STICK SHIFT OR AUTOMATIC?
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 email@example.com and put his name in the subject line.