QotW: What should we do about the manual transmission?

Last month, a turning point in automotive history was reached when electric vehicles outsold ones with manual transmissions. According to JD Power, stick-shifts accounted for 1.1 percent of new cars sold in America, while EVs accounted for 1.9 percent. The future looks bleak for the standard trans, indeed. Should we try to preserve this disappearing skill? Just enjoy it while we can? Welcome the march of technology?

What should we do about the manual transmission?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What job well done are you thankful for?

The best answer this week was about what just might be the finest car ever engineered. It came from Alan and was about the Lexus LS, a car where no detail was overlooked, no expense spared, and everything overbuilt.

Cheap used Lexus LSes. I buy them at a rate of about once every 36 months. My friends buy old 7-series and S-classes. I put in gas and do oil changes, they replace actuators, hoses, ECUs, step motors, display screens, control boards…

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30 Responses to QotW: What should we do about the manual transmission?

  1. Lupus said:

    Yeah, the MT will slowly dissapear from market. It will be reserved only for most hardcore cars and for purpouse built rally/race machines. The AT is future. CVT for daily commuters and DSG-like-twin-clutch for sportier machines. The automatic is simlply easier to use, the driver dosen’t need to be concerned ’bout the right gear, he can concentrate on maintaing the right speed and streering. In many countrys (in e.x. Japan 😉 the driving license can be made with restrictions to drive only AT cars. Such licence is cheaper, gives the benefit of cheaper insurance. Today most driver aren’t enthusiasts that understyand the car’s mechanics, and thus are’t esspecially good at choosing the right gear. So for many people the AT is a way to improve the mpg ratio and protect the engine from over rev. So… yeah, the MT is on the verge of ecstinction.

  2. BlitzPig said:

    I have only owned one AT car, my very first, in 1970. I will continue to row my own gears, thank you very much. I want to be involved in my driving, not a distracted numpty, fooling with the infotainment system, cell phone, and other gadgetry that serves to diminish the pure experience, and joy, of driving,

    If you have to concentrate to know which gear to be in you are not doing it right, and probably shouldn’t have a license in the first place.

    • james said:

      I second that,BlitzPig.I had 2 AT cars that gave up the ghost within 1 year of each other until I said “that’s it! I’m switching to stick” in 2016, I bought my first MT car,learned how to drive it quite well. ever since then all my cars are exclusively stick. I even offered to teach my brother and mum to drive but they claimed that it’s “too hard” or its “time consuming”.I admit I was hurt(for a minute) but I’m not putting my fun on hold anymore. Sure new cars can have all the tech they want but nothing compares to being connected to your car as well as enjoying the drive and an MT car regardless of what it is has that in spades.

      • MikeRL411 said:

        It all depends on the automatic transmission design and workmanship. My British Borg Warner M35 has served me well for 51 years with only 2 year periodic maintenance [fluid change, filter clean not replace, and band adjust twice in its life]. It is still in use on European cars so stands the test of time well.

    • Bob said:

      You nailed it. Manual trans veterans shift by reflex. Second nature. I abhor the idea of a device shifting on my behalf. I’ll take care of that myself, thank you very much.
      BTW, I learned on a brand new 1979 Pinto as a youngster working part time in a Ford dealership.

  3. Clay said:

    I used to drive an MT in stop and go traffic. It felt like rowing a boat. I’m still surprised that my daily driver has an AT. And every once in a while I notice it has downshifted and upshifted just like I would have done. So, yes, ATs have come a long way.

  4. Banpei said:

    I’m sad to see the manual transmission disappear but let’s be honest: nowadays there is no reason for a manual transmission for 99.999% of the cases. I admit that I’m really happy with the six speed manual in my Honda Civic FK2! I’ve mastered double de-clutching and heel-to-toe in it but apart from that there is absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t be equally happy with an automatic instead.

    Yes there is some prejudice against an automatic gearbox and I think the 3 speed A30 box in my Carina TA60 is the perfect example of that: it’s slow, unresponsive and slushes large quantities of oil around to get the car going. Such a waste of useful energy… But this is an automatic gearbox design that has it’s origins in the 50s! The automatic gearbox has evolved rapidly over the past three decades since Isuzu introduced their NAVI5 computer shifting gearbox. Maybe DSG still has some parts of that Isuzu visionary design in it

    As Moog from MCM would say about his 2.8 second 0-100 (0-60) Golf R: “If modern automatics shift better, quicker and more precise than you, why would you still drive stick with a car that you would never drift?”

  5. Matt C said:

    Warning – rant alert! this didn’t start off like a rant lol… to be completely honest, the reduction of manual trans vehicle sales combined with the shard of broken glass called the Tesla truck and the utter bastardization of the Ford Mustang, the future of the automotive industry looks like a steaming pile of hopeless scrap. About 10 – 20 years ago it became obvious that original automotive design was dead, with automakers looking back to the 60’s for copy-cat designs and brand rejuvenation, it was obvious a direction change was required and the end was nigh.
    While the cars get smarter (i use that term with some trepidation) they have been slowly removing human input as they prepare us all for autonomous transportation, the removal of the manual transmission is definitely a part of this. Its just like the juice cartons with a screw-off lid on the side, if we are that lazy that we can’t use 2 tactile motor skills in sequence to open a carton of juice, how can we be trusted with a 3rd pedal AND a shift lever!
    This is what happens when you let your kids play video games all day instead of playing with tangible toys that require your imagination to create something…they grow up and create better ways to be lazy.
    While i live in a climate that forbids me driving a Datsun year round (well i could but then it would be a rusted heap in 3 years), and i have a family with kids, i need a newer vehicle for reliable transportation – but as long as the blood courses through my veins, 2 things will never die: 1) i will race vintage cars! i have little control over the rules of the roads, but they can’t stop me from driving proper cars on a closed course and 2), i will never have computers on my race car. i will perfect the art of reading spark plugs, i will master reading tires and i will refine my ass as the most reliable data logger in the paddock because that’s how I think vintage racing should be, just like it was back in the day. if we tune our senses to trust the computers alone, then the computers will keep telling us what to do…

  6. Yuri said:

    If you want manual transmissions to continue to exist, the answer is simple. Buy new ones. Automakers build what sells, and as long as there’s still a market for manuals, automakers will want to fill that market. If no one buys them, they cease to exist, it’s as simple as that.

    In the past three years, I’ve bought a BRZ tS, my 70yo dad has bought a BRZ Series.yellow, and my 70yo mom has bought a Civic Type-R (!). We’re doing our part to show a market still exists, so keep in mind, for classic manual cars to be around, they had to exist as brand new cars at some point. If you’re able to buy a new car, please consider getting a manual, even if it’s your daily, and even if you live with LA (or similar) traffic. It’ll be worth it in the long run, I swear.

  7. Scotty G said:

    Or, a person could have the best of both worlds: a 1988 Subaru GL that was converted to battery power by a tech college as a class project, with a working 5-speed manual.

    https://flic.kr/p/24fNSDH

    Ok, maybe saying that it’s the best of both worlds was a little strong…

    When my wife got her Subaru Crosstrek a few years ago, we looked forever for a dealer who had a manual transmission version. We finally found one 2.5-hour away and went to drive it. It wasn’t fun or rewarding or even nice to drive at all being a 5-speed instead of a 6-speed. At 70 mph it was screaming compared to the CVT and we ended up buying the CVT version – which has already had to be replaced, thankfully under warranty, for $6,700 which was covered. We thought that Subaru deliberately put in a lessor manual transmission in order to put people in CVTs or for whatever other reason. If the Crosstrek would have had a 6-speed we would have bought it without question. Subaru, once the bastion of fun and funky vehicles and features, has fallen down the ladder for us.

  8. Nigel said:

    Current car 2011 Mazda 2, with five speed manual. (The next car will also be a five speed).

  9. Teddy said:

    I think that it is partially the parents “fault” (if you can call it that). I wanted to learn manual, but couldn’t because neither of my parents had a car with one. They both knew how, but both had automatics. I’m planning on begging my friend with a 2019 STI to teach me, but idk how that will work out.

    TLDR: keep making them / parents suck

  10. Brian said:

    Protect it at all costs! Heck, there’s already a hashtag, what more do we have to do?! #SaveTheManuals!

    Practically speaking, we should preserve our classic cars and our stick-shift daily drivers for future generations, continue buying stick-shift cars when offered by OEMs, while trying to find a way to make manual transmissions not only viable, but fun & engaging in the next iteration of vehicles, whether they’re fueled by electricity, hydrogen, or my tears from coming to the realization that the manual transmission may die.

  11. LB1 said:

    How are MTs doing in Europe, where they have always been the dominant transmission. They’re not going away if Europeans keep buying them.

    Also EVs are overrated. They have been selling well because of government subsidies. In other countries, too.

  12. speedie said:

    I did not learn to drive a manual transmission until I was 24 on a beat 1976 Toyota Celica GT 5-spd. This was followed by a few used BMWs and a Volvo 240 wagon (the manual actually made the driving not totally suck). The fun of driving manuals prompted me to buy a 5-spd 1989 Mustang GT as my first new car and I have always had at least one manual in the garage since (currently a 2010 Mazda3 GT 6-spd, a 2010 RX-8 R3 6-spd, and my wife drives a 2012 Mini Cooper S 6-spd). I know I will always be able to buy at least a used manual in my lifetime, but I also know that the skill is being slowly lost with time to younger generations. My wife and I taught both of our children how to drive manuals (one currently drives a manual Honda Civic). I have a personal theory that driving a manual makes you a better driver on the simple fact that while driving a manual your brain is constantly working in the background on what speed you are doing, what gear you are in and whether you need to up or down shift as road conditions change. The manual will disappear completely on new cars very soon so my challenge to all who drive manuals is to teach anyone who wants to learn so they can smile as much as we do on a great driving day.

  13. Steven said:

    Well, I feel I’ve done my part. I’ve purchased 6 cars (still have 5, one was totalled), all brand new, all M/T. I make fun of anyone who buys an A/T sporty car. And I offer to teach my friends to drive an M/T. But it’s a futile battle. Carmakers aren’t in it for the romance. They want to make money and M/Ts don’t sell, at least here in the US. Besides, ICE cars will eventually be phased out, gasoline will be impossible to buy, and we’ll all be stuck taking public transportation in the not-so-distant future.

    Like they say in the war movies, enjoy them while you got them…

  14. Monte said:

    What should we do about the manual transmission?

    For we, the buying public, keep buying them.

    For manufacturers, they need to ensure that wherever their engineering focus may “shift” to, ensure allowances are made to accommodate a manual transmission.

    Vehicle pricing has already assumed an auto of some type, and they can offset tooling/supply costs by offering us manuals at a no-cost option. Note that currently, manuals are usually cheaper. In this way, we’ll pay the same as the auto but still have the fun and “engagement”.
    Sorry, couldn’t resist that last one.

  15. Dave said:

    Even within the MT subset, what we enthusiasts want is quite narrow: no less than 5 gears, no need for more than 6; a certain level of speed-related performance; a “sporty” looking design; and a “reasonable” price.

    All of which means it’s really hard to design, market, and sell the MT. In fact, I think we are all very lucky in that we live in a time when we can literally see how the MT has evolved to the point where it’s probably near the best of what it can be, while also having a “catalog” of older cars that we can purchase and enjoy.

    As for the future…

    With EV checking the “speed performance” box quite easily, it’s just a matter of time that the technology matures and becomes common place enough that a wide range of designs and affordable prices are no longer mutually exclusive, thus giving us a wide range of choices.

    So that really boils down to the elusive, hard-to-quantifiable feeling of driving engagement, which I would argue is ironically not all that hard to replicate at scale.

    An EV could artificially create (likely at the expense of efficiency) the feeling of driving a manual: with a physical gear drop, a computer could calculate the decrease in speed and not engage the gas until the driver lets go of a physical clutch—even if the gas pedal is pressed. The car could even replicate the sound of an engine.

    With controllers and servos, all the major physical touch-points of a MT—the shifter, gas, brake, and clutch—can be adjusted from a screen. Want a 6-speed for track day? Plug in your favorite Nardi wood shifter with a handmade leather shift boot. Need to commute or go on a long-distance trip? Pull out the shifter, close the cover, and it’ll default to AT. Maybe you can swap out the pedals, too.

    The shifter could store your personal preferences—a nice bridge between the analog and digital world—so it automatically makes adjustments to shared rides.

    Now, the question is really, “Which brand would even do this?” Again, once EV matures and automakers figure out a best-practice way to develop a solid platform, there will be a lot of commonality that makes brand differentiation more difficult.

    Eventually, there may be some enterprising start-up that develops a simple EV platform and overlays a MT “skin”, complete with downloadable sound updates (a la video games) to choose between various gas engines and fantasy vehicles (the animated Batman’s Batmobile would be cool). Maybe people won’t need to buy a 3rd car for the weekends; the family sedan, with a drop in height and preconfigured settings will more than suffice.

    In any case, I think it’s too premature to predict what the next generation of car drivers would want but I also think it’s a bit naive to think what we love about MT is the “correct” interpretation of what an MT can deliver. Is there a chance that no brand caters to us? Sure, but that’s why I’m holding onto my 2 MT cars dearly.

  16. Alan McLucas said:

    CVT can be unreliable and expensive and is most suited to low torque applications: tried that and loved it at first but grew to hate it. A “smart” DSG transmission with “drive / sports / manual” modes simply outshines anything else. I having driven manuals and raced rally cars, and after 50+ years of driving I am still most comfortable with a manual transmission. OK, I am a “dinosaur” and am guilty of using manual mode in DSG for engine braking and to beat the traffic on occasions. Those who have only ever driven an automatic and follow too closely behind do NOT know this: when the driver in front shifts down manually (DSG or manual transmission), brake lights do NOT come on. On numerous occasions, I have narrowly avoided being shunted from behind when changing down through the gears to slow down. When using regenerative braking in an EV, do the brake lights come on automatically? They should!

  17. Kevin said:

    Accept their demise in new cars, and keep them alive in old cars. After all, this is Japanese Nostalgic Car, not Japanese New Car.

  18. ra21benj said:

    Learn manual on an 80’s Celica after riding with a friend with a manual. She looked like she was having a good time just driving while telling me manuals were more fun. Had an automatic and it was nothing but headache because it would sometimes go into limp mode while exiting freeway off-ramps. I’ve bought nothing but manuals since then. No problems and you’re in total control of the car. If you want to stay in gear, change up/down, or coast in neutral, there’s nothing stopping you. If you break something, then it’s all your fault, so you learn to take care of it so it lasts. Today anyone can learn the basics of driving manuals from YouTube. So, what we can do is continue buying manual transmission cars and also take others out on a ride to show them how fun they are.

  19. al said:

    In 10 years, manual cars would be theft deterrents. No need for alarms any longer. No young thief would bother on stealing an MT as they would not know how to drive a manual. Not the same at Europe, which we still see new cars with manual going strong; but not on the executive sedan segment, where Audis, Mercedes and BMW do sell more autos than manual ones. With DSG and dual clutches, you get the control and the speed on 0-60. Still, “connected motorways” will demand a computer controlled car, so an automatic gearbox will be compulsory. MT will be left outside these and will be pushed even more into oblivion. Its inevitable.

    So, what do we do to keep the art of MT? We create a religion, the “order of the third pedal”. It will have a double H as a religious image, and Sunday morning mass will be done on simulators, with stick shift, three pedals and a handbrake. Wait a minute! No one here is complaining about the missed handbrake. SACRILEGE!

  20. vballin said:

    Remember them fondly

  21. Wayne Thomas said:

    The MT should continue on as an anti-theft device. The more normies cannot drive a MT, the safer a MT car is from being stolen.

  22. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    Why is it that when I go to other parts of the world (not mentioned), all I am offered is a manual? Curious what the numbers are globally versus myopically. I know, we’re the big(gest) market…

  23. bryan kitsune said:

    I got my first car, a 1986 Toyota Celica ST, from my sister. It was a 5-speed. She loved driving manual, I thought my sister was cool, so I wanted to drive a manual as well. She taught me to drive it and sold it to me for $1.

    It’s been 22 years since that transaction. All my personal vehicles have been manual. I have a 4-speed Datsun Roadster, a 6-speed Toyota Celica and a 6-speed Scion FR-S.

    My sister moved on to German cars after having a 10 year or so stint with a ’98 Mitsubishi Eclipse 5-speed. She has been driving manual transmission Mercedes C class cars for some time.

    Coincidentally she texted me yesterday in a sad state. Her current Mercedes is in need of $$$ repairs that she isn’t inclined to have performed. Unfortunately for her, Mercedes no longer offers manual transmission. I think she is trying to decide whether to just stick with used Mercedes, or move to another manufacturer that still offers a manual…or if she has give up and just get an automatic. I wished she could stick with a German car and get a new Supra with a manual transmission…but alas, BMW has let us down there as well.

    Personally I imagine once manuals are no longer offered, I’ll just stick with older models that still have a manual. Until I’m too old and arthritic to push a clutch and shift my own gears anyway.

  24. Martin said:

    The manual transmission is an endangered species. Long gone are the days where it was an option on nearly every make and model. What can we do about it? Try to save the ones currently around and do our best to have new one made.

    Auto manufacturers are in the business to make money. So the MT has to be a financial motivator, or at the very least, a heritage item. So buy them. If you can afford a new car, buy one with a MT. That is the only way to show that there is still a market for them. If you cant afford to buy new, then teach others how to drive them and encourage them to buy a new car with one. More people knowing how to drive a MT means that more people are likely to purchase them new. They must be purchased new.

    As for the ones on the road, we need to keep them there. Take care of them, save them from the junk yards, drive them like they deserve to be driven, and teach people how to drive them.

  25. Sebastian said:

    In order to save the MT, people must buy them. The manufacturers only sell what the market demands.

    Your driving pattern should define wether you buy MT or AT. If your driving is 75+ % stop and go traffic commuting, go for an AT because it doesn’t make sense to bother with an MT in these conditions. If your driving is only 50% congested roads, pick your preference and live with the consequences. If your driving is less than 40% in congestion, go for the MT. However, each type of transmission has its pros and cons and not every AT is the same.

    CVTs are pure hell for anybody who can even remotely be described as a driving enthusiast, so we’ll skip those entirely. Not recommended, period.

    DSG or dual clutch transmissions have the benefit of uninterrupted acceleration, but suck at everything else as you can’t skip gears. A 5-2 (e.g.) downshift requires several gearchanges, whereas a torque converter AT or an MT is one gearchange only and thus quicker/better in the twisties. Manufacturers market DSGs as being better than a torque converter AT, but it’s a big lie in my opinion. Crawling in stop and go traffic is not smooth and with worn clutches and old transmission fluid it even looks like the person has a manual car without the ability to operate the clutch properly. It’s a pain to replace the clutches and even worse, fine-tuning them to manufacturers spec, which requires special tools and software. Why do manufacturers (first and foremost VAG) keep sticking them into every car and market them as the AT option? Because they are cheaper to make than torque converter ATs, resulting in better profits.

    Torque converter (TC) ATs have come a long way indeed. Back in the days a lot of power from the engine was lost between the engine and the transmission, in the torque converter, where it was turned into thermal energy (aka heat). Torque converters with locking abilities ended that dilemma. The best TC AT is the ZF 8HP automatic transmission. An extremely clever design protected by many patents and therefore impossible to match by other manufacturers. The 8HP has considerably less parts than the previous six speed 6HP transmission, which results in better fuel economy due to reduced internal friction and makes the transmission lighter. This also has the benefit of quicker gear changes. BMW (e.g.) gained a lot of mileage in their cars just by adding the 8HP to the same engines that previously had 6HP items mounted. These days the so-equipped AT cars use less fuel than the MT cars, because the electronic brains know better and quicker which is the perfect gear than your blood-fueled brain (as hard as that sounds and feels to enthusiast drivers). Fed with GPS data from the car, it can even predict uphill/downhill sections and “sail” the car in neutral while coasting, saving even more fuel.

    I found the perfect solution to have (at least) two cars: one AT equipped car for daily commuting and long Autobahn stints with possible trafffic issues and all other cars MT equipped for spirited driving in the twisties.

    Cheers from Germany
    Sebastian

    Current fleet: 1x AT, 2x 5-speed MT

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