“Why should I bother learning to drive stick?”
It’s a fair question. Today, less than 3 percent of new cars and trucks in the U.S. are made with a manual transmission, according to the Environmental Protection Agency—a number down from nearly 35 percent in 1980.
That number makes sense. After all, an automatic transmission does the work of shifting gears for you as you speed up or slow down. But learning how to drive stick is easier than you might think, says auto expert Lauren Fix, the “Car Coach.” True, it does take some practice to find the sweet spot between pushing down on the gas pedal and easing up on the clutch as you shift gears. But Fix notes that there are some compelling reasons to learn this skill; and once you do, you may never want to go back. Here’s why.
It’s Way More Fun
With a manual transmission, you’re the one shifting into a higher gear—exactly when you want to—instead of relying on your car to do it for you. “It unlocks an entirely new world of driving,” says Fix, who likens the releasing of the clutch and the pushing of the gas pedal to a dance. “You get the control, the enjoyment and the freedom. It’s a blast. I think it’s the best way to drive.”
It’s Handy In A Pinch
You never know when you might need to drive a stick. Say you’re out with a friend in a manual-transmission car, and an emergency requires you to drive it—what then? Also, you may find yourself on vacation overseas, where manual transmissions are far more common. “There should be no car on the road today that you can’t drive,” says Fix.
You Could Save Money
When you’re buying a new car, one with a manual transmission may cost less—as much as $1,200 less, according to one report. Fix found the same, looking at several top-selling new manual-transmission cars and seeing list prices at least $1,000 cheaper than their automatic counterparts.
You May Get Better Gas Mileage
It used to be generally accepted that manual-transmission cars got better gas mileage than automatics. The EPA says this is generally no longer the case, but some testing found better fuel economy on some (though not all) manuals. Nevertheless, says Fix, you can still improve your gas mileage using a stick—if you know what you’re doing. “Like when a light turns red,” she says, “you can drop the car into neutral, coast to the light and use the brakes to stop.”
You’re Less Likely To Be Distracted
Since you need both hands to drive stick—at least, when not cruising along on a highway—it’s much harder to send a text at the same time (or to eat, or change your playlist). “You really have to be paying attention,” says Fix. Of course, no matter what kind of transmission you have, it’s essential to avoid distracted driving.
The Skills Are Transferable
Some of the techniques you use when driving stick—namely, using your left foot on the clutch and your right on the accelerator and the brake—will come in handy when you’re riding a motorcycle or ATV, which also have both left- and right-foot controls.
Read more: Here are 5 other smart tips on how to get better gas mileage.
By Mark Yarm