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December 27, 2022

Are Manual Cars on Their Way Out?

You love the power and control of driving a stick shift car, but you can’t help but wonder if you're the only one who does. All around you, people are trading in their manual cars for automatics.

Are manual cars disappearing? Yes and no. Let's look at why manual car sales have declined and explore some reasons why manual cars may stick around longer than we think.

But first, let’s look at the manual transmission itself. What is a manual transmission, why do manual cars exist in the first place, and how does a manual car differ from an automatic one?

What is a Manual Car? Why do Manual Cars Exist?

Manual cars are vehicles with manual transmissions, which means drivers need to use a stick shift to change the gears by force while accelerating, decelerating, or as required due to the terrain. This is different from how automatic transmissions work in that they don’t need a person to change gears for the car - the car does it automatically.

Manual transmissions also require a clutch pedal. The clutch pedal controls a clutch mechanism between the engine and transmission, controlling the power flow to the transmission. The clutch pedal must be engaged to shift gears.

When cars were first created, manually shifting gears were the best gear-changing mechanism technology could make. As car technology became more sophisticated, the manufacturers learned how to make gear shifting automatic. And gradually, automatic cars took over the market from the older manual models.

The Case for the Disappearing Manual Car

If you suspect that sales of manual cars have declined over the years, you would be right. In 1980, 35% of vehicles manufactured in North America were manual. In 2014, just 10% were.

But that begs the question: why is the manual transmission disappearing? There must be some reason, like the fact that automatic cars have better performance or the cost of maintaining a manual transmission is rising.

There are various reasons for this decline that can explain why the manual transmission is disappearing in modern times. Here are some of the biggest ones:

  • Improvements to automatic cars. In the past, manual cars often enjoyed better fuel efficiency, control, and performance. Today, updates to automatic cars have helped them meet and sometimes even surpass manual cars in these categories.
  • Manual vs. Automatic transmission cars. For standard vehicles, manual transmission models have historically been less expensive than automatics. Back when both transmissions were popular, people tended to ask dealers: are manual cars cheaper to buy? Now that automatic cars are more prevalent and manual vehicles less so, people who have to operate their cars in city traffic prefer automatic transmissions because of the frequency of stop-and-go traffic.
  • Drivability of automatic cars. Many teenagers learning to drive for the first time prefer learning with automatic cars. People who don't particularly enjoy driving also enjoy a less stressful driving option. People who prefer manual cars may have family members who don't know how to drive manual cars. Thus, they decide to purchase automatic cars for their family.

These reasons have caused manual car sales to decline. But is the manual car gone for good?

The Case for the Immortal Manual Car

Despite the strong reasons why automatic car sales have eclipsed sales of manual cars, these vehicles are still around. In fact, there were more stick shift sales in 2012 than in the years since 2006. The main reason manual cars are still in demand is simple: people enjoy driving them.

Many people who have driven manual cars for their whole driving lives don't want to switch to automatic. They feel manual vehicles give them better control in different driving situations. They find driving manual cars exciting and driving automatic cars dull. They may feel their manual car has better fuel efficiency and performance than an automatic car - though this idea isn't necessarily true, depending on the vehicle.

There are a couple of other perks to choosing manual cars as well. Since fewer and fewer people learn how to drive manual cars, your friends are less likely to borrow your manual vehicle. It may also make people less likely to steal your car since they may not know how to drive it. There’s less competition when buying a manual vehicle, so demand may not increase the price of older manual cars.

Because of these reasons, people continue to purchase manual cars. Many car manufacturers have paid attention to the demand and continue to produce various car models with manual transmissions. Some older models of vehicles are still on the market today as retro cars or classics because they have manual transmissions and old styles that buyers are interested in having.

Some Good Manual Cars to Buy Today if You’re Still Interested in Having One

If I want to buy a manual car, where can I find one? If manual transmissions are still popular enough for car manufacturers to continue producing vehicles that have them, how can I find out which dealers to go to and which cars are good manual cars to buy?

These are important questions for anyone who still wants to drive a manual. Examples of good manual cars to buy include Honda Accords, Ford Mustangs, Toyota Tacomas, and many more.

Many people consider sports cars or trucks to be better manual vehicles because you can control the speed and power of your vehicle when hauling equipment in a truck or racing in a sports car. But even regular vehicles like the Honda are just as good with a manual transmission as with an automatic one - because Hondas are still safe and reliable.

Should You Trade In Your Manual Car?

Knowing what you do now about why manual cars exist, why the manual transmission is disappearing or staying, and what manual cars are still good to buy, there’s one last question to ask. Is it time to give away your manual car and buy an automatic one instead?

If you're holding on to your manual car because you believe it gives you better fuel economy and performance, you may want to explore other options. Many automatic cars are available with performance that rivals or is better than manual vehicles. There are just as many benefits to automatic cars as to manual ones.

What’s really important is to do your research and determine which type of car has all the features that meet your needs. If you want to keep your manual vehicle simply because you prefer driving it, there's no reason to give it up. Manual cars are still on the market for similar prices to automatic vehicles these days.

If you decide to give away your manual car, donate it to Newgate School. We use donated vehicles to teach career skills to low-income adults.