Automatic Transmissions: The Better Choice for Efficiency

Posted by on Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Automatic transmission

Drivers get more out of an automatic transmission than they may think.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons


There are a number of schools of thought on the relative superiority of either automatic or manual transmissions. Often, the defenders of manuals are particularly ardent and will point to a number of ways in which the manual transmission outstrips the automatic. The problem with these arguments is that they tend to be based on specific cases that are conflated to all cars, or they introduce personal elements to the discussion that do better to show that what you use your car for will often help you decide which side you fall on.

That being said, there are several reasons why an automatic transmission is more efficient than most standard ones.

The Myth of Fuel Efficiency

The first thing to confront is the myth that all standard transmissions are, by their nature, more fuel efficient than automatic ones. While this may be true in certain cases, it’s hardly true in all of them. For example, while the Chevy Cruze Eco may be more fuel efficient in manual than automatic, the Ford Focus certainly isn’t.

What makes the difference, usually, isn’t anything to do with the transmission itself, but with the gear ratios. As automatics have increased the number of gears that they are capable of having, they have also increased the final drive ratio. As a result, the engine turns slower at a given speed and saves fuel. The tradeoff to this is that there is less power being put to the road, but for most people this is entirely negligible. Unless you’re racing or towing particularly heavy things uphill, a tiny decrease in acceleration and torque, usually, won’t even be noticed.

User Error

The other problem with people who love stick shifts defending them is that they know what they’re doing. Under ideal circumstances, perhaps a given manual transmission may be more efficient than an automatic, but most of the time people are not experts at shifting.

In fact, the manual transmission opens up a whole new category of problems that can be caused by simply not being very good at driving a stick. Even people who are decent at it may not be able to replicate the level of skill necessary to get the maximum amount of efficiency out of their manual transmission.

Automatics, on the other hand, work in top form most of the time. Barring problems with a part or the computer, they do the best possible job in an efficient way that’s nearly impossible to match by a flawed human being. A given aficionado of standard transmissions may be able to outperform it, but not the average person, even if they know how to drive a stick.

What little advantage in efficiency the standard transmission holds over the automatic in certain cases is quickly disappearing with every new model as automotive computers become more sophisticated and can control the transmission better than even the most experienced expert.

In the meantime, when you put yourself in a real world context, the automatic transmission is still far more efficient than the standard.

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