Which has better fuel efficiency, manual or automatic?

While at the dealership about to purchase a new car, most people will go for something that is well within their budget and most importantly, one that won’t be too expensive to own. It’s a fact that most of your money will go into keeping your car fueled and this ultimately, is the deciding factor as to what you will get at the dealership.

Manual transmissions, while growing extinct, have held on to their reputation of budget friendly cars and even better fuel mileage. The control the driver has enables him to choose when to engage and disengage the engine to save power thus saving fuel. However, this notion is fast changing as the modern automatic transmissions being manufactured have a similar if not better fuel economy as the manual.

Manual Transmissions

Traditionally, manual transmissions had better fuel efficiency than automatics and this was due to more gears in the manual allowing the engine to work comfortably. What crippled the automatics was obviously less gears but also the torque convertor which connected the engine between the gears.

This torque convertor wasn’t effective as it would result in the cars power loss eventually burning more fuel. Manual transmissions were spared from this problem since in the place of the torque convertor, they had and still have the clutch. If you are going to go shopping for the traditional model cars, then without a doubt the manual will be more fuel efficient compared to the automatic.

Automatic Transmissions

Present-day automatics are not what they once were in the past. With advancement in technology, the automatic has seen improvements in things such as the number of gears from the three or four speeds it had, to up to nine speeds depending on the car.

Added with the locked torque convertors which solves the issues of power loss while driving on highways, these changes has seen an increase in fuel economy. In some newer automatic vehicles, they come with an overdrive top gear that reduces the revolutions per miles driving at higher speeds which also contributes in good fuel economy.

The automatic transmission has spawned a few more transmissions such as the Continuous Variable Transmission(CVT) and the Dual-Clutch Transmission(DCT), which gives you the great fuel efficiency of the manual with the convenience of an automatic transmission. Both offer more gears than manuals.

These are some of the advancements that have made the gap between automatics and manuals grow smaller.

Manual vs automatic transmission fuel efficiency

Depending on the type of transmission, be it manual or automatic, fuel efficiency today will only vary by a few miles per gallon. However, fuel economy can only be determined by comparing two or more specific cars that you are interested in. We say this because some manual transmissions improve fuel mileage by upto 5 miles per gallon and could cut cost of up to $1,200 compared with the automatic.

Slip – Previously, manuals had no slip in them which allowed the driver to put the car in gear and would comfortably take his/her leg off the clutch and the car would remain locked in that gear till the next gear shift.

With the modern locked torque convertors in the automatics, they enable the cars to stay locked in gear while driving at high speeds and unlock at lower speeds allowing them to behave the same way as the manuals. This is the same for the fuel efficiency; they are more or less at per with one another.

Gears–The modification of gears in automatics has allowed the engine to drive at its optimum revolutions per miles’ range giving the user great power, a responsive and efficient engine. An increase in the number of gears added to the taller gearing in modern cars has seen a great improvement in fuel efficiency. In the newer automatics the gearshifts are so smooth and subtle that you’ll hardly notice a thing.

The difference in manual vs automatic transmission can only be internalized better with actual examples in cars that offer manual as well as automatic transmission options. Here are but a few:


Better Auto MPG

The six-speed automatic Mazda3i has better fuel economy than its six-speed manual because of the automatics tall gearing which reduce the revolutions per mile on highways thus saving fuel. The same was found to be true in the Ford Fiesta, 1.6ltr, 4-cylinder engine.

The six-speed automatic 2014 Ford Focus gives a better fuel economy getting a combined 31 mpg with 27 mpg in cities and a 37 mpg on highways. The same with a manual transmission cannot compare with the automatic, getting a combined mpg of 30 with 26 mpg city driving and 36 mpg highway driving.

Better Manual MPG

In the six-speed manual Chevrolet Sonic, it had better mileage despite its turbocharged engine, than the basic turbocharged LTZ six-speed automatic transmission Sedan Hatchback. Cheaper cars that had the same effect were the Mazda2 and the Hyundai Accent that performed better with the manual transmission.

Another example of the Chevrolet is the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Eco. In the manual transmission it gets a combined mpg of 33 with 28 mpg city driving and 42 mpg highway driving while when tested with the automatic transmission, the result in fuel efficiency was lower at a combined 31 mpg, 26 mpg city driving and 39 mpg highway driving.

In these two examples the Chevy seems to perform better with on manual transmission than it does the automatic.


Continuous Variable Transmissions can vary their gear ratio whenever as opposed to the fixed gear ratios in the automatics and manuals. This variation leads to better fuel economy. With the 2014 Nissan Versa which comes with three transmission options namely, the CVT, a four-speed auto and a five-speed manual.

The CVT transmission greatlysurpassed both the manual and automatic with a 35 mpg. This was way better than the combined 30 mpg on the auto and manual. An example of the 2013 BMW 328i gives the same combined mpg for the automatic and manual transmission so it’s not just in the Nissan Versa where you find that trend.

For more examples, you can visit Fuel Economy to get an idea of how much difference, if any, you should expect while comparing cars with different transmission options. While these may not be the exact mpg figures since the EPA estimates are not based off of how you drive, they follow their own criteria and therefore figures could differ from yours.

However, it is important to get a rough estimate of how different manual and automatic transmissions will fare on highways, city driving and the combined mpg for specific cars.

We feel that it is important we highlight a few disadvantages associated with manual transmissions as more and more people move towards automatic transmissions.

  • Due to this great migration to automatic transmissions, manual transmission buyers have decreased immensely and should you buy a stick, it could be harder to sell later.
  • Cars with manual transmission have reduced and the only choices remaining are only available in small cars and sports cars and so this could limit your choice selection when buying a manual car.
  • In city driving where there is a lot of stop-and-go traffic, a manual transmission can be tiring as it will require a lot of gearshifts and working of the pedal.
  • With the seat positioning in some cars, it was found that the constant act of having to fully disengage the clutch, resulted in poor driving position for the driver.
  • Manual cars are not the easiest to drive and therefore require skill and experience to fully master them. For inexperienced drives, driving a manual car uphill is a challenge that could be made worse if the car is stopped on a hill. The good news is that some manual cars are now coming with a helpful Hill-Hold feature that lessens this dreadful experience.


The question of which one has better fuel efficiency between the manual and automatic really is up to the user. If you want to go for older models then as we said, manual transmission is the way to go. For newer models however, you will need to do research on the specific car you want and look at the revolutions per mile as well as the mile per gallon of that specific car.

Location as well will matter; will you be driving mostly in the countryside where there’s barely any traffic or in cities where stop-and-go traffic is the order of the day. If it’s countryside driving, you’re okay with a manual, if city, then a newer model auto is the car you want.

There is no need to overly stress anymore between transmissions when it comes to fuel efficiency. The difference isn’t that much and all you have to do now is look at the specs of your it car, look at your budget, if it allows for you to go for it then by all means do and if not then well, you can always keep saving for it or consider other options. Who knows you could find something better and more economical.

Hope this article has helped you understand better, fuel efficiency with regards to the automatic and manual transmissions. For more information on the same, here’s a link to get you there faster


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