often cheaper to buy. Brand new stick shift cars are often about $1000 cheaper than automatics. A 2019 Imprezza adds $1300 for an automatic. A Honda Civic with a CVT adds $800. On cars that cost about $20K, those are pretty expensive options for doing what you could do for free. On a Chevy Spark, the savings is pretty significant. Base 2020 Spark is $14,195 with a stick shift. Want an automatic? Tack on an extra $1,100. That’s an extra 8% just for a transmission.
6) Cheaper to Buy Used
Ask any car dealer and they’ll tell you that trying to move a stick shift off of the lot can be a major pain. Unless if you’re talking about a Miata, WRX, maybe a Wrangler, or some other car that is more fun to drive as a stick shift, most customers want an automatic. So, if you’re in the market for an ordinary car and there’s a stick shift on the lot, you’re going to have a chance to save some money. Because so few people want to buy an ordinary car as a stick shift, the seller is going to have to cut the price to find a buyer. Back when I was buying and selling cars more regularly, I would find that a comparably equipped stick shift car would sell for about 10% less than its automatic equivalent
7) They’re From a Foreign Country
Often, buyers of stick shift cars in the US choose to do so because they grew up driving stick shift in a foreign country. When they land in the states, they want to keep driving stick shift simply because it’s what they know how to do! It gives the driver a familiar feeling and an opportunity to be reminded of their home country.
8) Better at Being Cheap and Fun
Cheap and simple cars are, well, great at being cheap and simple. I’ve driven plenty of Corollas, Mazda 2s, Chevy Sparks, and a whole host of simple cars. They’re great at getting you from point A to point B, are easy on the wallet, and usually relatively easy to maintain. Among their many laudable qualities, you’re not likely to hear anyone call them “fun”. Unless, of course, if it has a stick shift. Cheap cars tend to have cheap automatic transmissions. Low-power engine + low performance automatic = slushbox driving. But with a stick shift, you can keep the car in higher revs and play a lot more with the power. You can take corners more aggressively, drop a gear in anticipation of passing, and put more power to the wheels. Sure, you’re still in a cheap car, but you don’t have to feel that way.
9) Prepare for Your Planned Actions
Until we get fully autonomous vehicles, there will always be a delay between what’s happening out on the road and what the car is preparing itself for. Cars can’t see traffic slowdowns ahead, can’t plan for overtaking slower cars, and can’t do a whole lot other than what we tell them to do. In an automatic, I can’t tell the car what to prepare for. If I want to overtake a car ahead of me, I need to leave some extra time between punching the gas and expecting more power at the wheels. But with a stick shift, I can shift into a lower gear before I move to overtake. This gives me the power I need the moment I press the gas. Same goes for rolling through an intersection. I’ve had a number of cars that lag for a moment when I roll off a highway, often shifting into a gear I wouldn’t have chosen. But in a stick shift, I can choose the gear that isn’t just right for what I’m doing in the moment, but what I plan to do in the next few moments.
It seems like I see at least one story per week of an attempted carjacker being thwarted by a stick shift car. The thieves go to steal the car only to realize that it’s a stick shift. Heck, VW even made a commercial about not bothering to lock the doors on a car because who is going to steal a stick shift? Personally, I’d lock the car, but what do I know?
11) Bad Weather Driving
Tim “The Toolman” Taylor had a thing for more power and I’m generally of the same mindset with one exception: snowy-weather driving. Trying to get a car out of a snow-packed and iced-over street parking spot can be incredibly challenging if too much power is going to the wheels. All of that power causes the wheels to spin too quickly and lose their grip. But in a stick shift, I can reduce the amount of power going to the wheels, gently nudging the wheels into motion. Same goes for trying to drive up an iced-over incline. Dropping into 1st gear and riding the clutch allows me to gently creep the car up the hill.
12) Engine Braking
Stick shifts are great for helping to extend the life of brake pads. With a stick shift, you can engine brake. Engine braking is a technique wherein you drop the car into a lower gear and use the resistance of the engine to slow the car down. If you engage in a lower gear and don’t press on the throttle, the rotation of the wheels causes the engine to spin. But because you’re not giving the engine any gas, the engine restricts airflow. That then creates a vacuum each time the cylinder goes through a cycle. Long story short, your engine becomes a brake. If you’re driving through a hilly area, you can save wear and tear on your brake pads by using your engine to slow you down.