Are Manual Transmissions Still More Fuel Efficient Than Automatics?

Bankrate says, “No.” For the average driver under the average conditions, there is little difference.

For drivers in everyday situations, a manual transmission is not likely to provide any difference in fuel economy over an automatic transmission. The reason is that to achieve the optimum fuel efficiency a driver has to execute shifts at precise engine rpms (revolutions per minute). Given the challenges of city driving conditions, most drivers won’t be able to realize greater fuel economy with a manual gearbox.

One consideration, however, is that usually an automatic transmission costs extra, which could factor into the buying decision. On the flip side, the majority of new vehicles aren’t even offered with a manual transmission.

Good to know. What do you suppose the mileage is like on the Wienermobile?

Best mileage: Automatic or manual? [Bankrate]
(Photo:Keylime Steve)

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  1. sly100100 says:

    I actually saw the wiener mobile drive in front of my house about a month ago. It was cool! And just as big as you would think.

  2. dh86sj says:

    I’ll buy that argument if the auto and manual have the same number of gears, the gears are numerically the same, and the transmissions weigh the same. You’d be hard pressed to satisfy these criteria though.

    I can’t wait till this gets cross posted on Jalopnik, I know they’ll have something to say about this.

  3. SOhp101 says:

    Long time ago when manual transmissions were at least four gears while autos were 3 or less, the gas savings were substantial. Now that autos have more gears and have better shifting programs (and now with the proliferation of cylinder shutoff management, autos are now starting to even get better mileage than stick), there’s virtually no savings on most vehicles.

    Other great benefits of a manual over an auto includes less complicated transmission (lower long term repair costs–auto transmission problems cost a fortune), greater control over shift times, lower MSRP, and a mild theft deterrent (in the US most do not know how to drive standard).

    Manual is also a lot more engaging, and while most people who sit through traffic would dread having one, I find the clutch action keeps my attention to the road. Speaking of which, it’s also a great excuse to use in the car when someone still wants to talk to you on the cell (“Hey I have a stick so I have to drive, bye”).

  4. Bulldog9908 says:

    Fuel efficiency isn’t the reason to buy a manual. There are, however, many other reasons–

    More fun to drive
    More attentive drivers
    Better car control
    Actual control over your engine–rather than letting the engineer who programmed the transmission’s computer decide what’s best for the conditions.

    …but, even as a manual transmission evangelist, I have to admit that fuel efficiency is no longer a real issue.

    For all the other reasons listed, however, I don’t buy automatics. When shopping for a mid-sized sedan, that pretty much limited me to European cars or Hondas.

  5. hubris says:

    I can see that these days. As more and more drivers demand automatics, and as gas mileage requirements increase, is it any wonder that automatics are on par with sticks?

    But screw gas mileage. I just got back into a stick, and I damn well will never own anything else ever again. Automatics are so damn boring to drive.

  6. CoffeeAddict says:

    I love manual trannys to fix and to drive but Autos are nice because they require less work/thinking. Now that I have kids having an automatic is great, but for my personal car I drive stick and I like it much better. Stick makes driving more fun.

  7. solipsistnation says:

    Yeah, I prefer manual too. I actually have a Matrix XRS, which has a 6-speed manual… It’s loads of fun. Also, if you’re feeling vroomy (and if you take the time time to learn to drive a car with a manual transmission, you probably feel vroomy fairly often), a decent driver with a manual can beat anything with an automatic out of the light any day of the week. Except that jackrabbit starts waste gas, so you should only gun it out of the light if you have a pressing need to school the guy next to you.

  8. QuantumRiff says:

    The intesting thing is how many big trucks have moved to automatic in recent years. I thought it was because of soccer mom’s buying them, and not knowing how to shift, but a friend that works at a dealership pointed out one very important thing. On the big diesels, when you push in the clutch, the turbo disengages. This is very bad when towing a big load up the hill. With the automatics, the computer knows how fast the shift will take, and that the turbo won’t spool up to high to damage it, and keeps it running, so it doesn’t have to spool back up again.

  9. Edinboron says:

    I have been noticing the fuel mileage stickers, seems the autos get slightly better gas mileage than the sticks. It’s probably because auto shifting is now computer controlled.

    I prefer a stick. Downshifting and using the engine to slow down on mountain roads is funner than riding the brake. Push starting a manual with a dead battery is much better than trying to get someone to jump start you.

  10. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Bulldog9908:

    If you know what you’re doing, particularly in a high-strung car (where most of the power is waaay up high on the tach…but you never actually have to go there in normal driving), there can be enough of a difference to make economy a consideration for buying a manual. A manual makes it easier to keep the car in the RPM range you want.

    Most people wouldn’t even know what the hell I’m talking about, though, so, yeah, I guess for grandma an auto is just as good.

    @SOhp101:

    EPA mileage is still mostly 1-2 mpg in favor of manuals. They have slightly less powertrain loss (usually), and they still offer better control for those who know what to do with it.

    (My fuel economy has always been proportional to the EPA fuel economy, so I do take it to be a useful tool. )

    There are still autos that are horrendously inefficient compared to the manuals (see Chrysler)…and unreliable compared to them, too. OTOH, EPA fuel economy on the Scion xB a couple years ago was BETTER for the auto.

  11. TechnoDestructo says:

    Alright, so I see a few posts saying autos are doing better these days than manual, and I go and look at Fueleconomy.gov.

    I want to know how they are adjusting old figures, because a lot of things have reversed new vs. old. (Actually, part of me doesn’t much care, because drylabbing is drylabbing) Also how has the test procedure changed?

  12. ekincam says:

    The reason that some manual transmission vehicles may have worse mileage than automatics could be because some manual transmissions have shorter gear ratios compared to the automatics because they are biased towards performance rather than economy.

    In some situations manuals have the same or higher MSRP, I am guessing, due to economies of scale.

  13. MrEvil says:

    Autos aren’t inherently more complicated than a manual. Its just the valve body that makes it rather complicated. Even then it’s just alot of propaganda perpetuated by the transmission rebuilders. Don’t forget though, manuals have clutch jobs. I’ve only owned one vehicle with an auto that needed a rebuild out of a total of 7.

    @QuantumRiff: The turbo charger on a Diesel doesn’t “Disengage” when you push in the clutch. The turbo spins down when you release the throttle when shifting, but the clutch has nothing to do with it.

  14. Falconfire says:

    Another thing to remember on average cars with a manual lose 1000-3000 dollars MORE of their value over a automatic.

  15. nardo218 says:

    I guess for grandma an auto is just as good.

    “Grandma” probably drives manual better than most young male stick shift drivers. She’s been doing it since 1940.

  16. gundark says:

    If you want to automatically add about 4 or 5 miles to the gallon in your automatic car, use the cruise control whenever possible. Even for driving between stop lights. You will find that the car is much better at managing the amount of gas to use then you are. I started doing it myself and I love the difference.

  17. solipsistnation says:

    @falconfire: do you have stats on that from somewhere? And is it actually losing resale value, or is it that they start off cheaper to begin with? Also, is that for fairly normal cars with standard transmissions, or for performance cars?

  18. Major-General says:

    @solipsistnation: “…a pressing need to school the guy next to you.”

    That also happens pretty often if you drive a stick.

    @Falconfire: Of course, a lot of the time when you buy those cars, you pay a grand for the auto. Or is that an additional 1k-3k.

  19. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    The difference in fuel mileage between an auto and a manual are usually a couple of MPG in modern cars. Improved transmission gearing, efficient engine computer tuning, and variable valve timing technology all contribute to better MPG. On slightly older cars, I’d say manual transmission has better fuel mileage on the highway due to the taller 5th gear. Check out the new 2008 Honda Accord sedan (4-cylinder)..

    manual – MPG (City/Highway/Combined) – 22 / 31 / 25
    auto – MPG (City/Highway/Combined) – 21 / 31 / 24

    I honestly hope car makers don’t phase out manual transmissions. I’ve been driving manual ever since the day I got my license. I really enjoy the driving experience of shifting my own gears.

  20. Atomike says:

    I got 41.5 miles per gallon on my last tank of gas in a GEO prizm with manual transmission. I talked to someone last week with the same car but automatic transmission. She was shocked at my mileage, as she told me she gets 25 or so mpg. I’ll let all you folks debate the theory – in practice the manual will always beat the automatic. Stories like these are written with some agenda apparently – and it’s not fuel economy.

  21. hubris says:

    @Atomike: Just because in your case that happened doesn’t mean “in practice the manual will always beat the automatic”. One case does not a rule make.

    @NARDO218: Amen. My mother, who’s 62 and a grandmother, drives a stick like a damn pro.

  22. leftistcoast says:

    Back when I was turning wrenches for a living, most of the mechanics I worked with felt that the manual transmission would eventually be phased out. Not because of the fuel efficiency factor or general move towards automating everything, but because of emissions standards. Even in the most technologically advanced car, you get a spike in the hydrocarbon and CO emissions whenever you shift gears. That spike doesn’t occur when an automatic shifts…

  23. vitonfluorcarbon says:

    I am an engineer, and can say that from a mechanical standpoint that automatics and manuals should be capable of the same fuel economy today.

    But, that is not what I want to discuss. What are people’s thougts about the “tiptronic” shifting features of some of the automatic transmissions out there? I personally find it a really boring and annoying feature. I need a clutch pedal and need to ease off the throttle to shift in order to get my fix. I understand the place of automatics, but I really hope that manuals never go away…..

  24. Raziya says:

    Manuals are the best! I don’t care if they are not more fuel efficient anymore – we just bought a new car for me recently, and I refused to leave there with a vehicle that wasn’t a manual transmission! They are just way more fun to drive, plus you get a lot more control!

  25. SadSam says:

    Following up on some of the other comments, I’d love to see a study comparing crash rates between automatic and manual transmission cars. I totally agree that people who drive manual transmission cars pay a lot more attention to the road and their driving.

    Its sad to me that its harder and harder to find manual transmission cars these days.

  26. yg17 says:

    @vitonfluorcarbon: Agreed. The tiptronics in most cars are useless, and gimmicks made to impress people who test drive them, and no replacement for a manual. One of the only exceptions may be Volkswagen’s DSG, which is an automatic gearbox (with tiptronic mode) but it shifts in 8ms (For comparison, the Ferrari Enzo’s F1 gearbox shifts in 150ms). That’s quicker than any human could shift a manual. When I ordered my GTI earlier this month, I test drove one with the DSG and it was quite fun (or maybe I was having more fun with a 200 horsepower turbo engine, who knows), but I still opted for the manual.

    My current car has tiptronic and it’s just boring as hell. Can’t wait until my GTI, with a real manual tranny arrives.

  27. dshjyd says:

    @Atomike:
    I get around the same mileage with my manual trans ’97 Civic coup. When it comes down to it though, I think it depends what kind of driver you are. Not only with shifting gears at the right time, but also with how heavy your foot is with the pedal, what average speed you maintain on highways (cars have an optimal but varying speed for mileage), whether you brake a lot (you’re wasting potential miles).

  28. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Modern 5-speed automatics have a lot more information available to them to determine shift points than does a human with a 5-speed manual, so in theory, mileage with an automatic should be equal to a stick.

    But you still have fluid-coupling losses in the torque converter. Additionally, what criteria is the computer-controlled automatic using to determine shift points? Unless you can select “economy” vs. “power” mode, there’s probably a compromise, so with most automatics, you’re not in complete control of the shift points.

    EPA estimates seem to come out with the automatic being equal to or slightly less than a stick for mileage estimates, which makes sense to me.

    Whether you prefer auto or stick really wasn’t the question…let’s not turn this into another Mac vs. PC shouting match, okay? Some people like to grind the gears, some don’t. I used to love driving a stick until traffic got so bad around here that I was often caught in stop and go driving. I can’t think of anything more miserable then spending an hour in creeping traffic screwing with the clutch. Given me an open road and a willing car though, and I’ll take the stick.

  29. zolielo says:

    For some cars, in the tuner scene, having a manual will raise the resale value i.e. Nissan 240SX.

    I love tuning cars, standards as well as automatics, so I have been toying with adding a piggy back unit to the TCU (transmission control unit). Basically a bit of logic and a digital MSD. If I wanted to I could change the shift points for increases fuel economy. Playing around with the TCU to bias it for economy or performance is not within the scope of what many can do, however, achieving the same functionality using a manual transmission is…

  30. bearymore says:

    Since you have so much more control in a manual, you have a greater influence on your mileage. For example, suppose you are half a block from an intersection and the light turns red. Shift into neutral and coast — the distance is short, so you’ll keep your speed up, but your gas consumption will go down. I’ve got lots of little techniques like this that wouldn’t really work in an auto.

    On the other hand, you lose all the savings when you put it into 3rd on that curvy mountain road to stay in that sweet rpm range….

  31. thepounder says:

    Personally, the only vehicle I’d want with a Manual is a larger pickup, something like a Ram 2500 or bigger… something used for towing primarily.

    My only true gripe about a Manual isn’t the transmission itself, but rather the “ricer” kids who think their Civic with its 5″ exhaust sounds “super cool” when they rev it at a stop light. Again, not the fault of the transmission, but rather the clown in control of it…

    However, I don’t think I’d ever buy a used vehicle with a Manual without getting it seriously looked at first… you never know how hard the last owner drove it.

  32. Rusted says:

    @dwayne_dibbly: Traffic is what got me into automatics, just too much hassle with manuals in stop & go & creep.

  33. Buran says:

    @Rusted: I like my VW GTI with a DSG. It’s a manual with an automatic clutch, so it has no third pedal. It has two different management modes for shifting – “Drive” and “Sport”. Drive is optimized for normal usage and is designed to optimize mileage and minimize fuel use and pollution creation. Sport holds a gear for longer and is for performance driving. At any time you can switch to full manual control and order shifts just as if you were driving a full manual.

    Better mileage than the manual version of the same car because the computer can shift faster than you can, and knows just when to shift for the best efficiency, and because there’s no torque converter to sap power.

    And it’s great for stop and go traffic. (But I still come and go from work outside of rush hour. Saves even more gas).

  34. Buran says:

    @thepounder: I’ve had kids in Maximas rev at me at lights. (I don’t race so I ignore them).

    However, not all manual drivers are racers or drive hard. Maybe they just want the simplicity of maintenance and the better efficiency. (the answer to the question the post asks is “yes, still slightly better, and will be until stuff like the dual shift gearbox VW/Audi have becomes the norm”).

  35. edgarj455 says:

    @Atomike: GEO prizm? I feel your pain.

  36. edgarj455 says:

    @QuantumRiff: How long has your friend bin the janitor at the dealership?

  37. zolielo says:

    Are you also counting a CVT in the automatic category? As they are often lighter in weight and can yield high fuel economy.

    The down sides are relatively very costly step motors and lack of torque handling (though that is getting better).

  38. zolielo says:

    @edgarj455: What? Automatics do hold boost better than manuals…

  39. wesrubix says:

    Automatic transmissions are also a bit heavier than manuals. Sophisticated automatic transmissions are therefore just as efficient as manuals that are shifted at “perfect” times because autos are computer controlled (and higher end ones are more percise), but because of the additional weight, get slightly less mileage (usually by 1 unit mpg diff).

    Also, a manual can’t beat a CVT, unless the driver behind the manual is unusually skilled at shifting.

  40. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    @Rusted: Likewise. I do like the control you have with a manual, and being able to choose when to shift means you can wind a tiny engine right up into the power band for better performance. But when your daily commute means lots of stop and go city traffic, the manual becomes more trouble then it’s worth. Like everything, there’s usually a compromise.

    If I had nothing but nice curvy roads with no traffic, I’d go with the manual for sure.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I hated manual, but then my parents bought me a car with a stick when I was 18. I soon grew to love manual, and got a few speeding tickets to show for it. Now I drive a Mazda truck with manual, and get 25 mpg. I had to get a new driveshaft a couple years back, but the transmission still works great at 155k.

  42. MrEvil says:

    @Buran: Your car is not a manual with an automatic clutch. It’s an automatic with a manual valve body. A.k.a a Powershift transmission. The same kind of transmission that’s been in use on farm machinery since the 70′s. The only differences between a powershift and an automatic is who gets to pick which gearsets are getting power.

    Also, every auto transmission car sold in the past 15 years or so has a locking Torque Converter. This negates any efficiency lost via the torque converter at speed. The TC on my F250 Diesel locks at 40mph.

  43. asplodzor says:

    I like manual transmissions, but unfortunately I don’t have one right now. I drive a Bonneville (NA, no super) with an automatic transmission that’s on its last legs. When the tranny finally dies I’ll either replace it with a manual or replace the car entirely. For now though, I’m happy getting decent gas mileage (upwards of 30mpg on the highway) and absolutely destroying any four cylinder engine that’s ever challenged me save a couple horizontally opposed, and even then they were just keeping up.

    My next car will definitely be a manual transmission, but I’ve fallen in love with low-end torque that you simply can’t produce with a smaller engine.

  44. Joe_Bloe says:

    @MrEvil: Uh, no, the VW DSG has no torque convertor or valve body. It’s a manual with solenoids doing the shifing and clutching. It has two clutches, essentially splitting the transmission into two parts, so one clutch is always engaged while the other side shifts.

  45. zibby says:

    Yay me! I can drive a manual transmission car too! Three on the tree, even! I’m way better than all the other dopes on the road.

    Oh, ok. I don’t really think that. But it is a handy thing to be able to do if I’m driving in other parts of the world.

  46. What about auto-sticks? The ons that let you move in and out of automatic transmission and manual transmission?

  47. dieselbug says:

    @Rusted: The reason that commute traffic is stop n go is because everybody else is driving autos . .. I used to commute in the UK and the traffic flow was smoother (at roughly the same ave. speed) because people could choose the gear to drive in, and wouldn’t be just flipping between gas & brake.

    @Zolielo: One thing you can do in a manual that you can’t do in an auto when changing gear is pump the gas pedal. When changing up I used to hit the gas with the clutch down to keep engine revs up, and keep the turbo spinning. Can’t do that with an Automatic.

  48. bbbici says:

    manuals can get worse fuel economy because if you are inattentive you can sometimes drive at high revs, especially with a quiet exhaust and engine.

    also, their drivers tend to be a little more performance oriented.

    driven correctly, a manual’s fuel economy will be the same or better than an auto.

  49. Anitra says:

    I prefer manual transmissions, because they are cheaper to fix when something breaks. We buy mostly used cars, and I got really sick of scrapping my junkers when the transmissions started to break down (at that point, a new transmission often costs more than the car is worth).

    You can get better gas mileage with a manual, but it depends on how you drive it. I do things such as putting it in neutral and coasting when on a hill or coming up to a stop.

    As a side benefit, they are more fun to drive (as long as you’re not in stop-and-go), and you’ll have a good excuse not to lend out your car to your more… irresponsible… friends.

  50. Saboth says:

    @Bulldog9908:

    Yes I agree. More and more I find you can only buy automatic cars. I won’t drive an automatic. They are EXTREMELY costly to repair ($1k-3k) vs just putting in a new clutch for a manual ($200-$500). They aren’t fun to drive, they don’t shift when you need to. It will be a sad day when there are no more manuals avaliable…

  51. bryus says:

    I have serious doubts that an automate can get more miles out of a gallon of gas than me with a manual.

    I typically get between 35MPG and 41MPG on my 1990 Acura Integra GS or my 2000 Honda Civic EX. Both are 5-speeds. Both are rated under the new standards at around 23-25MPG.

  52. number9ine says:

    Conjecture.

  53. thelogarithm says:

    Manual shift is more , more efficient in extreme weather conditions, more efficient torque set to each gear which enables better acceleration and handle ability efficient going around corners, the human reaction in doing work of shifting gears pays off in the long run when you don’t have to pay for automatic repairs, liquids …
    Teach your young how to drive a manual first, and don’t let them get stuck on just how to drive an automatic when they are old to drive because manuals have to be understood if you want them to drive a manual in a no option situation and they don’t know how then they might be stuck and or have to be quick learners.