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Manual or Automatic Gearbox?

One of the first choices we must make when buying a new and used car is whether to opt for a manual or automatic gearbox. It sounds like a simple decision to make, but it will affect your driving experience, so we look at the advantages and disadvantages of both options.

GearboxAutomatic vehicles have been the norm in some countries for many years, but in the UK it’s still more common to drive a vehicle with a manual gearbox. The standard manual configuration, with a clutch pedal and a gear stick has been familiar to drivers for generations. Many people still choose to take their driving test in a manual car even if they plan to drive an automatic, as taking the test in an automatic will restrict you to only driving automatic cars.

Fans of the manual gearbox generally enjoy the feeling of the control it brings, they provide the opportunity to ensure sure you’re in the right gear for every road and situation.

Manual cars do tend to be cheaper than automatic models; and there usually simpler to repair if a problem develops. So, they can sometimes be the more economical choice. They can also be more fuel efficient than their equivalent automatic model, although this may depend on an individual’s driving style. You may find a difference in cost between the two options on your insurance policy too, so it’s worth doing some research.

The motor trade has been producing automatic cars off the production line for decades. Recent advances in technology mean there are more choices than ever before. With only the accelerator, brake and no gears to worry about, an automatic is much simpler vehicle to control, which appeals to some drivers. Plus, in city traffic which generally means lots of stopping and starting, an automatic will give you a much easier ride. 

A traditional automatic gearbox uses a torque converter to select a gear based on speed, acceleration and road conditions. There is a gear selector for the driver to choose either ‘park’, ‘reverse’, ‘neutral’ or ‘drive’, and sometimes they may have even more options to help control the gears at lower speeds. 

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Continuously variable transmission (CVT) is commonly used in scooters and some cars, particularly smaller models and hybrids use this system. Rather than a series of gears, CVT uses a belt drive and moves smoothly through a range of gear ratios so you’re always in an appropriate gear. One downside of CVT is that there is little engine braking, so you may find yourself using the brakes more.

Semi-automatic or clutch less cars keep the driver in command of gear changes but remove the effort of coordinating the clutch and gears, meaning the use of paddles instead to shift up and down through the gears.

Some cars now even offer an automatic system with the option to override the automatic changes, so the driver can shift through the gears instead. This may include a fully manual function mode offering the best of both worlds, and perfect for when you need to change your driving conditions. If you’re not sure which option better suits your driving style, this might well be the definitive answer to an automatic versus manual debate!


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