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Are Automatic Vehicles Less Gas Efficient?

Are Automatic Vehicles Less Gas Efficient?

Are you in the market for a new vehicle? Do you have fuel economy in mind? If so, you’re probably wondering whether or not you should get a vehicle with a manual transmission.

After all, stick shifts seem to have a gas-sipping reputation while their automatic counterparts guzzle fuel in the name of convenience.

But is this notion really true, or just an outdated concept with no merit? 

Here, we explore whether or not automatic vehicles get better gas mileage, which type of transmission lasts longer, and the pros and cons of automatic transmissions. 

Let’s dig in. 

What Has Better Gas Mileage Automatic or Manual? 

Do vehicles with manual transmissions really get better gas mileage? Yes and no. In the past, stick shifts definitely got better MPGs compared to their automatic counterparts.

This is because they operated much more efficiently than the automatics of the day.

Rather than simply locking your transmission into gear manually, automatics use fluid coupling that lets the transmission “slip” to prevent the engine from stalling at slow speeds. Unfortunately, this also allowed the transmission to slip at high speeds, which lowered the fuel economy. 

Nowadays, however, nearly all automatics have a torque-converter lock-up which allows the transmission to lock into gear (and prevent slipping) at high speeds. The rise in popularity of this device has made it, so automatics and manuals now have similar fuel economy, so much so that they’re in a virtual tie when it comes to MPGs. 

Woman refilling gas tank
Nobody wants a gas guzzler! Make sure to know your expected MPG before you buy!

Ways to Save Gas Mileage in Automatic Vehicles

This is fantastic news if you have a newer automatic vehicle, but what about people who are still cruising around from automatics from the 90s? If this is you, here are a few tips to help you save on gas: 

First and foremost, always make sure your tires are properly inflated and your foot is off the brake. This may sound like common sense, but these are two huge factors that can deplete your gas tank fast. Even the slightest pressure on your brake will create a drag that works against you, so make sure you keep your foot off the pedal until you actually have to brake.

Furthermore, try not to use your A/C unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your air conditioning uses additional fuel to keep things cool, and it can burn gas very quickly on hot days. If you can stand the heat, consider rolling those windows down and enjoy the breeze. 

Lastly, drive calmly and with control. This will help you keep your momentum and avoid unnecessary braking. It will also prevent you from pressing the gas excessively, which will most definitely eat up more fuel than you’d like. 

Pro Tip: Still prefer manual over automatic? We uncovered Are Manual Transmission Trucks Still Made?

Do Automatic Transmissions Last Longer?

The answer to this question depends on a few factors. In general, manual transmissions tend to last longer than automatic transmissions.

Again, this is because of their ability to shift and lock into gear coupled with the driver’s control. Nevertheless, a vehicle’s longevity is also dependent on the owner’s driving style and how new it is.

For example, if a driver is hard on the clutch, the transmission (and the clutch, for that matter) simply won’t last as long. Moreover, automatic transmissions are becoming more efficient with each passing year. With efficiency comes increased longevity. 

Man driving stick shift.
There are pros and cons to both automatic and manual vehicles.

What Are the Benefits of Automatic Vehicles?

Automatic vehicles have many advantages over manuals. For one, they’re much easier to drive. You don’t have to think about holding down the clutch when you stop or shift gears. It’s all done for you.

Some would say they’re safer as well, especially for new drivers. Most driving instructors will tell you to keep two hands on the wheel at all times, but this is virtually impossible with stick shifts.

There’s also much more room for human error with manuals. Have you ever stopped on a steep incline with a car close behind you? If this question doesn’t give you instant anxiety, you probably were in an automatic. 

And, let’s be real, the technology built into today’s automatic vehicles likely outperforms manual vehicles on a regular basis.

Pro Tip: Unsure what is the best vehicle for all of your towing needs? Join the debate on SUV vs. Truck: The Best for Towing a Camper Trailer.

What Is the Disadvantage of Automatic Transmission?

Like anything, automatics aren’t perfect. To increase the ease and drivability, sacrifices sometimes need to be made. For example, automatic transmissions are much more complex compared to manual transmissions.

There are more moving parts, and because of this, more opportunities for something to go wrong. Moreover, they tend to be more expensive to maintain. Mechanics usually spend more time working on them because of their complexity and computerized systems. Not a great attribute if you’re looking for simplicity and affordability. 

Additionally, many people consider the ability to drive a stick shift an advantage in itself. And even if you’ve driven a vehicle with a manual transmission, years of only driving automatics will make you a bit rusty. In many places, it’s seen as a badge of honor to drive a manual because you can literally operate any vehicle on the market.

In Australia, they require you to have this ability before getting your license!

On Modern Vehicles, Automatic Transmissions are Great

In conclusion, newer automatic transmissions are pretty amazing. They’ve come a long way in the past 50 years. Because of advancements in technology and a focus on efficiency, they easily rival their stick-shift counterparts in fuel economy and longevity.

Of course, automatic transmissions will always be a bit more complex than manuals. They’re not relying on the driver to shift gears. But in general, choosing a car with an automatic transmission is an easy decision for many (except those die-hard stick-shift drivers). 

What do you prefer, a manual or an automatic? Let us know in the comments below!

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Steven Fry

Thursday 3rd of March 2022

For passenger cars, such as sedans, hatchbacks and wagons, coupes, convertables, etc., I always prefer stick shifts. Most newer passenger cars don't accomodate more than a driver and 4 passengers, and have limited cargo capacity. As such, manual transmissions usually work out beautifully for them. With SUVs, vans and buses, pick-ups and other trucks, full auto is definitely a wiser idea. These vehicles either transport more than 5 people or significant amounts of freight, when compared to passenger cars. Furthermore, these vehicles are frequently used to wag another vehicle. Full auto is always a definite advantage here, as it's substantially less stress on the towing vehicle, the trailer or other towed vehicle, and the hitching set-up as well. Auto allows the driver to focus on getting the towing and towed vehicles from point A to B to C etc., sans the almost constant distraction of having to change gears and monitor the transmission while under way. Drivers towing other vehicles have enough systems to keep track of, without having to worry about the best gear to be utilizing for present conditions. With auto, you can almost always allow the box to select the appropriate gear for the existing conditions, leaving the driver to concentrate on traffic, engine lights and gages, weather and surface conditions, etc. All of which become more important, when towing.

Bill

Thursday 3rd of March 2022

For any one wanting to take their car with them on a trip, very few cars can be towed with a automatic trans behind their motor home. Consider this when looking for a new car or suv. Some cars that can be towed require a pump to keep the trans fluid cool even with the engine is off.

Dave

Thursday 3rd of March 2022

We have a 2018 Jeep Rubicon JL for towing a 16-foot small Airstream. It's a manual transmission, by choice. Our neighbor has virtually the same vehicle, but it has an automatic transmission. Our Rubicon: nominally 21.5 to 22 mpg. Our neighbor: 16 to 17 mpg. Don't tell me an automatic is as efficient as a manual transmission!!!!! The data is out there. I'd appreciate in your report on automatic vs manual transmission, if you had presented actual data. If you had, I believe your conclusions would have been rather different!! Where is the actual hard data? And out 4-wheeling - hard core, not mammby-pamny 4-wheeling - the automatic falls flat on its face. Where is the actual hard data??

Dave and Pat N. Colorado

LPennock

Thursday 3rd of March 2022

If all things are equal an manual will get better fuel mileage because the pumps in a automatic always have more parasitic losses than the manual.

Problem is all things are not equal these days. For instance the auto may have 2 overdrive gears where the manual option only has 1 and that ratio sits between the two on the auto. So on flat ground the manual will be pulling more rpm and on a hill it will have to switch to direct drive sooner than the auto. Now days, a lot of autos have more gears than the manual. Except in big trucks a 6 speed manual is the most gears available while 8 and 10 speed autos are becoming very common. This allows the auto to choose a more efficient gear ratio which improves the fuel mileage.

In this day of ultra high torque diesels the manual has been completely killed off because the amount of clutch necessary to hold 800+ ft-lb of torque would not be acceptable to most consumers. This is not to mention the shock load the rest of the drive train would need to be engineered to take. With an auto the engineers can control shift points, torque converter lockup and do torque management to protect the whole drive train while giving the consumer massive amounts of load pulling capability.

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