Manual or automatic transmission?

I have an 04 Pontiac Vibe with 68,000 miles on it and the transmission has to be replaced. I live up a fairly steep hill and I’m thinking that’s why it died so early.
When I get another car, is a manual or an automatic transmission better for driving hills?

Not really…but Autos are FAR more prone to failures than a manual is… For the most part. I think all the guys would agree that is a true statement.

Whats happened to your Auto tranny? Whats it doing? SOmetimes little things can manifest themselves a s big issues when they actually arent.

According to what Tom and Ray have said on their show, when you live in a hilly area (like San Francisco), you are better off with an automatic. I am not so sure myself.

I can see why an automatic might be better on hills for some people. When you start out going uphill, you might be inclined (no pun intended) to let the clutch out slower than you would if you were driving on level ground, and go heavier on the throttle. However, this issue can be overcome by using the proper technique with the parking brake as a “hill-holder,” which will keep the car from rolling back.

Frankly, it’s hard to know if you need a new clutch because you are using improper technique or if you need a new clutch because the one you have was not designed and built robustly. It’s all speculation. Perhaps if I were able to observe your technique, I could give you some pointers.

Do you know anyone who has had a clutch last more than 200,000 miles? If you do, see if that person is willing to give you some pointers.

Back in the 1960s, most automatic transmissions were less troublesome than the 3 speed manual transmissions with the column shift. There were some exceptions–the 1955 Buick Dynaflow automatic gave a lot of trouble. Some of the Borg-Warner automatic transmissions in AMC products in the late 1960s and early 1970s were problematic and AMC switched to the Chrysler automatic transmissions. However, the GM 4 speed Hydramatic and the Chrysler Torqueflite transmissions were quite rugged in those days. The GM Hydramatic was even used in tanks during WW II. There was a company that beefed up the GM Hydramatic transmissions for drag racing–these transmissions were known as the B & W Hyrdrostick.
Back in 1970, I had the synchronizers give problems in the manual transmission of the 1965 Rambler that I owned. The transmission man that repaired the transmission advised me not to buy another manual transmission–he said that the automatics were more reliable. He said that the manual transmisisons were designed in the 1930s when the engines produced less torque.
I think that the manual transmissions in most modern cars have been improved, but if maintained with 30,000 fluid and filter changes, today’s automatic transmissions are reliable. The weak link in a manual transmission is the clutch. My advice would be to purchase the car with the type of transmission you feel most comfortable driving.

Today, you will find manual transmissions are getting hard to find…Your Pontiac Vibe tranny failed because it’s a Pontiac Vibe…

No the manual transmission likely failed as its made by Toyota.

There is a higher than normal failure rate on Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe(same car essentially underneath) on manual transmissions. Toyota despite its golden reputation flubbed up this design.

Manuals are far less prone to failure generally.

Automatic transmissions are the weak link of FWD/AWD vehicles…When they fail, the repair cost frequently exceeds the value of the vehicle…

Thanks for the comments.
One question was “What is my tranny doing?” At this point it is making a noise when in gear. I had my mechanic (I trust him and so do lots of “Yelpers”) diagnose it. He drove it, checked the fluid and replaced it. Noise is gradually getting louder. The clutch is ok, tho he said now is the time to replace it (when the tranny is replaced) but as that is another $8-900, I don’t think I’’ go that route.
I’m assuming it is worth the investment and I can get another 3 years out of the car.

Harper- does you Vibe have a manual? or automatic trans? On first read I though you had an auto, and the 2nd post mentions a clutch switching me to think automatic.

Think you may have a bad bearing and likely the hilly driveway isn’t really the reason for the failure.

It’s been noted that these manual transmissions are supposed to have the transmission oil changed every 30k miles or 24 months, whichever comes first.
Maybe the lack of that procedure has something to do with the manual transmission failures.

Another possibility is that the oil could be slightly low and this can lead to oil starvation on mainshaft bearings; maybe even more so on hilly terrain.

While I won’t go into the story we had a Subaru in the shop once that suffered repeated mainshaft bearing failures because of the trans oil level. The trans had a capacity of about 7 pints. Less than 2 pints down and the transmission mainshaft bearings would turn purple and freeze clean up after a few hundred miles.

Harper, check my discussion threads about my '03 Matrix. The problems with the Matrix/Vibe manual transmissions are many. They have received high lemon ratings. Since the tranny is the only part that is a lemon, I have my car in the shop now for a rebuild; I hope that it’s worth it with almost 140K miles on the car. Oh yeah, and ask experienced transmission repair guys about this car. You will hear the same thing I said.

To the original question of which is better between manual and auto trans, I think at this point in the technological evolutions, one is as good as the other. Today, at least on the higher end cars, I think autos are better than manual, if manual option is even available. Having a steep hill makes a bit of difference to the life of your clutch, it really shouldn’t make difference to the gearbox itself. So as you say, maybe the Vibe’s trans is a crap to begging with. I drove over 260k in San Fransisco in 1989 VW without any issues to the trans. Heck, I never even replaced the clutch on that thing for the entire life of it.

The 2003-4 Vibe/Matrix 5-speed trans have a bad reputation.
Some say it’s because this car is heavier than the Corolla and it over stresses the trans.
Did they improve the bearings in later years?
I’m not taking chances with my 2006 Matrix.
I changed the trans oil at 21,000 miles and the old oil looked worse than the oil I changed out of Hondas at 30,000 miles: dark with a metallic sheen and slightly gritty feel.
My Owner’s Manual calls for no trans oil changes unless the vehicle is used for towing.

Interesting! I had no idea this model year had a lemon transmission. I feel a little better about my own driving/maintenance habits.
To answer you, Uncle Turbo, I currently have a manual transmission. That’s what I am replacing.
Thanks again, all

Since most of the labor involved in replacing the clutch is R&Ring the transmission, replacing the clutch now should cost no more than $300…Any time the transmission is out, I would replace the clutch disc and throw-out bearing as preventative maintenance…Those parts together cost about $100…

I vastly prefer manual over automatic. In fact, I have vowed never to buy an auto again and I would not even take an auto if someone gave it to me for free. If you aren’t ensconced in San Francisco-like hills (I’m talking about where the sidewalk has steps), I see no reason not to get a manual. As for which is better, it depends on the car and personal preference. I almost bought a manual because it was very cheap but after researching it I learned it was dubbed “Worst shifter of the year”.

I don’t know how steep the hills are that you’re talking about but for ordinary hills I prefer a manual. With a stick shift I can pick the right gear instantly instead of standing on the gas pedal hoping the auto realizes what’s going on. (Any auto I could afford would do that) And for going down hill I have the freedom to decide whether I want to engine brake or coast according to the situation.

This is what I think of as a steep hill.