Manual or Automatic Transmission

The Difference between Manual and Automatic Transmission Mode


Manual or Automatic? Ever been in that dilemma while signing up for your driving class? According to the data by GovTech, there’re a total of 1,770,980 drivers holding a class 3 and 146,414 drivers with class 3A driving license in Singapore. That’s about 31% of the overall population in Singapore!


Both the manual and the conventional automatic transmission mode are commonly seen on Singapore roads, ranging from public transports to private owned vehicles. However, how much do drivers understand about the differences, advantages and disadvantages of the two transmission? Each transmission system has different characteristic based on the following elements: Driving Experiences, Vehicle Design and Accident Ratio. Do read on for more information!



Vehicle Design


  • What is the key difference between the two transmissions?

The key difference between the two transmission modes is the skill required to operate a vehicle/motor car with a clutch pedal. For conventional automatic transmission, also known as the self-shifting transmission, gears ratios changes automatically as the vehicle moves, freeing the driver from having to shift gears manually and the need of a clutch pedal. For manual transmission or stick shift, the transmission comprises of a driver-operated clutch, engaged and disengaged by a foot pedal or a hand lever, for regulating torque transfer from the engine to the transmission; and a gear selector that can be operated by hand.


  • For the gear shift, how are they different?

The gear selector is usually located near the steering (on the dashboard) or on the center console of the vehicle for automatic transmission. Known as ‘prindle’ by the automotive engineers, the gear selector of modern cars usually contain the following selection: P, R, N, D and L. If you are driving a vehicle with five speed transmission, the gear comes with numerals 1 and/or 2 as well.



E.g. L or 1 – Low gear: In this mode, the engine is slowed down with less fuel supply and more torque for smoother and faster acceleration. This gear is good for upslope or downslope motion. For automatic transmission, the gears stay at its lowest gear as RPM (Revolutions per minute) increases. Although high RPM are generally relate with high power production, do note that high RPM may leads to overheating problem. This gear is rarely used by auto drivers with limited understanding to its purpose.  


For manual transmission vehicles, the gear shift is usually located on the center console. For the gears, it usually consist of the following:



Unlike the auto transmission, manual transmission vehicles do not have a park gear. For parking on flat surfaces, do apply the hand brake after engaging in the neutral gear. Some examples of the vehicle types with manual transmission are commercial vehicles like van, lorry and heavy duty trucks. For passenger vehicles, options are available for drivers to choose between the two transmissions.


Driving Experiences


  • How does the gear mechanism works in both transmissions?

Conventional automatic transmissions have clutch bands that are engaged and disengaged using solenoids, the bands are clamped onto the required gear by solenoids which are electrical and sometimes also hydraulic switches. The speed and force with which they disengage from the current gear and then engage with the next gear drives the relative jerkiness of selection.  For manual transmission, gear selection is done manually by shifting a gear selector mechanism that disengages one gear and selects another. For example, the car goes into engine braking immediately upon releasing or closing the throttle. In this mode, drivers will have a better control over the vehicle as compared to the automatic ones. Most modern types of this transmissions have five or six forward (and one reverse) gears.


  • How the interaction differs for both transmissions?


In conventional automatic transmission, driver does minimal work as gear shifting are in auto mode. For manual transmission, driver is in charge for the gear shifting as speed changes. For gear changing, drivers are required to coordinate their limbs between the clutch, throttle and the gears at the same time. Therefore, it’s a skill which require some practice and time to perfect it.  As compared to the manual transmission, the automatic transmission is much easier to maneuver and it provides more comfort for drivers especially during traffic jams.  For manual transmission drivers, dreadful traffic jams increase the use of the clutch and the discomfort in the limbs coordination that brought inconvenience for the drivers.


  • Which transmission is more fuel efficient?

In the past, manual cars are indeed more fuel efficient and economy than the auto counterparts. But as the automatic transmission become more advanced, they are slowly taking over the manual transmission in terms of fuel efficient and cost. (E.g. Hybrid vehicles).


  • Which transmission cost more to repair?

Despite the convenience and the comfort that auto transmission brings to the drivers, repair cost will be much higher as it’s more difficult and complex to work with the automatic gear boxes.  Replacement is often the more cost effective option. Manual transmission are formed by mechanical gears which are cheaper to replace and service.

  • According to National Environmental Agency , the main sources of air pollution in Singapore comes from the industries and motor vehicles. For both transmissions, which one is more environmental friendly?


Vehicles of either modes emits pollutants like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides through tailpipes. In-order to improve the air quality in Singapore, the authority has implemented a new vehicular emission scheme on all newly registered vehicles since 1st July 2018.  If you will like to contribute to a greener environment, you might want to consider the electric cars option.


Accident Ratio


Although there’s no proof which transmission has a higher tendency for traffic accidents, studies [1] have shown that driving a manual transmission vehicle tends to be more stressful than the automatic ones.  While veteran drivers claim that manual transmission vehicle is safer such that it gives them more control over the vehicle, how true is it?



For manual vehicles, the driver’s emergency response is to hit the brake and clutch together. This require certain level of coordination and sufficient reaction time. And if the driver’s feet happens to hit on the wrong pedals, the vehicle will move forward or the engine will stall. For automatic vehicles, drivers need to hit the brake hard to stop the vehicle. According to the media release by the Singapore Police Force, there’s a 12% increase in road fatalities for the first quarter of 2018. Among these road accidents, there’s a mixture of vehicles involved; Public buses, Taxis, Motorbikes, Lorry and private car.




With a decline in the demand for manual transmission vehicles in the automotive industry worldwide, we have seen advancement of the automatic transmission in recent years by various automakers. The manual transmission, which was once the icon of the racing cars are slowly disappearing from the automotive industry as well. In the US, it was reported that only 2% of the cars sold are manual transmission vehicles. In Singapore, other than those heavy duty vehicles, even our public buses and trains these days are operating in automatic mode.


Well, there’re debates on why some of great performing sports sedans (e.g. Audi S6/S8, Mercedes Benz CLS55/63, BMW M5/550i, Lexus ISF and Porsche Panamera) which are equipped with good engines, comes in automatic transmission mode only. For automakers, cost and tedious process is a concern to manufacture manual transmission. Therefore they are slowly ditching the manual mechanism for the automatic ones. Automaker like Audi has also confirmed that they will be ditching the six speed manual transmission option for the A4 sedan and A5 coupe starting from 2019 onwards in the US market.  Will more automakers follow the trend as well? Who knows that we might have auto transmission commercial vehicles in the future!


The driving/car culture is obviously changing. Be it purchasing, renting or leasing, drivers are slowing accepting and adapting to the convenience and comfort that modern auto transmission provides. As a driver, what’s your preference and views between the two transmission modes then? Alternatively, stay tuned for part 2 of the article which will cover the other transmission types.


Services: Leasing for business needs? From lorry rental to sedan car leasing, ETHOZ Group provides both long term commercial and passenger vehicle rental as well as short term car rental for businesses in Singapore. Our expertise in fleet management provides businesses dedicated support to relieve operational challenges, monitor administrative costs, ensuring performance efficiency, while eliminating the need of high cash outlay involved in vehicle ownership. Be it manual or auto, we customize for various business needs! 



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