Repairs and Maintenance

The Hidden Cost of Manual Transmissions

Not even 35 years ago, automatic transmissions were considered a luxury feature on most new trucks. Back when this old truck was brand new (image courtesy JapaneseNostalgicCar.com – be sure to read the post that featured this truck if you’re into old imports):

1974 Land Cruiser Pickup

This 1974 Land Cruiser pickup was photographed at the 2012 Japanese classic car show. Click on the image to see more vehicles from this show on JapaneseNostalgicCar.com

Stick shifts were the norm.

However, on today’s trucks, manual transmissions are the exception to the rule. Most new trucks today are sold with an automatic transmission, and there are a lot of good reasons for that…

1. Automatics require less maintenance. If you own a stick shift, it’s only a matter of time until you’ll need a new clutch. While you might be able to make your clutch last 200k+ miles, you will need a clutch at some point, and it will be a relatively expensive repair.

Olathe Toyota Parts Center sells a 2.7L 2005 Tacoma replacement clutch for less than $100, but you’ll need to do at least half a day’s worth of work to replace it. If you pay a shop to do the work, you could spend as much as $1500 on the repair. Even worse, if you’re hard on a clutch – or if you use your truck for work – you might be performing this repair every 80-100k miles.

Automatics, on the other hand, should theoretically last as long as any part of your vehicle provided you do your maintenance. Flush the transmission every 60k miles, and you’re good to go.

2. Automatics are more fuel efficient. While a skilled driver can achieve excellent fuel economy with a manual transmission, automatics have a computerized advantage that no human can overcome. The engine control module co-ordinates fuel use with the automatic transmission, achieving 10-20% better fuel economy than a manual transmission.

What’s more, modern 6, 7, 8, and 9 speed automatics are significantly more efficient than any 5 speed manual simply because they have more gears.

3. Automatics are idiot-proofed. For the record, I’m not saying that anyone reading this is an idiot. However, the neighbor kid who borrows your truck (or the valet who parks your truck at your favorite local restaurant) could be an idiot, and an idiot can do some real damage to a truck that has a manual transmission.

Automatics, on the other hand, are harder to hot-dog, and they’re programmed to protect the engine. If you think about the worst-case scenario – engine damage due to over-revving – an automatic transmission is “safer” than a manual.

The Future Looks Grim For Manuals

While I personally enjoy driving a vehicle with a manual transmission – and completely understand the preference for a manual over an automatic – the three reasons above have conspired to make manual transmissions relatively rare. Some experts predict that manual transmissions may even become extinct by the middle of the next decade (2025 or so).

The fact is, manual transmissions are more expensive to maintain and less fuel efficient. Therefore, anyone buying a new truck is wise to consider the long-term costs before they buy a manual.

About the Author: Rick Vernick writes on behalf of National Transport, one of the nation’s leading automotive transport companies. Vernick graduated SUNY Farmingdale in New York in 2005 and currently resides in Long Island, NY.