Automatic vs Manual Cars – which should you choose?

Trying to decide between an automatic or manual car? Check out our guide to the pros and cons of both

Written by Verity Hogan
Main image

Much like Eastenders vs Coronation Street or dogs vs cats: the manual vs automatic car is always a hot debate that evokes strong emotions on both sides.

In one corner, you have manual loyalists who see driving a manual car as ‘proper driving’ reserved for true petrol heads. Debating furiously in the other corner you have those who love the simplicity of driving an automatic.

But ultimately, the choice between automatic or manual comes down to each person’s wants and needs.

Both automatic and manual cars have their own unique benefits. Read on to find out what they are and hopefully, by the end, you’ll know which is right for you.

What’s the difference between manual and automatic cars?

Let’s get back to basics. You might be wondering what exactly is the difference between a manual and automatic?

Well, manual cars consist of three pedals: the brake, accelerator, and clutch, while automatic cars come with only two pedals: the accelerator and brake.

Both use the accelerator and brake in the same way: to move and stop. The main difference is the clutch. Manual drivers use the clutch to change gear as they speed up or slow down, while automatic drivers don’t need to as the car will automatically change the gears to match your speed.

Automatic cars are also built without a gearbox (because there are no gears for the driver to change). Instead of having five or six gears for moving forward and one for reverse, automatics usually just have  drive, reverse, neutral and parking modes. Simple!

Is it true that manual cars use less fuel than automatic cars?

Historically, manual cars would use less fuel than automatic cars. But times have changed, and nowadays, this is only really the case for older automatic models.

As the technology used in automatic cars improves, you’ll see little-to-no difference in the fuel consumption between a manual car and an automatic car.

Learning to drive in a manual vs automatic car

There’s little doubt about it: learning to drive in an automatic car is easier than a manual. This is because when you’re learning to drive you won’t be pre-occupied with changing gears, so you can focus more on positioning, surroundings, space, control, and speed.

It’s also almost impossible to stall an automatic. Stalling can be a little embarrassing (but perfectly normal and understandable) for new drivers in particular. Automatic cars will save your blushes by taking it out of your hands.

However, if you learn to drive in a manual, you’ll have a lot more options for which type of car you buy. This is because if you learn in an automatic it’s illegal to drive a manual with an automatic licence alone. This isn’t the case the other way around. If you learn and pass in a manual, you’re free to choose from both manual and automatic cars.

Are manual cars on the way out?

2020 was a BIG year for automatic cars as it was the first year that new car sales were tipped in favour of automatics over manuals, the latter accounting for 54%. To give this a little perspective, 10 years ago automatic cars accounted for a mere 20% of sales - the rising interest in automatics has been rapid.

Automatic cars used to be considered far more expensive to buy and run than manuals. But with technological advances, new and used automatic cars can be just as cost-effective to run and purchase as manuals.

Mercedes Benz also became the first manufacturer to announce they will be phasing out cars with manual gear boxes completely by 2030. For many, this is a natural evolution for car manufacturers as consumer demand for easy-to-use tech increases.

The government’s plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 could also prove to be another nail in the manual car’s coffin. This has led to an upsurge in electric and hybrid vehicles, neither of which have a gearbox, which will only accelerate sales of automatics.

That said, there are still far more manual cars out there than automatic cars today. Plus, for many people who have been driving a while, shifting gears is an integral part of the driving experience that an automatic can’t replicate.

So, while automatics are gaining the upper hand on their manual counterparts, gearboxes are still in demand…for now.

Driving an automatic car: the pros and cons

Automatics have their benefits and are growing in popularity. But that’s not to say they’re for everyone. Here are their pros and cons:

Automatic car pros

  • Easier to learn in
  • Don’t have the distraction of changing gears
  • Can help drivers with a disability or limited mobility

Automatic car cons

  • Less widely available than manual cars
  • You can pass in an automatic but can’t legally drive a manual
  • Can be trickier for manual drivers to switch to automatic

Driving a manual car: the pros and cons

Manuals have been getting a hard time of it lately, but there’s still a lot of love from petrol purists everywhere.

Manual car pros

  • For some, it’s a more authentic and rewarding driving experience
  • By learning in a manual, you can drive both a manual and automatic
  • More choice of cars to buy used or new

Manual car cons

  • Trickier for new drivers to learn in
  • Shifting gears is just one extra distraction
  • Risk of being phased out by manufacturers

Automatic vs manual – the verdict

Here at CarFinance 247, we’ve got a lot of love for both manual and automatic cars and can help you find finance for both. At the end of the day, it’s up to you and what you feel most comfortable driving, which is the most important thing – we won’t judge!



Verity Hogan

* The UK's number one online car finance broker by unique users to the website. Based on Hitwise data – 1,746,657 to CarFinance 247 vs. 666,020 for nearest competitor. January to December 2019.

96% of our customers recommend us: † Based on feedback left on independent review site Reviewcentre. May 2019.

CarFinance 247 is a trading name of CarFinance 247 Limited. Registered office: Universal Square, Devonshire Street North, Manchester, M12 6JH. Registered in England. (Registration Number 06035525).

CarFinance 247 is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for insurance distribution and credit broking (Firm Reference Number: 653019). CarFinance 247 is registered with the ICO (Registration Number Z1897658).

Finance is subject to status and is only available to UK residents aged 18 and over. Written quotations are available on request.

This site uses cookies so that we can provide you with the best user experience. By continuing to use the site you are consenting for cookies to be used. Further information on cookies and how you can disable them is available on our cookie policy.