Mustachian Motoring with a Manual Transmission

Becoming an excellent driver is a truly worthwhile pursuit – for both the added safety and the cash savings it provides. I still remember the the awe I felt towards driving as a young boy when my family went places together. When I was old enough, I’d like to sit up front, next to my Dad, and watch the actual driving take place. Whether we were rolling through the hilly country roads to get down to the beaches of the Great Lakes, or heading home late at night along a big-city freeway, Dad was always there keeping the family save with Excellent Driving, smoothly picking the right lanes, and matching the engine speed to the driving conditions with the Manual Transmission. 

It was (and still is) a mystical experience, hearing the sweet mechanical whine of rising RPMs as the fuel hit the engine just as the clutch blended the power out to the wheels, watching the gearshift move back and forth through the slots, magically hitting just the right gear to catch some engine braking down a steep hill, boost the power for a winding ascending curve, or slip into a deep overdrive for an extended traverse through the countryside. From the the 1989 Honda CRX Si in which I learned to drive in 1989 through to the present, my cars (and motorcycles) have  always had the Manual.

So you can imagine the way I feel about the current state of affairs, where in the United States less than ten percent of new vehicles are being ordered with the classic 5-or-6-speed. In fact, many of the best-selling US-specific models don’t even offer a manual option, because there aren’t enough drivers who even know how to use them. Instead, vehicles are competing by adding ever-more cup holders, bubbly exterior styling and little automatic features that do everything from closing the doors and trunk for you to managing your collection of strollers and diapers.

These vehicles are like junk food purchased from a convenience store. They are expertly engineered and extremely convenient, but in the long run they are sapping the health from the art of motoring, because they are taking the skill out of it. Because of this trend in the car industry, most people don’t even learn to drive a manual, which in my book means they don’t know how to drive at all.

Even more ridiculous and tragic is when I see my own friends buying automatic transmissions in cars where I know a manual is available. The Honda Civic and Fit, the Subaru Legacy, the Toyota Corolla. These are not cars meant to be outfitted with automatics! Why would you pay more to make the car shittier in every measurable way? There are only two lame excuses – you don’t know how to drive one yet (so learn, by buying a manual and having a friend drive you home in it then teach you) – or you think you drive too much in rush-hour traffic (#1 – manuals are fun in all conditions. #2 – fix your lifestyle immediately so you don’t drive in stop-and-go traffic, addressed by other articles here).

Let’s be clear: I’m a family man, and I’ve got a wife and young boy myself. Like many people, my wife had been raised on automatics, but I helped her break free from this cancerous legacy by teaching  her how to drive a real car early on in our relationship. Before committing to marriage. Even back then, I foresaw the difficulties that would arise if we had to share a fleet of vehicles for life, and only one of us could actually drive. An entire lifetime of silly automatics would have to be purchased – just because of one missing skill! So, within a week of that first awkward stuttering start down the road, she was impressively smooth on the manual. Today she has skills like a rally driver. I would advise younger manual drivers to do the same to for their potential mates while they still have the chance.

There are many other benefits to manual transmission expertise besides preserving your motoring expertise. You also get to keep a lot more of your money. An automatic transmission adds about a thousand dollars to the price of a new car. How long does it take you to save up a grand? I’ll bet it’s longer than it would take to become proficient on a manual transmission, which for most people happens with under 8 hours of on-road practice. Over a lifetime of driving, you will save yourself thousands upon thousands of dollars.

Selecting the manual also shaves close to 100 pounds off the weight of your car. Most cars have a power-to-weight ratio of about 20 lbs/horsepower. So you are effectively adding 5 horsepower to your vehicle by unhooking the equivalent of a large bag of concrete mix from the undercarriage. A lighter car also handles better and gets better gas mileage. With an understanding of internal combustion engines, you can keep the engine under higher load and lower RPMs during parts of your drive when an automatic would automatically go into a torque-slipping downshift . You are also liberated from the towtruck or the jumper cables if you ever leave your lights on in the parking lot and return to a dead battery, thanks to the “Bump Start” technique which is possible in manuals but not automatics. I’m not sure how many times I have thankfully bump-started manual cars and motorcycles over the years, but it is surely over a hundred.

You also get longevity. Automatic transmissions, with their incredible mass of gears, fluids, and computers, tend to wear out or malfunction before the rest of the car, and cost thousands to replace. A manual, if driven properly and maintained only very occasionally, can last a lifetime. In 2005, a friend of mine lent me his 1984 Nissan pickup truck. It still worked perfectly and the loan period ended up being almost six years. Last month I returned it to him, still in perfect working order, and shifting just as smoothly as the day it rolled off the line 27 years ago.

So it’s time for us all to celebrate manual transmission cars. If you already drive one, congratulations! If you don’t, be sure that the next car you purchase is manual if at all possible. Electric cars and Priuses don’t come with manuals, and the model of minivan I use for construction was unfortunately never made with one, but luckily the most appropriate cars for YOU out there are mostly available with manuals. Fuel-efficient Honda, Toyota, and Subaru wagons and hatchbacks, bought on the used market, with manual transmissions. Ahh.. proper motoring, done in moderation.

But beyond all of these practical benefits, the Manual Transmission makes me happy because I can already see my own son starting to watch me shift as we drive, and copying the motions as he sits in the driver’s seat shifting himself when the car is parked. Another real driver is in the making.

  • Alicia June 20, 2011, 9:43 am

    Amen. After driving stick, an automatic is just boring.

  • Madison June 20, 2011, 10:13 am

    I was taught how to drive manual, but physically I CANNOT because of a very bad knee injury to my left leg when I was in high school. I know how to drive one, but to drive one longer than a few minutes makes it so that I cannot walk for 2 days.

    Some of us just don’t have the option of Manual. HOWEVER, biking HELPS my knee, so I just bike it wherever I can. I started biking because my DOCTOR it, and it helps a lot. :)

    Just throwing this out as a reminder that Manual transmissions are not feasible for everyone.

    • aleksandar November 9, 2014, 6:03 am

      Confusing…………… driving manual applies so much less pressure to the knee(even is not pressure applied from the knee) than bike driving…….maybe doing something wrong??

      • David Robarts June 26, 2015, 3:19 pm

        The pressure is provided by muscle – joints are all about motion. When cycling, the motion of the knee is fairly smooth; when operating the clutch it is quick and abrupt.

  • ermine June 20, 2011, 11:44 am

    I was shocked when I took my first fly-drive vacation in the US at the dire fuel consumption of an automatic compact. I know the US gallon is smaller than the Imperial gallons I am used to in the UK, but the frequent need to refuel was very perceptible. The low cost of gas in the States meant it wasn’t a shock to the wallet, but the loss of range on a tank of gas was I ended up having to coast a lot after crossing the Sierra mountain range to eke out the last reserves of fuel, as fuel consumption seemed to be particularly awful on steep grades.

    It is news to me that manual transmissions even exist in the US ;) I’d have requested one at the hire place if I had known. I congratulate you on swimming against the tide!

    • GregK June 4, 2012, 7:41 am

      It’s actually pretty rare to find a manual at car rental (hire) places here in the states. About as rare as it is to find an automatic for rent in Europe.

    • David Robarts June 26, 2015, 3:24 pm

      Pretty much the only manual transmission availible for rent in the US would be a high performance sports car (which would not save you fuel).

      • KDulcimer July 6, 2015, 3:37 pm

        A manual transmission is most likely to be found in a sports/performance type car, yes, but the second most common place to find a manual is in an econobox.

  • Lisa June 20, 2011, 12:13 pm

    Many men tried to teach me to drive standard in the past (two boyfriends and my dad), but it was never long before the frustration built-up, the shouting erupted, and the lessons came to a halt. But when my fiance and I moved outside the range of public transit, it was either learn standard or never leave the house on my own. Happily my fiance figured out a way to teach me that I responded better to, and it took less than 8 hours of lessons to take me from “Three pedals, two feet, what?!” to zipping around the city on my own.

    I love driving standard and I must admit I feel a little superior to every driver I see not rolling back a little at an intersection, and solidarity with those who do. I feel like a slightly better environmentalist too.

    • CeridianMN July 14, 2011, 11:51 am

      If you get fancy with using your foot on both the gas & brake as needed and/or using the e-brake you can actually drive a stick without rolling back on a hill. Granted this is slightly bad for gas usage as you’ll be gassing the car with braking force applied, but sometimes rolling back is a bad idea. People who don’t know how to park behind you on a hill, or vehicles rolling right up behind you on a steep hill for instance.

      • GrowaMo November 6, 2012, 2:54 am

        That is actually bad advice… There are two ways to do this without some foot acrobatics that may lead to your foot slipping off both pedals:
        1. On small slopes, gently release clutch until it grips. Release foot from brake, apply gas and further release clutch. Works even better with a Diesel (I’ve only bought diesels in my life)
        2. On steeper hills, use the handbrake. Give gas to about 1300rpm, release clutch until you feel pull on car, then release handbrake and off you go. Works on as steep a hill as you want.

        • Oh Yonghao April 15, 2014, 4:28 pm

          I had to get my licence again in Taiwan and it is a requirement that you start on a gradient hill (I think it was 20% but can’t remember right now) without rolling backwards. Any backwards motion is an immediate failure of the entire test.

          What pissed me off though is that the instructors, who also happened to be licensed testers with the stipulation that you can’t test your own students, cheat for you on the test. They would tell me where to turn, to watch out for this and that, have extended mudflaps with arrows, and strategically placed white rocks for backing up and parallel parking.

          The worst part came at the hill. I grew up on driving manual, had a girlfriend who lived on a very steep hill which I learned to start up without rolling backwards. I was doing everything perfectly, revving the engine a little with my foot still on the brake, releasing the clutch and it wasn’t moving forward. As it turns out the instructor was secretly using his brake pedal to help me pass the test. To not make things seem too good they purposefully docked me on turn signals so I wouldn’t have a 100% test score, even though I executed everything perfectly and signaled every time I needed to.

          But back on topic, it is possible to start on a hill without rolling backwards and I would say the very little bit of gas wasted from having the brake down at the same time as the gas is equivalent to #1 your handbrake (they are both brakes, come on) and #2 the fuel required to overcome the backwards motion of rolling. At best they are neutral in usage, at worst I would still say that the dual pedal usage of the brake and gas would have a better mileage.

          As a side note I also used to own a 1980 Camaro with so much stuff on the floor you could dance. From left to right it had, E-brake, High beams toggle, clutch, brake, and gas.

  • Chris June 20, 2011, 12:14 pm

    > A lighter car also handles better and gets better gas mileage.

    A true statement in general, but a manual getting better MPG than an automatic is not a certain truth. Consider the Honda Civic: the sticker highway fuel economy is 3MPG better than it’s manual counterpart. In the past, it was common to see a 4-speed auto option on a 5-speed manual base model. But today even 6-speed auto transmissions can be had. I’d think that the larger availability of gears is more of a factor in fuel economy than the type of transmission.

    • Bakari Kafele October 8, 2011, 10:17 pm

      EPA stickers don’t mean much if you really know how to drive.

      You can hypermile a stick shift much more than you can an automatic.

  • Mr. Frugal Toque June 20, 2011, 12:18 pm

    I couldn’t find Canadian numbers, but I suspect the same dismal performance up here. Like you, however, Manual Transmission operation was one of the Required Skills for the mate selection process.
    I understand that the new CVT automatics are more efficient than the Olde Fashionede ones, but I’m pretty sure they still add mass to the car and – perhaps more importantly – permit people who really don’t know what’s going on to think that they know how drive.
    If I had my way, drivers would be forced to take the final step of their graduated licensing in a car with a real gear shift.
    Also: you’ve bump started vehicles hundreds of times? You must have a style of driving and car maintenance distinctly different from mine.

    • MMM June 20, 2011, 6:50 pm

      Yeah, I estimated more than a hundred times based on this breakdown: Original dirt bike back in 1990 which was often run on steep terrain and was easier to bump start than kick start: 50%. Kawasaki motorcycle 1991-1999 which occasionally had a dead battery: 20%. Honda Motorcycle 2001-2008: 10%. Cars and old pickup trucks:20%.

      • Mr. Frugal Toque June 20, 2011, 8:40 pm

        Well a dirt bike would explain a large number of bump starts. I think I had to do it two or three times with the CBR and once when I had a Sunbird. My cars since have never had that particular problem.
        I wonder if I could bump start the riding lawn mower. It’s got a dead battery that I usually boost off the car. I’m pretty sure it won’t start while it’s not in park though.

        • Oh Yonghao April 15, 2014, 4:45 pm

          I used to have to make sure I parked on a hill with one of my first cars. I think it was a bad battery, but I didn’t take the time to fix it for a while. Interesting to hear the term bump start though, we always called it either a push start, or popping the clutch.

          Last year while I was still living a very non-mustachian lifestyle of driving 30+ miles each way I was sleeping in my car in winter waiting out traffic and didn’t realize using the heater would kill my battery. I always owned small 4 cylinder cars before and could push start them myself, and being on a hill I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, but as it turns out my 2002 BMW 525i Sedan (paid cash when I first moved back to the states in 2012 and before I found your blog) is hard to push by myself while wanting to be able to still jump into the car, and power steering makes it very hard to steer while trying to gain momentum. The best I got with it was halfway down the parking lot and stuck in a flat area before having to call AAA to jump me. Ironically earlier that year I had bought a portable jumper after having my car die after a two day camping trip and stupidly using the car to keep my phone charged without turning on the engine. Turns out that device only helps if you keep it in the vehicle.

          • Mr. Minsc April 15, 2014, 6:02 pm

            Here on the farm we used to have Belarus (Russian made) tractors. While a bit crude they were a great bang for their buck at the time. We used to joke they had three types of starters. The two primary starters were parking on a hill and the chain on the front when the tractor was on the level. A secondary electric starter was also provided.

  • Kevin M June 20, 2011, 1:03 pm

    I can attest to most people not being able to drive.

    Most do not even use their turn signal, trusting them to actually shift gears would be catastrophic!

    I learned when I was 16 so I could test drive small trucks, but haven’t done it for years. Mostly because the better half in my relationships couldn’t or didn’t want to learn.

  • Executioner June 20, 2011, 7:58 pm

    I don’t always drive a motor vehicle, but when I do, I prefer a manual.

    Stay shifty, my friends.

  • Bakari Kafele June 20, 2011, 11:37 pm

    Modern cars do more than shift and open and close the locks, windows, sliding doors and trunk for you.
    Quite a few models, already trickling down from luxury to mid-range cars, will adjust cruise control speed based on the distance to the car ahead of you and automatically correct the steering if you start to drift out of your lane.

    Put those two together, and it won’t be long until we start hearing the first cases of people deliberately taking naps on long drives, trusting the car to drive itself.

    Given modern drivers’ behavior, I can’t figure out if I think this is a good thing or a bad thing.

    Certainly the best possible way to improve auto safety – assuming human drivers – would be to replace the drivers airbag in the steering wheel with a large steel spike pointed directly at the chest of the driver
    Because the vast majority of “accidents” were driver error and actually totally avoidable; and if people did not have the illusion of safety that a steel cage, seat belts, and airbags provide, they would be less inclined to speed, drive recklessly, talk on cell phones, etc.

    But a fleet of fully automatic robot cars would probably end traffic accidents, increase mileage, and reduce traffic jams, all while getting people where they needed to be slightly faster overall.

    Then it will just be us few holdouts who don’t want to spend the money on a robot car and actually enjoy being engaged in the art of driving.

  • Jenny June 21, 2011, 9:38 am

    We also prefer manual transmissions! But then we got a Prius, and that is automatic by design, I guess. And sadly, minivans don’t come in manuals, either. :( But, I can tell you, when our kids learn to drive, it will be on a manual!

    • Trifele September 21, 2014, 10:31 am

      Actually there is one minivan currently on the market that does come with a manual transmission — the Mazda 5. I guess technically it is a “microvan”, as it it smaller than the other not-so-mini vans out there, but it has the sliding side door, third row seat, and other minvan features. It has average or slightly above average reliability according to Consumer Reports data. I was intrigued by it and test drove a manual version the last time I was in the market. It drove well and I liked it, but I opted instead for a two year old Honda Fit with 60,000 miles on it. With a manual, of course. :)

  • Someone June 22, 2011, 1:58 am

    I learned to drive on an ’84 Jeep with manual transmission. It was fun and I enjoyed it. The skill came in handy when a friend was moving and he was loaned a farm truck with a manual transmission. I was the only one that knew how to drive one. lol

    Re: robot cars, I kind of like the idea. For long distance road travel, I would rather have someone else or a “robot” drive and free up my time to read, watch the sights roll by, or work on a project on my laptop. But for in town, I admit that I think I’d prefer to drive by my own hand.

    • Bakari Kafele June 22, 2011, 9:28 am

      For long distance travel, the most energy efficient methods (bus and train) allow you to use the time to read or nap or however else you want to use your time.

  • John June 27, 2011, 9:14 pm

    Dude, now how am I gonna be texting if I am trying to drive a dang manual tranny? Not for me.

    • MMM June 27, 2011, 9:28 pm

      Haha.. nice. You should only really get into texting once you are up to full interstate speed, thus the car is safely in the highest gear and you don’t need to shift ;-)

    • Sky February 12, 2019, 8:53 am

      LOL…obviously you shouldn’t (even though I’m not always the safest either). That’s how a lot of people lose some of their mustache…or worse.

  • Lisa July 7, 2011, 1:33 pm

    Another benefit of driving a “stick”…built in anti-theft system. Since so few of the general population knows how to drive one, I suspect most car thieves would pass on by my Civic Hybrid and keep looking for an automatic. :)

  • CeridianMN July 14, 2011, 11:53 am

    For what it’s worth I did bump start an automatic once. I didn’t think it was possible but this young woman with us said it was a sure thing. (I was the closing manager and everyone was relying on me for a ride.)

    It was a 1976 Plymouth Grand Fury. We turned the key to “On”, put it in neutral, started it rolling, got it going a bit and pulled it down to drive and after a couple back and forth jerks it was running. Less jerking than I expected if I remember right…

  • Chicknamedal August 14, 2011, 1:28 am

    I learned on a manual and every single car I have personally owned was a manual. I don’t own a car currently, but if I did, it would be manual. When I was teenager with a permit, my parents taught me to drive manual and that’s all I knew. Then, when I was in the required Driver’s Ed class in high school, there were only automatics. No one told me that an automatic transmission will start moving when you simply take your foot off of the brake. You don’t even have to press the gas pedal…if the car is in drive, it will start to slowly move…especially if on a downward incline, however slight. Well, the DE car did this. It freaked me completely out. I panicked and tried to stop the car–by hitting the brake and attempting to downshift. That downshift involved hitting the non-existent clutch, which in this stupid automatic was the GAS PEDAL. I wrecked the driver’s ed car on the road right next to my school, during 6th period, which was when the entire football team was on the field for practice. They saw the whole thing. I got a standing ovation. I hate automatic transmissions.

    • MMM August 14, 2011, 7:50 am

      Excellent story.

  • Cass September 21, 2011, 9:27 am

    I know I’m a bit late to the thread, but did you also mention decreased maintenance costs in general by owning a manual? I can do almost any maintenance on my little Ranger by myself because I can pinpoint any issues based on how it’s acting, which is hard for me in an automatic.

    Also, it’s not necessarily cheaper to buy a manual transmission in the US. Where we live, we actually have to pay more for a manual unless you find a great deal. Not sure on the reasoning, however.

  • Nathan October 23, 2011, 6:27 am

    When gas prices went up, I started developing many theories about how to use a manual transmission to save gas. This involves timing lights by watching walk signals, left turn arrows, general traffic movement, etc in order to never stop at a light. With a manual transmission, if you realize a light will be red at your current rate of speed, put that baby in neutral and coast the half mile until the light turns green. I am always shocked at people speeding past me just so they can slam on their breaks at a red light.

    Second thing to save gas is always coast in neutral down hills.
    Lastly, if you do get stuck behind a long suburbia light, shut your car off. That is what the hybrids do. Why can’t we.

    Using these techniques, my 2008 Scion XB which is rated at 28 highway MPG can reach 40 MPG with combined city highway driving. That takes a lot of mental work but it keeps me alert to driving rather than talking on my cell phone.

    • Bakari October 23, 2011, 10:20 am

      “Second thing to save gas is always coast in neutral down hills.”

      Depends on the size of the hill, and the speed you want to be going.
      If its a really big long hill, and you are speeding up past the speed limit, you should stay in gear. Most modern cars (and I know this for sure about the Scion) will stop the fuel flow if the car is coasting above a certain RPM and you take your foot off the gas, but it only works in gear.

      Its called deceleration fuel cut off

      • turboseize December 17, 2011, 2:41 am

        It’s definitely worth learning as much about your car as possible.
        In Scandinavia (less traffic and better drivers there) I can get my old 1985 Saab 900 turbo down to 7 liters per 100 km, which is next to impossible here in Germany. Which leads us to two factors that are much more important than the decision whether to coast down a hill in neutral or using deceleration shut-off (which can make a difference, but larger gains can be made elsewhere): traffic conditions and the ability to read them.
        If I were to give only a single advice, this would be it: Drive as if you rode a bike. Look ahead, conserve momentum.
        (Unlike many other hypermiling techniques, this is fully valid with an automatic transmission or even – God beware! – an electric car.)
        Once you reach that stage, move on to the next level of hypermiling. But this is the very foundation.

        • turboseize December 17, 2011, 3:09 am

          Next step: Set your car’s board computer to display instant fuel consumption.
          On older cars, use your rpm meter and the boost control gauge for feedback and adjust your right foot accordingly.
          Keep in mind that higher loads at lower rpm are more fuel efficient than lighter loads at higher rpm – until a certain threshold: than your fuel injection starts to enrich the mixture.
          On turbos, try to walk the small edge between vacuum and boost. On naturally aspirated engines, stay clear of full throttle. On older cars without electronic throttle body, open the bonnet/hood and, with engine off and open windows, depress the accelerator pedal. Somewhere around 62 degrees you will hear a very faint “click”, which is a micro switch telling your ecu to ignore the lambda sond and just fucking throw in all gasoline available.
          That’s what you don’t want to happen. On a more modern car, your board computer will show a rapid jump in instant fuel consumption at this point.

          • Bakari December 18, 2011, 10:39 am

            One small caveat: because a gasoline engine regulates throttle by restricting air flow, part of the engine’s force goes to sucking in air. This is referred to as pumping losses. The one time this doesn’t occur is under full throttle.
            Therefor – assuming you have a gas engine – it actually is efficient to put the pedal to the floor.
            Of course, this doesn’t work with an automatic, because the transmission will shift down, and increasing RPMs takes away any efficiency gains.

            And most important of all, this trick is ONLY helpful if you actually need to accelerate in the first place. In other words, its a good idea if you are getting onto a freeway on ramp, but a terrible idea if you are going from one stop light to another red light a few blocks away.

  • Nathan October 24, 2011, 12:11 pm

    Thanks Bakari. That is great to know.

  • Dan December 18, 2011, 5:26 am

    I’m not new to driving, but I must admit I have no clue what a bump start is. Plus, the only manual transmission vehicle I ever owned was a 1979 Chevrolet 1 ton. It wasn’t bad to drive, but I found it horrible for stalling when trying to drive from parked after sitting through a snowstorm. Having the snow freeze to ice or hard snow seemed to create enough of a barrier that the truck kept stalling whenever i wanted to drive away in first gear. An automatic would have had no such trouble. Standard transmissions are outdated for a reason and should be obsolete.

    • Bakari December 18, 2011, 10:25 am

      A bump start only works with a manual. Its where you turn the key on, get the car rolling (by physically pushing it), and then push in the clutch, shift into a high gear, and drop the clutch quickly, there-by turning the engine over without using the starter. Its a nice option to have when your battery is dead or your starter solenoid is broken.

      Not to insult you personally – there is definitely a steep learning curve to driving a stick perfectly – but stalling is at least 95% caused by user error. If the wheels were frozen, you need to let the clutch out much more slowly. If they are spinning, you should start in 2nd gear.

      A manual is cheaper up front, requires less maintenance, lasts longer, is cheaper to repair, gets better fuel mileage, forces you to pass attention to your driving, gives you more control over the vehicle (have you ever tried drifting, racing, or stunt driving in an automatic? it sucks).

      Standard transmissions are only outdated in the US, and the reason is because Americans are lazy and think everything should be easy. Its nearly impossible to find manual steering on a new car anymore, even though power steering is the 2nd most pointless use of energy to facilitate laziness (after the escalator) ever devised.

      • Novice Mustache January 30, 2012, 8:57 pm

        Wow, I couldn’t agree more!

  • Partwaythere February 1, 2012, 8:49 pm

    I’ve had nothing but manuals all my life and I think it is one reason my husband fell in love with me, he’d never known a woman to drive a manual before. My previous manual had an electrical problem which caused it to not start periodically – I just made sure I parked on a hill if possible – and always with the nose pointed out :) My current manual is a 2000 Toyota Corolla I got for a very decent price in 2002 because few people wanted it! Corollas are the best ever – but I’ve never tried a Scion hatchback, so I may be wrong.

    • Blaze May 30, 2014, 12:16 pm

      Just replaced my 13yr old Civic with a Corolla this past fall. I went looking for a 3yr old Civic (preferrably manual) but the best deal available was actually a virtually new Corolla demonstrator with a manual transmission. What dealership would even use that as a demonstrator? Dumb, but totally great from a negotiating perspective. I got a “new” car for the price of a 3yr old one because it was a manual transmission and the only extra it had was AC. Apparently nobody else wanted it and they just wanted it gone. Perfect for me. Now instead of expecting to get 10-12yrs out of a 3yr old car I’m fully planning on at least 15yrs or more from this car. The longer I can go before experiencing the joy of car shopping the better I like it.
      Our teenager learned to drive on the Civic which was an automatic, but had to upgrade his life skills and learn to drive the new standard. If he wants to borrow the car he has to learn to drive it.

  • JaneMD February 7, 2012, 10:41 am

    All of my husband’s guy friends are jealous because I like driving a manual. We have a Honda Civic and a Kia Forte right now. We are on the market for a reliable manual family car that will fit three kids under 4 years old in the back. Any suggestions – since it seems like minivans are all automatic?

    • GregK June 4, 2012, 8:48 am

      You’ve probably bought your car by now, but a wagon is probably your best bet. They have more cargo space than most mini vans, plenty of rear-seat room (although, really, it’s hard to find a car that won’t fit three 4-year-olds in the back), and they’re pretty much all available in manual. I drive a standard transmission 1999 Subaru Outback with 200,200 miles on it. Runs great. Doesn’t get great fuel mileage (~20mpg) unless you’re using the hypermiling techniques mentioned in the comments here and in the MMM article written on the subject (~30mpg), but that doesn’t matter as much when you do most of your getting around on foot and by bicycle.

      • getting there March 30, 2015, 8:38 pm

        The trick is to get the right car seats. We had the infant ones where the base was secured in the seat and the carrier part clicked into it and a soft booster where we could manage to get our hand in between to do up. Worked for our 4, 2 and newborn but would be hard with triplets!

  • Russell March 6, 2012, 1:50 pm

    My favorite are the fancy sport cars with automatic transmissions. What’s the point of a fancy car if you can’t even drive it correctly?

    • Joy June 19, 2012, 9:46 am


  • Uncephalized June 8, 2012, 5:54 pm

    At 24, I’m still on my first car–a ’98 Honda Civic EX 2-door, 5-speed manual.

    When you’re 16 and you want to go meet your friends at the movies, and your options are to a) learn to drive your stick-shift car and show up looking cool or b) borrow your mom’s minivan, you learn to drive stick REAL fast.

    8 years later I still love that car, and I’ve put about 75k miles on it. It has quite a few nicks and dents it didn’t have when I got it, and even a nice gang tag scratched into a rear window from when I lived near the University as well as a lovely key mark down the driver’s side. I don’t care a whit. I will drive it until the doors fall off and then I’ll get another small, used, 5-speed Honda. :-)

    Even though I probably paid a little too much for the car at the time ($8k), I have owned it for so long the purchase price is hardly even relevant at this point. More relevant is that it still gets roughly 30 mpg even in the summer with the AC cranked to max and not driving very conservatively. If I drive carefully I can get ~35 mpg.

  • Invest It Wisely June 21, 2012, 9:52 am

    I feel the same way. My very first car was an automatic, but I got a really old Corolla (it was carbureted!) and learned to drive manual on that car. 20 year old car and could still peel out with ease. ;)

    Thing is, in 20 more years or so once the fleet starts moving over to electric en masse, both manuals and automatics as we know them will be part of history.

  • Anonystache June 22, 2012, 4:16 am

    I personally love manual transmissions in numerous ways, and I love what I have learned to make them do.

    However, I’m getting the point where I’m likely to end up purchasing a vehicle, and at the moment I lean heavily towards a plug-in hybrid. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, that limits my choices to automatic transmissions only.

    • Novice Mustache June 22, 2012, 9:38 am

      Actually, check out the Honda CR-Z. To my knowledge it’s the only hybrid that currently has a manual transmission option. When I achieve FI I am getting one!

      • anonymous June 24, 2012, 5:28 am

        Interesting, but not the same thing. Specifically looking for a plug-in hybrid, or in other words, an electric vehicle that happens to have a gas motor available for long-distance plugless travel.

        • Novice Mustache June 24, 2012, 10:39 pm

          Not sure if it’s worth the effort and overhead costs. But just thought that I’d mention plug-in conversion kits for hybrids which exist and I believe cost a couple thousand dollars.

  • Priam July 18, 2012, 8:46 pm

    My first car was/is a red 90 crx HF. I still drive it.(16 ,years now) It has an si engine now. The original lasted 305,xxx miles. I have fixed everything on it myself, and my wifes 98 accord is very similar I can fix Everything on that one as well. Accord is a stick too. older hondas are so easy to work on.

  • Gord September 7, 2012, 5:54 pm

    Not sure if I agree with your assessment of automatics making cars shittier in every measurable way — at least not the most recent “automatic” transmissions. I.E. a CVT in a Nissan Versa or a dry clutch transmission like the six-speed in my Ford Fiesta. It’s essentially a computer monitored, clutched and shifted manual. To me they’re a better solution because they eliminate human error — and this is coming from a guy that learned to drive in a five speed, two range grain truck in rural Saskatchewan. Thoughts?

  • WWP September 27, 2012, 9:23 pm

    Right on MMM! Another huge plus with a standard transmission is more options when driving in poor snowy or icy conditions. By shoving the clutch in you immediately disconnect power to the drive wheels thus rolling over the icy surface with much more grip and control. With an automatically power is still being applied to the drive wheels while you’re applying the brakes to slow down resulting in the car trying to go forward while you’re trying to stop it the same time and this does not go well on ice.

  • Robj October 3, 2012, 1:04 pm

    We have a manual 2010 Outback and a 2012 Legacy CVT–the CVT gets better gas mileage than the manual option, although the CVT costs 1000 more than the manual. We’ve always had one auto and one manual–both kids learned to drive manuals and now drive them, so your point is well taken.

    However, a good CVT now is more efficient than the manual option, although we’re getting in the Outback close to what it was rated for with the CVT. Maybe a good engine or the fact that it’s mostly driven on the highway where the overdrive 5th gear is close to or as efficient as the CVT.

    To the Mom query above, a lowend Outback manual is a viable option; lots of room in the back.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 3, 2012, 7:23 pm

      Yeah, I can’t argue that the CVT is in theory a little better, especially if it is programmed to take the RPMs really low on the highway, and maybe even coast when the power is off at low speed instead of engine braking. I wonder what a direct back-to-back with an experienced hypermiler would yield? $1000 is a big price premium though!

      • Soup d'Campbells June 27, 2015, 6:07 pm

        I love manuals, but the CVT in my current car is beautiful. The vehicle averages (from EPA) 24 city and 32 highway (27 average), but I average 31 overall. I drive a lot of roads that with low-traffic and 55-MPH speed limits, though, so my actual “highway” driving mileage is more like 28 and my city is like 35.

        I’m not by any means a hypermiler. I just love watching my speedometer rise while my RPMs stay locked at 1500.

  • Kevin November 19, 2012, 1:42 am

    My mustache is quite small and I cannot even compare to your level, but I must say I completely fucking agree with the manual transmission. I will only buy a manual car, so simple. Think of the savings over the life of the car in terms of maintenance and fuel savings. OMG why would you honestly buy an automatic. it is so silly

  • Aleks December 1, 2012, 2:15 am

    it’s worth noting that you can buy a Honda Metropolitan for $2,000 new, and that includes a CVT. I get 117 mpg. Not an option for everyone, but it’s certainly hard to argue that it’s an extravagance. :) Anyway, given that you need to be hyper-vigilant on two wheels, I personally feel much safer knowing that I don’t have to devote mental energy towards shifting as well.

    (FWIW, you can of course get a much better deal buying used, but this was my first ever motor vehicle and I didn’t know what to look for. My next one will be used. Hopefully that won’t be for 10+ years!)

  • squashroll February 5, 2013, 3:17 am

    CRX = super bad ass car. why’d Honda stop making it?

    Sticks are fun to drive but get really lame really fast in urban traffic. Pain in the left knee prompted me to learn “speed shifting” (not using the clutch). I’ve seen some comments above about not being a real driver if you can’t drive a ‘manual’: can you shift w/out the clutch?

    Few things are more satisfying than smoothly starting the car on a slope by popping the clutch in 2nd gear. Used to do that whether it was needed or not :)

    The newer cvt transmissions are getting pretty damn good…

    Google is perfecting a car that has successfully driven itself all over the country, I suspect self piloted cars will be long gone in our lifetime. 5 years of observing Seattle drivers has me thinking this will be an improvement :/

  • Julián Rodríguez May 10, 2013, 11:52 am

    Hi Mustachian pals!
    I just found this at Neatorama, and it made me remember this post.
    I hope that you enjoy it!


  • Mr. Minsc May 28, 2013, 6:56 am

    Want to hear something crazy? I’m a dairy farmer so I drive tractors near daily. What kind of transmission is in my 2WD pickup? Automatic. You’d think a farmer would be driving nothing but a stick but for some reason by the time I learned to drive all the vehicles around the farm were automatic. I’ve had the itch to get a manual for years but never made the plunge. Thanks to the words of this site and forums I’ll upgrade (yes, I consider “downsizing” upgrading) to a nice, small used car.

  • cdu June 2, 2013, 12:08 am

    I used to drive manual. Loved it. Now I have a fully paid for Nissan Leaf EV and I haven’t been to a gas station since June 2011!!!! :)

    EVs don’t have shifters but the Leaf has a little paddle shifter to go from ECO to normal and you can rocket off by going into normal and it feels like driving a manual in that respect (the motion of you arm and hand)

    An EV is a mustachian way to go – just buy a used one not new like I did… but it’s all paid for and I intend to drive it until its wheels fall off.

    Zero maintenance too! :) (no oil – a lot of the braking is done with regen on the motor so less wear on brakes)

    The only unknown is how long the battery lasts – I’ll be sure to let you know. Still going strong with 99% capacity after 2 years. :)

  • European June 3, 2013, 5:22 am

    Hello there from overseas.
    It´s always great fun reading about americans and the inability to drive a floor-shift (like the lady commenting about being “just unable”). Unimaginable that something that simple drives a grown up to give up on trying!…
    Besides that I wondered if MMM was really right with the maths here. I think he is, but not because of the arguments given, but because of the fact that newer cars are that much more expensive, that you´d have to drive it eternally to compensate for the money spent.
    From an european point of view, it´s much more simple. Our most modern six gear-automatics which have to gears engaged all times shift more econonomic than any human ever could. And one can choose the type of riding wanted: sportive, ecological, comfortable.
    Besides that there ist a point with bump starting. With state of the art batteries I did not have to do that for about ten years, so i find that neglectible.
    Modern cars furthermore come with start-stop-automatic, savin fuel at every traffic light. And, in Europe, where there´s so much communting-traffic, a floor-shift is annoying while going stop-n-go to or fro work. Plus it gets ruined faster than 120.000 km because it simply wears faster.
    So it boils – for me – down to: Better is a new automatic: Newer, more efficient though heavier than floor-shift, more comfortable. But: It probably won´t compete – because you´d have to invest first – with your old car. Check your tire pressure, learn, when to shift properly and drive your old car into sundown! Unless its an old american 4-gear automatic. That you can good hearted dump or better – change for an floor-shift of equal age.

    • Katana July 20, 2017, 3:51 pm

      I know this is what the marketing machine says, that automatics are more efficient, but this is only partially true. It is more economic for 90% of the drivers, but if you know what u are doing, you can still beat it. That being said, you need to work the gears much more often as you have 8 of them and are much tighter spaced, and you have to go through all sequentially.

      For city driving a manual is much more fun and you can beat the EPA rating by a considerable margin.

  • StartingStache July 3, 2013, 1:09 pm

    I knew the mate I had selected was the right one for me when she asked me “Can you teach me to change the oil in my car?” (a ’99 Celica GT… manual transmission.)

    Now, I just have to convince her to stop driving and start taking her bike everywhere!

  • Ms. Manageable Muttonchops July 23, 2013, 11:35 am

    I did not get a chance to read every comment, but in case there are nay-sayers out there for the whole “buy a manual and then learn to drive it” thing…it works.

    My parents only had automatic cars when I was learning, so I never got to try my hand at wrecking someone else’s clutch in order to learn.

    Years later in the spirit of buying a used (cheap!) car, I found myself a little manual matrix to call my own.

    You can buy a manual car and learn later. This is possible and also somewhat hilarious for the person teaching you, since it is your car…their “cringe-factor’ with every awful grinding noise is significantly reduced.

    My little car has since forgiven the early abuse I dished out and now gratefully whisks me through the mountains. I get a small sense of joy every time I see someone ride their brakes all the way down a mountain pass as I trail behind without touching mine =)

  • FunkyStickman August 17, 2013, 12:57 pm

    You know what kills me? They don’t make minivans (or any vans in general) with sticks anymore. The last manual van I drove was a Ford Aerostar, and they quit making those with sticks in 1995. (You could get ’em with AWD, too!)

    Now, even sports cars don’t have sticks. Everyone is going to the nasty complex/expensive electronic paddle shifters, which I hate with burning fire.

    The auto industry is truly dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator. I hate it.

    Do you remember when you actually used to need skill to drive a fast sports car? Not anymore. Electronic traction control, stability control, variable AWD, and electronic shifting = now almost anyone can drive an expensive car fast. All it costs is stacks and stacks of money, and you, too can drive like Mario Andretti!

    Damn kids! Get off my lawn.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 17, 2013, 9:53 pm

      There’s still hope, Stickman – the Mazda5 is indeed a small minivan (6-passenger) with a 4-cylinder engine, great handling, and an available manual transmission. Two of my friends own these things and I’ve driven them around a bit – a hell of a lot more fun than my behemoth 1999 Honda Odyssey, and just as useful for anything except carrying a stack of 50 4×8 sheets of plywood (which is the only reason I bought my big van instead of something more suitable for transporting humans)

      • EngineerMom July 20, 2014, 12:12 am

        We owned a manual Mazda 5, and loved it – super smooth transmission, and I’ve carried 4 kids in it. Good gas mileage, and built on a sedan frame, so you can drive and park it on old narrow streets.

  • Chris Browder December 14, 2013, 6:14 am

    You’re never too old to learn. After a life time of automatics, my 50-year old mother took to the streets in a 1999 TDI (diesel) VW Beetle. She called me yesterday to say she took off on the steep hill in downtown without the parking brake trick AND had traffic behind her. I wept.

    Fun fact: her Focus got 24-30mpg. Her Beetle TDI hasn’t seen less than 39.7mpg, being driven in excess of 85MPH for over 500 miles on a single fueling.

  • Andreas Bogacki February 26, 2014, 5:33 am

    Please never ever bumb start your car if it has a catalyzer or you have a diesel.
    The reason is quite simple, when bumb starting your vehicle some unburned fuel will get into the exhaust and destroy the catalyzer if it is warm.
    Bump starting a cold diesel can take several hundred meters (yards).

    To get back to the original topic:
    In Germany you have to learn driving in a driving school with a professional instructor. Usually you learn to drive manual but if you insist you can learn on an automatic. If you choose that you are stuck with automatics for life because your drivers license will only be valid for automatics and you will never ever be allowed to drive manual.

    • Oh Yonghao April 16, 2014, 12:07 pm

      Taiwan has a similar restriction, although you don’t have to go to the driving school to get a license but the system is rigged in their favor. Essentially each school has built a replica of the closed course which is used for the driving test, to Americans a closed course driving test would be strange since most of our driving tests are conducted with the tester riding along side going through parts of town nearby the DMV. My instruction consisted of 2 hours every other day for about 6 weeks of driving around the same course.

      The first week I actually had the instructor with me, the last 5 he stood outside chatting with other instructors. Since I already knew how to drive and was just there to learn the written test I drove the course twice around each day then went inside and focused on taking as many practice tests as I could. Most questions oriented around what the punishment was and how much fines were for various violations in different situations. At first I tried doing these in English but quickly found that their translation skills were lacking and someone had mis-matched some of the questions with other answers on the multiple choice test. I then focused on taking the tests in Chinese and learning the vocabulary with each piece. The hardest part was learning the difference between suspended and revoked since they describe a similar action.

      I disagree with the separate license aspect for manuals and automatics. Having driven both there is really very little difference that as others have pointed out can’t be learned in just 8 hours of behind the wheel. The essentials are even faster, you should be able to drive reasonably within an hour or so, the hardest parts are starting and stopping, once the vehicle is in motion there is hardly any difference. What regulations like these do is make it unnecessarily hard for someone who had first gotten their license with an automatic to later go and start driving a manual, not many people are willing to retake the drive test just to drive a friends car. It will also slowly start to curb demand as more people see manuals as unnecessary and opt for automatic to begin with. YMMV (pun intended)

  • Ryan P March 3, 2014, 11:25 am

    This line is becoming blurred, though I am 99% there with you.

    My wife fears shifting. We got a free car from mom, but noo…it was standard. Fortunately other issues led to us not having one. We are scooter only, with one motorcycle for ‘longer’ trips. It’s actually Automatic AND manual. I achieve a nice 68mpg in it.

    (non-MMM confession, I paid for it…NEW! I will not be doing this again for any vehicle ever unless I win the lotto, which I don’t play anyway).

  • jessica June 19, 2014, 10:51 am

    Love the post.
    The common thread im readig here is that youve taught your wife a lot of things about being frugal + practical skills. Would love to read a post about what she has taught you or changed about you thayt improved both your lives!

  • EngineerMom July 20, 2014, 12:07 am

    I taught my husband (at the time boyfriend) how to drive a manual. So glad my dad taught me!

  • Eldred July 25, 2014, 9:47 am

    I learned how to drive in an automatic – that was all my parents ever had. My first new car was a 1986 Ford Escort “Pony” – no frills whatsoever(manual steering, transmission, doors, and windows). The salesman drove to a nearby parking lot and showed me the basics, and I drove it home(only stalled once). I drove that car for about 4 years, I think(killed it with lack of maintenance). I decided I wouldn’t get a manual again because it was a pain to drive in stop-n-go traffic, and it ended up being a pain physically(developed a hip problem from driving it). But knowing HOW to drive a manual has allowed me to drive a couple of race cars(Skip Barber school at Laguna Seca and Mach 1 Racing at Michigan International Speedway). Plus, when I went to Germany for my job, the company car was a stick. I would have been in trouble had I not known how to drive a manual… I doubt that I’ll get another manual(unless I can somehow afford a sports car), but knowing how to do it means I can drive any passenger vehicle and not be stuck somewhere without transportation.

  • vr September 1, 2014, 4:30 am

    On top of driving a manual I think that it should be mandatory for people to experience how to drive a car on icy&snowy road without any ABS-brakes or ESP-devices (of course only when there is such a thing as snow where you are driving). These systems tend to lull drivers into thinking that they don’t need to be very careful when driving because the car would handle all of the problems, instead they can attend to their make-up via the rear mirror or write text messages when on highway-speeds of 100km+/hour.

    In Scandinavia (at least in Finland) we have mandatory slippery track-tests before we get our driving license, and the road network includes several sand/gravel roads where you absolutely must attend only to driving your car. Winter brings ice and snow and the law insists you drive with studded- or friction tires during that time. It’s ‘funny’ (tragic would be more appropriate) to watch the news where US drivers are slipping all over the place if theres just a couple of centimeters snow or a little bit of ice on the street.

    We also have almost the oldest “car base” of Europe, over 12 years average, because people just don’t want to invest in the newest models (we have a very high tax rate which lowers the purchasing power of people). This means that many cars don’t have any additional safety features and manual is still the reigning trend (though this has been changing rapidly during the last ten years). Young men have used to learn how to drive on hayfields and on those cabinroads for decades, today they don’t necessary even have a license or then they drive their parents brand new cars bought on a loan, etc…

  • Teresa September 20, 2014, 8:27 pm

    While I agree with all your points, following this advice is virtually impossible since I tend to buy only used cars (or year-old new cars that never sold even after year-end clearance sales). Sure, if I’m buying a new car and ordering exactly what I want for full price, I can find a model that offers a manual transmission and order one. But finding a slightly-used car with a manual transmission? Impossible! (Which is too bad, because when they were more common, that’s all I ever drove– I learned on an old 3-on-the-tree.) I also believe that if everyone drove a stick, there would be less distracted driving– who can check Facebook while moving through the gears?

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 21, 2014, 9:16 am

      I buy only used cars, and still have always found manuals. Just takes a little more searching on Craigslist. The key is prioritizing models that actually come in manual. Honda fit instead of Honda crv, for example.

      • zapatista September 21, 2014, 12:02 pm

        With alot of small hatchbacks, newer automatics get better fuel mileage. However, manual transmissions equipped vehicles tend to be a little cheaper and more fun to drive.

  • Gosusgo January 17, 2015, 4:22 am

    First post on MMM, but very excited to find a community of like-minded folks. After selling my 2000 Subaru Outback at 180k miles and 13 years of ownership (bought used btw), I bought a used 2013 Outback last year. It is a good car for my work (selling RE so I have many people ride with me) and I can drop the back seats and use it to haul stuff, allowing me to sell old Ranger PU. Question is this – newer Outback has paddle shifters and I am wondering if I can use this feature to increase mpg (and fun!)? I miss manual shift driving and want to upgrade my mileage. Also this car feels heavier than old Outback and want to Eco-mod it amy way I can. Any thoughts, fellow Mustachians?

  • James January 19, 2015, 6:03 pm

    Did you take into consideration the cost of a clutch replacement?

    It’s usually an expensive job as the whole transmission has to be removed to replace the clutch

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 21, 2015, 9:46 am

      Not any more than I’d take into account the replacement of an automatic tranny. With a good car and driver, the clutch can last the life of the car and it has always done so with cars I have bought for myself and others.

      • Sandra Burkholder January 31, 2016, 2:35 pm

        Husband and I replaced a clutch years ago on a 1991 Saturn. Cursing, yes. Doable yes. One bolt left. Didn’t seem to be a problem. :)

    • Andrew G. September 10, 2023, 11:18 pm


      The clutch replacement is still much cheaper by a large margin than than rebuilding or replacing the transmission. In both cases the transmission has to come out. Once that is done in case of the clutch replacement it takes 15 min to replace the clutch if the flywheel does not require machining – in most cases it doesn’t and if it does it doesn’t ad much of time or cost to the process. Then the transmission is ready to go back in. In case of transmission rebuilt it is much more labor intensive as the entire transmission has to be taken apart, all parts cleaned and inspected and put back together with new seals and clutches. Depending on transmission model it may take a day to rebuilt it. Or if opted for a remanufactured transmission it may cost even few thousands before just for the component alone. It is rather clear that the clutch is much cheaper to replace.

  • 27y/oTennesseeRetiree January 24, 2015, 6:30 pm

    I can’t believe no mustachians have gone overboard on the price difference between a used manual vs. used automatic vehicle! Because the buyer pool is smaller I have gotten awesome deals on manual vehicles that have sat and sat on Craigslist. About 20% off of the price in average. Most recently for me this was an 06 VW Jetta TDI. I bought a manual for $6500 when all I was finding was automatics for $8000 – $12,000. I also find that having the money to pay cash for a slightly more expensive car also helps to shrink the buyer pool. (Although I bought a bike last month, got a free trailer for it last week, and switched to Republic Wireless this week, so if my stache keeps coming in like this I may never need another car ever.)

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 26, 2015, 9:56 am

      I guess it depends on your area – manuals seem to go at a premium in my area because they are rare. Buyers in the used market are more likely to be the type of person (Mustachian, DIY, Manual-driver) than buyers in the new market. So that guarantees a perennial shortage of used manuals :-)

      • Dave October 6, 2015, 1:30 pm

        Exactly Mr. Money. Rangers, Hondas, etc. are always scooped up quick if they are a manual.


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