In the past, manual transmission cars were known to have the best everything and the automatic could even come close to comparing. That was then when technology was still very much alien and since it no longer is, the automatic has become a force to be reckoned with. This is largely to do with fuel efficiency since the auto equals and even surpasses the manual when it comes to efficiency.
Since the auto is manufactured with complex components, maintenance and repair take a hike giving the overall pricing to be much higher than the manual.
Let’s see how that is.
There are a few factors that contribute to the overall expenditure on a car; be it a manual of an automatic. We will highlight a few of them and see how they influence your decision on which is better. Buying a car at a throw-away price does not guarantee you a better deal eventually.
Automatic vs Manual fuel
Fueleconomy.gov is a useful tool as it gives you EPA fuel efficiency comparisons of different models of cars dating back to 1984. As we said earlier, fuel efficiency between the manual and the automatic has seen tremendous change and therefore, we decided to showcase past and present cost. This will give a sense of whether or not fuel cost is a contributing factor to overall price.
For our comparison test, we chose to go with aToyota Corolla.
- 1984 Toyota Corolla, 1.8L, Automatic, 3-Speed
Combined = 31 mpg; 29 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Annual fuel cost = $1,450 at $2.40 for every 25 miles
- 1984 Toyota Corolla, 1.8L, Manual
Combined = 38 mpg; 35 mpg city, 41 mpg highway
Annual fuel cost = $1,150 at $1.95 for every 25 miles
The difference is huge. Buying a Toyota Corolla manual back in 1984, would have saved you $300 annual fuel savings which definitely would have had a huge impact deciding on a manual vs automatic.
Let’s see how the same car fares now after modifications have been made.
- 2019 Toyota Corolla, 1.8L, Automatic (AV-S7)
Combined = 31 mpg; 28 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Annual fuel cost = $1,250 at $2.06 for every 25 miles
- 2019 Toyota Corolla, 1.8L, Automatic, Variable Gear Ratio
Combined = 32 mpg; 28 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
Annual fuel cost = $1,200 at $1.99 for every 25 miles
- 2019 Toyota Corolla, 1.8L, Manual, 6-Speed
Combined = 30 mpg; 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Annual Fuel Cost = $1,300 at $2.12 for every 25 miles
Clearly something has changed. The two automatics show that they will cost you less annually on fuel compared to the manual. Whereas we were saving so much in 1984, the Toyota Corolla clearly indicates that fuel cost savings are a thing of the past with automatics being more fuel efficient.
Automatic vs Manual Manufacturer’s Recommended Sale Price(MSRP)
The MSRP of a Toyota Corolla is currently between $19,600 and $25,550 according to Edmunds.com. Buying an automatic vs a manual these days will only have roughly about $1,000 difference. However, you want to think about the resale value of the car in which you plan on purchasing.
As stated before buying a cheaper car does not guarantee you the best deal out of it. For manuals especially, they are slowly growing extinct and so buying a manual, even if cheaper, is more of a risk than a save. You need to think about who you would sell your car too when you need to. Barely anyone drives them anymore and should you manage to sell one off, you will sell it at a loss.
Automatics however,are on demand and you could demand a higher price selling the car than you would with auto.
Automatic vs Manual Repair and Maintenance
On the surface automatic transmissions are more expensive than manual ones because of the complex components that make up the auto transmission. In repair and maintenance is where the money lies.
Repairing an automatic transmission will depend on what type of vehicle it is and also the kind of repair you want to have done. If the problem is just fixing a fluid leak, then this will cost you less than if you have to tear down the whole transmission looking for the problem. It is highly labor intensive and could take up the whole day. This added to the cost of repair is more expensive.
Some people are advised to just replace the transmission instead of repairs as there’s little know-how on automatic transmissions especially when it comes to Continuous Variable Transmissions and Dual-Clutch Transmissions since their parts are hard to source. The replacement is estimated to be about $3,000 to $4,000. Aside from that, sensors and computers are some other items that can also incur costs during repairs.
Manual transmissions do not have such complexities and could cost less at about $1,500 to $3,000. This however, is highly dependent on the driver. How often you visit the repair shop for your transmission is highly influenced on driving habits. If you are an aggressive driver or your hand-foot coordination isn’t great, you could easily wear the clutch. Many repairs over time of the clutch could end up costing you more than the auto.
Confused? Don’t be. Automatic transmissions aren’t affected by how a person drives as the gearshifts are taken care of automatically. The damages on an auto while expensive to solve, might take some time before taking place and this makes them more durable.
One regular maintenance of the transmission is the fluid (Automatic Transmission Fluid) change in autos and gear oil in manuals. An automatic transmission will require more ATF than gear oil in a manual since the torque converter needs twice as much fluid to operate. When it comes to fluid change, the auto will always cost you twice as much for an auto than it will a manual. A fluid change in a manual can be done at under $100.
It’s always good to have your car checked regularly so as to avoid damages that could cost you more in the end. This applies to all transmissions. A happy serviced car makes for a happier pocket. Avoid driving your car aggressively if you’ve got a manual and you’ll have lesser repair shop visits.
Keep in mind that automatic transmissions do not do well with heat. Should you be driving and feel that the engine is struggling on an inclined lane while on a higher shift, manually downshift. Your RPMs will go up but stress will have been relieved from the transmission.
If you note as well that your gears are not holding, have your car checked ASAP. Ignoring the matter will cost you.
For your transmission fluid, you want it to be cherry red in color with a sweet smell to it. Anything different, say, burnt smell, is an indication that you need to have your transmission looked at.
It is important to always look at the car you’re about to buy and consider the history in terms its maintenance. You may find that some cars will require more up-keep than it is worth. It’s also good to have an idea of parts of the transmission that are susceptible to the most damage, how frequent the damages are known to occur and how much it would cost you.
In the case that you do incur some of these charges, look at what costs your insurance cover can cover. Some insurance covers will cover transmission problems up to 10 years while some others could cover 100,000 miles.
Alright, so a few things we’ve seen here is that for one fuel efficiency is no longer a determining factor in terms of which would be more expensive. The MSRP could somewhat influence you if you plan on selling the car later. If you do, then you don’t want to set yourself up for a major loss as is the case with selling a manual these days.
When it comes it maintenance and repair the variations make deciding which would be costlier that much harder to decide. What is clear however, is that the owner of the car plays a major role in these costs. If you keep your car maintained; manual or automatic, you’ll have lesser problems and as well if you avoid aggressive driving on the manual, you’ll spend less.
If by now you’re still wondering why automatics cost more than manuals it simply because of the complex components and computers used in the manufacture of the transmission. This is what is often used as the determinant.
Manual cars are less complex and can be fixed at your local mechanic or even you if you have the knowledge on manuals. Autos require more skill, technique and experience to know how to navigate the transmission without butchering it.
For more information on maintenance, follow the link below:
Steven Reilly is a qualified mechanic and his passion for cars goes beyond just the technical aspects. He is also an amateur racer and all round car enthusiast. When he is not driving them, he can often be found in his garage under the hood of a rare model. Steven Reilly has lost track of the number of hours he has spent setting up his fine collection of rebuilt models. He believes that cars can provide a constructive and fun opportunity to teach the youth important life skills. In line with this, he is developing a community outreach program, potentially dubbed ‘Cars for change’.