Learning to Drive: Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

provisional driving test

Whether you’re a teenager itching to get behind the wheel or an adult who has put off driving, learning to operate a vehicle can be an exciting yet daunting task. With so many things to learn, from the rules of the road to defensive driving skills, one of the biggest initial decisions is whether to learn on a manual or automatic transmission car.

According to a recent study, only around 18% of cars sold in the US today are manuals, but they remain popular among driving enthusiasts thanks to the added level of control and engagement they provide. As you decide whether to take the automatic or manual route, here’s a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of each option.

Getting Started with Automatic

If you’re completely new to driving, learning on an automatic transmission car is typically the easiest route. Here’s what you need to know:

Less to Manage

Automatic cars have only two pedals, the gas and brake. There’s no clutch pedal and no gear shifting required, which simplifies the learning process.

More Mental Focus on Road

With gear changes and clutch control off your plate, you can devote more mental energy to comprehension and observation – key skills for new drivers.

Good for Stop-and-Go Traffic

Automatics shine in bumper to bumper traffic when there’s constant starting and stopping. The transmission handles gear changes on your behalf.

Learning the Manual Basics

Driving a manual transmission gives you more control over engine power output and fuel efficiency. Here’s an introduction:

Using the Clutch

The clutch pedal connects and disconnects the engine from the wheels to manage smooth gear changes. Learning the friction point takes practice.

Shifting Gears

Manually changing gears keeps the engine in its optimal rpm (revolutions per minute) range for efficiency and power.

Starting From Rest

Starting smoothly from a stop requires finesse with the gas, brake, and clutch to avoid stalling.

Hill Starts

Starting on an incline adds complexity. Hill assist features on modern manual cars can help.

Making the Manual vs. Automatic Choice

Now that you have the fundamentals down, here are some factors to consider when choosing manual or automatic:

Traffic Conditions

If you’ll face lots of stop-and-go driving, an automatic is probably preferable. Manuals can be tiresome in bumper to bumper conditions.

Commuting Distance

Long highway commutes may be better suited to an automatic, while shorter trips can be more engaging with a manual.

Fuel Economy

Manuals generally provide better fuel efficiency if driven correctly. Automatics have caught up in this area but manuals still have an edge.

Performance Driving

For sports cars and racing, a manual gives the driver more precise control over shifting and power.

Off-Road Driving

Similarly, driving off-road and over rough terrain is easier with a manual transmission.

Practice Makes Perfect

Whichever option you choose, practice is key. The best way to prepare for your provisional driving test is to take every opportunity to hone your skills, particularly during the early stages of learning. Over-preparation can increase your chances of passing on your first try.

Finding the Right Instructor and Car

An experienced driving instructor can make all the difference in getting up to speed quickly. Look for one who specializes in teaching either automatic or manual transmission based on your goals. Having access to a suitable car for practice driving is also a must.

When starting out, only practice in areas with minimal traffic and distractions. Empty parking lots are ideal. As your skills improve, slowly start to incorporate more real-world driving scenarios into your practice sessions.

Staying Safe on the Road

Whether operating a manual or automatic vehicle, following safe driving habits is critical. From obeying speed limits to avoiding distractions, you have a duty to yourself and others to be a responsible driver anytime you get behind the wheel.


Learning to drive takes patience and perseverance, but it opens up a whole world of independence and opportunity. By considering your own needs and goals, choosing between automatic and manual transmission can be simplified. With ample practice time, an understanding of safety fundamentals, and a great instructor by your side, you’ll be cruising the open road in no time.

Author: Published Updates