The automobile has come a very, very long way. It's transmission, even more so.
You know, that big bulky bell housing that transmits power from the engine to the wheels has evolved over the years. In the early days we, more often than not, used to have three pedals as compared to the two that have become the norm in recent years with traffic being what it is.
While many may argue about the merits of having one less pedal to deal with, we’re pretty sure that many are still happy to drive manuals and rightfully so. Most of the more “experienced” (read: older) motorists on the road now learned to drive using a stick, and it could be argued that they are more skilled than their automatically spoiled brethren.
See, getting your left foot moving does have its redeeming factors traffic jams aside. And here are some points and benefits as to why we believe that knowing how to drive stick is a skill that every driver still needs to know.
Let’s start with the most obvious. With automatics, you have to use your right foot to step on the brake, engage the car into gear (which then leaves your right hand to do nothing but hold on to the wheel), and get yourself moving and stopping with the same foot doing all the work. Easy, right?
So Metro Manila’s traffic jams can be the bane of every person’s left leg, but what many may fail to see is the fact that driving a manual teaches an innate skill in the form of eye-hand-foot coordination. Strictly speaking, it takes effort to be able to get your foot to depress the clutch, your hand to shift gears, and have the same foot release the clutch without stalling the car.
This skill, while being incumbent in every stick-shift driver, can be used in our daily lives as well. Because we can’t afford to be “clumsy” when driving, so goes the same with everything around us. Notice some people save things from falling with their legs or feet while holding things in their hands and not fall themselves? While that may not be attributed to driving, this is exactly what eye-hand-foot coordination does. It’s a skill that teaches us how to coordinate our body with what we see, and controls how we may react to our surroundings, and that is something we’d rather keep fine-tuning, right?
Staying alert while driving
Okay, bear with us here. That last statement said, “react to our surroundings”. “How can we stay alert towards the environment when we’re too busy fiddling with the clutch, the gas pedal, and the shift lever"? This is exactly how we’ll drive this point across.
Let us explain.
Drive a stick-shift long enough and it almost becomes instinctive; that is a fact. While your muscle memory moves your limbs as second nature, it is also imperative that you keep your attention on the road. If you are focused enough to keep driving without stalling or get your vehicle giddy-upping because you popped the clutch too early, will you have enough time to fiddle around with your phone or the video that your infotainment system is playing? The answer is NO.
And this really is one of the best reasons for driving manuals: it keeps you occupied enough to get from point to point with focus on safety. We’re pretty sure everyone knows of the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, and with a manual, you’re more likely to comply with it in a manual – unless you have an extra pair or two of limbs.
The notion of (and actually being in) control
Let’s be honest here. With an AT vehicle, when was the last time you paid attention to the tachometer? Rhetorical question, but we think the answer leans more towards “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Why should you, anyway? The car already does all the shifting within the ideal engine speeds for you.
In case you didn’t know, there was a time when some vehicles did not come with a tachometer. So how did we remedy shifting points? We learned how to listen to the engine, to feel through the seat, pedals, and the shifter lever. See, you don’t need to run every single gear up to 3000rpm before you shift; this is the control we are talking about.
You may not realize it, but this comes particularly handy in the wet, or in the worst case, blown brakes. Have you heard of engine braking? That’s when you use the clutch and gas and the gears to slow a car down. While your automatic transmission can do that, trust and believe us when we say that you can stop quicker and at a shorter distance with a manual.
You dictate how fast your engine is running when you decide to switch gears. If you have enough speed to keep your car going, then shift to a higher gear. Need a bit of a push, then shift down a gear to get you going. This point brings us to our next point of discussion.
Better gas mileage (for the most part)
Given the fact that you now have control of your shifting points, you also control how much output your engine is giving via the gas pedal input. If you don’t step on your accelerator constantly, then that means you aren’t delivering excessive fuel into your engine.
With the transmission engaged into a gear that helps you move and sustain your movement with your momentum, your gas input can be kept to a minimum. That can only spell one thing: economy.
While automatic transmissions these days can match (or even outperform) manuals in fuel economy, there truly is no replacement for the good ol' manual. Why? Because you get to dictate how much revs you put in when exactly to shift and, perhaps crucially, go straight to the highest gear which is great for expressways.
Some people may argue about it’s just a liter or two that you may save, but with gas prices keeping on increasing that decreasing, we don’t have to do the math. It translates to savings in the long run, and that’s a good trade-off to having that extra pedal to work with.
It’s "harder" to steal your car
The argument of this whole article is based heavily on the fact that not too many people know how to drive a stick, and that it’s a dying skill, and that it must continue to be taught to drivers of all ages.
Until such time, and given this fact, what are the chances that a thief would pick a manual rather than an automatic as his (or her) next booty? Rather low, we’d say. The essence of auto theft is to boost a car and get away as far and as quickly as possible. For less savory individuals who do not know how to drive a stick, this does give you a bit more margin of being targeted less.
A lower chance will always be better than a higher one in the case of thievery, and while it does not guarantee that your car will be perpetually safe from being carnapped, thieves would think twice about risking a quick escape because they have to deal with a manual shifter.
Driving a stick is FUN
Let’s not waste too much time justifying this point because really, this is more for those who really take their vehicles to the limit.
Off-roaders would be the first to tell you that a manual is ideal, if not the transmission required to be able to conquer all terrains. While automatics can deal with the rigors of trails, you can’t exactly enjoy crawling with them.
Not into 4x4 but into cars instead? Yes, automatics especially those with paddle shifters can take corners too, but really, nothing beats the thrill of rev-matching, heel-and-toe, and just being able to perfectly blend your gas and clutch whilst steering into the perfect entry and exiting following the racing line in perfect sync.
While many people say that this point is for a niche audience, and while that may be true, this really is for those who want to experience the raw thrill of how the earliest cars evolved into the capable racecars that they are. Ask any racer, any real racer, and they will tell you that in as much as automatics can now hold their own, the thrill of a manual is still hard to rival.
Oh, and here's a bonus: you actually get to drive a lot more cars. Knowing how to drive both an automatic and a manual gives you a slew of options to get behind the wheel of and drive to your heart's delight. Think about it. Here you are ogling and admiring, say, an R34 or a LanEvo6. Guess what, they're best enjoyed with a stick. There really is no drawback to knowing how to drive with three pedals, and if anything, it only makes you a better driver.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and we expect that many will start comparing their own lists of the pros and cons of driving a manual transmission after reading this article. While some may be blown out of proportion, and some may very well be valid points, we can all agree with one thing: preference can be set aside, and if people really look at it for what it is, driving a stick is a skill that betters your vehicle, its performance, and more importantly, you as a driver, and as an individual.