The great de­bate: Au­to­matic or man­ual trans­mis­sion?

Serve Daily - - BUILDING COMMUNITY - By Daniel L. Bolz

What’s all the buzz about, auto or man­ual tranny … and who cares any­way? Car buy­ers are of­ten asked by their “ea­ger to help” car sales­per­son, “Do you pre­fer an au­to­matic or man­ual trans­mis­sion?” So to help all of us un­der­stand the back­ground of the au­to­matic and man­ual trans­mis­sions, and hence help us de­cide which ver­sion of the shift­ing process we pre­fer, today’s Auto Tip will ad­dress this age­less ques­tion: how do we pre­fer to shift?

Shift­ing, ah yes, shift­ing…. Some like it thought­less and smooth, some like it de­ter­mined and rough. For­tu­nately for today’s mod­ern car buyer, both are op­tions, but it wasn’t al­ways that way.

In the be­gin­ning, there was only the man­ual shift op­tion. You ei­ther learned how to master the “art” of con­nect­ing your left foot (on the clutch pedal) and your right foot (on the ac­cel­er­a­tor) into a har­mo­nious blend of mix­ing the two ped­als’ ac­tions at just the right time to en­gage the shift lever into the next gear or you walked a lot.

The first au­to­matic trans­mis­sions, which used hy­draulic fluid to keep them work­ing, were de­vel­oped by GM dur­ing the 1930s and put into the 1940 Oldsmo­bile. It was known at the “Hy­dra-Matic” trans­mis­sion. Today’s auto tranny comes as a stan­dard fea­ture on al­most all ve­hi­cles. You have to re­quest a man­ual tranny (and that’s if it’s available, which it is not in many ve­hi­cles).

Ba­si­cally, the auto tranny is a mar­vel of mod­ern en­gi­neer­ing with the ap­pli­ca­tion of the torque con­verter and plan­e­tary gearsets that makes the whole sys­tem work. Shift­ing is ac­com­plished “au­to­mat­i­cally” as the speed and torque of the en­gine in­creases or de­creases. The man­ual trans­mis­sion needs to be “man­u­ally” moved from gear to gear as en­gine speed and torque in­creases or de­creases.

Who wins the “ef­fi­ciency” bat­tle? Man­ual trans­mis­sions win in this cat­e­gory hands down. Man­ual tran­nys pro­duce bet­ter MPG than auto tran­nys be­cause they use “man­ual en­ergy to trans­mit en­gine torque in the shift­ing process.” The auto tranny’s big down­fall is the torque con­verter that sucks much in­ter­nal en­ergy to work, hence low­er­ing your MPG.

So in con­clu­sion, to go auto or man­ual is re­ally a toss-up. Each sys­tem has its pros and cons. You just have to de­cide which ones you want and don’t want.

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