Let’s start off by making one thing clear: there is no definitive ‘correct’ answer to this near 10 year old question. I say 10 years old, because this question has only been a point of automotive debate since the development of more technically advanced automatic transmissions like the dual clutch (semi-auto) transmission. Before then, among auto enthusiasts, it was generally accepted that manual transmissions were superior for a multitude of reasons. Today, things have changed. Well, somewhat.
Most people will be familiar with what differentiates a manual and automatic transmission. But for those who aren’t, let’s cover a couple basics.
How A Manual Transmission works
Manual transmissions work based on vehicle operator inputs: a clutch and gear selector. With this type of transmission, the operator determines which gear to select, and when to select or change it. When the clutch pedal is depressed, the clutch disengages from the engine, allowing a new gear to be selected. Once a new gear is selected, the clutch pedal is released and the clutch is engaged. Watch this short video to see how a manual transmission functions.
How An Automatic Transmission works
Automatic transmissions are, just as the name suggests, automatic and not reliant on user inputs (aside from the gas pedal). As you will see in the video below, the internals of an automatic transmission are much different than those of a manual transmission. Instead of one clutch, you have multiple clutches. Watch the video below to get a visual understanding of how an automatic transmission works:
So Which Is Better?
The answer depends on a number of factors. Let’s look at a few:
Reliability – in most cases, a manual transmission will be more reliable than an automatic transmission. There are fewer, less complex moving parts.
Gas mileage – This can be argued either way. However, most modern vehicles with automatic transmissions will be more economic than manuals.
Performance – This also can be argued either way. Race cars and performance cars up to a decade or so ago used primarily manual transmissions. Today, virtually all high performance cars use dual clutch transmissions, which shift faster than any human can.
Fun Factor – If you want a fun, engaging car, get a manual!