When you're in the market for a new or used vehicle, one of the first choices you'll have to make is between manual vs. automatic transmission. Each type of transmission has its own set of pros and cons, which can make the decision a bit tricky if you're undecided.

Get to know the key differences between these transmissions — including their advantages and disadvantages — to help you pick the best one for your needs.

Automatic Transmission Types

In the past, automatic transmissions were essentially categorized by the number of gears they had. You had three-, four-, or five-speed automatics, and that was pretty much it. Nowadays, most automatic transmissions have a range of gears — some with as many as 10 or 11 speeds — but there are also several different kinds of transmissions, each with its own unique characteristics.

Conventional Automatic Transmission

The conventional automatic transmission is what many drivers have been familiar with for years. They have a fixed number of gears or speeds — usually between five to 10 speeds — that the transmission cycles through to keep the car moving and reduce strain on the engine.

These transmissions rely on a set of clutch packs and hydraulic pressure to shift gears.

Continuously Variable Transmission

The continuously variable transmission (CVT) might seem like a recent innovation, but it actually dates back to 1490 — though it wasn't patented for automotive use by Daimler and Benz until 1886. Even then, it remained a relatively uncommon feature until Subaru brought it into the mainstream in the 1980s.

Instead of gears, a CVT uses a system of chains or belts that ride on cone-shaped pulleys, which move to create virtually unlimited gear ratios. These transmissions are known for their superior fuel efficiency.

Dual-Clutch Transmission

If you're after the feel of a manual transmission without the need for a clutch pedal, a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), sometimes called an automated manual transmission, is the perfect compromise.

We'll spare you the technical details, but essentially, this transmission swaps out all the clutch packs and hydraulics in an automatic for manual-style gears arranged on two shafts. It then uses two clutches to shift between gears quickly, much like a manual transmission.

The concept of the DCT has been around since the 1960s, but it wasn't until 1983 that Porsche became the first automaker to use it, in its 956 model. The DCT remained a mainstay in supercars and high-end sports cars until Volkswagen introduced it to a mainstream vehicle — the Golf — in 2003.

DCTs often come with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, similar to many race cars.

Today, many car manufacturers offer at least one model with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. This advanced transmission is primarily used to boost performance and driving enjoyment, but some manufacturers also tune them for fuel economy.

Manual Transmission Types

Manual transmissions have essentially remained the same over the years — they just have more gears now. Today, you can find mainstream five- and six-speed manual transmissions on the market, although five-speed manuals are becoming less common and are generally found in more budget-friendly models. There are also seven- and eight-speed manual transmissions, but these are typically reserved for high-end sports cars.

Even though their basic design hasn't changed much over the decades, manual transmissions continue to evolve. Modern features include automatic rev-matching for smoother downshifts and brake hold for starting on a steep hill without rolling forwards or backwards.

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Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

Automatic vehicles have officially taken the lead, as the demand for stick shift vehicles continues to decline. However, despite the clear trend towards automatic transmissions, there's still a place for manual gearboxes. Let's compare how these transmissions perform in different situations to highlight where each one excels and where it might fall short.

Compatibility with the Latest Technology

Since the car handles the gear shifting, automatic transmissions integrate seamlessly with all the latest tech, including full-speed adaptive cruise control — an automatic cruise control system that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop in traffic — and automatic emergency braking.

Manual transmissions, on the other hand, can only work with adaptive cruise control up to a certain minimum speed. Once that speed is reached, the cruise control will disengage, and the driver will need to step in by pressing the clutch or downshifting.

Automatic emergency braking presents a different challenge for manual transmissions, as the engine will stall when the vehicle comes to a stop, which could potentially disrupt the braking function. Some car manufacturers have managed to make automatic emergency braking work even after the engine stalls, but most simply don't offer it as an option with a manual transmission.

Driving in Heavy Traffic

Dealing with traffic jams is stressful enough, but an automatic transmission can make it a bit more bearable. All you need to do is press the pedal and move — there's no need to worry about a clutch pedal or RPMs. In a manual car, you'll have to constantly work the clutch pedal, which can become tiresome.

Fuel Economy

In the past, manual transmissions were known for their superior fuel economy. However, advancements in technology have turned the tables, with many of today's automatic transmissions, particularly CVTs and DCTs, offering better fuel efficiency than manuals.

There are still some basic automatic transmissions that fall short in fuel efficiency compared to their manual counterparts, but these are generally found in budget-friendly entry-level vehicles and older models.

Consumer Reports testing back in 2015 found that some manual cars achieved significantly better fuel economy — 2-5 mpg better — than their automatic equivalents.

Driving Experience

Basic automatic transmissions have greatly improved in delivering sharp, manual-like shifts, and some manufacturers claim they shift faster than any human can manage with a manual. Despite this, for car enthusiasts, driving a traditional automatic or CVT just doesn't feel the same.

The exception is the DCT, which offers a driving experience that closely mimics a manual transmission. And with its shifts taking just milliseconds, they're actually far superior to shifting your own gears.

However, car purists have a reason for their love of manual transmissions: They offer a more engaging driving experience. You feel a mechanical connection with the vehicle, giving you the sensation of being part of the machine as you shift through the gears and work the clutch pedal.

Vehicle Control

With a manual transmission, you have full control over gear changes. Need to slow down? Just downshift. Want to have maximum horsepower and torque ready for merging onto the highway? Keep it in a lower gear as you approach the on-ramp.

A manual transmission can even be helpful in snowy and icy conditions, as a carefully timed downshift can slow the vehicle before you hit the brakes. This reduces the risk of sliding while braking on snow and ice, especially when combined with good winter tires

And if you're a weekend racer who enjoys hitting the track, a manual transmission gives you the control you need to keep the engine at the optimal rpm at all times.

With a traditional automatic transmission, you can select the range you prefer via the shifter, but it doesn't deliver those shifts as instantly as a manual does. DCTs offer a bit more control, but the vehicle's computer may still step in and override the gear if the rpm gets too high.

Learning Curve

If you know how to use the gas and brake pedals, you're ready to drive an automatic transmission.

This is a stark contrast to manual transmissions, which often require weeks or even months of practice to master. Until you get the hang of it, expect to stall a manual transmission vehicle frequently.

To complicate matters, not all manual transmissions are the same. For instance, some have clutches that engage at different positions. Also, some newer cars will hold the brakes while you shift your foot from the brake to the accelerator on an incline, preventing you from rolling backwards. Others lack this feature and start rolling back as soon as you lift your foot.


Generally, you can expect to pay a $1,000-$2,000 premium for a new car with an automatic transmission compared to the same model with a manual. However, some car manufacturers offer manual transmissions as "no-cost" options in new cars — typically performance vehicles — so there's no price difference between an automatic and manual.

When it comes to maintenance, most manufacturers recommend an automatic transmission fluid flush every 48,000-96,000 km. On average, a transmission flush runs $100-$200, depending on the vehicle. 

If your transmission fails, you can expect a hefty bill. A remanufactured unit will set you back anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000, with CVT units typically being the priciest. If you're driving a luxury vehicle, like a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz, you might be looking at a bill of up to $10,000 for a remanufactured transmission.

As for manual transmission maintenance, you still have oil in the transmission that most manufacturers recommend changing every 48,000-96,000 km. The good news is that manual transmissions are simpler, so changing the manual transmission fluid generally costs about half of what an automatic transmission fluid flush would. 

If your manual gearbox fails, a remanufactured unit typically costs between $1,500 and $3,000.

Purchase your car online at Clutch

Manual or Automatic, We Have Them at Clutch

Whether you prefer the excitement and control of a manual transmission vehicle or the ease of an automatic car, we have them both at Clutch. And as Canada's first 100% online car buying experience, you can find the perfect vehicle from your living room, favourite coffee shop, or anywhere else you have internet access. 

You can complete the purchasing process online, and we'll deliver the vehicle to you. Plus, you get a 10-day risk-free return period. If you're not head over heels for your new car, you can return it for a full refund or exchange it for a different vehicle within 10 days of delivery. 

All our vehicles have also been through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process to ensure the car is in top shape. This thorough process allows us to offer a 90-day or 6,000 km warranty on all vehicles purchased through our online system.

Got a trade? We take those too. You can get a no-obligation trade-in offer online. (Plus, we also buy cars.)

Check out our vast inventory of quality pre-owned vehicles to find the automatic or manual transmission vehicle that suits you best.