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Are Stick Shifts Cheaper Than Cars with Automatic Transmissions?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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A car with a manual transmission, or stick shift, is cheaper than an automatic transmission, not only on the car lot but also in the long term. The difference is not as extreme as some drivers believe it to be, however, especially with late model cars. From an automaker's perspective, manual transmissions are much cheaper to install than automatic, and this price is reflected in the sticker price. In the long term, driven by experienced drivers, manual cars are also more fuel efficient, leading to substantial savings over the life of a car.

In terms of sticker price, stick shifts are indisputably cheaper than automatic transmissions. The price difference is usually not excessive, and when purchasing an expensive car, it may not seem terribly important. Because of the rising demand for automatic transmissions, it can also sometimes be difficult to find manual cars with the same features as automatics; drivers may have to place a special order for a car with a manual transmission, rather than driving a car off the lot that day.

The difference in efficiency between automatics and stick shifts used to be much more pronounced. In the 1990s, most automakers began to improve the efficiency of automatic transmissions, making them drive smoother and use fuel more effectively. The difference in fuel efficiency between the two is almost negligible, especially in cars made after 2000, but experienced drivers can still save money driving a manual car.

While it is possible for a driver to achieve greater control and fuel economy while driving a stick, that driver must be experienced and familiar with engine dynamics. Few drivers are, and in some cases, they actually drive so inefficiently that the car is less fuel efficient than an automatic version of the same vehicle. Especially for younger drivers, an automatic may be a safer and more efficient choice.

When buying a car new, a stick shift will cost less, but not by much — and often not enough for it to be a major factor in the decision of what type of transmission to purchase. For experienced drivers who understand how to drive a car for maximum efficiency, a stick will be significantly cheaper than an automatic, but the majority of drivers will find driving an automatic to be comparable to driving a stick, in terms of cost. Drivers who want high performance out of their vehicles will be as well served by high end automatics as they will by manual cars.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Perdido — On Nov 21, 2012

Does anyone know if there are any stick shift car rental places in the United States? I've traveled all over the country, but every rental place I've ever been to has rented exclusively cars with automatic transmissions.

The owners might be afraid of renters abusing the stick shift cars, if they offered them. People could do a lot more damage to those by operating them improperly than they could do to automatic cars.

By cloudel — On Nov 20, 2012

I had a friend attempt to explain to me how to drive a stick shift, but I just could not get the hang of it. I know that if I had really stuck with it and practiced often, I could have learned, but I don't think I would have ever been one of those people who could get the most mileage out of one.

I just don't have a mechanical mind. Someone could explain clearly to me how the whole thing works, and I still would not have a firm grasp on it.

I am way better off with an automatic transmission, even if it is a little more expensive. I know that if I were driving a stick shift and an emergency situation arose, I would panic and forget all that I had learned. I've been driving an automatic for so long that instinct would kick in, and my reaction would be really simple and effective.

By orangey03 — On Nov 19, 2012

@OeKc05 – I've heard that manual transmissions last longer and are cheaper to replace than automatic ones. However, it probably depends most on how well you take care of the vehicle and how well you understand the best way to drive it.

I have an automatic, and my husband has a manual. His truck is a year younger than my car, yet he has already had to replace the transmission.

He can drive a bit aggressively at times, and I'm a very careful driver. So, this could have had more to do with his transmission repair costs than the fact that he drives a stick shift.

By OeKc05 — On Nov 19, 2012

Would I be more likely to have a transmission problem develop with a manual or an automatic? Basically, I want to know which one lasts longer. I know that I would probably one day have to replace it regardless of which kind I have, but I want to get the most out of my transmission.

By anon262893 — On Apr 21, 2012

What about replacement pricing? Is a stick-shift gearbox cheaper to replace than an automatic? Is labor cheaper for stick-shift gearbox replacement? Are parts easily available for a stick-shift? Do we have to replace the entire box?

By anon223986 — On Oct 21, 2011

With automated dual clutch transmissions with 6, 7 or 8 speeds now, manual shifts no long have the mile-per-gallon advantage. Manuals do cost less to purchase although a clutch replacement later on can negate that. However, if an automatic transmission needs service, that can be a little or a lot of money.

Don't forget the anti-theft advantage of stick shifts (USA only). So few people know how to drive sticks in the states that you could probably get by without locking your car door.

By NathanG — On May 03, 2011

@anon31052 - In the U.S. a stick shift car for sale will usually go cheaper—and sell faster—than its automatic transmission counterpart.

By MrMoody — On May 02, 2011

@hamje32 - I couldn’t agree with you more. The best bet is to get a stick shift, compact car and “hyper mile” as much as you can.

By hamje32 — On Apr 30, 2011

@anon31052 -- I can't speak for the UK market, but here in the U.S. stick shifts are definitely worthwhile and cheaper than automatic transmission cars. They tend to be more popular when gas prices go up and people are trying to squeeze more mileage out of every drop of gas. Stick shifts let you do tricky things like “hyper mile” where you let the car coast in idle while you’re going downhill. Of course, this practice can be dangerous as well.

My first car was a stick shift. It was a Toyota and I loved it. At first driving a stick shift was confusing. It was tough knowing when to shift and when to press on the gas, but after awhile it became second nature.

By anon31052 — On Apr 29, 2009

Looking in the UK second-hand market this year, equivalent automatics are £3000-5000 cheaper than the manual versions for the models that I am considering and I am trying to understand the reason for this difference.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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