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Stick Shift Cars vs. Automatics

I am doing a research paper on why stick shift cars are fading out in the United States. From personal experience, I believe manual transmission cars to be superior to automatics for a variety of reasons, but was wondering if anyone, especially those who are considered official experts in this field, had any insight or thoughts on why this is and how we can reverse the decline of the production of stick shift cars in the US. I was also curious to know if anyone had any insight of how many stick shift cars were involved in or caused automobile accidents verses automatic cars and the background of that or if anyone knew where I could find that out. I appreciate all your help and thoughts! Thank you fellow stick-lovers and non-stick-lovers. :smiley:

This topic has come up before. I think one reason that the stick shift cars fell out of favor is that the 3 speed, column shift manual transmissions in the 1950’s and 1960’s were more troublesome than many of the automatic transmissions. Some of these transmission linkages were particularly bad. I had a 1947 Pontiac, a 1948 Dodge, and a 1954 Buick with three speed manual transmissions and these cars shifted very well. I had a 1955 Pontiac and a 1965 Rambler with the three speed column shift manual transmission and these cars had terrible shift linkages. I had a snap ring on a synchronizer break on the 1965 Rambler and the transmission expert that rebuilt the transmission suggested that I buy an automatic in my next car. He thought the automatic transmissions were less troublesome.

I think the later 4 speed floor shift transmissions may have been beefed up to handle the higher output engines. The three speed manual transmissions in many of the cars in the 1950’s and 1960’s were designed in the 1930’s for lower powered engines.

I doubt that this trend toward automatic transmissions can be reversed. I remember riding on prewar city buses that had manual transmissions and were powered by Ford flathead V-8 engines. After WW II the city buses had diesel engines and some sort of 2 speed automatic transmissions. Even big vehicles were adopting automatic transmissions over 60 years ago.

I think that the only cars that will remain with manuals are economy cars and entry-level sports cars. Mid size sedans will have them as an option, but they will barely be ordered. In coupe form, a few more will have manuals. Full size sedans will not have them at all, except for the sportiest ones. Luxury makes will offer them to keep a sporty image. Very few SUVs will offer them.

The trend will probably not reverse, unless the entire auto industry decides to quickly abandon all their automatics and make only manual transmissions. They won’t drop manual transmissions entirely, as the enthusiast community and those who want the cheapest deal possible will drive them. But mainstream cars won’t offer them.

Thank you so much for your input everyone. Would it be possible to get your first and last names so that I may reference and credit you if I choose to add what you’ve written in my paper? If you’re not comfortable with that however, that’s fine. I think all of your responses are really great and provide a lot of insight to my issue. Thank you again.

“Stick Shift” Means A Car Has A Manual Transmission. Manuals Were Once Standard Equipment On Virtually All Cars And “Automatics” Were Optional At Additional Expense.

Then there were many years where manual transmissions delivered better fuel economy because the clutch was allowed for a “lock-up” situation in regards to conveying power to the wheels through the drive line. For many years “automatics” never totally locked up and lost some energy and MPG tp slippage.

Modern automatic transmissions have overdrive and also Lock-Up Torque Converters that come very close to the MPG of the manuals without so much wasted energy.

Also, I don’t think choosing an automatic transmission is as expensive in comparison to the overall cost of a car today.

Why do we want to reverse the decline of automatics ? " . . . but was wondering if anyone, especially those who are considered official experts in this field, had any insight or thoughts on why this is and how we can reverse the decline of the production of stick shift cars in the US."

I own seven cars and one has a manual transmission. It’s a pain in the butt to drive for any serious reasons. I’m a coffee drinker and trying to make my morning commute while shifting and drinking sucks.

You say, " I believe manual transmission cars to be superior to automatics for a variety of reasons, . . . ". I don’t. I never have automatic transmission problems.

I don’t repair transmission, but if there are problems with them automatics are easier to repair correctly. Also, manual transmissions can need clutch replacements as maintenance items and can develop other assorted problems.

Manual transmissions just don’t deliver the bang for the buck they once did and they’re a pain to drive.

And one more thing. Selling a car with a manual is tougher than selling one with an automatic. Ask a salesperson. The seller will probably have to take less money just to move it.


Thank you for commenting. I like stick shift cars because I think it’s useful to know how to drive one just in case and especially if you travel to any European country and you have to rent a car and you forget to request an automatic or you are just stuck in a situation where you have to drive a manual transmission car, it would be nice to know how to drive one.

Also, I didn’t mean to be snobby in anyway about stick-shift cars although I guess that is the way it came out. I like stick-shift cars mainly because they’re fun to drive and that’s what I grew up on. Thank you for your response.

I learned to drive with a manual transmission, and I insisted my children learned to drive with a manual transmission (they both still drive stick vehicles), but as time goes on I’m reconsidering my preference.

I have one manual and two automatics. I still enjoy driving the stick, but more and more, as time goes by, I see the advantages of the automatics. Just today I was trying to negotiate some very steep hills with traffic lights, and it was not fun with the stick shift car. An automatic would have made it trouble-free.

Modern electronic controls are making automatic transmissions better and better, and I foresee a day, not too far in the future, when there will be very few vehicles available with manual transmissions. It’s economics. The manufacturers won’t offer manuals once the demand for them falls below a certain point.

I seriously doubt you will be able to “reverse the decline” of stick shift vehicle production, but good luck in your quest.

I’ll be disappointed when manual transmissions go away, but I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going to happen.

Soon automatics will “give-way” to the CVT, once the technology becomes cheaper to mass produce. I think Mercedes has an 8 speed automatic now, imagine how big a pain that’d be shifting though all those gears with a stick.

One, Two . . . Skip A Few !

Automatics are becoming as prevalent as power windows and door locks. I believe they are superior in some respects (towing) and inferior (engine braking) in others. The can be the safest way to operate some vehicles (emergency especially) and contribute to some of the most dangerous practices (texting). They are a double edge sword that are the norm and not exception.

But, I feel you should have at least one auto in every family. Ours was an active family, and driving a manual with an arm in a sling or foot in a cast as many are prone to do should never be the only option.

The early cars, Model T Ford has a crank to start it, a magneto adjuster on the steering column, and a very crude transmission with no sychronizers that mashed into every gear. These cars were machines for men and were not easy to drive at all.

All through the history of the automobile you’ll see developments and improvements which opened up “driving” to more and more people. The automatic transmission was especially important in putting more women behind the wheel.

American highways were wider, our cities were planned with wider streets than older European cities, and distances between cities in America are further. This lead to larger American cars that were built with more powerful motors. It was easier to put a large heavy automatic transmission is a typical large American car. The early automatic transmissions started in the big luxury brands, Cadillac and Lincoln. In a short time the transmissions proved popular and were made options in less expensive cars. Since America lead the way with large cars, it also lead the way with the automatic transmission.

Today the autotransmission is made smaller, lighter, and more efficient. This makes these modern transmissions more applicable to the smaller, lighter cars that are still popular in Europe. European drivers are now doing what Americans did years ago, they are buying a higher percentage of cars with auto vs standard transmissions.

I personally still prefer manual transmissions, but as cars become more of an “appliance” the auto transmission has made it simple for virtually anyone to drive a car.

You should able to verify these “facts” in automotive history articles and books. I am simply a car buff and consider my comments “general knowledge” based on my own experience.

The first really successful automatic transmission was the GM Hydramatic introduced as an option on the 1940 Oldsmobile. This transmission was used in tanks during WW II. Pontiac introduced this transmission on the 1948 model. 85% of the 8 cylinder Pontiacs and 50% of the 6 cylinder Pontiacs were equipped with the Hydramatic the year it was introduced. Apparently, there was so much demand for automatic transmissions that Ford bought the Hydramatic from GM for installation on the Lincoln in mid 1949. Nash bought the GM Hydramatic and it became an option on its 1950 Ambassador model. Hudson made the GM Hydramatic an option in 1951 as did Kaiser. The Buick division of GM came out with its own automatic transmission in 1948 and by 1950 85% of the Buicks had this transmission which was called Dynaflow. Ford and Mercury offered a Borg Warner automatic transmission beginning in 1951. Studebaker offered another version of the Borg Warner automatic transmission beginning in 1950. Packard developed its own automatic transmission for its 1950 model and called it the Ultramatic.

Chrysler corporation introduced a semi-automatic transmission in about 1941. This transmission had a clutch, but once the transmission was put in the driving range, one didn’t need the clutch. Once the car was above 15 miles per hour, the accelerator was released and the car dropped (clunked) into high gear. Most Chryslers and DeSotos were equipped with this transmission after WW II. The Dodge offered this transmission in 1949. Plymouth had no automatic or semi-automatic transmission until 1953 when a torque converter was placed between the engine and a 3 speed manual transmission. This arrangement, called HyDrive allowed one to start off in high gear and not have to shift. It wasn’t until mid 1953 that a fully automatic transmission, called PowwerFlyte, became available on the Chrysler and was available on all Chrysler products beginning in 1954. Chrysler’s share of the market declined due in part because it didn’t have a fully automatic transmission until 1954. Even 60 years ago, car buyers wanted an automatic transmission.
One quick story–my Dad bought a 1954 Buick in 1955 that had a manual transmission. I bought the car from him in 1963 when I was a graduate student. I was in a small college town and didn’t know the independent shops. The clutch on the Buick needed to be adjusted so I took the car to the Buick dealer. The car went up on the rack, a mechanic went to work and 5 minutes later, I saw the car driven back outside. Yet, I waited for almost an hour in the waiting room. When I finally went to the cashier, she and the serviced manager were going through books trying to find out what to charge for a clutch adjustment. Finally, the owner of the agency got involved. He told them to quit wasting time and charge me a $1. Even 47 years ago, a manual shift on a Buick was rare.

One more thing–Chevrolet introduced its PowerGlide automatic transmission in 1950. The transmission had so much slippage that the PowerGlide equipped Chevrolets had hydraulic lifters so that the engine wouldn’t sound so noisy. In spite of its faults, the PowerGlide on the 1950 Chevrolet was an instant hit.

Two of our three cars have manual transmissions. A manual transmission car costs less to buy, gets better EPA gas mileage in most instances, the vehicle will accelerate faster and I can change a clutch myself but can’t overhaul an automatic.

My parents had two different cars with automatic transmissions that both failed when they could ill afford to pay for the repairs.

We are a little out of the mainstream, preferring manual transmissions. Most people believe that an automatic is needed for city driving convenience but I have no problem. Modern manual transmissions are easy to use.

Manual transmission cars may become a little more popular again as new gas mileage requirements come into effect. Chevrolet’s Cobalt XFE model, for example, with a highway EPA number of 37 mpg, has a manual transmission.

One feature that, in my view, is for marketing purposes alone is that there is a trend from 5 speed manual transmissions to 6 speeds. To me this is the wrong direction. Our newest car with a 5 speed could easily handle 4 speeds with a little revision of gear ratios to then require less frequent shifting. I occasionally short-shift the car meaning skipping gears; sometimes two of them.

Soon automatics will “give-way” to the CVT, once the technology becomes cheaper to mass produce. I think Mercedes has an 8 speed automatic now, imagine how big a pain that’d be shifting though all those gears with a stick.

Except for tow vehicles. These tranny’s are NOT designed for towing.

The powerglide was also very durable. Never had a problem on my 67 Malibu. Sold the car with 350k miles on it when the timing chain broke on the 327.

The PowerGlide transmissions from 1953 on were durable. The transmission was resdesigned so that it would start in low and shift to direct drive. The 1950-52 depended entirely on the torque converter unless one manually put the transmission in low. The engine had to really rev up on these 1950-52 Chevrolets when one started up in drive. The Chevrolet engines at that time were known to have a lot of tappet noise. To make the engine quieter, the Chevrolet engines equipped with PowerGlide came with hydraulic tappets. In 1953, the PowerGlide was improved as I mentioned earlier. The engine for the PowerGlide Chevrolets was completely redesigned with full pressure lubrication instead of being splash lubricated. The standard shift Chevrolets in 1953 retained the older splash lubricated engine. Starting in 1954, the redesigned engine was used in all the Chevrolets. Many manufacturers tweaked the engines for the automatic transmission cars in the early 1950’s to account for the slippage in the automatic transmission.
One other interesting note about this time period: In 1950 when Studebaker announced its automatic transmission, it had a lock-up feature to lock out the torque converter. It was years later before other manufacturers incorporated this feature.

It will be interesting to see how the technology develops. I recently bought a 2010 Polaris ATV. It uses a belt driven CVT (Polaris calls it PVT) and is rated to tow 1500 lbs. I just started pushing the limits on it after completing the break in period for the drivetrain and am really amazed at its capability. This is a completely enclosed system so it also has to contend with heat dissipation in a novel way.

I know it’s not apples to apples since the car has more vehicle weight to contend with but it’s indicative of the advancements being made and what I suspect will be likely in the future. I remember being skeptical of cam belts then drive belts and now CVT belts but they just keep improving their capabilities and I gradually come around :wink:

A research paper on why? Let me save you a lot of time. Most Americans are realtively lazy, and will always seek the path of least resistance (effort). Not very complicated.
Full disclosure-- my wife’s car is automatic, but I have never owned an automatic.

imagine how big a pain that’d be shifting though all those gears with a stick.

It wouldn’t be so different from shifting a 10 speed commercial truck, but I bet you wouldn’t have to double-clutch the Mercedes.