Should I learn to drive in a manual or an automatic car?

Automatic transmission gear shift in a modern car

Learning to drive is a hugely exciting milestone in life, but one decision you’ll need to make early on is whether to learn in a manual or automatic car. Both options have their advantages and considerations, and the choice ultimately depends on your personal circumstances, preferences, and long-term goals.

Within this article we aim to outline some of the key differences between automatic and manual cars and reasons why you might choose either option. Additionally, we will highlight some future factors that might affect you in the years to come after you pass your test that might alter your decision. This will include vehicle manufacturing, costs and even some government initiatives and future features that may come into effect. The aim, by the end of this article, is that you have a clearer understanding of what the right decision is for you.

To be able to make such a decision on whether to learn to drive in a manual car or an automatic, you need to first be able to understand how these vehicles work. Manual and automatic cars differ in their transmission systems, which play a significant role in how the vehicle is operated and driven. In a manual car the driver manually shifts gears using a clutch pedal and gear stick whereas in an automatic car the transmission system automatically shifts gears without any driver input. In an automatic, the driver only needs to select the desired driving mode (e.g., Park, Reverse, Drive) and control the acceleration and braking. If you value the ability to actively manage your vehicle’s performance, a manual car may be the preferred choice. If you struggle maintaining control of the clutch and gears and continuously stall then an automatic car might be the best option for you.

So, let’s delve into more of the differences between manual and automatic cars, starting with the obvious which is that manual cars have a clutch pedal and automatic cars do not. Automatic vehicles utilize a complex system of components to automatically change gears without driver intervention. Here’s a simplified explanation of how automatic transmissions work. An automatic transmission uses a torque converter instead of a clutch to transmit power from the engine to the transmission. The torque converter is a fluid coupling that allows the engine to keep running even when the vehicle is stationary. It transfers power through hydraulic pressure created by the transmission fluid. Automatic transmissions contain multiple planetary gear sets, which consist of several gears arranged in a compact configuration. These gear sets work together to provide different gear ratios and allow for smooth gear changes.Automatic transmissions use a hydraulic system to control the engagement and disengagement of various gear sets. Through a combination of hydraulic systems, planetary gear sets, and sophisticated control mechanisms, automatic transmissions are able to automatically select and engage the appropriate gears based on driving conditions, engine parameters, and driver inputs. This automated process ensures smooth gear changes and optimal performance without the need for manual intervention.

Another difference between manual and automatic cars is driver experience. When driving a manual, drivers can actively select the appropriate gear for different driving conditions, which can be particularly advantageous in situations such as driving on steep inclines, towing heavy loads, or maintaining control on slippery surfaces. In contrast, when driving an automatic car, with no need to manually shift gears, drivers can focus more on the road and enjoy a smoother ride, especially in congested traffic or during long-distance journeys. Hilly countryside drives are also made easier by the fact that you don’t need to work the clutch to switch gears.

However there are some other things you may want to know about prior to making this decision. Manual driving lessons tend to be cheaper and if you learn to drive in a manual, you’ll be able to drive automatics too however it does not work the other way round. As that may be, automatics tend to be easier to learn to drive in as they have less to learn not having any need to use a clutch or change gears at any point.

Manual gear shift selector

Example of a manual gear shift in a car

Despite it being suggested that it is easier to learn to drive in an automatic car, you might be expecting to pass quicker, but dayinsure found that the average pass rate since 2007 has been 39% for automatic learners, whereas it was 47% for learners in manual cars (even though the test itself is the same). Additionally, it might be harder to find an automatic driving instructor depending on where you live. Looking at listings for driving teachers in over 50 UK towns and cities it was found that on average only 8% teach in an automatic vehicle. This lack of availability may be due to the number of learner drivers opting for an automatic is on the rise, as more than one million motorists now hold automatic-only license in Britain.

Another thing important to consider is that it has often been the idea to opt for manuals because of the lack of automatic cars that are available. And whilst currently this is still the case, it is easier to find a cheaper manual car near to you, with the UK banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, automatic driving lessons are becoming more popular. The automotive industry is experiencing a significant shift towards electric and hybrid vehicles. While manual transmissions have been the norm in the past, electric vehicles (EVs) and many hybrid models typically come equipped with automatic or semi-automatic transmissions. As sustainable and electric mobility becomes more mainstream, it’s worth considering the future of the automotive industry and the potential impact on your driving preferences and vehicle choices. Government initiatives including the ‘Road to Zero’, green number plates and the UK Government’s overall encouragement towards the purchase of electric and zero-emission vehicles, which are automatic, it’s likely that manual cars will become less common hence the desire to learn automatic lessons. However this is where we just want to once again highlight you can still drive automatic vehicles if you have a manual license.

Another thing to consider is the costs. Manual cars often come at a lower purchase price compared to their automatic counterparts. However, the cost difference between manual and automatic transmissions can vary depending on the vehicle make, model, and market demand. It’s worth noting that as automatic transmissions become more prevalent and manual transmissions less common, the cost gap may narrow or even disappear in some cases.

The pricing of electric vehicles has been decreasing over the years as technology advances. Initially, EVs tended to have higher price tags due to the cost of batteries and limited production volumes. However, as battery technology improves and manufacturing efficiency increases, the prices of EVs have become more competitive. Currently, the cost of an electric vehicle can vary significantly depending on factors such as the vehicle model, battery capacity, range, and additional features. Some entry-level electric models are now available at prices comparable to traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, especially when considering government incentives and subsidies for EV adoption. The pricing of electric vehicles is expected to continue its downward trend in the future. Technological advancements, increased battery production, and growing competition among automakers are likely to drive prices down further. Additionally, economies of scale resulting from higher production volumes are expected to reduce manufacturing costs.

Electric car at a charging point

Overall, while electric vehicles may have had a higher price point, ongoing developments in technology, manufacturing, and government incentives are driving down prices. As the market evolves and more automakers enter the electric vehicle space, it is expected that EVs will become more accessible and competitively priced in the future.

So to conclude, the choice between a manual and automatic car depends on personal preferences, driving conditions, and individual needs. Manual cars offer greater control and flexibility, while automatic cars provide convenience and ease of use. Consider your personal circumstances and future aspirations to make an informed decision. Remember, learning to drive is just the beginning of a lifelong journey, and your choice of transmission can influence your driving experience for years to come.