Cars are not cheap and one of the biggest ways to cut down on the expense of a new vehicle is trimming down the options. For most vehicles, one of those options is an upgrade to an automatic transmission. An upgrade to an automatic generally costs between 1000 dollars and 1500 dollars.. With a loan at 6% interest for 5 years, an additional $1000 will cost about $19 a month. On a 6 year auto loan with the same interest, that is about $17 a month. The price difference could be even less if you have fair credit or better. Not a huge savings but a savings none the less.
So, at first glance, it might seem that if you can handle rowing your own gears, a manual would be the way to go. After all, it is cheaper and as we all know, manuals get better fuel economy and are less trouble. Right? Well maybe not, lets take a closer look.
It used to be that manuals got far better fuel mileage than an automatic. This is not so much the case these days with much more efficient automatic transmissions and with real world conditions.
For many models, a manual will still yield a bit better fuel economy but that gap has narrowed. The difference is typically only about 1 mile per gallon difference. While that number can eventually be significant, it does not often translate into the real world.
To get those fuel savings, the driver would have to hit the right shift marks. Shifting at the right rpm every time to maximize efficiency. In the real world, you are not going to be able to do that. Given two similar accelerations from a stop to 60 miles per hour, your shift points will easily be 300 rpm or more off. This means that you are not always getting the efficiency and fuel savings that perfect shifting can yield. In fact, you will probably never hit those perfect shift points.
In addition, with a manual transmission, there is the sports car effect. Even if you do not drive a sports car, if it has a manual, people tend to treat them as such. They accelerate from a stop and shift at a much higher rpm than an automatic might. Psychologically, a manual just makes you want to get somewhere as soon as possible. This might not be the case with you but it is for many people.
Finally, you have those models where the automatic actually achieves a better mileage rating. This is becoming much more common as automatics become more efficient with more gears. Eight and Ten speed transmissions are becoming the norm. This keeps the engine in the most efficient zone for the longest time.
So, as you can see, fuel efficiency is no longer a reason to choose an automatic. If an automatic just got you 2 more mile per gallon, the difference would be substantial. If your vehicle achieved 26 mpg, you would use 3846 gallons of fuel in 100,000 miles. If you only got 24 mpg, you would use 4166 gallons. That is an extra 320 gallons which at $2.50 per gallon would be $800.
Okay, this is where that manual will shine right, maintenance. Everyone knows that automatics are maintenance nightmares. Once again, maybe not.
If you take care of your automatic, they are pretty problem free. Changing your automatic transmission filter and fluid on a regular basis is probably all that you will need to do. That will cost you about 150 dollars to do at an independent auto shop, a bit more at the dealership. You will need to do this every 30,000 miles on average.
That is not too bad but manuals are still maintenance free right? Nope, there is also a lot to do with a manual to keep it going.
Manual transmission fluid will also need to be changed. Usually you can go a bit longer, 60,000 miles is fairly typical and the cost is a bit less, usually around $100.
The biggest expense you are going to find with a manual is the clutch replacement. Depending on your driving style, the clutch will need to be replaced at about the 60,000 mile mark. Yours might last a bit longer or a bit less but this is a typical mileage point to shoot for. The cost? To have it replaced, you are looking at $600 to $1000. A significant cost.
So, as you can see, the maintenance advantage is no longer with the manual. In fact, in a 100,000 mile period, you would spend from $700 to $1100 on a manual for a fluid change and clutch replacement. In the same 100,000 mile period, you would spend $450 for 3 fluid and filter changes on the automatic.
That is a savings of $250 to $650 which pays for a huge portion of the automatic transmission price increase. Add the additional fuel economy that you will likely experience with the auto and you will see that it saves you money.
One last thing to consider is the resale value of the vehicle. A manual transmission vehicle will not sell for as much. This means that you will get less for your vehicle if you trade it in and it will take you longer to sell it. Why? It is because just 18% of people know how to drive a stick shift. Even worse, this number keeps dropping.
If a vehicle is not selling, a dealership will not give you as much for it period. No matter what the blue book value says. They do not have to give you book value, they give you what it is worth to them. If they can not sell it, it’s not worth much to them.
Let’s Pull It All Together
Let’s take a minute here to wrap it all up. Skip the automatic and opt for a manual transmission and you will save between $1000 and $1500.
If you were to get an automatic, you would save up to $650 in maintenance over a 100,000 mile period. You would also save $800 in fuel costs. On resale, you would easily get $1000 over a comparable manual vehicle. That is a savings of at least $2450 which makes the cost of acquiring an automatic seem like a bargain.