Do you prefer to drive automatic or manual cars?


I much prefer a stick shift. Probably because I spent most of my life driving cars with manual transmissions. Primarily because I enjoy driving that way, feeling like I am actually responsible for how the car performs, knowing when to change gears up and down. I was taught to change down as I approach a stop, rather than just applying brakes. I don’t particularly like driving but I can do hill starts and drive a car without synchromesh or power steering. I watched a video once of Ayrton Senna driving an ordinary car (I think it was a Honda) and the way he coaxed the best performance out of it with his hands and feet was like poetry. That tiny car handled like a champ in his skilled hands.

I didn’t take driving lessons. In my day in South Africa you were normally taught by a parent (we had no drivers-ed classes in school), but I had none of those, so my then-boyfriend taught me. I passed my test on the first go as soon as I turned 18. What really made me a good driver was driving daily for decades. Being in a car in traffic or on long drives really meant that driving became second nature to me, and I had confidence and reflexive behaviour that came from being in a car every single day. I don’t really like driving – much prefer being a passenger – but I have driven for many many years and it is nice to be able to get in and go.

In Sweden, people almost always take driving lessons, which means they learn in a much stricter environment than I did. I have noticed though, that in Stockholm where people have licences and don’t generally drive much, they don’t have that instinct and confidence that comes with daily driving. And many people cannot drive a car with a stick shift. In Sweden if you take your test in a vehicle with automatic transmission, you are not allowed to drive a manual car. If you take your test in a manual car, you can drive most. When I grew up, automatic cars were rare. Nowadays, the opposite is true.

I have not owned many cars – a big pale green 1976 Chevy with a 4 litre engine, a 1973 metallic blue Lancia Fulvia, a pale blue 1987 Honda Ballade, a pale blue 1988 VW 10-seater bus, a red 1991 VW golf. My favourite car to drive has been my aunt’s silver four-door Toyota RAV 4. All had manual transmission. If I had to choose any new car today, I would love a MINI Countryman. If I had to choose an old one it would be a short wheelbase Series I, II or III Land Rover. I like them because they had no frills. You could drive them in the bush, on the beach, get them all sandy and scratched up, hose them down and do it all over again.

What about you? Do you prefer manual or automatic gearboxes? How often do you drive?

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

7 thoughts

  1. I learned to drive stick shifts, failed my test three times before the government introduced the theory test and I failed that twice so now I don’t drive but the bus service is so good where I live (also free to pensioners like me) so I don’t miss driving any more.

  2. Maybe I’m a bit strange but I don’t really mind!

    The UK also has the rule that if you pass your test in an auto then you have to take another test to drive a manual. And I’m recent years, many people are learning in a car with an auto box. And of course hybrids and electric cars are obligate automatic transmission…

    I’ve driven many vehicles, owned about 10 cars since I passed my test in 1984. Most were manual, including gems like a Impreza Turbo or a BMW 325 sport; but the most recent has a DSG – which is a very clever bit of kit which pretends to be an auto but isn’t. The funny thing is that even auto boxes work better if the driver understands how they operate. Even the DSG can be encouraged to change gear when the driver wants to, by clicking into sport mode at the right moment – my other half is amazed at how I make progress in the thing… I drove a friend’s RAV4 with an auto which had selectable overdrive – I would click the overdrive on and off so as to get the car to do as I wanted.

    My partner absolutely hates automatics – “lazy gears”. But has had to suck it up with the latest car – he who does most of the driving picks the drivetrain!

  3. I have always driven manual cars apart when I was in the States where I drove automatic cars for five years.
    I much prefer manual cars probably because I am more used to them.

  4. Not owned a manual since about 2008, the last two cars have been auto. And we now drive an electric so that’s auto!
    We had a manual hire car for about 48 hours, I was ok with that!

  5. I personally prefer manual too because this is what I learned to drive on and for all the positive reasons you mentioned, especially total control of the vehicle. I have had one automatic car and two manual cars. When we decided to trade our automatic car for a manual car, I missed the automatic a lot during traffic jams because my legs and my feet were hurting so much…

    I first drove my husband’s car, which was a VW Golf Mark 2. Then, my parents gave me their old Mercedes 190D. We then switched to the automatic, which was also an old Mercedes but this time a C180. And now we drive a Hyundai Tucson and that one is manual and our first mini SUV.

    My dream car would be a big American pick-up truck, the Impala that the Winchester brothers had in Supernatural and a Karman Ghia, which I saw when I watched the Zodiac movie with Mark Ruffalo.

      1. OMG! I would have passed out!!! Unfortunately, we don’t really have many car shows around here. We have some really old pre-1950’s car shows sometimes but not in a long time.

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