Tips, Tricks & Trends

Is a Manual Transmission More Reliable?

Not everyone even knows how to drive a manual transmission anymore. Still, it’s appreciated by many auto enthusiasts and lovers of driving that have a thing for staying connected with the vehicle. A general understanding of the way a clutch operates and the interaction with the drivetrain can make driving really fun. However, that might not be the only reason a manual transmission is more appealing to some. Is a manual transmission more reliable than an automatic?

close up of shift and handbrake of 2021 Ford Bronco
2021 Ford Bronco manual transmission | Ford Media

Is a manual transmission less expensive to maintain than an automatic?

According to Cars.com, the cost of maintaining a stick shift system is less expensive than that of an automatic. The idea that a manual transmission is more reliable may stem from the fact that they are usually cheaper to repair. Automatics have so many more intricate parts and complex functions that have the ability to fail. Part of what may make a manual transmission more reliable than an automatic is the sheer level of simplicity when you compare the mechanics of one to the other.

Additionally, because of all of these complicated mechanic functions and the parts that drive them (no pun intended), an automatic transmission typically costs more to repair. Cars.com reports about a $500 to $1000 dollar difference in favor of a manual transmission should you need to replace it. And that is when we are talking about mainstream vehicles. The transmission on a luxury vehicle will, of course, run way higher––nearing the $10,000 mark. So the difference may matter less if you are in something like an Aston Martin Vantage or a BMW 2-Series.

Manual transmission fuel economy

In a 2015 article by Consumer Reports, it’s stated that “manual transmissions can deliver better fuel economy and acceleration.” There are a few comparisons between the manual versus the automatic transmission in terms of gas mileage. Some vehicles such as the Mazda3 i and the Chevrolet Sonic saw improved fuel economy with a stick shift. As opposed to their automatic counterparts which fell behind a couple of mpg.

However, this article is a bit dated. While that may have been true for cars in 2015, such is not the case for the newer cars. For example, the 2021 Mazda3 was tested by Car and Driver. The manual transmission version of the 2021 Mazda3 did return better fuel mileage than it is rated for. But it was still behind the automatic transmission in terms of fuel economy by 2 mpg.

The folks at Edmunds also bust the myth that manual transmission vehicles have better fuel economy. Some may think that a manual is more reliable than an automatic transmission. They might make the argument that the fuel economy is better. But this assumption applies only to older models.

a gray Mazda 3 manual transmission hatchback parked in an industrial area
2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback | Mazda

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“In the past, it was pretty much a given that vehicles with manual transmissions would be more fuel-efficient than their automatic counterparts. But as modern automatics gained additional gears and relied less on a torque converter, they have now overtaken manuals in terms of fuel economy.”

Edmunds

Is a stick shift more reliable?

Maintenance costs can run cheaper for a manual transmission. Even as simple as changing transmission fluid will cost more for an automatic drive system. A fluid change for an automatic costs between $100-$200, according to Cars.com. The fluid change for a stick shift car cost about half of that.

Dark blue 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Valiant restomod on the track
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Valiant restomod | Ali Robertson via Instagram

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However, it’s not as simple as maintenance costs. Because the reliability of a manual transmission can be variable depending on drive style, it’s actually very difficult to say one way or the other. Which is more reliable? In an older car with a skilled driver, it will certainly ring true that a manual is more reliable. However, if the driving is hard on the clutch then the same statement is false––even in a newer car. Overall, there are too many factors and variables. These days, it’s just not prudent to make the blanket statement that manuals are more reliable. Even if they are more fun.