Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DRIVIN'....Sure, this is all true, but the real reason stick shifts are superior to automatics is that they keep you from yapping on your cell phone's handset while driving around the city. Unless you have a major league death wish, of course.

Sigh. My current car is an automatic. First time ever. It might have been the right choice, but I miss shifting. My next car will either be a stick or an electric. It depends on whether fun or coolness wins out.

Kevin Drum 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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Comments

Why not an electric stick?

Oh wait, that's a sex toy. Nevermind.

Posted by: craigie on November 1, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm driving a 1988 Mazda 323. The stick shift has 6 options, one is reverse.

While the car has some issues, we can still cruise the Interstates at, and beyond the speed limit.

Since it's a small car, I pay attention to the idiots who still drive one-handed while yakking away on their cell phones.

The nice thing about a stick shift is the ability to shift down. With automatics, you have to brake
up the wazoo to slow down :-)

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 1, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, if you miss shifting, why not quit your day job and go into politics full time?

Posted by: optical weenie on November 1, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Yesterday, I saw a cop in his squad car driving and talking on his cell phone.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on November 1, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget that stick is a pretty effective anti-theft device for the car. So many of the more recent generation of car thieves have no idea how to drive a standard transmission.

Posted by: David McLemore on November 1, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

DRIVIN'....Sure, this is all true, but the real reason stick shifts are superior to automatics is that they keep you from yapping on your cell phone's handset while driving around the city. Unless you have a major league death wish, of course. —Kevin Drum

I used to work with a guy in Japan who already had a limp, the result of a serious motorcycle accident, who smoked and talked on his cell phone while driving a stick. More than once I offered to shift or steer. He, like more than one of my co-workers, had a company cell phone and a personal cell phone. Exciting times.

Posted by: JeffII on November 1, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

The worst part of driving with an automatic transmission is that when something surprises me and I have to break, I end up breaking gently with my right foot, while not so gently putting my left foot on the nonexistent clutch, which usually turns out to be the corner of the oversized break pedal. If I buy a car with automatic, I want one with a break pedal that is the same as on a car with a clutch. Is that even an option?

Posted by: jussumbody on November 1, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

One major drawback to a manual shift is traffic jams. In southern California, you can get stuck in traffic for extended periods. Constantly depressing the clutch, shifting up, clutch again, shifting again, gets exhausting. I had an old Porsche, and there would be days I'd get home and the quadriceps in my left leg would be shaking from all the clutch work.

Posted by: gab on November 1, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

The main reason to drive a stick shift is that it gives you more control over the vehicle.

That's why all top race cars are equipped with a manual transmission.

Posted by: Gillette on November 1, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, it's "brake" and "braking", right?

Posted by: jussumbody on November 1, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

I think I'll go with a Prius.
I saw one backing up the other day - dead silence, that was so cool.

I wish Chevy would make a decent car.. but alas -

Posted by: christAlmighty on November 1, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Automatics are boring, but I could do without the constant clutch-shift-clutch-shift of stop-and-go traffic.

What I really need is my own lane.

Posted by: grape_crush on November 1, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget they're $500-700 cheaper than autos.

Posted by: Bret on November 1, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

"My next car will either be a stick or an electric. It depends on whether fun or coolness wins out."

Who says electric cars can't be fun? Electric muscle cars do exist and some can out-accelerate most sports cars. That sounds like fun to me. You won't get to shift, but it would still be cool and fun.

Posted by: fostert on November 1, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I am thoroughly convinced that if I could wave a magic wand and make every car in America a manual transmission, 95% of the people on the road, whose apparent reason for being, is to try to kill me, would be unable to get their cars out of the driveway.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 1, 2007 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

While sticks suck in traffic, I hope I never have to give mine up. I rarely have to have even the break pads changed, and a stick is much more fun to drive.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on November 1, 2007 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

...the real reason stick shifts are superior to automatics is that they keep you from yapping on your cell phone's handset while driving around the city.

Except they don't--they just make it more dangerous when people yap on their cell phones anyway.

Cell phones are like meth, but without the redeeming social value. You can't expect addicts to behave rationally; they'll cling to their addictions no matter how much they endanger themselves (or, more to the point, others).

Posted by: Tom Hilton on November 1, 2007 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

I drove my last five speed for almost fifteen years. In city traffic that is a lot of shifting and I became quite tired of it. I prefer my current automatic, but since I now take the bus for my commute, I hardly drive at all.

I think stick shifts do give the driver more control over the moving vehicle, however, but can allow the driver to become too much of a race car driver, which should be discouraged.

My pay as you go cell phone is for emergency communication, so it is not a factor while driving. I would prefer people not use them on the bus, they disturb my naps.

Posted by: Brojo on November 1, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

David McLemore: "So many of the more recent generation of car thieves have no idea how to drive a standard transmission."

That's what I'm counting on. I don't have a security alarm, so I'm counting on the squeal of an ingorant thief driving my car down the street in 1st gear. Assuming he can get it out of reverse.

I also like to be able to downshift for higher torque in bad weather.

Posted by: Grumpy on November 1, 2007 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

I was going to tout stick shifts because they keep people from asking to borrow your car, but David McLemore went me one better.

Posted by: CJColucci on November 1, 2007 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

I have seen more than a few people (usually in big gas guzzling trucks) juggling a cell phone and cigarette while shifting - often while attempting lane changes. If that's not a reason for the police to pull you out of your car and tazer you, I don't know what is.

I far prefer a stick shift but had to forgo it when I purchased a natural gas vehicle. I hope people will appreciate the sacrifice I made for their lungs and our planet (not to mention my inflated sense of self-satisfaction) =)

Posted by: Augustus on November 1, 2007 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Forget the car, believe it or not you can get by with just a bike.

Posted by: Evan on November 1, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

i just bought a versa and couldn't even get it as a stick. i had a 5 speed jetta when i moved to this stick shift forsaken land. So many people ooo'd and aww'd at the site of it because they had never known anybody who had one before.

Posted by: survivin in tejas on November 1, 2007 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin-

Maybe in southern California it's difficult to drive a stick and talk on the cell phone at the same time, but out here in flyover country when you are in the same gear the majority of the time, it's quite easy to do both at the same time. Of course, if you're smart, you're talking on a hands-free device anyway.

Posted by: Edge on November 1, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Tragedy of the Commons. If everyone drove sticks, traffic would probably flow better. If we made brake lights indicate deceleration and not just brake pedal position, traffic would probably flow better.

Until then, if I have to face traffic? I'd prefer an automatic.

So who won the physics challenge?

Posted by: jerry on November 1, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

My automotive self-indulgence consists of a customized, pearl-white, 1968 Volkwagen Beetle with 87mm pistons, and a surf rack on the roof. The oversized jugs give it extra power on the road, I love zooming around the island in it, in my near-perpetual search for the perfect wave.

But the older VW Bugs, circa 1960s, are not exactly family-friendly vehicles for a party of two adults and two teenagers (however, the most recent Beetles, since resurrected, are far roomier and more comfortable). Therefore, we also own a 2004 Subaru Forester.

But prior to to my oldest daughter getting her license last year, I insisted that she learn to drive in the VW, my rationale being that once you learn to drive a stick-shift, you can drive pretty much anything else, if need be.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 1, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

I love my 1991 Celica GTS with its 5-speed stick. Alas it's getting to the point where I'm having trouble getting parts -- when my anti-lock brake circuitry tanked, it took my fave mechanic a week to get the part and now I'm ridding on my spare as it's taken two fucking weeks for a the local chain tire store to get me a replacement for the tire under warrenty, I had to special order the tires back in April -- had the bad luck to run over something on the Beltway.

Posted by: HokieAnnie on November 1, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

I've been driving a stick shift for 29 years, all of that time living in the thick of the city: New York City and Los Angeles. What's the problem? I couldn't imagine buying an automatic. Working a clutch is something you just don't think about after a while... and if you do have to think about it, then it's just not right for you. (And it's not right either for folks who burn out the clutch after 30,000 miles. I'm now at least 120,000 miles since replacing the clutch on my Acura.)

Posted by: RandyG on November 1, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

We've had a series of old beaters, since we mostly use feet, public transit or bikes (got yours for your seven-mile trip to your mom's yet, Kevin?) and would rather spend our $ on plane tickets and other travel-related stuff. Until this car, ours were all sticks. mr. shortstop will not stop bitching about having an automatic.

Posted by: shortstop on November 1, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with you, Porsche driver. I drive a European stick covnertible and love love love driving it, except in traffic. Sitting in a metro area never-ending traffic jam inching along like the beginning to Office Space with a stick basically sucks. If it urban/lights/timing that's tolerable, but sitting in a volume-induced stoppage where you consistently move 2 feet per minute is agonizing and tiring. Its also potentiallt expensive because it can almost force you to ride the clutch--a no-no-- and burn the thing out.

Posted by: do on November 1, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Why not an electric stick? Oh wait, that's a sex toy. Nevermind.

We take it you didn't get the photos?

Posted by: Hot Lesbian Cheerleaders on November 1, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

I was thinking about my clutch, RandyG. 140,000 on my 2000 Honda Accord, and I'm very pleased. Also waiting for some sign of failure -- what happens?, it's been so long, is there any warning before it's slipping so bad you can't go?

Anyway, I'm much happier about this than replacing my Toyota Corolla's clutch about 15 years ago with only 47,000 miles on it (but the dealership mechanics I was using were crooks, so maybe I just got taken, I'm not sure there was a serious problem).

I too drive in New York City and find a stick no problem. The only time I've minded it in years was stuck in crawling traffic out on the open interstate.

Posted by: David in NY on November 1, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Clearly, kevin is a person who doesn't have to drive in Houston traffic!

Posted by: David Ross on November 1, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Of course, if you're smart, you're talking on a hands-free device anyway."

You know, Edge, I wouldn't even use a hands-free. I decided this once driving with my family when the elder boy, the math whiz, was putting forth problems, and I realized that all I could see in front of my face was something to do with the problem, not the road. Since this disturbing experience, I've noticed a similar, if not so severe, phenomenon in some conversations with fellow passengers. And somehow, I think conversations require more mental energy when I'm on the phone. Anyway, driving and taxing your brain at the same time with non-driving stuff is not good, I think.

(Alternate hypothesis: I'm just Gerald Ford. "Can't walk and fart at the same time," said LBJ.)

Posted by: David in NY on November 1, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

David in NY: I've kinda forgotten too about recognizing clutch problems, but I can think of two signs that the clutch needs adjustment, if not outright replacement. (And post haste, because if the clutch fails, you're dead in the water.) First, if it starts to take an unusual effort to force the stick into gear. (If only one particular gear, it's probably not a clutch issue, per se.) Second, if just after shifting or while cruising you feel that "slipping" feeling that you're giving gas, but it's not taking. (This could be a symptom of many things, though, a failing clutch just one of them.)

And here I am giving suggestions.... I've driven 2 manual transmission cars a total of 395,000 miles and have never had a transmission problem and have replaced a clutch only 2 or 3 times. Looks like the Honda (Acura) clutches/transmissions hold up pretty well!

Posted by: RandyG on November 1, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Gillete. You have more control with a stick. I hate automatic trans. Besides, manuals are more fun to drive. Ever do the roads around Mendocino?

Posted by: smartelephant on November 1, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Randy. They said the clutch was good when I bought it, but I didn't expect it would last this long from my prior automotive experiences. I think the last time it happened to me (when the Corolla hit 150,000), it was just slipping like mad when I tried to start it on an uphill. I'd like a hint that that was going to happen before it did, but maybe you only get that if you're lucky.

Posted by: David in NY on November 1, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

I had an old Porsche, and there would be days I'd get home and the quadriceps in my left leg would be shaking from all the clutch work.

This reminds me that in college I used to drive a '65 Impala, a three-on-the-tree. Good God, that used to give my left leg a workout.

A couple of years ago, in Italy, I drove a SmartCar with a sequential shifter that was a complete pain in the ass to use. I never did figure out how to do it well.

Posted by: RSA on November 1, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

You amuricans are simply SO weird. Sure, automatic is king if you drive in congested cities all the time - but if you do that, you might as well ride a bike. It'll get U through faster ...

Besides that, the traditional amurican auto transmission sux, big time. No information as to what's happening in the other end of the stick what so ever. And no control of the revs ... sux.

The only drawback to a manual I can think of is this: After driving one of the Danish Armys 4x4 MAN 8.136 trucks (manual transmission, thank you very much and are they fun to drive in mud, sand and hilly terrain? YES they are ...) for some time, I tend to find my self trying to force the clutch of my SAAB through the bottom of the car when I get back; the truck clutch being obviously somewhat heavier to operate.

Do US trucks drive auto too?

Posted by: Ole on November 1, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Two of our three are sticks.

Better get rid of that current car, Kevin. Al Gore is going to repo all the automatics.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on November 1, 2007 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Go for both and get a Volkswagen TDI. I have a VW Golf TDI from 2000 and it averages 47.5 mpg on a tankful of diesel for my usual driving (which involves a fair amount of highway time, but includes plenty of city driving as well). If the temps are above 40 degrees, that's 100% biodiesel, which we have delivered to the house.

Ecologically friendly, and the thing hauls ass when the turbo kicks in. It hauls a lot of stuff as well--we can head up north with two large adults, two kids in carseats, two dogs that add up to 140lbs in the back and luggage either tucked around or up on the roof rack.

Posted by: DrFood on November 1, 2007 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Manual transmission? If it's got that new-fangled synchromesh abomination, it's just an automatic in disguise.

Posted by: alex on November 1, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think a clutch will totally fail without a warning of some type. (Being on an uphill clearly made your situation worse.) It should be a no-brainer for your mechanic to always check the clutch whenever you take the car in for service, especially when you have that many miles on it. That could head off any potential for a total failure.

Posted by: RandyG on November 1, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

jussumbody:

I know what you mean about trying to drive an automatic, when you are used to a shift. (No one believes me when I tell them that I can’t drive an automatic.) About 30 years ago I was required to use a company car with an automatic shift to run an errand. I made it safely across a bridge and was stopped at a red light. But, when the light turned green, I automatically tried to put my left foot on the clutch, so that I could shift. Instead I hit the brake, of course, and caused a chain reaction of accidents behind me.

I felt awful and apologized to everyone, especially the guy who was rear-ended by a delivery truck. I got off with no ticket, however, because the people behind me were supposed to be able to stop in time.

Ole:

I don’t know if trucks today have automatic shifts, but about 40 years ago I ran out of gas on a remote road and a big diesel truck stopped to pick me up and take me to a gas station. The truck was so noisy that we could only talk when he shifted. After awhile I noticed that we were having a pretty long conversation, so I asked him how many gears he had. I was amazed when he said sixteen.

Posted by: emmarose on November 1, 2007 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Modern stick shifts are much easier to drive in stop and go traffic compared to “Old Porsches”. Modern fuel injected engines with electronically stabilized idle will happily chug along at an idle in 1st or 2nd gear, unlike old Porsches which would buck and spit back through their carbs if you didn’t slip the clutch. My VW GTI has an hydraulically actuated clutch which is feather light, and the car will crawl along at 4 mph when idling in first, which is good enough all but the worst traffic. How do I know? I commute through downtown Seattle. An automatic is still better in true gridlock, but the difference isn’t nearly what it used to be.

Posted by: fafner1 on November 1, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, most of the top supercars (Ferrari, etc.) are now equipped with manual "paddle" shifters that operate the clutch automatically (and instantaneously) while still permitting the driver, not some electronic system, to decide which gear they would like to be in at any given moment.

For me, it is certainly not about saving gas! I routinely wind out my German touring sedan under hard acceleration because, well, it's damn fun. Not to mention heel-toeing so I can keep the car in the powerband while accellerating out of corners.

And regardless of these issues, a manual tranny forces you to pay more attention to your driving. That's always a good thing on our roads these days.

Posted by: Gillette on November 1, 2007 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

The Hot Lesbian Cheerleaders are back!

And we have sex toys. All we need now is a Republican from a conservative district, a wetsuit, and some underage teenage boys, and we've got ourselves a GOP strategy session.

Posted by: craigie on November 1, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Rent green too. Recently rented a Prius in France and got 47 miles to the gallon. With petrol costing around $6 a gallon over there it was not only green but saved on petrol costs as well.

Posted by: dloberk on November 1, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, man I'm with you. It's getting harder, though. Two of our top choices for a next car just eliminated manuals. They say it's only at 9% now, with the proportion going down to 6%. They say a big reason is the level of traffic and jams. Maybe the increasing price of gas can forstall it.

Posted by: MaxGowan on November 1, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

First vehicle was a 4-speed 1953 Chevy pickup with the starter "button" on the floorboard next to the gas pedal, and no functional emergency brake. Starting it took some practice at first. If you parked it on a hill though, you didn't have to waste the battery or the starter, just let it roll to start it. I've driven automatics since, but am tired of the reliability issues I've had with autos on small cars. May go to back to a manual for the next one.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 1, 2007 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

My A4 2.0 turbo, with a 6 speed manual is far superior to the same car with a V6 automatic. Maybe tipronic is just as fast, but it just doesn't feel the same.

Finding one in L.A. is tough though.

Posted by: enozinho on November 1, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

We rented a Renault diesel Esprit minivan in France. Had no trouble running 120kph on the freeway with plenty of power left for passing. Got 42 mpg overall. Very Impressive.

Posted by: fafner1 on November 1, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

Clutches fail by either not disengaging or not engaging. In the first case you will have trouble shifting. This may be an adjustment issue. The tach is the first clue to the second. There should be an exact relationship between gear, mph and rpm. 2000 rpm in 4th should be 45, or whatever. Any variation and the clutch is starting to slip.

Had an 89 Civic hatchback that taught both my daughters to handle a stick. Clutch finally went at about 180,000.

Posted by: snoey on November 1, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

RSA: I used to drive a '65 Impala, a three-on-the-tree.

Nice! I had a Dodge Demon (basically a Duster with different stickers). Slant-6 with Three on the tree whose linkage would bind if one tried to go from first to second to fast (requiring a 2x4 to depress the clutch while I fumbled around under the hood). I Still miss it a little. Were no cell phones, but driving this with hot coffee (before cup holders also) and smoking a cigarette while still waking up in the morning must require an equal amount of dexterity.

Posted by: jhm on November 1, 2007 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

For those who want a stick shift electric car (two speeds) and have a spare 100k lying around, check out:

http://www.teslamotors.com/

Posted by: misslithium on November 1, 2007 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

I drive a '96 Dodge Dakota. 180,000 miles and still on the original clutch, with no sign of letting up.

For those who have been talking about downshifting to control deceleration, it's really not recommended unless you're trying to make an emergency stop and the brakes need help. Remember, it's much easier and cheaper to replace brake pads than it is to replace the clutch/transmission. By downshifting in lieu of braking, you're also not giving any warning to the car behind you that you are indeed slowing.

Posted by: bigcat on November 1, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Automatics are boring, but I could do without the constant clutch-shift-clutch-shift of stop-and-go traffic." ---grape_crush

Driving is intrinsically boring. Automatics and cell phones and all the rest just hide some of the boredom.

Posted by: Ross Best on November 1, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

"downshifting to control deceleration, it's really not recommended unless you're trying to make an emergency stop and the brakes need help."

Yep. Downshifting for stops is (too) old school, back in the days of four wheel drum brakes probably.... With good anti-lock brakes, you can't stop any faster by fumbling with the gears and clutch. And wearing the engine and clutch out instead of the brake pads seems like an odd choice.

Posted by: luci on November 1, 2007 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

True story! I was in South Carolina a couple of years ago visiting the oldest daughter who lives in Columbia. Seems as though everyone over there loves hot motorcycles, but SC does not have a helmet law. I saw a guy, on a bike, in the southside of Columbia trying to talk on his cell phone while he was riding his bike. Darwinism at work, but he finally decided that the better part of valor was to pull over, stop, and then continue his cell phone conversation.

I've got to say that I hate being in moving traffic with people on their phones. I always pull over somewhere to answer mine and never consider answering it while i'm driving! It's tough being in such a huge minority!

Posted by: Tommy Harper on November 1, 2007 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Correctly done (admittedly a major qualification), downshifting to lose speed puts no more stress on your driveline then lifting your foot off of the gas to slow down when you are speeding down the highway. The key is synchronizing the revs to minimize clutch slip and driveline shock. Whether you downshift or just brake is a matter of taste, but a series of nicely timed downshifts while heel and toeing to synchronize the revs can be a thing of beauty, even more so if you double clutch to ease the loads on the syncros.

Posted by: fafner1 on November 1, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I too used to worry about clutches going out. I never intended to drive a stick shift (I am pathetically uncoordinated, but the first time my 89 Sentra was the only used car on the lot I could afford; second time my 97 Tercel "Black Hawk Edition" didn't have automatic as an option), and it took about 2 years to get really comfortable with it. That Sentra made it to 130K with no clutch problems I was aware of when I sold it (lots of other problems though); the Tercel is at 110K and it's only been in the shop once (fuel injection system got gunked up in California because I only drove it 2000 miles per year). I'm still getting 43 mpg on the highway, and the crappy power on the Tercel means I haven't had a speeding ticket in over 11 years. Not glamorous, but neither was spending a whole Saturday at "comedy defensive driving" class once a year (including my 30th birthday).

I've never understood "riding the clutch", and due to my fears and ignorance of how a clutch works or what it even looks like, I use the clutch as little as humanly possible. I only downshift if I am driving downhill on a long winding mtn road, and I start getting paranoid about brake failure (braking for 20 minutes at a time just can't be good for your car).

Posted by: jussumbody on November 1, 2007 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

I've driven a manual off and on for a little over three years now, and I just don't begin to get the joy in it.

It has over that time, at best, gone from stressful and demanding to boring and annoying.

And I just wonder how much of the vaunted "control" one supposedly has is real, and how much is just self delusion.

Look, fundamentally, the only real extra control that a manual affords you is the ability, perhaps, to accelerate more quickly, right? (I assume that decelerating is perfectly achievable by braking). But how much faster, really, is the typical manual in accelerating in any circumstance than an automatic? In fact, it takes a fair amount of time to shift: one must press the clutch down, then shift the gear, then release the clutch. Three sequential actions, instead of one, to accelerate as in an automatic -- which requires only pressing the gas. Why should automatics in principle be any less effective at "knowing" when it would be better to shift into a higher gear to accelerate quickly? Now I appreciate that perhaps a racing driver, in a car made for racing, might perform those three actions more quickly than an automatic would. But the average driver in the average car? I just very much doubt it.

Really, think about it, how would you really know that you've accelerated faster in a manual than in a comparable automatic? How would you be able to distinguish your "perception" of greater speed, because, after all, you feel in control, from actually greater speed?

I'd like to see some objective evidence that the effect is real, and not delusional.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 1, 2007 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Stick shift or Automatic?
Let me ask my chauffeur and I'll get back to you...

;-p

Posted by: Bad Rabbit on November 1, 2007 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

In all seriousness, frankly0, driving a manual gives a driver far more control.

The gears are not just for accelerating and you use your brakes less because you can decelerate for manouvering or stopping on the engine.

And besides on really cool old sports cars with no synchro-mesh between first and second you get that amazing sound as you double clutch to shift down. Unless there's a really gorgeous girl standing there in which case you bugger upo the down shift and it sounds like the car is puking the gear box out of the back.

In the UK either you're a driver or you have an automatic. I don't know if it's the case today but if you passed your test in an auto, you were not allowed to drive a manual.

Posted by: Bad Rabbit on November 1, 2007 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

The real power of the manual over the automatic does not show itself in starting from a complete stand still. In that case the acceleration may be the same. Where the manual really has it over the automatic is accelerating at higher speeds. Say you are traveling at 55 on a two lane road and want to pass someone quickly to get back on your side of the road. With a manual you can anticipate the extra torque required by downshifting to 4th from 5th. With the automatic, the transmission senses your power needs much later than you would probably like, making the passing manuver that much more hair raising. (Where is my power!!!!)

Posted by: Cap and Gown on November 1, 2007 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0

It's not just that you can accellerate quicker, it's that you are in the gear you want when you want. Yes, there is a cost associated with clutch shifting (which newer F1-style paddle shifters on high end cars neutralize) but it's very small for good drivers. Auto systems do well to keep the engine at it's maximum hp/torque by upshifting during steady accelleration. Any other types (non-steady) and a good driver has the advantage, I'd say.

This applies in a couple of other situations. 1) coming out of a corner that you had to slow down for. Automatic transmissions won't drop to a lower gear until you apply the gas and it "knows" it has to shift. 2) going up an incline. I hate it when you get "in between" gears and the tranny keeps hunting for the right gear.

Also, you as a driver can choose whether you want your car to be revving at 2000 or 6000 rpm, or anything in between, and controlling engine revs is an important driving tool. In slippery conditions, for example, I will shift to a higher gear than I normally would to ensure smoother, less abrupt power delivery to the wheels at lower rpms. If you just want to pass someone, you can downshift into a lower gear without changing speeds at all by blending the revs and putting the engine in its peak power band. On an auto, you'd have to goose the throttle to do so.

And, finally, manual transmisions usually have more gears than auto systems. My car has 6 gear (and twin turbos!); the auto, lower performance version has 4. That means smoother power delivery across the range.

Automatics suck. As I said above, F1 cars, the most sophisticated no-holds-barred racers on the planet, use manual (but clutchless) shifting. Not just for speed, but also control, the two things racers are always working to maximize.

Posted by: Gillette on November 1, 2007 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

I'm 54, don't know how to drive any way but automatic, been driving 37 years - it's not just a younger generation thing.

Posted by: hopeless pedant on November 2, 2007 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

Bought a Passat 6-speed last week. After 8 years of driving boring auto's, I forgot how much fun a manual is. (Bonus, the dealership dropped the price because no one seemed to have interest in buying this vehicle with the manual transmission - it was the "oldest" '07 Passat on the lot.)) Not a lot of traffic jams up here in Maine, but lots of winding roads. Downshifting is a definite advantage, IMHO, in maintaining optimal engine torque - allowing better deceleration or acceleration. My 19 YO son has never seen dear old dad driving a manual, until we got this car. I think he has a new found respect for the old fart.

Posted by: Innocent Bystander on November 2, 2007 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Gillette:

By the way, most of the top supercars (Ferrari, etc.) are now equipped with manual "paddle" shifters that operate the clutch automatically

Not necessarily - BMW has the SMG, Audi has the DSG, and the Toyota MR2 has its SMT, if you can find one. Also, what Porsche & Lexus have aren't true sequential shifters - they're automatics with the paddles as gimmicks.

BTW, I assume many of you are talking about holding a cell phone while driving. In California, that'll be illegal next year. You have to use a hands-free device.

Posted by: Andy on November 2, 2007 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

On that note, this is by far the most weirdly gorgeous vehicle I have ever seen. Cd is 0.11 (1/3 that of a porsche), 240mpg as hybrid, pure electric versions as well, composite safety cage, and only $27k or so.

No, this is not an ad plant - it's the first car I've ever actually wanted. Maybe because it looks so much like a slick single engine sport plane. If half of us drove cars like that, the middle east would barely appear in the news.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on November 2, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

Saw this bumper sticker on a SUV:"Burning up what left of the world's oil so your kids don't have to."

Google "peak oil"

Posted by: deejaayss on November 2, 2007 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

*Transmission* snobbery now? Are you people serious?

And you effete lefties wonder why Middle America has a hard time getting behind you.

Posted by: Heartland Knuckledragger on November 2, 2007 at 3:10 AM | PERMALINK

Late to the party, but, OMG, if one drives manual, how can you ever switch to automatic? Truly.

Posted by: monoglot on November 2, 2007 at 5:34 AM | PERMALINK

you probably have no reason to know this, but sticks are superior when the going gets slick, i.e. ice or snow. automatics have a habit of shifting right when you least want them to, thereby breaking traction and plunging you into the nearest ravine. with a stick my foot is directly connected to the drive wheels, but not so the auto.

Posted by: supersaurus on November 2, 2007 at 5:46 AM | PERMALINK

Can't stand automatics. I inherited one and it just makes me realize that may next car will not be an automatic.

I find that I am a much worse/lazy driver in the automatic than I was in a stick. Can't stand the pickup after being at a full stop, and I still think they are more expensive to maintain.

Posted by: ET on November 2, 2007 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I realize this says a lot about me, but the best reason for owning a stick shift is that you can always push it (or roll it down a hill) to get it started when the battery is dead.

Posted by: tim on November 2, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

All the praise that one hears of manuals and the "control" they provide reminds me of another like issue.

I remember in the earlier days of the GUI how many geeks simply could not stop themselves from talking up the virtues of the older command line interface (often DOS). It was the same kind of rhetoric: in the command line, you had so much more control, you could do things faster. I'd point out that it was almost the definition of tediousness to have to type out each and every commmand and option, and that it simply couldn't be faster in many cases.

But no: this couldn't actually be true, according to them. And they could trot out the rare circumstance in which, yes, I could see it might confer a very slight advantage.

But it took years and years for them finally to concede that, gee, maybe that GUI thing has something going for it.

Why were they so attached to the command line interface? My guess is that it was because it showed that they had a particular expertise that ordinary mortals didn't, and, by God, they weren't going to give up their ability to brag on it.

One wonders how much this is at play in the manual vs automatic discussion.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 2, 2007 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

I totally agree with frankly0 even though I'd love to replace my Mustang GT auto with a stick one, mostly cos I look pitiful on the race track.

Posted by: GOD on November 2, 2007 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0, the very premise of your commentaries shows that you do not understand the processes of driving. Control matters when starting, stopping, turning, backing up, changing direction, accelerating, decelerating, driving on various surfaces. Unless someone has thoughtfully driven both manual and automatic in all of these circumstances, they can not appreciate the differences.

Automatics are superior in a few circumstances, manuals are superior in many more. Just having the ability to disengage the clutch is a big advantage in a lot of conditions.

But then most people can not drive very well, they only operate a motor vehicle as the police brochures always term it.

Posted by: Otis on November 2, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0, here's the reason I love my stick shift, which I haven't seen listed yet:

coasting!

In my car (the VW Golf TDI that gets ~48mpg, see my comment earlier) whenever I'm coming to a stop, or going down a hill, or just see that I can, I push down the clutch and coast. My RPMs immediately drop to way low, and my fuel consumption does as well. It's a game for me to see how far I can go in neutral sometimes (as long as there's no one behind me, I'll let myself drop to 15 mph or less coming to a stop sign). All this coasting is probably why my mileage is so good, despite the fact that I'm kind of a lead foot on the highway. Of course, you have to pay attention to how fast you're going when you re-engage the transmission, and select the right gear.

You can't drop into neutral so easily in an automatic transmission, and lifting your foot off the gas just doesn't have the same effect.

I learned to drive a stick shift later in life, and I don't know if this qualifies as "riding the clutch" but since I've been driving this car for three years and the clutch is fine, I'm not too worried about it.

Posted by: DrFood on November 2, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0

There remains one fact that should put to rest your persistent question regarding "real" vs. "imagined" benefits of manual transmissions.

Most or all professional race cars use them, including rally drivers whose control challenges are much closer to everyday driving than F1.

Posted by: Gillette on November 2, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

For me, the stickshift is auto theft insurance. It's amazing how few people under the age of 30 know how to drive a stick. When I take it for servicing, they have to go get the old guy to drive it, because the younger guys can't.

Posted by: Sempringham on November 2, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Your knowledge of VAT hatred (see above) made me think you had been over here in old Europe. Your belief that people who drive stick shifts don't yak on cell phone handsets makes me wonder where you paid VAT last.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on November 2, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Took the automatic to the mechanic with a rattle. He says its the engine mounts. I says this is my second automatic to have engine mount problems, none of my sticks ever did. He says, that automatics, when at a complete stop, put the engine under non-trivial stress, which tends to wear the mounts out quicker. BS? I dunno.

Posted by: none on November 2, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

none, the mechanic is generally right about the automatic and "non-trivial stress". An auto. transmission when in gear and stopped (using your brakes), forces the twisting motion of the idling engine to put stress on the engine mounts. I broke motor mounts one time by "power-braking" a transmission one time (holding down the brake and giving it progressively more gas until the tires start to spin and smoke).

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 2, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

OK, all you stick shifters, you're only a neophyte if you don't double clutch.

Saves a lot of wear and tear on the synchros, but only if you do it right. And, when done perfectly, there's nothing like the feeling of oneness with the car you get when the gear shift lever falls into gear without a hint if resistance. It's positively ... er ... well maybe that's taking it a little too far.

aa

Posted by: aaron aardvark on November 2, 2007 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

I broke motor mounts one time by "power-braking" a transmission one time (holding down the brake and giving it progressively more gas until the tires start to spin and smoke).

I do that all the time. I hate it when that happens!

aa

Posted by: aaron aardvark on November 2, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

aa, It scared the shit out of me when it broke because the engine slammed back against the frame KABAM! really, really hard. It was still drivable until it could be fixed, you just had to be ginger with the gas on take off-otherwise the fan would bzzzt! into the fan shroud when the engine twisted freely.

I've found that a lot of newer cars you can't spin the tires without a "check engine" light coming on and then kicking the engine control computer into limp mode-with much reduced power (until you shut it off and restart it again).

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 2, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0, the very premise of your commentaries shows that you do not understand the processes of driving. Control matters when starting, stopping, turning, backing up, changing direction, accelerating, decelerating, driving on various surfaces.

But look, fundamentally, except under fairly extraordinary circumstances, all of this "control" reduces to one thing: the ability to accelerate and decelerate. Yet automatics do precisely this, except that they require fewer steps. You'd have to demonstrate that it's actually possible to accelerate more quickly with a manual than with an automatic by pressing the gas, and decelerate more quickly with a stick than with pressing the brake.

Really, you SHOULD demonstrate this somehow, rather than merely asserting it. As I've said, it's exceedingly easy to imagine that because you're twisting the knobs yourself on a device that you're doing a better job than it could be done automatically.

The one case where I can see a case being made for the greater control of a manual is in circumstances in which you are at the very edge of the traction needed to keep yourself on the road (e.g., you're going around a curve VERY fast, or you're on a slick surface). Then I can imagine that an inopportune and unpredictable shifting into a new gear might be exactly enough to set the car into a slide or spin.

My guess is that this is one major reason race car drivers use manuals: maximum control through curves.

But how often is this an issue in ordinary driving? How often do you go through a curve so fast that you're in genuine danger of spinning out of control? Not very often, I should hope.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 2, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

But look, fundamentally, except under fairly extraordinary circumstances, all of this "control" reduces to one thing: the ability to accelerate and decelerate.

I pretty much agree. I suspect that for all but the most extraordinary drivers, a modern automatic transmission is more efficient than a manual ... under most conditions.

I buy manual transmission cars because:

1. They're cheaper, both to buy and maintain.
2. They're more "fun" to drive ... at least to me.
3. Under some conditions, they provide better control - for example mountain driving where an automatic tends to shift when you don't want it to.

One thing a lot of manual advocates miss is the benefit of the "smoothness" of an automatic under very slippery conditions. It's easier to apply very gentle torque to the wheels with an automatic, which is what you need when accelerating on ice or snow.

aa

Posted by: aaron aardvark on November 2, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

But look, fundamentally, except under fairly extraordinary circumstances, all of this "control" reduces to one thing: the ability to accelerate and decelerate.

My guess is that this is one major reason race car drivers use manuals: maximum control through curves.

I'm beginning to wonder whether you even know how to drive, FO.

Posted by: Gillette on November 2, 2007 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

over fifty years ago in an honors calculus course,that i was taking, the teacher commented:

mathematicians are people who like to do puzzles,
people who like to learn by doing-----almost
all research mathematicians drive stick shifts,
very,very few drive automatics(*).

(*) i like to ask new people, when i first meet them, whether the first car they ever owned was
an automatic or a stick shift-----you'd be surprised how much the ans. to that one question
tells you about the inteligence of that person(**).

(**)the following is a simple experimental test
you can make for yourself:
estimate the ave. iq of all of your friends who
drive stick shifts, estimate the ave. iq of all of your friends who drive automatics-----the first no. should be about 35pts. higher than the
second no.

Posted by: wschneid25 on November 3, 2007 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK
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