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.