Are Manual Cars the Same Thing as Stick Shift?

Many Americans will drive their cars relatively frequently, but that doesn’t mean that the average American will know much about the mechanics and parts of their car. For example, the words that folks use to talk about their car can often easily confuse the average person. This is exactly why there is some confusion about what a manual transmission car is and what a car with a stick shift is.

Manual transmissions and stick shift are the same thing

The interior of a BMW M1 with a manual transmission
A car interior with a manual transmission | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

As DR1V wrote, a car with a manual transmission is the same as a stick shift. Officially speaking, these cars are called manuals because they have a manual transmission, while automatics have an automatic transmission. Unofficially speaking, many people, mostly in America, will refer to manuals as a stick shift or something close to that. 

The reason why manual transmissions are called stick shifts is simple. Manual cars have a physical stick that the driver will have to move around to change gears. It’s no surprise that many people refer to driving a manual as driving stick. Interestingly, as DR1V wrote, most cars sold in America are not ones with manual transmissions. In fact, only 3% of cars sold in the U.S. are manuals, compared to 80% in Europe and Asia. However, while stick shifts seem to be dying out, they still have some merits. 

What’s good about stick shifts

Some of the people who continue to drive stick tend to be driving purists. There are many reasons for that, but one of the main ones is because driving a manual car makes them feel more “in control,” according to DR1V. An automatic will do most of the work for you, but with a manual, drivers get to be more involved with the art of driving.

Asides from feelings, driving stick has a lot of practical benefits, too. Manual transmission vehicles are generally cheaper than automatics. This is true in terms of the purchase price, as well as maintenance costs. On top of that, stick shifts will provide some fuel economy benefits. This is especially true with older models, but it’s only a small difference in mpg nowadays. 

Lastly, DR1V said that manual transmissions models can provide better acceleration for a car. Obviously, driving purists, who probably like driving fast cars, will get a lot of benefit out of this perk. There may be other benefits of driving stick, but it’s unclear if those supposed benefits are real or imagined. For example, some think that a manual car is less prone to theft. It makes some sense, but there’s no real data to back this claim up.

What’s bad about manual transmission cars


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That said, stick shifts aren’t perfect. Otherwise, more than 3% of car sales in America would be manuals. For instance, due to how unpopular stick shifts are, DR1V said that it’s becoming even harder to find new cars that offer them. Manual cars are unpopular for other reasons, too. Off the bat, drivers will have to learn how to drive manual, which can be tough

Driving stick is tough because drivers have to coordinate between the gas pedal, the clutch pedal and shifting the actual gears. For many, doing that would be difficult in a stress-free setting. However, it can get even more difficult in stop-and-go traffic. This makes learning to drive shift something that might take a while for many folks. 

However, drivers who can’t learn to drive stick run up against another issue with manual transmissions. Like DR1V said, manuals tend to have a lower resale value than automatics. While they may be cheaper to buy, they won’t be as profitable to sell.