Should I learn to drive in a manual or automatic car?

Are you struggling to decide whether to choose manual or automatic driving lessons? In this blog we will explore some of the pros and cons of both.

One of the most exciting parts about turning 17 is finally getting to the age where you can learn to drive. After all these years of relying on public transport and lifts from friends and family, at last the open roads await you. All that’s left is the ‘small’ task of actually learning to drive! With more automatic cars on the roads these days, a question that is becoming more relevant is “Should I go for manual or automatic?” There are definitely pros and cons for both, so we’re taking a look… automatic vs manual.

What’s the difference?

The main difference is, in a manual car you’re responsible for choosing the correct gear for the situation, whereas an automatic car will choose for itself. In an automatic, you get to simply focus on either ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse’ and this makes it a bit like driving a go-kart (except with all the road legalities and safety expectations too). So surely it’s a no-brainer? Learning to drive without having to learn how gears work, clutch control and dreaded hill starts. Easy, right?

If this sounds too good to be true, before you go booking lessons with your local automatic instructor, there are some other factors you may want to consider first. Have a look…

The cost of automatic driving lessons: 

One notable difference to consider is that automatic driving lessons are normally more expensive than manual lessons. You might assume that learning in an automatic car means you will need fewer lessons, and while that may be the case for some people, this isn’t a given. There are still many other aspects of driving to master to become a safe driver, therefore the number of automatic lessons someone needs often ends up being about the same as someone taking manual lessons. So, as it’s likely that you’ll take approximately the same number of lessons either way, and the price of automatic lessons is higher, overall, you could spend more on learning in an automatic car. 

Instructor availability:

Though we are absolutely seeing more automatic driving instructors in Portsmouth and Lee-on-the-Solent than ever before it should be noted that manual driving instructors are still much more common and thus easier to find. With that in mind you should factor in the likely waiting times you should expect for each option. With far fewer trainers, automatic driving lessons in Portsmouth and Lee-on-the-Solent will undoubtedly prove tougher to get hold of and will have longer waiting lists so if you’re in no rush that won’t be a problem but if you are desperate to get going you might consider manual driving lessons for a quicker start. 

The price of automatic cars: 

The increased expenditure of automatic cars doesn’t stop after your driving lessons. To buy, automatic cars are almost always more expensive than manual cars, even in exactly the same make and model. Automatic cars have more complicated technology, so repairs and maintenance are often pricier too. So, if you pass your test in an automatic car, when it comes to buying one of your own, you may end up spending more than you would like to. Our advice is, before choosing whether to take automatic or manual lessons, think about the kind of car you’d like to buy after you pass your test and compare the difference in price between transmissions – the automatic version might cost a lot more than you’d budgeted for. 

Insuring your car:

As well as being more expensive to buy, automatic cars normally cost more to insure. In the UK, automatic cars are less common than manual cars which means when it comes to repairs, replacement parts aren’t always as straightforward to locate as they are for manual.

Your options may be limited: 

With an automatic licence, you can only drive an automatic car and cannot drive a manual car without taking an additional driving test. Whereas if you have a manual licence, you’re free to drive either! This can be particularly useful if you ever need to hire a car, or if you want to drive abroad where manual cars are the norm. Many insurance policies will cover you to drive other cars with the owner’s permission, so say you wanted to borrow your friend’s manual car, with an automatic licence this wouldn’t be possible. Having a manual licence makes all these options available to you.

Ease of driving: 

It goes without saying that driving an automatic car is easier and more relaxing than a manual, as you don’t have to worry about gear changes or clutch control. As we said before, having a manual licence means you can drive any vehicle, and that flexibility might suit your needs better, so even if you prefer driving automatic cars, you could always learn in a manual car then buy an automatic after you pass. You might want to consider your environment as well. Certain geographical areas are subject to road conditions that suit manual or automatic vehicles better – for example, areas highly impacted by snow might benefit from manual cars as you can control the gears and power output- higher gears will produce less power while trying to avoid skidding (as explained in your theory test practice). That said, if you live in a heavily populated area such as a city, you may find that the inevitable stop/start traffic lends itself better an automatic car for convenience and comfort of the driver. 


Is it easier to pass a driving test in an automatic car? 

You would think that because driving an automatic car is simpler, it should be easier to pass a driving test in an automatic car, right? Well, data from DVSA suggests the contrary! Between 2019-2020, the average pass rate for automatic driving tests was about 39%, while the average pass rate for manual driving tests was about 45%. 

In conclusion 

  1. Learning to drive in an automatic car generally will cost you more per hour in driving lessons, with no guarantee that you will complete your training with fewer lessons than you would in a manual car.
  2. Automatic cars are usually more expensive to buy, insure and maintain overall.
  3. Automatic lessons might be the easier option for the short term, but consider your needs going forward. If you plan to hire cars regularly, drive abroad or use friends’ and family’s cars, it might benefit you to get a manual licence. 
  4. Automatic cars are more comfortable to drive if you spend a lot of time in cities or in heavy traffic. On the contrary, areas liable to snow and ice may sway you in the direction of a manual car. 
  5. With the rise of electric cars, there will inevitably come a time where all cars are automatic but as it’s difficult to know how far away that is, in the meantime you should decide now what suits your needs best.

So, automatic or manual. Which will you choose?