The Least Reliable Manual Transmission Cars

Cars with a manual transmission are usually considered to be pretty reliable. That’s especially true in today’s world of highly complicated dual-clutch and automatic transmissions. However, some brands still haven’t quite stuck the landing on stick shifts. Or, worse still, that manual gearbox is paired to an otherwise unreliable car.

Are manual transmissions less reliable?

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However, on the whole, a manual transmission is a pretty simple thing. It’s got some shafts, some gears, some synchros, and some oil in it. Oh, and a hand at one end, and some wheels at the other. That’s certainly a hell of a lot less hardware than, say, Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch gearbox. However, there is a trade-off with manual transmissions.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which side’s pitchfork you currently hold, a stick is going to be more expensive to maintain. Now, that’s not always true, but it’s pretty close. The fact of the matter is, modern dual-clutch and auto ‘boxes usually don’t need clutch replacements. Unfortunately, that stick shift will. And it could be a four-figure number.

The Audi S4 is a great stick shift paired to a hand grenade

Audi's 4.2-liter V8 is examined by a spectator at an auto show
The Audi S4 has a great manual transmission in an unreliable monster | Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

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A great example of that is the B7 Audi S4. In Audi speak, B7 is the S4 made from 2005-2007. In it, you could find a fantastic-sounding 4.2-liter V8 making 340 hp mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Having driven a few of these, I can say from experience that they are lovely. Moreover, that gearbox is fantastic to use. But, a clutch job is in the thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse. That 4.2 V8 is basically a time bomb. Sadly, the guides that hold the timing chain are made of plastic and will eventually snap. You’ll have to take the engine out to fix it and at no small cost. Arguably, it’s the biggest Achilles’ Heel in all of cars.

Consumer Reports has beef with the 2021 Jeep Wrangler

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler works its way through a muddy, forested trail
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler can still be had with a manual transmission | Jeep

Apparently, according to Consumer Reports, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler is just as bad, if not worse. I tend to agree, having driven a stick Wrangler. Mushy is a very kind way to describe that transmission. However, Consumer Reports dislikes it for another reason. Regrettably, the brand found the Wrangler to be too expensive for what it was and said it rode pretty horribly.

Honestly, I’m inclined to agree. However, if you want that rugged off-road experience, the Wrangler won’t steer you wrong. Still, you’ll definitely be spending some extra cash on maintenance, but I guarantee it won’t be as much as the Audi S4. At the end of the day, it’s all about how bad you want to drive a stick version of either of these cars.