This shift knob for a five-speed manual transmission is becoming a far less common sight.

Is the Manual Transmission Nearing the End of the Road?

So far this year, manual transmission sales make up just 2 percent of American car sales — and just 20 percent of 2018 models even offer the option, according to The Morning Call. Since their introduction in the 1950s, automatic transmissions have been criticized for worse fuel economy, less reliability and greater repair complexity than manuals. Yet they’ve gradually taken ground from manual transmission sales.

Many enthusiasts consider manual transmissions to be irreplaceable. Here’s a look at why manuals are an endangered species on the American auto market, and why they’re still worth learning.

Why Manual Transmissions are Disappearing

Ask drivers anywhere, and you’ll get some huff ‘n puff touting the superiority of one transmission over the other, but even automakers can’t decide. Ferrari doesn’t even offer manual transmissions anymore, citing “almost zero demand,” according to the LA Times.

One reason for this low demand could be a growing skills gap. Asking most Americans to drive a stick might as well be asking them to translate Sanskrit to Latin — they just can’t do it! Only a few drivers these days bother to learn how to drive a manual, and fewer still are prone to perfecting the skill. The fact that so few vehicles are sold with manual transmissions makes it practically unnecessary.

Some high-powered automakers no longer offer manual transmissions because they can’t handle 400-plus-horsepower powertrains. Automatic transmissions can engage and lock up with but a chirp from the rear wheels, without destroying themselves, and shift faster than any human being on the planet.

Available with upward of 10 forward gears, modern automatic transmissions rival manual transmissions’ fuel economy and often better it. Manual transmissions can’t pack as many gears into them to keep their engines in the most efficient range. Still, despite automatic transmission advances, the stick deserves your consideration.

Should You Consider a Manual Transmission?

The manual transmission is dying out, but it's worth a look.

Driving a stick is a more engaging driving experience. Driving enthusiasts swear by it, saying even manumatic transmissions can’t make up for the stick and clutch. A manumatic is basically a manual gearbox with paddle-shifting, computer-controlled clutch and gear changes. Dual-clutch transmissions fall into this category, as well.

Repair complexity is still a valid critique of automatics, too. With the right tools and parts, an experienced DIY mechanic can rebuild a manual transmission, while automatic transmission repair is almost unheard of in professional auto repair shops. The automatics are too complicated and time consuming to work on — even for the pros.

Another reason to consider a manual transmission for your next ride, though fewer than a hundred 2018 models are available with three pedals, is that it keeps drivers engaged. If your teen driver is focused on rev-matching, clutching properly and shifting smoothly, they’ll be less open to deadly distractions, such as texting while driving.

For those who trot the globe, manual skills can be essential. If you drive only two pedals and travel abroad, it might be difficult to find a suitable rental car in Europe, for example. In many parts of the world, you may be bound to buses or cabs if you don’t know how to drive a stick yourself.

Whatever people choose to drive, all drivers would do well to pay attention to how they drive. Read the owner’s manual, for starters, and learn how your vehicle works. Take a comprehensive driving course, perhaps competitively to really hone your skills. Remember to drive without distractions, and learn to maintain your vehicle — whether it’s an automatic or a manual. If you’re a DIYer, replacing a clutch or rebuilding a manual gearbox can be highly rewarding.

Check out all the drivetrain products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on manual transmission maintenance and repair, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pxhere.

about author

Benjamin Jerew

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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