Gearbox Focus – 6 Tips To Get You The Right Car


A vehicle’s gearbox can be a huge factor in how enjoyable it is, how usable it is and how expensive it is. For most cars, there are two main types, the manual and the automatic. The wrong choice here could have an impact cost and enjoyment for a long time. I’m a manual person at heart, and therefore have that gearbox in my focus, but which is best for your car? The following 6 tips will help you decide.

(Before we get into the details, don’t forget our 10% Referral Refund Scheme, for anyone who sends a customer to Motorkwirks Finder and Consultancy Services. Could you be the next to benefit?)

The mighty MTX75 gearbox really suits both focus and me
The mighty MTX75 gearbox really suits both focus and me

The auto version of a car tends to cost more to purchase new than the equivalent manual, if not normally by a huge margin. However, the main costs to consider are the maintenance ones. Auto transmissions are generally more complicated than manuals, especially in today’s world of dual clutches and launch control. Due to their complexity, autos typically come with higher repair costs come maintenance time. This ironically can mean that used auto can be cheaper than equivalent manuals, due to expected big bills later on. I had my manual gearbox oil changed at around 90,000 miles, at a cost of around £80, including me paying for fully synthetic transmission fluid. Nothing but the best, because if a job’s going to be done, do it properly. The same job for an automatic can cost far more than this.

As you no doubt have seen from the car myths page, auto cars are no longer generally slower than the equivalent manual. Not only this, but they are easier to drive quickly due to no longer having to worry about changing gear quickly. The kick-down facility that most automatics have also mean that overtaking becomes much faster and smoother. Manuals have not become terrible overnight, but even the best drivers will struggle to change gear as quickly as most modern autos.

The manual gearbox does require a bit more skill to get the best out of it, and more detail on this will follow in a few sections time. In the case of my Focus, it’s so old that my manual version is quicker than the auto. Having 5 gears rather than 4 does help in this regard. As does being slightly lighter. This goes for both me and the car.

The more pedals, the more skill required to use the gearbox. I imagine
The more pedals, the more skill required to use the gearbox. I imagine

Again, it used to be that the auto was more thirsty than the manual but this is no longer true. At least according to official figures, with there still being doubts as to how realistic these figures are. In many cases, autos claim to put out less CO2 than the manual equivalent. The differences do not tend to be stark, so it may still take some time to offset the extra cost of buying or maintenance. In my case, the manual focus is faster, lighter and more economical than the auto equivalent, so for me it was a very simple choice.

Auto cars are generally nicer to drive in traffic. If you’re going to be doing a lot of commuting and you may have to be stationary for some time, they have a strong case. If the driver selects ‘Drive’ mode in an auto, and the driver moves their foot off the brake, the car may lurch forward. Many therefore recommend leaving extra space in slow moving traffic to avoid collisions. Even with this characteristic, the auto is much easier in traffic than a manual. Several minutes of clutch work will take its toll on your left leg. Fortunately, on the Focus it’s merely annoying rather than painful. My old BMW 320i had a heavy clutch, and driving it in traffic was a bit of a pain frankly. Avoiding such situations will help no end.

A Word On Safety
Quite a few years ago, there were a couple of cars that built unfortunate reputations for having accelerators that stuck to the floor. This is extremely rare, but I feel, still worth mentioning. The consequences could be worse for an auto car, as in theory one would keep on accelerating until the top speed. Fortunately, many car makers have systems in place to prevent much harm happening. Brakes will take precedence over accelerator if both pedals are pressed, so you should still be able to come to a halt. I’m very lucky that this has not happened to me, although my car being manual helps. I can slow down safely with a clutch press, shift to neutral and gentle braking.

For me, this is the big one. I find manuals much more fun. Many drivers like the sense that the driver is more directly involved in the gear changing process. I like the skill required to match revs, biting point, clutch, tyre traction and speed. I’m not claiming to be good at this, but it’s the taking part the counts, as we keep being told. Auto I find take a layer of fun away from us. In an age where we are talking mostly about electric cars, autonomous vehicles and driver aids, keen drivers still lust after a manual. This is even more true in hot hatchbacks or sports saloons where driver involvement has a large impact on sales.

Shift the gearbox too quickly and the traction control light may flash
Shift the gearbox too quickly and the traction control light may flash

Having said this, the number of SUVs being sold suggests that more people don’t care about driver fun. They care about the safety (good) and having a status symbol (less good). A lot of autos do have a manual mode as a middle ground. This means that drivers can always shift gears themselves if they wish. I have to admit it was very good fun driving the Mercedes C63 AMG on a track last year, with its 9 – speed auto. At no point did I wish I had a clutch pedal. Maybe I am able to move with the times.

Hopefully this has shed a bit of light on what to think about for you next car. Of course, there are some cars that are only offered with one type of gearbox, which makes choice easier. But which one do you prefer, and why? Feel free to join the family and let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts?