Which is best automatic or manual?

Before you even begin your driving lessons, you’ll have a big decision to make, it’s an enduring debate that continues in the realm of driving – what is the best car to learn to drive in? Manual vs automatic car. 

This pivotal choice not only influences your initial learning curve, but also affects your long-term driving habits, vehicle costs, and the personal connection you have to driving. 

The preference for either manual or automatic gearboxes has traditionally been influenced by various factors, including driving conditions, economic considerations, and your own personal preferences. 

In the UK, manual cars are typically more prevalent, however, in recent years we’ve seen automatic cars become more and more popular. Here we break it all down, looking at the pros and cons to help you figure out which side of the gear shift you should land on. 

Understanding the basics 

Both manual and automatic cars are widely available in the UK, to understand them more deeply, here’s how they both work: 

Manual transmission 

A manual car has a clutch pedal and a gear stick that are used together to manually change the gears, which usually will range from five to six speeds. As the driver you must engage the clutch, which disconnects the engine from the transmission to change gears, and then release the clutch to reconnect them. A manual transmission gives the driver control over the gear and speed transitions which are based on driving conditions. 

Automatic transmission 

Automatic cars simplify driving by using a complex system that involves planetary gear sets, a torque converter and sensors which decide when to change gears. There’s no clutch pedal in an automatic car, instead just two pedals – the brake and accelerator. An automatic car will adjust gears automatically based on the engine’s EPM and the car’s speed. This makes the drive smoother and in some ways easier, especially if you’re in heavy traffic. 

Learning to drive – manual vs. automatic 

Choosing whether to learn driving in a manual or automatic car is a decision that not only affects your driving lessons now, but also your future vehicle choices and your overall driving experience. Here are some things you should consider: 

Manual car 

Learning on a manual transmission enhances your skill set by teaching you the intracices of gear changes and clutch control. This can be difficult to get at first, as you’ll need to synchronise your hand and foot movements smoothly to work the clutch and gear stick at the same time. 

Driving a manual car also keeps you more engaged with driving, which can be beneficial to new drivers as it forces them to concentrate and be attentive to what they’re doing in the car and on the road. 

Automatic car

An automatic car takes away the stress of clutch control and fear changes, which gives beginner drivers the ability to focus solely on steering, acceleration and braking. This can make learning to drive less intimidating and a quicker process. 

By choosing an automatic car, the car controls gear shifts, which means you can focus more on the road, traffic awareness and other driving dynamics. 

Can I drive a manual car if I pass my test in an automatic? 

Unfortunately not, you can’t legally drive a manual car if you pass your driving test in an automatic. You’ll have to pass a driving test for a manual licence too. 

However, it’s worth noting that getting a manual licence allows you to drive both manual and automatic cars. This type of licence is more flexible as it doesn’t restrict the type of car you can drive, unless you’re looking to drive heavy goods vehicles, which require additional tests. 

Making future vehicle choices 

When it comes to deciding what you should learn to drive – a manual or an automatic, you should take into consideration your future vehicle choices. 

If you choose to gain a manual driving licence you’ll have the flexibility to choose from a wider range of vehicles. What’s more, manual cars are typically cheaper to buy and maintain. 

Whereas, automatic cars, while generally more expensive, offer a more relaxed driving experience, especially in heavy traffic or over long distances. 

The fact that there is no clutch control in an automatic car means that they’re great choices for those with physical disabilities. 

Plus, as technology advances, especially as the car market looks to hybrid and electric vehicles as the future, learning to drive an automatic car could be considered future-proofing your driving skills. 

Advantages of Manual Transmission 

  • Greater control and engagement with driving, potentially giving a more enjoyable driving experience for enthusiasts. 
  • Typically lower purchase and maintenance costs, making it the more budget-friendly option. 
  • Potential insurance benefits because of simpler mechanics and lower repair costs. 
  • Driving lessons are typically cheaper than learning in an automatic car. However, you might find that you need more lessons to get to grips with the gears. 

Disadvantages of Manual Transmission 

  • Increased complexity in driving, particularly in high-traffic situations. Driving for long periods can sometimes lead to physical discomfort. 
  • It can be a steeper learning curve for new drivers, with additional skills required for gear shifting and clutch control. 

Advantages of Automatic Transmission

  • Easier to drive, especially for beginners and those who prefer not to have to deal with gear shifts. This often results in a more relaxed driving experience. 
  • Smooth ride quality, as there are seamless gear changes made by the car itself. 
  • Less chance of driver fatigue when driving in heavy traffic, as there is no need for consistent gear changes. 

Disadvantages of Automatic Transmission 

  • Cars will cost more, generally, compared to a manual transmission. As well as that, they’ll potentially cost more to repair and maintain. This is due to the complexity of automatic gearboxes. 
  • Some drivers might find automatics less engaging to drive. 
  • Learning to drive in an automatic car is going to cost more per lesson, usually, however, you might need fewer lessons as there is no need to learn about gear changes and control. 

Operational Distinctions – a roundup 


Manual transmissions allow more direct control over the car, as you’re the one choosing the gears to suit your speed. This can be advantageous in adverse conditions like icy roads and hilly terrains. 

Ease of use 

Automatics are less strenuous to drive as the car handles the gear changes. This allows the driver to focus on steering and navigating. 

Cost and maintenance

Manuals, typically, are cheaper to buy, maintain and repair as they’re less complex in design compared to automatic cars. 

Fuel efficiency 

Historically, manuals have been more fuel-efficient than automatics, although this gap is closing as modern automatic transmissions optimise gear changes more efficiently compared to humans. 

Manual vs. Automatic: Which Should You Learn to Drive?

The choice between learning in a manual or an automatic car involves considering your current comfor level, your willingness to engage deeply with the driving process, and your future vehicle preferences. 

If you want flexibility to choose whichever car, then manual might be the way to go. However, for simplicity and ease, an automatic could be a better choice. 

Always consider how this choice aligns with your personal circumstances and your long-term driving needs too.