Let me start this off by saying that I drive manual transmissions almost exclusively. Nearly every car I've owned has forced me to row my own, and usually that meant going out of my way to filter through endless Craigslist ads to finally find the one I want. I even put a deposit on a manual equipped Explorer Sport Trac before the seller backed out. How often do you see those? Hold on, let me check Craigslist real quick just in case...
I'll admit, I've been known to tilt my nose up to certain ideas and let the snobbery flow. Just put a 6 pack of that swill Budweiser calls beer in front of me and you'll see what I mean. I have also been known to give my one car guy friend shit about buying automatics for his last three cars, and when I find out someone drives a stick, I gain a teensy amount of respect for them. It's not really logical, but I do.
Here's why that's all crap:
We're in a major turning point in automotive history right now. We're right in the middle of the transition from old school, mechanical vehicles to new fangled electronic controlled ones. We're just at the right moment in time where we grew up with the former and can hardly buy a new car without the latter, and that makes us angry. And why wouldn't it? Steve McQueen wouldn't put up with all these new age nanny features, why should we? Because [Insert asbestos joke here], that's why.
Right now I know you're thinking to yourself: "No, Garrett! We don't like change! Take me back to a time when we really connected with our vehicles, man! Damn you, Obama!"
Yes, it is unfortunate that manual transmissions have fallen out of favor in the US, but that's just how capitalism works. The people have voted with their dollars, and those votes just happened to not swing our particular way this time. What this not mean is that anyone who has a different preference than us is somehow worse or beneath us. To most of the population, their automobile is just another appliance. It's a way to get from point A to point B, and for that, an automatic is the best way to go about doing that. Why needlessly complicate an ordinary task?
Again, I know what you're thinking to yourself: "But Garrett, it's other enthusiasts that should be driving manuals! You can't love a slushbox! I don't care if modern automatics are faster, more efficient, and easier to use! In my opinion, they are objectively worse! Plus they're higher maintenance! Manuals, manuals, manuals!"
Ok, let's address these points individually:
(I had to get Godwin out of the way somewhere)
Pure speed: Most any car guy you know will upgrade, tweak, and prod their cars for the tiniest gains in power and efficiency, but really one of the biggest upgrades they could do would be to sell their car for a model with a dual clutch and start the build off "right." There's a reason why you don't see traditional clutches and shifters in Formula 1.
How many forum arguments have we all read through about different cold air intakes? Sure, this one makes 2 more HP than that one, but it's not going to make the slightest bit of difference in the 1/4 mile, whereas a DSG Golf GTI will beat a manual down the straight all say long. If you're already min/maxing, there is no other solution.
Reliability: This is one you see all the time. Yes, a manual transmission is much simpler and lighter weight, but let's face it, there's a big expensive consumable hidden away in there that is just waiting to steal $1000 from your wallet. Now before you pummel me with anecdotes about how your 1987 diesel Volvo wagon/rally car/tow vehicle still has its original clutch with 487k miles on the clock, just remember that I'm one of you! My Ford Ranger had like 250k miles on it before the clutch went out, but then you have to remember that in the real world, these are tales of unicorns.
It's not uncommon for the typical driver to burn through a clutch in under 150k miles, and synchros can start to go seemingly at any point, depending on the driver. Yes, many automatic transmissions have problems, but when's the last time that 1997 beige Accord you pass every day on the way to work had any issues with its transmission? (Note: If you know the answer to that question then I don't think I would trust you around my children.)
Fun: Ok, purely subjective here, and we all know how the average Jalop feels, so I'll just skip right by this one.
Practicality: Sorry, guys. Automatics win hands down except for one point down below, which is an argument that I can't stand. Not everyone lives in an area with fun country roads or long stretches of blissful, traffic free passages. Some people live in big cities like LA or Washington DC where the traffic is hellacious, ubiquitous, and hellaciously ubiquitous. I don't care who you are, what you say, or if your knees are made from carbotanium, traffic in a manual sucks. Of course you get used to it, but the second you have any sort knee pain from some unrelated injury, it just becomes torture. Even people with light problems that don't really bother them in most day to day life will start to wear down their knee in heavy traffic.
Ok, now for the argument I hate: "Ahah! You see, Garrett Allen Allosaurus Davis (probably), when your starter breaks or your battery dies, that pussyfooting automatic will be dead in the water! WHERE IS YOUR SLUSH-GOD NOW?!?!"
First off, calm down, evil caricature of my imagination. Second, do you buy everything you own with the intention of it breaking down? I sure don't, but it is good to know what to do if the worst happens. Fortunately, we live in a modern era with such excellent luxuries as:
- AAA road side assistance — usually a 30 minute wait, and you'll have all the help you could ever need.
- Jumper cables — You should carry these around in any vehicle. Luckily most people in the US live around other people who also have cars, giving just about any stranger you meet the ability to bring your dead vehicle crackling back to life.
- A portable jump starter — I used to carry one around in my Jeeps because off road life is wicked hard stuff, bro. Come prepared.
But OK, lets say that you have none of those options available to you for some reason because you live in the middle of the woods, isolated from everyone because your personal beliefs were attacked on the internet (it's rare, but it happens to some people). What if literally anything else breaks on your vehicle? If you don't have anyone around for help, you're going to be screwed no matter what the issue is — and at that point you should be well stocked with tools and spare parts anyway, thus making the starter the least of your worries.
At the end of the day, we're all here because we just love driving. It doesn't matter in exactly the manner we get that task done, what matters is that we all love cars. It's OK to have an automatic for your daily driver, and it's OK to admit that Porsche's PDK blows literally any manual transmission out of the water. We're just holding onto our outdated beliefs of how a car should work.
"Back in my day, we had to shift through three gears up hill in the snow both ways, and we thanked our lucky stars to even get that!"
"We get it, grandpa..."