Mileage with Manual vs. Automatic


My parents raised me to be open-minded about many things, but to hold fast to this one truth: you get better mileage with a stick than you do an automatic. My 1998 Toyota Corolla LE (manual) with 170,00+ is still getting 32-35 MPG, so no complaints there, but I’ve been doing a little on-line research for a new car and have noticed a couple of sites (Honda Fit and Toyota Matrix, I believe) that say their automatic gets better mileage than the stick.

Is this true? How can this be? Are the times a-changin’? I prefer to drive a stick and have only ever owned manuals, but I can adapt if the mileage really would be better.

If it helps, my 60+ mile daily commute is mostly stop-and-go with a little bit of highway miles.

Thanks for the guidance!

Automatic transmissions now have full lockup on the torque converter most of the time. That makes them about as efficient as a manual. To get better mileage with an auto than a manual, probably the auto offering has more gear ratios than the manual, this is particularly true with CVTs.

Yes, the times have been changing for a while now. However, fuel economy wasn’t the only advantage to having a manual transmission. Manual transmissions are still cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, and cheaper to repair. There is more to life than fuel economy.

It’s true. There’s two factors in play here. One, automatics have gotten a lot more efficient-- with lock up converters and electronic controls the power lost from the old “slushboxes” is down to almost nothing.

The other thing is that car makers assume that people want manual transmissions these days because they’re sportier, and so they’re geared a lot lower than the automatics. Since the engine’s turning faster at a given speed, the mileage is worse. Along these same lines, automatics have picked up gears-- 5 speed autos are pretty common these days (versus 3 and 4 speeds being the rule in the past), whereas the manuals are still the same 5-speeds that have been pretty standard since the 80’s.

If carmakers really wanted to invest some cash in them, they could pretty easily put 6-speed manuals in economy cars and have something that would beat the autos, but the sad fact is that they’re really not that interested. They sell fewer and fewer manuals each year and in many ways the only reason they keep them at all is so their “Starting from…” price is lower-- if they actually improved the manuals people might not option up to the automatics!

Things have changed. Auto transmissions used to be big, heavy, and inefficient. Non of that is true today. Better gas mileage isn’t the reason to buy a stick anymore. Standard transmissions still have benefits; still lighter and smaller than an auto for the same car, simplier, and longer lasting with lower maintenance costs. Still you have to replace the clutch eventually so some of the simplier less maintenance costs go away when you replace the clutch.

If you prefer manuals then keep buying them. If you don’t care much for shifting and you are doing it just for better gas mpg then you are better off with an automatic. I like shifting, it keeps me thinking as I drive and I like selecting the proper gear for conditions.

Driving habits have as much to do with mileage as a transmission, especially if it’s stop and go. A lazy manual driver who doesn’t operate it properly sees no advantage. I guarantee, that if you have a work truck, you use for towing and or plowing, you may find much better and safer operation with an auto, regardless of any mileage difference. This varies also with the car…some may be better one way or another, all more dependent upon driving habits.

In spite of the numbers on that show that many automatics get mileage as good as manual transmissions, I don’t believe it. Mfrs can play games with the numbers. They furnish the numbers to the EPA for inclusion on the web site but are subject to spot checking by the EPA. There is no problem with the EPA if a mfr sends fuel mileage numbers less than actual.

If an auto mfr has a little wiggle room in their corporate fuel mileage requirement number, they can take advantage of that by selling cars with more profitable automatic transmissions rather than cheaper manual transmissions. Equal fuel mileage numbers can sway consumers weighing their choice; might as well buy the automatic.

Consider, for example, Chevrolet’s Cobalt XFE model, good for 37 mpg highway. GM pulled out all the stops to maximize the fuel economy for this car including low rolling resistance tires, revised engine control programming, higher final gear ratio, gentle cruise control acceleration, electric power steering and what else I don’t know. It has a manual transmission only.

Automatics have always been installed with higher speed gear ratios to go with them. Now that there is torque converter lockup, the car can take full advantage of the situation. This will drive the highway fuel economy way up.

If you live where the terrain is hilly, the manual transmission can be more economical. Ratings and actual MPG can vary.

My Forte is a 6-speed manual. The auto is also 6 speed, they are within 1 MPG of each other on the sticker.

What the websites are saying is true. Modern automatic trannys often get better mileage than manuals.

In the hands of all but the best drivers they’re also often faster. They shift at optimal points.

Paddle shifters are rapidly becoming common on affordable cars too. I stopped by the Hyundae dealer this past weekend and their new sport coupe had paddle shifters.

Yes, the times have been changing for a while now. However, fuel economy wasn’t the only advantage to having a manual transmission. Manual transmissions are still cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, and cheaper to repair. There is more to life than fuel economy.
And they make a car “cheaper” in my estimation!.

My understanding is the EPA mandates a minimum acceleration in top gear that limits how tall MTs can be geared…resulting in poorer HWY milage. Any truth to this?

Also, Dagosa, I’m curious why you’d recommend an AT for heavy hauling in a truck. I used to haul granite/marble in a post-bed truck with an AT, and I hated it: with any kind of load, you had to keep your speed up on the uphills, or it would come to a stop with the tranny slipping; and it didn’t offer enough engine braking for safety with a load, IMO. The MT dump truck was much better.

EPA can publish whatever they want. My 04 xB MT consistently gets better hwy mileage, and that’s the old gentle acceleration rating. Mom’s 08 Fit with AT is always between city and hwy rating, the new hard acceleration rating.

My car is in the body shop this week and I got a rental with AT. Every time I squeeze on the go pedal just to accelerate from say 50 to 60, the torque converter unlocks–I would have done that in top gear without touching the clutch. Unless you set your cruise control for an 8 hour road trip, as oppose to your cut and thrust commute driving, that torque converter is going to unlock more than a manual clutch. Roaring engine can’t be good for mileage.

However, I would assume that a dual clutch transmission would truly have a manual’s efficiency, as it is 2 manual transmissions combined into one.

Isn’t that what I said? Cars with manual transmissions can usually be bought for less money. That makes them cheaper. It isn’t just your “estimation.” It’s a reality.

I don’t think I need to be reminded just how sophisticated and refined your tastes are, Elly, but thanks for reminding me anyway.

There are many factors that contribute to gasoline mileage on two cars of the same make and model, but one equipped with an automatic and one with a manual. My dad owned a 1963 Buick LeSabre with almost every option. My brother also had a 1963 Buick LeSabre that had no options–no power steering or brakes, 3 speed manual transmission(rare for a Buick even 47 years ago), etc. Both my dad and brother meticulously maintained their cars. On a 350 mile trip where they were traveling together in separate cars, my brother got 19.2 miles per gallon on his strippo Buick LeSabre and my Dad got 19.7 on his LeSabre. My Dad ran his air conditining while my brother suffered with the heat. My brother probably had his windows open which would cause a drag. The compression ratio was higher in my Dad’s Buick than in my brother’s Buick, so my Dad’s Buick required premium gasoline. I don’t know about the rear axle ratios. Now the Buick’s automatic transmission (Dynaflow) wasn’t known for its efficiency back in those days. The point is that on the same make and model of car, there are other variables as well as the type of transmission that determine the gasoline mileage.

I haven’t had a manual transmission car since my 1965 Rambler which I sold in 1973. The reason I didn’t get another manual transmission was that the used cars that were available, in my price range, and in good condition were automatics.

You are hitting on two points that I didn’t mention in my original post. My sense is that it is cheaper to maintain a stick, so thanks for confirming that. I imagine an automatic is harder on brakes, and when it comes down to it, it’s cheaper to replace a clutch than a transmission. The clutch factor is moot for me, though; my 170,000 mile Toyota has its original clutch, as did the 286,000-mile '85 Toyota Corolla I sold before buying the car I have now. As long as I get a clutch that is free of mechanical defects, I will give it the love it needs for a long and happy life. But, I think the overall cheaper maintence is important.

Point two is that I live in a pretty hilly area. I don’t think I can say where in this forum, but let’s just say it’s a city where all the sports team are black and gold. If you are familiar with the city, you know we have plenty of hills. I think I am a little bit afraid of the idea of an automatic in the wintertime. Even if you are in low gear in an automatic, you still have to ride the brake to get down a hill, which, it seems to me, just makes you skid around. I know cars have all these fancy brake systems now, but I think I would still be nervous.

And in the end, I do like driving a stick. Maybe I’ve never given automatics a chance to woo me, but when I’ve had a rental that’s an automatic, I feel like I’m just, uh, steering around, not driving.

To add another data point, I still have a '64 LeSabre which has the same 300 V8 that would have been in your brother’s car (well, not exactly the same since the '63’s were all-aluminum engines and mine’s only aluminum-head), but with the much improved Super-Turbine transmission. It pretty routinely gets into the low-20’s on the highway. It wouldn’t suprise me if it got better mileage that the very low-geared manual trans option, for much the same reasons that modern automatics do better than modern manuals.

I think that the 1965 300 cubic inch V-8 was new to the LeSabre line in 1964. The engine in both my brother’s Buick and my Dad’s Buick were variations of the old “nail head” V-8 that Buick introduced in 1953 in the Super and Roadmaster line. I do know that both the engine blocks and the cylinder heads on the 1963 LeSabres owned by members of my family were cast iron.

I do know that the stripped 1963 Buick LeSabre that my brother owned was a handful to drive in town without power steering and a clutch that almost took two feet to depress. The car had been owned by a farmer who would only buy manual transmission cars. He traded the car in 1968. At that time my brother was driving a 1963 Studebaker Lark. A Buick dealer had the LeSabre and offered my brother a tremendous deal–low price on the Buick and a great trade in allowance for his Studebaker. Buick drivers didn’t want a stripped Buick and there was a young girl who bugged the dealer every week for a Studebaker (Studebaker ceased production in this country in 1963 and was completely gone by 1968). While my brother had the Buick out for a road test, the dealer called the person that wanted a Studebaker. She examined the Studebaker and it was practically sold by the time my brother returned to the dealer with the Buick.

Judging by this post, I would say you will not be happy with an automatic. I have owned both automatics and sticks and I can tell you that the feeling you have when you rent an automatic is the same feeling you will have when you own an automatic.

Cheao! Cheap!!
Whitey, you meant , they cost less, I mean they are Cheaper!!