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What’s the Difference Between an Automatic and a Manual Transmission?

A new (or used) vehicle is one of the most significant purchases Americans make. Hundreds of possible combinations are available for motorists, but one of the most important decisions to make regarding a new vehicle is the type of transmission: manual or automatic.  A manual transmission commonly referred to as a “stick-shift,” requires the driver to manually shift gears while operating the vehicle via a friction clutch. An automatic transmission can shift gears on its own due to fluid coupling. Each transmission type has its pros and cons, and the decision between an automatic or manual transmission is often based on driver experience and the ability to maintain the vehicle. Here are a few critical factors to consider when choosing between an automatic transmission and a manual transmission.

Ease of Use and FunJapanese Auto Repair Federal Way

Generally speaking, automatic vehicles are more comfortable to operate for most people. The most common type of automatic transmission found in modern cars is called the hydraulic planetary automatic transmission. In manual vehicles, the driver has to change the appropriate gear at the right time. In automatic cars, the car can shift between gears automatically. These shifts are powered by the transmission fluid, which is kept under pressure by an oil pump. The transmission fluid helps control the various bands and clutches in the transmission’s planetary gear train. As a result, drivers don’t have to worry about which gear their car should be in, which makes driving much more manageable. In a manual vehicle, the driver is required to shift up and down as needed. This requirement can be cumbersome for an inexperienced driver so that an automatic transmission may be more suitable for a first-time motorist.

Automatic transmissions may be easier to use, but driving a car with a manual transmission can be more fun than an automatic. Using the clutch and shifting gears is an interactive experience that can make anyone feel like a race car driver for a moment. The driver also has much more control over the operation of a manual vehicle, and having more pedals is always fun. Driving a stick-shift takes some getting used to, so ensure that anyone operating a manual car knows how.


Automatic vehicles are generally safer to operate than manual cars. Drivers have to use their right hand and left leg to shift gears in manual vehicles. Since automatic transmissions shift gears on their own, motorists are free to keep both hands on the wheel. Additionally, without the added task of switching gears, the driver can focus more on what is going on around them. For new or inexperienced drivers, automatic transmissions may be the best choice for safer and less distracted driving.

Cost and Maintenance

When making a big purchase, price is often one of the first things considered. Manual cars are often cheaper to buy upfront because the transmission is not anywhere near as complicated as a manual transmission. Automatic transmissions are often associated with lower fuel efficiency than manual cars because the planetary gear train relies on the torque converter to switch gears. Even so, automatic vehicles are often much easier to sell than manual cars because fewer people know how to drive stick-shift than automatic.

Manual cars are also cheaper to maintain because they do not have as many moving parts. However, the friction clutch will likely need replacing at some point. Automatic transmissions are complex and require regular tune-ups to keep them in working order. The most significant cost associated with automatic transmissions is that multiple issues can arise at once that require repairs.

Signs Your Automatic Transmission May Need Service

While driving an automatic vehicle can be much more comfortable than driving a stick-shift, automatics often need more service. It’s essential to service an automatic transmission as soon as possible, as small issues can quickly turn into big ones. A car cannot run without a functioning transmission. To avoid expensive repairs, make sure to address any problems with the transmission immediately.

Strange Noises

If the vehicle is making unusual noises such as buzzing, grinding, or brushing, the torque converter may need repair. Often, the only and earliest symptom of transmission trouble is a weird noise. While it may not seem like a big deal if the vehicle is operating normally, it’s vital that a professional and reputable mechanic diagnoses and solves the problem quickly. Unresolved issues with the torque converter can often lead to extensive damage and expensive repairs to the transmission.


It’s a good idea to get a vehicle looked at if any leaks appear. However, if the car is leaking transmission fluid or is low on transmission fluid, this can cause significant problems for the car. If any leaks or contamination are suspected, it’s best to change or flush the transmission fluid immediately.

Burning Smell

One of the tell-tale signs of a troubled transmission is a burning smell. Many car owners describe the smell of overheated transmission fluid as “burnt toast.” If a driver smells burning during or after operating their vehicle, they should take the car in for a diagnosis by a trained professional as soon as possible. Many potential factors contribute to the overheating of transmission fluid.

The Sooner, the Better

If a motorist notices or suspects an issue with their vehicle’s transmission, they should take it into a mechanic as soon as possible. A failing transmission can be dangerous. The car may stall frequently, or it may experience a sudden loss of acceleration during operation. If the transmission completely fails, the vehicle will not start at all, and a two truck will be required to transport the car anywhere.

How We Can Help

The employees at Federal Way Automotive in Tacoma, WA, are highly-trained and dedicated to performing quality work at an honest price. The business is family-owned and oriented, and every employee truly cares about client safety and satisfaction. Federal Way Automotive only hires ASE technicians and professional service personnel. Call today for an appointment!