Shifting Gears

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Cars with manual transmission is dying out. At least here in the US. According to a data from 2020, only 13% of new car models are offered in manual transmission. It was 37% in 2011. Carmakers say the demand for manual transmissions has fallen off a cliff, and they believe that there may come a day when very few cars, if any, even offer a stick shift. 

It may be different in the Philippines or other countries but the trend may be the same. Surprisingly though, I saw a recent article that in Europe, more than 80% of the cars sold are with manual transmission, while in the US it is only 3%. I guess Europeans still love their stick shifts.

For the longest time, it was a common opinion that cars with manual transmission could have better gas mileage and are less expensive. Those are not true anymore. Experts now say that with better technology and engineering, vehicles with automatic transmission can have the same gas mileage than manual cars, and maybe even better. The cost of manual cars may be less than the automatic version, but not always as it depends on the trim and brand.

Of course people believe that the coolest sports cars come only in manual transmission. Again this is a myth, as many muscle cars are offered in automatic transmission, plus Ferrari and Lamborghini no longer make new cars with clutch pedal. What sports car can be cooler than those?

Because cars with automatic transmission is much much easier to operate, perhaps only the purist drivers drive manual cars today, at least here in the US. Perhaps it is the romance of caressing the gear stick. Or maybe it is the excitement of kicking the clutch. Or perhaps it is the visceral joy that you get when shifting gears and knowing that you’re in control. Or perhaps just having that badge of pride that you have that skill of driving a stick.

Of course there are still advantages of owning a manual car. For one, most of your friends cannot borrow your car. It could be a thief deterrent too. Repair expense of a car with manual transmission could be less as well, though with these types of cars going extinct, maybe someday less and less car mechanic would be adept in fixing them. Lastly, the likelihood of driving distracted, whether it be from your phone or doing other things, is less when you are driving a stick shift, as you need to be engaged with both of your hands, both of your feet, and much of your concentration.

It is not that I am bragging, but I know how to drive a stick shift. Because I grew up in the Philippines, and that was the only way I know how to drive during the 80’s. But did I get a car with a manual transmission when I moved to the United States? Of course not! I have been driving an automatic vehicle since 1995.

So I was really surprised when my son who is now in college and needing a car of his own, prefers one with a manual transmission. It is not that he is in to driving muscle cars like the Mustang, or Camaro, or Challenger. In fact he don’t like those kind of flashy cars. He only wants an old fashioned simple yet reliable manual car.

My son’s reason for wanting to drive a stick shift? He just wants to learn it, he said. He already has some unique skillset, like advanced cello and piano playing, solving Rubik’s cube in less than 10 seconds, and riding a unicycle. So why not.

What then would a good father do? We went on a hunt for a manual car, and I brushed up on my skill on driving a stick shift, which they say you’ll never forget, just like riding a bike. Then I taught my son on how to drive it. He already knows how to drive an automatic.

I might had a few neck whiplashes on the first day that I was instructing my son on driving the stick, as he was still figuring out how to manipulate and mix the clutch and the gas pedal. Of course the engine stalled several times too. But on the second day, he drove like a pro and can pass as a NASCAR driver or maybe more like a Jeepney driver in the Philippines.

Manual driving is not yet dead.

Photo by Pixabay on


  1. Love this last sentence: “But on the second day, he drove like a pro and can pass as a NASCAR driver or maybe more like a Jeepney driver in the Philippines.” That’s the truest badge of a pro in driving, anywhere, thumbs down. Pinoy Jeepney driver, the original multi-tasker – shifting the stick with right hand that also gets the payment, gives the change while the brain busy calculating the fare with a cigarette in the left hand with stereo blaring while conversing with a sabit or kabit….

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