You know the great thing about driving a car with an automatic transmission? They’re so much fun. The thrill of shifting from park into drive is just exhilarating…said no one ever.
Thirteen years ago, I was in the market for a new car when I found it: a beautiful Saab 9-3 in pristine condition and heated seats. Heated seats! (Please keep in mind this was long before those things were mainstream.)
The dealer was willing to negotiate, putting that beauty well within my price range. There was just one, tiny glitch. It had a stick shift, and I didn’t know how to drive one of those.
“No problem,” said my then boyfriend, who helpfully test drove it, assured me it was a great find and then got it home for me.
All that was left was to learn how to drive it. After a couple weeks of frustrating (and sometimes harrowing) commutes, I more or less had it figured out and never looked back. I’ve since traded in my beloved Saab for a Volkswagen. The one requirement I had when I was looking for a car the second time around? It had to have a manual transmission.
Why? Here’s my completely unscientific list of the benefits of driving stick shift:
1. I’m in control. When I learned to drive a stick, I became infinitely more aware of what my car could do and how to control it. I learned how to listen to the engine and not rely on the tachometer to tell me when to shift. These days I can tell – just by listening – when my husband needs to adjust gears, and I helpfully point it out to him. (He loves that about me, I swear.)
2. It gets better gas mileage. One of the other benefits of driving stick shift is the possibility of boosting your fuel efficiency anywhere from 5 to 15 percent. How much you save depends on your driving style and the road conditions.
3. It’s cheaper to maintain. Generally speaking, manual transmissions are easier to maintain. Clutches tend to be the most common repair. But, again, depending on driving style and road conditions, you might not need to change one for hundreds of thousands of miles.
4. I’m less distracted. Between clutching and reminding myself to get back into first when I stop at a light, I don’t have time (or enough hands) to fiddle with my phone, eat and change a radio station at the same time. You’re welcome, fellow drivers.
5. It’s fun. It’s actually really, really fun. That’s as good a reason as any to learn something new.
6. No one’s going to steal my car. Estimates vary, but the average I’ve seen is that only about 5 to 6 percent of cars sold in the U.S. today have a manual transmission. If my experience at valet stands is any indication, no one knows how to drive them. My car isn’t going anywhere.
7. No one asks to borrow my car. See #6.
Yes, I’ve had embarrassing lurching starts and stalls on hills. If I’m not paying attention (see #4), I still do forget about first gear. Everyone does. But that first time I figured out what I was doing behind the wheel and how to do it consistently was a proud one.
The boyfriend I mentioned earlier is now my husband, and we have a toddler. While I don’t want her to grow up too quickly, I’ll confess I’m looking forward to giving her the confidence that comes from knowing how to use that third pedal on the left.