by Sam Dillinger (comments: 0)

Buying an Automatic Transmission vs A Manual

automatic vs manual transmission

It’s finally time to trade in your old vehicle for the newer model you’ve been wanting for the last 2 years. This is a very exciting time for us all, new cars are always a great addition to the family! There are a ton of things to consider when buying a new car, even if the car is used it’ll be new to you, and one of the biggest is what type of transmission to get. Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of both options.


Automatic Transmission

The key pro for an automatic is simplicity for the user. Start the car, put the shifter into drive, and go. That’s all there is to it. The automatic transmissions of today are routinely 6, 8, and even 9 speeds, with rumors that there are some coming in the future with even more speeds. These new models with all the additional gears are specifically made with fuel efficiency and emissions in mind. They've been very finely engineered to always do their best to put the vehicle into the most environmentally friendly fuel cycle, while not sacrificing the power we all want on acceleration. The new model automatics are all electronically controlled units with an impressive array of inputs and sensors to help it make all these decisions.

The biggest downside to an automatic transmission is the failure rate is higher for what is collectively labelled as the “automatic transmission system”. As I mentioned, all of the new model automatics are electronically controlled. This actually started back in the 90’s, and is now standard for any vehicle with an automatic. The technology is infinitely more advanced now than it was when it launched, as you would expect it to be, but that also means infinitely more complex. The truth of that is a transmission system failure is now almost as likely to be electrical in nature as it is to be mechanical. Note: I’m including hydraulic failures under the heading of mechanical, for simplification purposes in this article. The diagnosis needed to get to the root cause of any automatic transmission system failure is significantly more involved now than it ever has been, and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. This all translates to a greater cost for repairs once the warranty has expired. If the TCM, Transmission Control Module, were to fail, and you have to pay for it out of pocket, this repair is routinely close to, or over, $1,000. That’s quite an investment and doesn’t address any of the internal components of the transmission itself.


Manual Transmission

The main pro for a manual transmission is simplicity of the system itself. A manual transmission is all hard parts. There are no internal seals that can fail and cause it to lose that gear. There are no electronics to speak of, mostly just simple things such as a reverse light switch, or a skip shift solenoid on some models. As long as you keep the fluid fresh and don’t abuse it, a manual transmission is easily capable of lasting vastly longer than it’s automatic counterpart. There is also a clutch/pressure plate system as well as the master cylinder/slave cylinder system to consider as well. Those subsystems make up the entirety of the manual transmission as a whole. This makes diagnosis of a potential failure much easier, as well as repairs.

My pick for the main con of the system would be that the clutch disc is a wear item. It’s made out of similar material to a brake pad, and functions in a loosely similar manner. So this is a component that will absolutely fail at some point and need to be replaced. It will not be as expensive as a transmission overhaul for an automatic, but neither will it be a cheap repair as the transmission must be removed to replace the clutch. I’m not listing an internal failure under the con side because generally only a single component fails in a manual trans and if it’s repaired in a timely manner, it won’t cause any collateral damage. The other big one to list in the con column would be the need to shift so often in traffic. This isn’t really a problem, but it can certainly be an inconvenience to consider if you live in a place with heavy traffic.

So, what is the recommendation? As you might expect, it’s all up to preference. If you intend to buy the vehicle and keep it for a very long time, I’d recommend a manual transmission because the internal components can last almost indefinitely, if treated correctly. If you’re only going to drive the vehicle until the warranty expires and trade it in for a new one, an automatic sure is easier to use!

As always for my members if you have further questions or concerns, and if you're looking for advice, make sure to visit us at!

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Meet Sam Dillinger

My name is Sam Dillinger. I've been a professional, dealership technician for 18 and a half years. My first introduction to mechanical repair was when my own vehicle broke down in the fall of 1995. I was 18 and couldn't afford to pay to have it fixed. So I borrowed tools and asked a ton of questions and, eventually, was able to replace the clutch on my truck by myself. During the course of that project, I found that I really enjoyed having a wrench in my hand and figuring out the puzzle of disassembly and reassembly of a motor vehicle.

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