We’ve been talking about the death of the manual for the past five years. The latest stat, from 2016, suggests that less than 3 percent of new cars sold in the US have manuals. And many enthusiasts are devastated by the dearth of available manuals. But what are they mourning?
Many diehard fans are mourning the better gas mileage that manuals got compared to automatics. Think of the Jeep CJ-8. When it was first introduced in 1981, it came with a 4- or 5-speed manual… compared to a 3-speed automatic. Manual drivers would have a better chance of finding the most efficient gear. Now, many vehicles offer upward of 7- or 8-speed automatics. Even trucks are getting this treatment: The 2019 Ford Ranger is the first midsize truck to offer a 10-speed automatic.
Automatics–especially those with new start/stop technology and traffic-crawl cruise control–also make sitting in traffic much easier to bear. Could you imagine driving a 10-speed manual in traffic? You would be changing gears every few hundred feet. And more research suggests that our congested highways are only going to get worse.
Many shoppers are also mourning a lower price tag. Previously, shoppers knew to buy a car with a manual to save some cash. And in some cases this is still true: A 2005 base Ford F-150 with an automatic transmission costs $5,000 to $7.000, while the same truck with a manual transmission can cost $1,000 less. But if you’re shopping new, the base model of the Ford F-150 isn’t available with a manual anymore. (If you’re willing to buy a gently used F-150, you may pay more to get a manual.) However, for new cars that still offer a manual, like the 2018 Jeep Wrangler, the price tag is still lower: You can save at least $2,000 by buying a manual.
Manual owners may also have a tougher time finding a buyer when they try to sell their cars. Fewer cars with manuals + fewer drivers learning manual = a tougher market. (The exception to this would be enthusiast or performance cars.)
Manual drivers are also mourning the cheaper repair costs compared to their automatic counterparts. And if you’re rebuilding the transmission, this is still true. But today’s manuals are likely to see at least one clutch replacement, while automatics may not require any work for the lifetime of the car. Take the 2018 Toyota Sienna. The owner’s manual suggests that owners don’t need to replace the transmission fluid for the life of the car.
As for a manual being more fun to drive? We can’t argue that. Here are a few of our favorites.