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I’m a huge fan of traditional, three-pedal cars. The manual transmission–once so common it was called the “standard”–is increasingly rare. Some enthusiasts still hunt down used sports cars or off-roaders with this feature. But if you want your next used car to last a long time, maybe you shouldn’t.

To me, this bit of advice goes against my intuition. Manual transmissions are technically simpler. Instead of a computerized control unit to match the gear to the vehicle’s speed, they just have a lever for you to do it yourself. And while in theory this is all true, in the real world things are a bit muddier.

U.S. manual transmission sales fell to less than 1% of all new cars by 2022. They may be creeping back up, but the fact remains that automakers build and sell many more automatics. Research and development money gets funneled into automatics. As a result, the latest generations may not even need a fluid change or service for the entire lifetime of the vehicle. A manual, on the other hand, will require clutch replacement and adjustments. Mechanics have more experience with automatics and spare parts will be easier to find, thus cheaper.

Manual transmission used Dodge Challenger doing a burnout
‘Dumping the clutch’ is a popular way to burnout in a manual transmission car | Xavier Gonzalez via Unsplash

The manual transmissions available for the past decade are often older units, just fit into the latest powertrains. They are rare enough that finding parts can be a pain. I recently called a transmission shop about rebuilding a manual and the owner called an older retired technician to see if he could do it. No one working there today knows how.

Modern automatic transmissions have a viscous coupling engineered to smooth out power delivery during its shifts. But this coupling has another benefit: it protects the entire drivetrain from power spikes. A carefully-driven manual subjects the drivetrain to repeated shocks which can wear out modern halfshafts and bearings which were–let’s be honest–engineered for an automatic. Worse yet, you have know idea whether a used manual was driven caerefully.

One of the greatest strikes against a used manual transmission is its previous drivers. Chances are good someone learned to drive stick in it, and subjected the clutch, transmission, and engine to a bunch of abuse in the process. Or some hoonigan might have bought it because they love racing around, and did just as much damage in the process. There’s a much better chance a “boring” automatic car has been driven carefully.

It’s hard for me to write this, but it’s true: If you are shopping for a used car or 4WD and want one with the best possible chance of lasting for hundreds of thousands of miles, avoid a manual transmission at all costs.

Next, find out about how the most durable automatic transmission conquered the world.