NPF: ROW YOUR OWN

I really like cars. Sorry if this makes me Dumb and destroys your perception of me. As a regular consumer of things related to car types of which I am especially fond and more general Car Guy Stuff like Regular Car Reviews, Autoblog, and Jalopnik, I am well aware that no one is allowed to be a Car Bro without having a borderline obsession with manual transmissions. Shift gate tattooed on your forearm or GTFO, brah! Three pedals or it doesn't even count as a car, brah! Automatics are so gay, brah! Despite the cogency and persuasiveness of such arguments, stick shifts are fast disappearing in the United States. They now account for almost no new truck sales and something like 1% of new car sales. More tellingly, they are no longer available on many performance models aimed explicitly at Car Enthusiasts.

There are practical reasons for the decline. Most drivers see cars simply as appliances and they want whatever is most convenient and whatever makes driving easiest. Americans also sit in a lot of stop-and-go traffic, which is the environment in which driving stick is most annoying. But I think that the biggest problem – Unpopular Message Board Car Bro Opinion warning – is that modern no-clutch-pedal transmissions are just so goddamn good.

Automatic transmissions suffered until the last 10-15 yearrs from two drawbacks. One was poorer fuel economy; prior to 2000 most cars gave up two or three mpg on their automatic version when compared to the manual one. Most automatics were 4 speeds, which made it difficult to gear for fuel economy without sacrificing performance. And on that note, the second drawback was performance. They were slower and the rudimentary transmissions basically had three gears plus an overdrive, and most cars aimed at the mass car buying public didn't have the horsepower to pull them effectively. They didn't shift particularly crisply either. GM's ubiquitous 4L60-E, which I experienced in numerous vehicles, shifted as though it was filled with pudding. I remain unconvinced that it wasn't.

So, for years manual transmissions had two big bragging points: better mpg, better acceleration. Combine those with lower price – automatics tend to be a $1000 option even today – and you had an airtight argument. The problem is that now 6-plus speed automatics and dual clutch (DCT) boxes have better fuel economy, provide quicker acceleration, and shift more quickly. The only remaining practical argument is based on style.

I had a BMW that I truly loved driving, and it had a DCT/automatic. Like most DCTs, it had "paddle shifters" on the steering wheel for manual shifting. When I sold the car, the young man who bought it asked about the paddle functions. I told him that they worked just fine but that I determined fairly quickly that I could not shift better than the software controlling it. And that's the thing: nobody can. It might make you feel better to shift your own gears, but the days of manual shifting outperforming sluggish 80s style automatics (the true "slushbox" automatics that are no longer used) are gone. Long gone. Performance cars like Corvettes, Porsches, BMWs, and Italian exotics now have dual-clutch automatic or robotic manual (BMW's SMG or the Porsche PDK) boxes that can execute shifts in milliseconds. Literally milliseconds. They are designed and programmed to outperform the human clutch foot and right arm (left in the UK and Japan, I guess) and they do exactly that.

Getting a manual transmission on a new 2016 vehicle strikes me more as a badge one wears to establish Car Guy cred than something that makes sense. Manuals no longer outperform their self-shifting counterparts in any area. The historical advantage they had in fuel economy is gone along with any performance advantages. If you think manual transmissions are more fun, by all means go for it. Do what you enjoy. But they are in no way empirically "better," and in fact by any performance or economy measure they are now worse than modern self-shifting units. Manual gearboxes are now to cars what Amtrak is to long distance travel. You can take Amtrak from Chicago to LA if you like being on trains, but in practical terms it makes no sense at all. Flights are cheaper and infinitely faster. Your choice, then, is one based solely on personal preference at the expense of logic, which is your prerogative. The attitude of superiority is pretty tiresome, though, especially when attached to a technology that is demonstrably inferior now.

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78 Responses to “NPF: ROW YOUR OWN”

  1. Leslee Says:

    Or just buy an electric car and blow past everything – manual or automatic – with all that tasty torque.

    That's what I do. The bros in the Mustangs hate me for it.

  2. Ed W. Says:

    Pfft. Do you even wrench, bro? (I, myself, do not, but for people who don't visit car websites, that is a thing that people on the internet say with completely non-ironic intent).
    From what I can tell, many car people seem to be slowly coming around to the fact that driving an automatic doesn't somehow make you less of a man, but there is still a contingent that thinks cars were best when you had hand crank windows and radios with those little red slide-y things. AC? For pussies and women, just adds weight. You'll never get those people to come down from their pedestals.
    I learned to drive on a stick, and still think it's fun as hell on open roads, but today I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 45 minutes, and that would have been torture without an automatic. I taught my wife to drive stick last summer, and she said she it was kind of interesting, but she doesn't see the point of driving a manual (aside from saving a bit of $$ on a purchase). Realistically, given the ratio of open road/bumper-to-bumper driving I do, she is probably right.

  3. mojrim Says:

    I learned to SCUBA in 1990. We used the old USN dive tables, added five minutes to decent and ascent, and calculated our dives manually. Modern sport dive tables, and the commercial dive computers that work from them, are more efficient, account for depth changes on the fly, and keep more people from getting bent.

    Still, as with manual transmissions, many of us cling to the old because it gives us "cred." That is, proof of a hard-won skill set that is no longer available. It means we mastered an art that the rest of you never will. Rational? Of course not, but then, neither are most of human endeavors. We went to the moon because it was hard to do, and that was enough.

    I freely admit that my atavistic attachment to the manual is mostly irrational, but I won't drive a newer car, either, so the slush box problem is real. I only have one defense to offer: I spend much of my time off road or on abandoned logging roads and have been able to rock myself out of more than one ditch. You can do that in an automatic. Practical? No. Fun and rewarding? Hell yes.

  4. Glen H Says:

    Another car bro here, and I'd never get another manual in a modern car.
    One of the good things though about the modern internet is that politically incorrect car bros get a look in now. You know, non P.C people like socialists,women, gays and people who like Oldsmobile 98 Broughams.
    A couple of sites that seem to avoid the relentless right wing machismo are "Curbside Classics","Ate Up With Motor" and the Facebook group " The Golden Age of the Brougham", if you like older cars.

  5. Dumbspear O'Sparrow Says:

    This discussion reminds me of that great monument to anti-liberal, anti-feminist backlash, the 1982 book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. Not that its arguments were totally original, but it really did bring together in one volume a lot of the tropes we've become familiar with now, like the book's title, for example.

    However, the book also said that real men prefer automatics because "they are secure enough to have their gears changed for them."

  6. hamletta Says:

    My drivers' ed teacher took me out to the steepest hill in town and made me keep it still with the clutch.

    I love my manual Mazda3.

  7. HoosierPoli Says:

    And for some reason, over here in Germany automatic transmissions are as rare as manual transmissions in the US. I wouldn't say traffic is dramatically less annoying, either – Berlin rush hour is just as bad as anything you'd get in the DC area. The one thing that IS different, though, is most cars have much smaller engines – my Mazda's engine is 1.6 liters, which is so small they don't even SELL it in the US. Is there a connection?

  8. Talisker Says:

    Modern manual cars have an indicator to suggest what gear you should be in. As far as I can tell, it optimises for fuel economy and nothing else. In city and highway driving, I seldom disagree with it.

    Country roads are another story. What's that, computer? You want me to be in 6th gear while I drive at 40 mph on a twisty single-track road in the Scottish Highlands? Blow it out your electronic ass, I'm staying in 4th.

    This may be one reason why manuals are still popular in Europe — many more roads of this type, as opposed to the wide open vistas in most of the USA.

    @HoosierPoli: Yes, I've heard it argued that the extra weight of an automatic transmission makes a greater difference (to handling and fuel economy) with the smaller cars popular in Europe.

  9. Major Kong Says:

    I learned to drive on a manual shift.

    Go to Europe and it's still mostly manual transmissions. You'll sometimes have to pay extra to rent a car with an automatic.

  10. duquesne_pdx Says:

    I drive a 2010 Mazdaspeed 3, which didn't have an option for an automatic transmission, and is an absolute joy to drive. Unless you get to Gary, Indiana at 2 pm on a Friday. After the 3 hours it took to get to Elgin, my left leg was in spasms and my right leg was agony.

    My wife drives a 2013 Outback. It's a great car. Comfortable with plenty of acceleration and auto shifts well. The thing that I don't get is that it has the option to shift to the manual paddles. I actually tried it once. Apparently my muscle memory doesn't work like that. Unless my left leg is engaged, I have to think about shifting and there's no rhythm. Especially when I can't hear the engine. I let the car do the shifting and I'm good with that.

  11. Katydid Says:

    I also learned to drive on a manual shift because that's what kind of car my family had (as Ed pointed out, it was cheaper). I lived overseas for a few years and I've since travelled outside the US for work, and as Major Kong and others have pointed out, manual-shift cars are the norm. However, my last car I bought for here in the good ole USA was an automatic because 80 miles a day of bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic in the metropolitan hellhole I live in was tearing my up knee and ankle.

    I miss driving manual transmission. I made sure my kids knew how to drive a manual transmission. If nothing else, it teaches you to pay attention to the engine and think about what the car is doing at any particular time. It's also a great skill to have, because wherever you go, you'll always be able to drive there. Several times I've arrived in-country on a business trip and been the only one who knew how to drive the rental car.

  12. Major Kong Says:

    We were deployed to Turkey some years back. The crew-van we had been provided with was a manual shift, like most cars there.

    I had to teach one of the Sergeants how to drive a manual, because she had never done it before and it was her job to drive the van.

  13. Steerpike Says:

    Kind of like the resurgence of vinyl among so-called "audiophiles". They smugly claim the sound is "warmer" because it includes the full dynamic range, rather than a digital sampling. Don't bother pointing out that even the most sensitive and highly trained human ear is not physically capable of discerning this level of detail. This isn't about the relative superiority of one technology over another; it's about tribal identity.

  14. Dave Dell Says:

    My daughter is strictly manual transmission. I'm gone strictly automatic as I've gotten older. She says I should have a fork stuck in me 'cause I'm done.

    I will say I like an automatic better on snow and especially on hard pack snow ice which, here in Nebraska, describes all residential streets for about 4 months of the year..

    My Honda gives power to whatever wheels need it on snow and ice. That's the automatic part that I really appreciate.

  15. doug Says:

    I have DCT 6 speed for 3 years now. It is better than I at fast shifts. DCT is what F1 uses, and they like to go fast.
    Nice one today Ed, I had no idea you too were a car guy.

  16. verbal Says:

    Manual transmissions do have the advantage that fewer people know how to use them. So, they are harder to steal, and fewer of your friends will borrow them. :)

  17. geoff Says:

    So many Mazda 3s! I like to pretend mine (stick natch, to the "huh?" of the saleslady) is the modern-day equivalent of a BMW 2002.

  18. jharp Says:

    "I am well aware that no one is allowed to be a Car Bro without having a borderline obsession with manual transmissions."

    Manual transmissions are friggin awesome.

    Totally takes care of the problem of one's car not starting.

    As long as you can park on a hill.

    Oh how I miss the good old days.

  19. Jex Says:

    The number one reason my first car was an automatic: My dad wanted fewer of my friends to be able to drive it.

    At this point it's probably something of an anti-theft system.

  20. Marc Marton Says:

    I was committed to manual shifts since I drove cars for years with 4 cyl. engines and around 100 HP. I also lived in mostly rural areas without a lot of stopping and going. Then I came to Atlanta and, after a few years of gridlock, decided never again to own a standard shift car.

  21. maurinsky Says:

    I loved driving cars with a manual transmission, but it absolutely killed my left hip, which was bad from birth (hip displaysia, Legg Calve Perthes, osteoarthritis), so now I can only drive automatics.

  22. TheDr Says:

    I second the "if you buy your kids a manual their idiot friends can't drive it" argument. I hope there is at least one affordable manual option when my daughter learns to drive (she is 11 months old now so I'm not too optimistic) so she can't let her friends drive it. My parents did that to me and my brother in the early 2000s and it was the smartest thing they could have done – nobody except he and I knew how to drive it.

  23. ninja3000 Says:

    I am currently in the market for a 3rd generation Firebird, and it's stunning that so few of these performance cars have a stick. I love shifting (and driving), and one of the best things about manuals is that it saves your brakes. I had a Datsun Z for about 12 years, and never even needed new brake pads during all that time. I'm fortunate enough to be able to commute by train, so I'm almost never in traffic jams, but I imagine I'd find that tiresome without an AT.

  24. oiojes Says:

    There is an area still where the manual transmission is better than an automatic: driving on snow or ice, or getting unstuck from same. I can "feather" the clutch and apply the faintest amount of torque on an icy hill to reach its top when I would be flailing around on even a modern transmission.

    Not to say that the current automatics are better than they used to be. However, they still have a minimum torque applied that is greater than what I can apply manually.

    Modern manuals are also better than they used to be. I haven't had a burned clutch in years and it's not because of my skill– which, if anything, has degraded over time.

  25. GunstarGreen Says:

    For efficiency and general commuting, modern automatic transmission is inarguably superior. Especially now that more vehicles are getting Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs), such that there's no real shifting to be done in the first place.

    But manual still has its place in the world. As an avid motorcyclist, the thought of leaving my gearing decisions up to a computer on twisty mountain roads is mortifying. Then again, most bikes tend to be a good bit more particular about powerband and its effects on the system than most cars are. That extra torque from being in the right rev range can make a huge difference on a vehicle that light.

  26. negative 1 Says:

    @Ed W. — because when your crank window died it cost like $20 for the new handle, when your automatic window dies it costs $250 or so for the new motor.

    On the subject of superiority of manual transmissions, since I learned to drive on a standard automatics always feel like I'm driving with the brake. And to some degree I am. But I currently drive a 2001 Tundra and the f*&king thing goes through brakes like every other week and they're expensive as sh!t to replace. Gear stopping is a wonderful thing and I'd bet, say, a year's worth of brakes that I could save a bunch if my truck were automatic.

  27. Major Kong Says:

    FWIW the Car Talk guys always advised against transmission braking (except on long hills) based on the theory that brakes are a lot cheaper than transmissions.

  28. Rob Says:

    @Negative – Umm, what?

  29. Anubis Bard Says:

    I bought my first automatic transmission car this past year (a Rav4 hybrid), so I've shut up about preferring manual transmission. My other cars, a 96 Honda and an ailing 97 Saturn are still manual, and I pretty much refuse to let my son get his driver's license without learning how to drive stick shift. I suppose that's the last vestige of my manual transmission snobbery. A person should at least know how to drive one.

  30. Tim H. Says:

    When I learned to drive two speed automatics were still for sale, made the three on the tree plus overdrive Fairlane my folks used to drive seem sophisticated…

  31. Jon Says:

    I'm fully ready to believe that the automatic transmission in a high end sports car is infinitely better than a manual transmission, but you can't tell me with a straight face that this is true across the vast majority of car lines. Full disclosure, I love my 6MT with SyncRev, I truly enjoy it. Downshifting sounds like a gunshot, and that's a feature.

    But I regularly rent cars for months on end because of work deployments; they're all automatics. And every single one of them, Cameros, Challengers, G37s, Q50s, do not perform as well as a manual. There's always significant lag for downshifts, which is frustrating when trying to make an accelerating lane change on the freeway. You've got to mash the pedal to the floor to force the downshift (which occurs about 1.5 seconds later).

    Sorry but no, *some* cars have automatic transmissions that absolutely out perform any manual. But *most* do not.

  32. Phil Koop Says:

    Everything you say is true, and yet I currently drive a car with manual transmission for a completely practical reason: I need the practice. Major Kong says that you sometimes have to pay extra for automatic rentals in Europe, but my experience is that outside major centers, an automatic is often not available at all and "extra" means, like, double.

    This is a significant issue for me because only drive about 3,500km on my own car but often rent on vacation. I don't commute by car, so the biggest drawback of the manuals doesn't affect me as much is it might. Driving in residential streets with a stop sign every 200m is still a PITA though.

    OK, there was also the problem that my 2012 Golf R was only sold in manual … but that would of course be begging the question :-)

  33. Tim Says:

    My first car (and current, as well) was a manual, and I live in one of the most traffic clogged areas in the nation. I'm not sure why people have issues with using their leg every few seconds, because it never seemed particularly onerous to me. I don't even notice it.

    I'm not trying to pull some superiority card here, I think the issue is just acclimatizing yourself to this. Manuals aren't that bad in traffic, but compared to having one leg literally do nothing, nearly anything seems tiring.

  34. anotherbozo Says:

    "I really like cars."

    Have no fear of your intellectual bona fides being compromised by that admission, Ed. If Ludwig Wittgenstein got off on Esther Williams movies, anything goes.

    I have to rent cars when I want to drive anywhere. That means automatic, automatically.

  35. Jon Says:

    Automatics encourage stop and go freeway traffic. Manual transmissions encourage leaving 90-100 feet in front of you and driving slowly, dampening the moving waves.

    You have to be able to stomach someone changing lanes in front of you though.

  36. swkellogg Says:

    Wittgenstein got off on Esther Williams?

    Crazy man.

  37. SunilR Says:

    Aren't automatic transmissions more expensive to repair than manual transmissions? After several years of driving cars with auto transmissions, we bought a used Honda Accord coupe with a V6 and a six-speed stick, and my wife and I are always racing to the car to see who gets to drive it. Driving on a windy road in it gives me a pleasure that an auto just can't match. But then I'll likely never drive a new Corvette with an auto, so I have no basis to compare them.

  38. dieselross Says:

    I will readily admit that my preference for manuals is irrational, and not shared by most people. I just want them to continue to be made available for purchase so that I can continue to irrationally choose to drive them. I'm a spacey person, and if I don't have to think about the clutch and the gearshift, I completely space out while driving and I don't think that's good for me or for society.

  39. Bitter Scribe Says:

    I wonder what the trend is in Europe? The last time I was there, I was struck by the fact that practically all the cars seemed to be manuals, but that was a while ago.

  40. Monica Says:

    I'm definitely not a car bro but I strongly prefer driving a manual transmission car–and I wish more people drove them. Driving an appliance is NOT a good mindset. Better to _have_ to be more engaged in the actual act of driving. I'm sick of hearing about all the inattentive driving-caused injuries and deaths.
    But yeah, fuel efficiency. That's the only thing that made me pause before insisting our new car was a manual.

  41. Lawrence Says:

    My wife had a little Ford Aspire hatchback when we were first married. I ended up driving it because it could never hold an alignment and the manual steering was a pain in the ass. That's how I learned stick. My G8 has a manual shift mode, but it seems the car knows better than I how to manage that. I am an ex mechanic bro. I realized at some point that driving a Nova that is covered in primer and rust that I have to fix all the time doesn't make you Han Solo. It means I was a broke ass chump. I can still wrench though. Wife's Jeep came home pouring out water from a leaking pump. I even correctly guessed the torque spec on the bolts (40). And apparently brake pads last a lot longer these days. Every time I ask the Firestone guys to check them they tell me there's still three angstroms of friction material and they're fine.

  42. Robert Says:

    Just try and imagine what these comments look like to someone who has never driven a car*. It's like eavesdropping on ballroom dancers or bridge players.

    *Since high school driver's training, back when Carter was in the White House.

  43. Net Denizen Says:

    Oh man, a car bro AND a BMW owner?? That's it, I'm cancelling my subscription! :)

    I have no doubt modern automatic transmissions beat manual in most categories, but I can still accelerate uphill better than some of those "muscle/performance cars" like Chargers and lower model BMWs in my 2006 Corolla with a 4 cylinder engine and manual transmission. I know uphill acceleration is all kinds of not necessary but I do love leaving those asshole BMW drivers who think I'll drive faster by tailgating me behind as I climb faster than they can keep up.

    @Leslee — are you sure they're Mustang bros? My experience is roughly 60% of Mustang drivers are women…..

  44. BruceJ Says:

    "And for some reason, over here in Germany automatic transmissions are as rare as manual transmissions in the US. "

    How bizzare, because it was VW who first implemented dual clutch automatic transmissions. (And VW had a clutchless 'manual' transmission back in the 70's http://www.vwtype3.org/owners.manual/mechanical/autotrans.shtml )

    Hell even F1 hasn't used manual transmissions for decades

  45. Katydid Says:

    @Tim; congrats, you've never had knee, ankle, or hip problems from working the clutch in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Other people have. I owned manual-transmission cars for two decades and had zero problems until I had to deal with stop-and-go traffic 80 miles a day. Be happy you haven't had that problem.

  46. EverettV Says:

    I'm going to second someone up top who noted that, these days, manual transmissions tend to shine when dealing with smaller engines. My wife and I own a 2008 Mazda5 which, as you probably know, is essentially a microvan built on the Mazda3 platform. We bought it in manual because, well, I dunno, manual! Anyway, we hated it when we lived in DC because of the stop and go traffic we encountered occasionally. Then we moved to Colorado. Bam. Suddenly, the manual made sense. Getting those 4 tiny hamsters to pull a microvan loaded with two kids and camping gear up the mountains was made much easier by being able to flog them mercilessly in 4th gear. Also, we've taken a couple of road trips with friends who have the 2011 Mazda5 in automatic. I know they're not exactly comparable, but we've gotten better gas mileage on those trips. So, maybe it's possible that outside of the larger horsepower realm, manual might still provide some benefit?

  47. EverettV Says:

    Also, I third the idea that manual transmission can create musculoskeletal issues when driven in traffic. I definitely get hip/lower back pain if I drive it too much in the city.

  48. mago Says:

    That braking with the tranny thing? It's the clutch that takes it, and brakes are cheaper.
    I'll drive whatever I can get, though do have the manual in my genes, having grown up driving a stick. No attitude here.
    I did drive the latest Lexus out here on straight country roads; it was sweet in all ways, but not as fun as driving an MGB from the South to the North shore of Tahoe on the West side back in the day, not to wax nostalgic . . .

  49. MS Says:

    The pedals are the same in right-hand drive cars. (right foot = gas.)

    Also, this post indicates you're old because the auto world is moving to continuously-variable transmissions, which have no detectable gear shift at all and work quite well.

  50. Safety Man! Says:

    @mojrim

    I learned under the old USN tables as well (NAUI and also YMCA, for a total not one but two extinct systems…). Anyway, I will never be convinced that the modern tables and systems are in any way safe. For the rest of the board here, the newer tables are quicker and easier, which is great for resort diving, but questionable for extended repeated exposure. The USN system had its limitations as well, most notably a not-real-world applicable decompression schedule (they used chambers when they researched it, in theory the same but hard to achieve in the actual ocean).

    I also learned stick growing up, as Major Kong points out it is a rather useful skill to be able to drive either kind should the need arise.

  51. Safety Man! Says:

    Forgot to add, it was a nifty trick to be able to shift-start a stick from a hill, that saved me a few times from being stranded with a dead battery.

  52. Nunya Says:

    You're absolutely right that manual transmissions are no longer an improvement either in performance or in gas mileage.

    What they do to driver engagement, however, is immense. It's almost impossible to simultaneously vape and text while driving a stick. I'm willing to bet that goes a long way in the reduction of general asshattery on the road

  53. Chris Says:

    But if you're not a car guy and will just decide based on price, the $1000 cheaper is a big deal.

  54. schmitt trigger Says:

    Where are the 50 previous responses? Are they gone now?

    Anyways, stick shifts retain ONE MAIN advantage: namely fewer and fewer crooks know how to drive one.

    An acquaintance drives one in the Texas-Mexico area. He was once stopped by some narcos who wanted to obtain a getaway vehicle.
    They saw it was a stick, hesitated for a moment but decided anyways to give it a try.
    A couple of blocks down the road they abandoned the vehicle when they realized that they couldn't get past 2nd gear.

  55. S M McBean Says:

    First fifty comments:

    http://www.ginandtacos.com/2016/04/15/npf-row-your-own/comment-page-1/

  56. Paul Says:

    "Do what you enjoy." This is my sole reason for wanting a manual. But they've gone the way of the dinosaur…I bought a new (used) car last year & just couldn't find a stick shift for sale that made sense for me. They're really just not around anymore.

  57. bad Jim Says:

    I prefer a manual transmission even in stop-and-go traffic. Gently goosing the gas and feathering the clutch is so much gentler than alternately stomping the gas and the brake. Plus, I like to imagine that the person following me thinks my brake lights don't work.

    My car is a '99 Integra, but I've driven the same routes in my late mother's '99 Integra automatic. Newer transmissions could very well be an enormous improvement, but judging from the way people drive in my very affluent and topographically contorted town, they're still not that good. The people who can keep up with my 16-yo four-banger on the steep switchback leading to my home tend to be driving very serious sports cars.

  58. mojrim Says:

    @Safety Man!

    Mine was NAUI in Australia, and a far more rigorous course than the instructors I know describe today. I am very happy to have done it, gaining a number of skills which are now only taught at the the DM level. That said, most people that get certified dive only a few times after that, and cannot keep up the skill set that was considered mandatory for us.

    To my eyes, it's much the same as manual vs automatic. The former demands more at all times and gives you a few, potentially critical, capabilities at the 3SD margins of use but nothing most of the time. I'll stick to driving manual and planning my own dives because I know where the edges are but I don't expect others to follow suit. Also, so much cred to be had…

    PS: NAUI is still operational, but yeah, it's a PADI (or SSI) world.

  59. Nate Says:

    I admire those that enjoy manual transmissions. I've never really wanted to learn how to use one, but it doesn't seem that difficult to learn. You clutch and shift when the rpms get to high. I understand that this takes practice and good timing, but it's not like deciphering a foreign language.

    I have friends who have manuals and love them just fine. I've always been an automatic guy, because i find that if i'm not constantly shifting, I can concentrate more on the road and driving.

  60. Townsend Harris Says:

    Maybe it's masochism, but driving an old manual transmission station wagon around New York City is way, way fun: between the stop-and-go traffic, the lost motorists, and the ever-unfolding cityscape, it's like driving in a real-life video arcade game.

  61. Katydid Says:

    @Nate; driving a stick-shift car becomes second nature once you've learned. It's keeping a balance between speed and engine noise. For years I could sing along to the radio, yell at fighting kids in the backseat, keep an eye on the other idiots on the road, and shift by feel; when the time is right, the engine lets you know.

  62. Rob_in_Hawaii Says:

    I learned to drive in 1968 in a '66 VW bug with a stick, and I drove a series of Toyotas w/ manual trans over the years.

    Before the PhD I had a CDL and drove mostly trucks w/ a 5 speed trans with 2 speed differential. Occasionally a 13 speed Road Ranger. Now THERE was some shifting! (That was in San Francisco where stop & go on the hills would test the heart of even the most committed manual shifting devotee.)

    Now I have a 2002 BMW coupe w/ a 5 speed. And I can't get out of the habit of resting my hand on the shifter of a rental car. But now I'm shopping around for a new used car and have pretty much given up the hunt for a stick. Ready for one of those 6 speed autos!

  63. democommie Says:

    You CAN jumpstart an automatic, although it takes some doing.

    I was with a buddy of mine in his '56 Pontiac Chieftain (if memory serves) back in 1967 or 8 and he parked it on top of a hill while he visited his girlfriend–I think I was there to help push–as events unfolded.

    We started at the top of a pretty steep grade, rolled about 300' or so and when the speed felt to be about 30mph, he slammed the gear selector out of neutral into drive and after the engine fired,, he turned on the lights to reveal that the crossstreet in the as yet unfinished development had not yet been paved.. I think we both lost a 1/4" or so of finished height and a few years off of out lives when that landyacht hit the unpaved roadbed and bounced a couple of times.

  64. Rick Says:

    I learned to drive in my brother's 1967 Westphalian camper van with a stick and I've loved a stick ever since even though at the moment I'm driving a 2000 Buick Park Avenue. A manual trans is also a great theft deterrent. Recently, there was an attempted carjacking in a suburban Detroit parking lot and the thief couldn't drive the stick shift car he was attempting to steal and was caught.

  65. Sookabilly Says:

    1972, losing the linetruck going down a hill, out of gear and hard on the brakes. That was 4×5, one stick too many. Manual makes you feel you're in control, more than just a passenger with a steering wheel.

  66. Ron Says:

    I learned on a stick and haven't bought anything else in twenty years. That said, I can see my days are numbered. I bought my last car three years ago and the dealer had precisely two sticks on the lot, both of which were in completely stripped models. Luckily I was looking to save every penny, so I grabbed one. But the writing is on the wall. Next time I just might want a sunroof and then it's all over.

    I will tell you this: When I bought my current car I test-drove an automatic first. I spend enough time in traffic that I seriously considered it. I was fine. Then I test-drove the stick and my decision was made the second I pulled into traffic and the RPM's popped up to about 4,000. The stick gives you a kick in the ass you just don't get out of an auto.

  67. Luke Says:

    Last Fall, I splurged and purchased a 2016 VW Golf R, but not before many tortured hours of deciding between the incredible DSG transmission and the new to 2016, manual transmission.

    Never driven a manual before, and thought, why the hell not. Yes, I believed I would get a little more bro-cred from the car enthusiast crowd, but also because driving manual sounded so much more fin and exciting.

    Only regret is, as you mention, it is not as fast. Accord's could probably smoke me off the line with my amateur shifting speed right now…

  68. cackalacka Says:

    You cite DSG and $1k premium for automatics. Now, it's been almost 6 years since I bought my '10 manual GTI (manual because I piss standing up, I mean, you could pee better and more luxuriously sitting down, right? Where was I?)

    Ahh yes, price premium for DSG auto was >$2k, plus the prospect of paying several hundred every 40k miles.

    Faster to 60, 0.1 mpg more efficient, will grant you that, but it was cheaper for me to fly to another state and drive the thing 500 miles home for the price of just ONE of the periodic servicings.

  69. Entomologist Says:

    Tesla is busying making this entire discussion pointless.

  70. democommie Says:

    Tesla will not be selling a car that I can afford while I am living.

  71. Ed W. Says:

    @Luke, 4/18@8:59: You got one! Hell Yes! When our current blue hatchback dies, I am planning on replacing it with an R (unless Volvo brings a Polestar hatchback to the US, in which case all bets are off). Congrats on the R–you are clearly a wise person with fine taste, and a credit to the G&T community.

  72. Brian M Says:

    The new Focus RS is manual.

    If I lived in a central city-especially a place like San Francisco with serious hills, I might buy an automatic just to avoid the little frisson of fear when starting from a steep slope! But otherwise, I love my manuals.

  73. Brian M Says:

    Entomologist: Since the discussion is about how fun a stick shift can be (driver engagement and all that) why would a Tesla, dedicated to providing over complicated technology that does everything for you, make the issue moot?

  74. Luke Says:

    @Ed W., Yes sir. Found a 6MT landing relatively close to me last Labor Day. (I'm in MPLS, dealer was in Green Bay), so I decided to fly out there one-way and drive back.

    And get this, I had about 60 minutes of manual experience before driving off the lot.

    Incredibly fun to drive; already wanting to tweak the ECU/air intake to squeeze even more out of it.

  75. JustRuss Says:

    " The problem is that now 6-plus speed automatics and dual clutch (DCT) boxes have better fuel economy, provide quicker acceleration, and shift more quickly. "

    In theory, yes. But if you read reviews, it's not unusual to see a lot of carping about how poorly the transmission actually functions. And many of them seem to be made of glass, they don't hold up. They'll probably keep improving, of course, but I don't buy the "no one needs a manual" argument yet.

  76. Laurel Says:

    I have no technical explanation (heck, I'm a girl) but when I drive a manual I feel like I'm driving a car and when I drive an automatic I feel like the car is driving and I'm just controlling it. I'm sticking with a manual until old age takes my knees!

  77. blahedo Says:

    When I was buying my first my-own-car (as opposed to one on my parents' insurance that I got to be primary driver for), I did not yet know how to drive stick, other than theoretically, but I went ahead and bought a stick shift Mini Cooper. I have not regretted this decision (and I'm still driving it, 13 years later). I acknowledge that the #1 reason was "fun" and the #2 is "cheaper".

    But: I have occasion to borrow others' cars or rent on occasion, and there are quite a few times when I notice a difference between automatic and manual where manual wins:

    * I can't stand the fact that in an automatic, the moment I even mostly release the brake, the car leaps forward just from the "idle" speed.

    * Relatedly (I think), if I'm driving an automatic, when I first start to press the brake (coming to a stop sign or whatever), I have the perception of *speeding up* ever so slightly before the braking really starts. I think this is because the idle is still pushing the car to go and fighting against the brake, where what I want is to disengage the motor (as I would have done by that point with a clutch) and actually just brake.

    * On ice, if I spin the tires in my manual, I can switch to 2nd and (carefully) start from there, and it's way easier; can't do that in automatic.

    * Passing. I seriously do not know how anyone can stand passing in an automatic. When I'm in my own car, I can downshift, speed up, pass the car, and get back in my lane. In an automatic, I have to *floor* the gas pedal, which at first reacts hardly at all, then bucks me forward when it figures out it needs to downshift. *So* much cleaner in a stick shift.

    That said, there are certainly times where the automatic is convenient (some kinds of stop-and-go traffic, for instance). But I very much hope that whenever my current car dies I'll be able to replace it with another stick.

  78. Garry Says:

    Way off the mark on this one. "Demonstrably inferior"? Ridiculous. Even if mileage is now better, a manual wins big in terms of engagement and control. Not to mention being way more fun. Sadly, it's getting *really* hard to buy a manual transmission anymore.

    I've long been annoyed by how so many people tailgate, all the time. Then I started to notice a pattern. Someone would overtake me, coming up until they were right on my bumper before backing off. It's irritating as hell. Then I noticed that after that initial interaction, they would eventually drop back to a sensible distance. I've come to believe that this is a side effect of automatic transmissions. I can make small adjustments to my speed easily (with a manual), without having to take my foot off the gas to activate the brake. Drivers with automatics cannot, and since people are loathe to do that, they postpone it until they have to. Maybe that's not the reason, but it fits.

    For me, it's no contest. Never owned an automatic, though I've driven plenty. Just don't like 'em. Never want to give up the fine control, and engagement with the car, that I get with a stick. I taught all 3 of my daughters to drive a stick. Had no choice, really. But I also wanted them to know how, just in case they had to (a friend of mine learned to drive stick the day after being stranded because her boyfriend got too drunk to drive home). They were all pretty annoyed at first, but much appreciated it later. The two that have since bought their own cars chose a manual.