Manual vs. Automatic: What’s Best for a New Driver?

When buying your first car, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether you want manual transmission, or automatic. In the UK, automatics make up the minority if cars on the road, with just 25 percent of vehicles having an automatic transmission. In the United States, however, manual vehicles are a rarity, with 94.5 percent of vehicles being automatic. Both countries certainly seem to have their preferences when it comes to gears, but what’s best for a new driver? Ultimately, the choice should be based upon two factors: how enjoyable the car is to drive, and how affordable it is. So which type of car ticks all the boxes?


As a new driver, one of your main concerns when buying your first car will probably be the cost. Car insurance is often notoriously high for young drivers, so opting for an affordable car is essential. Prices vary considerably between automatic and manual transmissions, with manuals often winning on all counts. Upfront costs are typically lower for manual cars, with figures indicating that a manual car costing £15,000 will, on average, cost around £17,000 to have it come with automatic transmission. Of course, there’s also ongoing costs to think of, too, such as fuel economy and tax. Sources report that the Hyundai i30 manual gives 73.6 miles to the gallon, while its automatic counterpart gives just 51.4 miles to the gallon, and the Telegraph cites an example of road tax being £55 per year more expensive for an automatic Vauxhall Zafira than a manual.

Health & Happiness

While a manual transmission may win in terms of cost, it’s the automatic that many believe to be better in terms of our health and happiness. Of course, an automatic car is much simpler to drive. There’s no need to change gears, and foot operation is easy – there’s just an accelerator and a brake, with no need to worry about a clutch. Believe it or not, an automatic transmission may even be better for our health. A 1979 Ergonomics journal looked at the heart rate of drivers of both manual and automatic cars, and it was found that the heart rate of automatic drivers was consistently much lower during a drive than it was for drivers of manual gear cars, with muscle tension and adrenaline expenditure also being much higher. As it turns out, a manual transmission could make us stressed!

The Best Option

If you’re having trouble deciding between an automatic or a manual transmission, don’t worry. You are certainly not alone, as it appears the entire nation is confused over which way to swing. Back in November 2013, Autocar published a blog titled ‘Why the Manual Gearbox is Very Much Here to Stay’. Just two months later, a further blog was published, this time titled ‘The Death of the Manual Gearbox’ – written by the same person! There are pros and cons to both types of transmission, and while the manual continues to dominate the UK, more and more manufacturers are beginning to produce automatic-only vehicles.

Whatever you decide, remember that it’s always better to take your test in a manual car. This means that you then have the choice of what type of car to drive, whereas those who take their test in an automatic are only licensed to drive automatic cars.