Toronto Star


As the debate rages on, our own Philip Marchand weighs the pros and cons,


The march of technology leaves us with all sorts of choices: practical choices (do I want to bother this person by using the telephone or email?), esthetic choices (which is better: vinyl or digital recordings?), and so on.

Among drivers, the never-ending dispute is between manual and automatic transmissi­ons.

I thought of this recently when I heard about a young man who bought a pickup but preferred driving his compact car with manual transmissi­on because it was more fun.

I phoned my friend Liam Ellis, a University of Toronto student, who prefers driving with manual transmissi­on.

“I find automatic in general is boring,” he said. “When you’re driving with a stick shift, you’re controllin­g the driving in a much more precise way. You’re a better driver: there’s something more masculine about it. It requires more attention, not just brake, accelerate, brake, accelerate.”

Of course, there’s a hazard in driv- ing with a stick shift. You can do it badly. You can end up stalling. And stalling, as Liam accurately puts it, is a truly ugly feeling.

Still the arguments continue, complicate­d by advances in the technology of automatic transmissi­ons. It can no longer be stated with confidence, for example, that manual transmissi­ons offer better fuel economy than automatic. Here are some of the general outlines of the argument. Brakes. Manual can downshift instead of braking. Therefore, manual saves brakes. Auto replies, “So what?” It’s a lot cheaper to replace brake pads than get a new clutch. Manual says, “I’ve never had to get a new clutch.” Besides, overused and defective brakes can also be expensive, along with transmissi­on fluids and filters and what not. Simpler to build and maintain. Manual says, in general, it’s cheaper to repair and service a manual transmissi­on than an automatic. Auto reluctantl­y agrees. Sports cars. Manual says there’s nothing like a stick shift on a sporty little roadster. The stick shift really engages the driver with the highway and the car. Auto agrees, but points out automatic shifts have long replaced manual in serious racing cars. The driver simply cannot shift faster than a good, modern automatic transmissi­on. Vans. You don’t want manual transmissi­on in a van. Driving a van that does not have a good, six-speed automatic transmissi­on is like being made to do work the van should be doing. It’s no fun. Gridlock. It’s also no fun to be driving a car with a stick shift in heavy traffic, where you’re constantly stopping and starting. After a while, the palm of your hand encasing the knob on the stick starts to get sore. Safety. Having one hand on the wheel and one hand on the stick is good for you, Manual says. It prevents you from eating a hamburger and drinking a Coke while trying to drive, or using your cellphone or fiddling with the dials on the radio and trying to drive, all of which is a very good thing. Score a point for manual transmissi­on.

There is also the argument, Manual says, that car thieves are less likely to steal your car if it has manual transmissi­on because the thief probably does not know how to drive a stick shift. There may be some truth to this argument, but it is highly unlikely it will ever be proved with scientific evidence. Freelance writer Philip Marchand is a contributo­r to Toronto Star Wheels. To reach him, email and put his name in the subject line.

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 ?? CHRIS SO/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? Proponents say a manual transmissi­on is more fun to drive than an automatic, and gives the driver more control.
CHRIS SO/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Proponents say a manual transmissi­on is more fun to drive than an automatic, and gives the driver more control.

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