I am not a car nut, I consider myself more of a scooterist because one thing, it is cheaper to own and maintain scooters. My petrol budget is much cheaper as compared to driving a car. I can go for the same distance with a scooter without worrying about traffic, although when I ride obviously I am at the mercy of the elements and the unruly pedestrians and other cage drivers. I used to own 3 scooters, all Vespas. I sold the other one to my friend and the two remaining scoots are my 1997 PX 150E and a 2013 LX150ie. My Vespa PX150 is a traditional geared scooter using the Vespa twist shifting on the left handlebar while my Vespa LX is an automatic scooter using a CV transmission. I can say in the scooter sense, that I enjoy both worlds in scootering. I’ve been riding scooters since 2003 and fortunately had the chance to own an automatic scooter last 2013. I am a firm believer in driving manual ever since but when I had the chance of riding an automatic scooter, it opened up many things. It has advantages and disadvantages. It presented two different levels of fun. Honestly, I was lucky enough to win the LX last year at  a local Vespa event. I was keen on selling it because I already have my classic PX but when I rode it home from the dealer and clocked 300km in two months, I changed my mind.

I had the same experience when I learned to drive a car. My brother taught me how to drive using our old Jeep Wrangler. It has a diesel engine with a 4 speed manual transmission if I remember correctly. It has power steering, but the feel of that vehicle is somewhat heavy. I was 17 when I learned how to drive, but it took me about 6 months on and off before I get the hang of using the clutch, accelerator and the brake. For a first time car driver, using 3 pedals, a stick shift, a hand brake and the steering wheel  plus the fear of hitting other vehicles or pedestrians are quite a scare. The space the jeep occupies is just too big and your brother shouting at your side and saying that you’re doing something wrong. It was too much. But after all the hassles, driving stick is just like riding a bike. My cousin bought a Toyota Corolla Altis last March. It has a 1.8G Super CVT-I with  7 speed sequential Shiftmatic  automatic transmission. I had never driven  an automatic before thus I took the chance of driving the new car with my cousin when went up North for a 1 week holiday. Another friend owns the same Corolla Altis 1.8GL but with a 6 speed manual transmission.  Again, as I said earlier, there are many differences between driving a manual and an automatic.Driving a car is very different as compared to riding a scooter. I volunteered to drive both cars to and fro to make a comparison. We also discussed the merits of both cars over the barbi  and lots of beers. It was a lively discussion since both owners are car nuts. I took some notes, but you have to remember that this is not a direct review of the two car models, but the differences between driving stick and an auto.

A Mini Infographic. Image courtesy of MINIUSA.com

A Mini Infographic. Image courtesy of MINIUSA.com

What Is A Transmission?

First things first, we need to understand what a transmission is. To put it simply, the transmission allows power to be sent using a power source. In most cases, the power source is an engine, motor or any type of drive mechanism. The transmission uses different gears and a clutch in converting, the speed of the power source into torque. Torque is the turning force that lets vehicle move or run. A simpler form is commonly  referred as the gearbox because it is a box that contains gear configurations. Transmission can also be referred to the whole Drivetrain that includes the clutch, prop shaft (for a rear-wheel drive), gearbox, the differential and the final drive shafts. Motor vehicles are where the transmission is commonly used. The transmission adapts the output of the engines, internal combustion in driving the wheels. These engines need to operate at a high rotational speed which is inappropriate for slower travel, starting and stopping the vehicle. The transmission reduces the higher engine speed to a slower wheel speed which in turn increases the torque. Usual transmissions use multiple gear ratios or gears which can switch or shift between them depending on the speed. Gear switching can be done manually or automatically.

How A Manual Transmission Works

For a manual transmission, the flywheel that is connected to the crankcase of the engine runs at a constant speed. By using a manually operated clutch and shifter, the power of the engine can be reduced or can be increased by engaging or disengaging a series of smaller and larger gears. Shifting gears avoids insignificant, inefficient and potentially damaging increase in engine speed. Larger gears convert higher engine revolutions per minute (RPM) into higher torque at lower drive wheel speed by spinning slower than the engine’s crankcase;  while the lower gears convert lower engine revolution per minute (RPM) into higher speed or rpms by spinning faster than the engine’s crankcase. There are two types of manual transmissions that includes:

  • Sliding mesh (unsynchronized system). It uses a straight-cut spur gear sets that spins freely and should be synchronized by the driver matching the engine revolution or revs to road speed. This avoids noisy gear shifting and damaging the gears.
  • Constant  mesh (which can include synchronized or non-synchronized systems). This type uses diagonally cut helical or straight cut gear sets that are constantly meshed together with a dog clutch used in changing the gears.

Advantages  Of Driving Stick

Based on experience, research and taking notes from my car crazy friends, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of driving stick.

Driving manual provides more control and connection to your car

The driver decides how much power is going from the engine to the wheels every time. It gives better control in bad weather or on any low  traction driving conditions and you cannot drift in an auto.
Manual transmissions are easy to maintain as compared to automatics. It is less complex with less moving parts, thus, there are fewer things that can go wrong. The most common issue for manual transmissions are the clutch which does not need any replacement after hundreds of thousands of miles.

Because you want to learn to drive

In most   countries, it’s  common practice to learn driving stick before going auto. You have to learn the basics, it is a necessity. You will be able to drive all vehicles by learning how to drive stick. It’s logical to drive stick.

The fuel economy is better

Clutch lag, power loss from torque converters and the hydraulic pump can  rob an automatic car of power. Your tendency is to floor on the gas to get more power thus more fuel is burned. With a manual transmission, a driver can increase their fuel economy by 15%, depending on the driving conditions and driving style. The stick shift car is also cheaper when purchased brand new as compared to autos.

Driving a manual is more fun

It gives you the full driving experience because you have to think when to when to upshift or downshift especially when driving on an open road, back country roads, hills or mountains. It keeps you focused all throughout. It is interesting and fun, which for some people don’t understand.  It’s you, your car and the road. My friend also added that driving stick makes you more of a man. That’s the reason why there is “man” in manual he said.

How An Automatic Transmission Works

Automatic transmissions or transaxles  takes advantage of a front wheel drive which has exactly the same function through a speed-torque conversion. This type selects an appropriate gear ratio without any intervention from the driver or operator. It generally uses hydraulics in selecting gears which depends on the pressure that is exerted by the fluid within the transmission assembly. Instead of using a clutch to engage the gears or transmission, it uses a fluid flywheel or a torque converter that is placed in between the transmission and the engine. Cars using automatic transmission use a so called planetary arrangement which means it revolves around a stationary sun gear. Automatic cars are easy to use, although they are complex, expensive, have reliability issues and are not fuel efficient. Shift time is slower compared to stick shift thus they are not suited for racing. But with the advancements in technology by introducing torque converters and computerized transmissions have enhanced fuel efficiency and shifting times.

Advantages Of Driving Automatics

Ease of use specifically in traffic situations

You don’t have to deal with changing gears just to move a few inches in heavy traffic. For some, driving stick is more complex and it is a lot easier for them without having to analyze the road and change gears when needed.

Automatic cars are a big plus for people living in the city

This is because constant stops and starts are very annoying, especially  if you have to press on the clutch. It can take its toll on the driver because it can give joint pains and fatigue after a long driving day. For an auto, just engage on drive, press on the gas, brake and disengage to neutral and you’re done.

Automatic car’s gas mileage is almost at par with manual cars

Modern advancements have enhanced the mileage and in most cases added more gears to lessen the stress on engines. Less stress means more fuel efficiency with the right power band.

Automatic car gears change at the appropriate time thus you will rarely over-rev and waste petrol

It will be less stressful because the car will do the shifting for you and will offer a smoother ride. Your left foot will always be at rest, which is a plus compared to driving stick.

Going uphill or hang driving will not be an issue because there is no clutch to press on

There are so many cases where drivers were unable to get the right mix of clutch and gas and are unable to move their  car forward. Worse, the car can run backwards and cause damage or accidents. This is a dilemma for most stick driving beginners.

Image courtesy of aviationhumor.com

This is me. Image courtesy of aviationhumor.com

Choosing a car will depend on your needs and the country you’re in. In the United States, almost all cars are automatics with just 6.3% are driving manual. In England, Asia and Australia, the traditional manual gearbox are still much preferred. If you’re a regular rush hour warrior and value your sanity, go for an automatic. If you want more control and more fun, then go for the stick. I am more traditional and will always opt for a manual gearbox, but will not mind driving an automatic when needed. Now, a 2015 blue BMW manual M3 is not a bad choice. Time to bet on the lottery.

The 2015 BMW M3 sports sedan. Drool worthy. Image courtesy of motortrend,com

The 2015 BMW M3 sports sedan. Drool worthy, my dream car. Image courtesy of motortrend.com

 

 

About Author

Jon specialises in research and content creation for content marketing campaigns. He’s worked on campaigns for some of Australia's largest brands including across Technology, Cloud Computing, Renewable energy and Corporate event management. He’s an avid scooterist and musician.