Saturday, February 2, 2013

Can You Save Money Driving a Car with Manual Transmission? Is a stick shift more economical?

Conventional Wisdom: You Get Better Gas Mileage With A Stick Shift

Driving a manual transmission vehicle is more economical than driving an automatic transmission vehicle for two reasons.

  1. Manual transmission vehicles get better gas mileage.  
  2. Since manual transmissions cost less to repair, you will come out ahead in total cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle

Automatic transmission lever on a new vehicle
Automatic Transmission- 2013 Honda Crosstour
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Conventional Wisdom is Wrong!

Automatic transmission vehicles are now more economical than manual transmission vehicles.  Automatic transmissions have become much more efficient in recent years, in fact more efficient than a driver with a manual transmission in many cases.  Not only that, but the resale value of a vehicle with automatic transmission is significantly higher than for that of a vehicle with manual transmission.  When did this happen? I thought manual transmission was more economical...

Gas Mileage: Automatic Transmission vs Manual Transmission

Let's check the gas mileage of some modern vehicles, looking at the automatic and manual transmission versions of the same vehicle.  This gas mileage data can be obtained from

The table below shows that in newer vehicles, the mpg is about the same between manual and automatic transmission versions of the same vehicle model.  

Table shows most vehicles get similar fuel economy with manual or automatic transmission
Table of fuel economy (mpg) for manual transmission and automatic transmission vehicles.  Modern vehicles get about the same mpg with manual or automatic transmission.
Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

So automatic and manual transmission vehicles get essentially the same gas mileage.  When did this happen?  Let's look at the combined city/highway gas mileage of the Honda Civic from 1984 to 2012.  Back in the 1980's and 1990's, the fuel economy of the manual transmission was much higher- nearly 10 mpg higher.

Graph shows manual transmission got better gas mileage until 2007
Plot of Honda Civic gas mileage from 1984 to 2012 shows that automatic transmission overtakes manual transmission as more fuel efficient.  Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

But the Honda Civic grew larger (heavier) and its automatic transmission grew more efficient.  By 2007, the automatic transmission delivers higher combined gas mileage than the manual transmission.  This is due to improvements in automatic transmission efficiency.

Repair Costs vs Resale Value

Manual transmission lever
Manual transmission in 2002 Honda Civic
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher
Another argument for selecting a manual transmission over an automatic is that automatic transmissions cost more to repair.  This is still true- automatic transmissions are about 40 pounds heavier, contain more parts, and have more complex functionality than a manual transmission.  However, modern automatic transmissions are more reliable than ever.  Manual transmissions are less expensive to repair, but require more frequent repair and maintenance.

Resale value has become a big factor as well.  Fewer people than ever want to drive a manual transmission vehicle- or even know how.  If you want to sell your used manual transmission vehicle, there is a limited set of buyers that will be interested.  The resale value of a manual transmission vehicle compared to an automatic transmission vehicle may be thousands of dollars lower.

Penny Pinching Tips:

  • Newer automatic transmission vehicles have become a better value than manual transmission vehicles.
  • Automatic transmission vehicles and manual transmission vehicles now get equivalent gas mileage
  • Although repair costs for automatic transmissions are higher, automatic transmissions run longer without repair than manual transmissions.  
  • The reduced resale value of a manual transmission vehicle more than offsets the more expensive repair costs for automatic transmissions

Recommended reading:

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1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting chart! I never realized that having a manual transmission has gotten so much less effective over the years. I remember my dad always used to talk about how much more efficient manual cars are. It's good to know that that's not always the case these days. Thanks for sharing these tips with us!


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