Skip to content

Should you buy a manual or an automatic car?

What’s easier to drive and learn in – a manual or automatic car? We look at manual vs automatic, so you can decide what’s right for you.

What’s easier to drive and learn in – a manual or automatic car? We look at manual vs automatic, so you can decide what’s right for you.

Written by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
10 NOVEMBER 2023
6 min read
Share article

What’s the difference between a manual and an automatic car?

In a manual car, you’re responsible for choosing the right gear – get it wrong and you could stall, making every other driver behind you roll their eyes and curse.

A manual car has three pedals: accelerator, brake and clutch. You press the clutch and use the gearstick to change gear. There can be up to seven gears on a manual car, including reverse. It’s up to you to choose the gear you should be in.

An automatic car, as the name suggests, changes gear for you.

It has just two pedals: an accelerator and a brake. You use the gearstick to choose the mode the car should be in – park, reverse, neutral or drive. Once you put the car in drive, it automatically selects the right gear so there’s no need to worry about stalling.

Is automatic better than manual?

Both have advantages and disadvantages. So it’s a matter of the driver’s personal preference.

Not all models come with a choice. Some models now are purely automatic with no manual models, or vice versa. And almost all electric cars are automatic.

Pros of automatic

  • Automatic gear change: not having to change gear means one less thing to worry about, especially for learner drivers. Changing gear can be tiring in traffic and distracting while you’re also reading the road. Some of the newer automatic cars are also incredibly efficient – they can change a gear quicker than you might be able and will always be in the right gear for the conditions.
  • A smoother drive: automatics tend to be smoother than manuals, letting you creep forward or backward easily when parking, and changing gears almost imperceptibly.

Cons of automatic

  • Fuel efficiency: in the past, automatics have been less fuel efficient than manual cars. However, this is changing and some are now equally efficient or more efficient. It will depend on the age, make and model of your chosen vehicle.
  • Price: automatics can be more expensive to buy and this can be mirrored in the cost of servicing.
  • Expensive repairs: as an automatic gearbox is more complicated than a manual gearbox, they can be more expensive to fix.

Is manual better than automatic?

Again, there are pros and cons.

Pros of manual

  • More control: manual cars usually feel more responsive and you’ll have more control over the car in wet conditions, and snow and ice.
  • Price: manuals are generally less expensive to buy as they don’t use as much complicated tech compared to an automatic car. Likewise, they could be cheaper to repair.
  • Fuel efficiency: if you’re a good driver, using your gearbox effectively and accelerating and braking smoothly, you could find a manual vehicle is more fuel efficient.

Cons of manual

  • Distraction: while you’re changing gear, you need to take one hand off the steering wheel – which has the potential for making driving less safe.
  • Stalling: it can be easy to stall a manual car – this doesn’t happen with an automatic. This means you run the risk of having a row of irritated drivers behind you honking their horns, which can make you flustered.

Did you know?

The number of learner drivers taking their test in an automatic car has increased in recent years.

In 2012-13, 87,844 people took their test in an automatic with 34,749 passing – a pass rate of 39.6%. In 2022-23, this increased to 324,064 taking tests in automatics, with 138,354 people passing – a pass rate of 42.7%.

Should I learn in a manual or automatic car?

An automatic is usually easier to learn in – you put your car in ‘D’ for ‘drive’ and off you go. With a manual car, you’ll need to make sure you’re in the right gear for the speed and road conditions.

Manual drivers will tell you the ‘skill’ of driving a car depends on your ability to select the right gear at the right time and perfecting your clutch control. But if you’re not bothered about that, then learning in an automatic could be for you.

Because there’s less to master in an automatic car, some learners may find it quicker to pass their test. And the quicker you pass your test, the less money you’ll spend on driving lessons.

But lessons in an automatic car might be more expensive than learning to drive in a manual.

Can you drive an automatic car with a manual licence?

If you have a manual licence, you can drive an automatic car. Some drivers find it hard to make the transition, though.

Can you drive a manual car with an automatic licence?

No. If your driving licence is only for automatic cars, you’ll have to upgrade it by passing a driving test in a manual car.

You can start to learn to drive in a manual car at any time. You don’t need to apply for another provisional licence.

You must follow all the usual rules when you’re learning to drive in a manual car. This includes displaying L plates.

You won’t need to take another theory test, but you’ll have to take and pass a practical test in a manual car.

Manual vs automatic: which is right for you?

  • The advantage of a manual licence is that it means you can drive both types of cars without having to take an additional test.
  • Getting hold of an automatic courtesy car or hire car can sometimes be more complicated.
  • Automatics can be better if you find driving in congestion tiring.

Essentially, it comes down to personal preference, unless an impairment makes changing gears tricky for you.

Does automatic car insurance cost more than manual?

You might pay more for automatic car insurance than you would if you had a manual car. This is because repairs on automatic cars can be more expensive.

Inexperienced younger drivers tend to pay more for their insurance, whether for manual or automatic, because of their higher risk of having an accident.

To give you some idea of how much car insurance might cost:

Driver age Automatic Manual
All drivers[1] £993.74 £765.56
Drivers aged 17-24[2] £2,388.22 £1,768.98


[1] 51% of our customers were quoted less than these figures for their automatic and manual comprehensive car insurance in September 2023.

[2] 51% of our customers aged 17-24 were quoted less than these figures for their automatic and manual comprehensive car insurance in September 2023. Premiums for learner drivers may be different.

Other factors can affect the price of your car insurance including:

  • Engine size
  • Your car’s value
  • Your car’s age
  • Any modifications you’ve made
  • What security features you have, such as an alarm or immobiliser
  • How many miles a year you drive
  • Where you live
  • How old you are
  • Your job.

Compare car insurance

Before you get behind the wheel of your car, manual or automatic, you’re going to need suitable insurance.

Tell us a little about you, your car and your driving history, and we’ll show you a list of car insurance quotes so you can see if you can save.

Get a car quote

Frequently asked questions

Is it difficult to find a driving instructor with an automatic car?

You might need to search a bit harder for a driving instructor with an automatic car.

You can find an instructor who is approved by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) on GOV.UK. Just put in your location, then choose your preferred instructor.

What is a DSG gearbox?

A DSG gearbox, also known as a direct-shift gearbox, can give you the best of both worlds: the ease of an automatic with the option of changing to manual mode, if you want to override the automatic gear changes.

DSG gearboxes are often fitted on sportier car models. Because of the complex technology involved, these tend to be more expensive to buy and insure than conventional automatic or manual versions.

Looking for a car insurance quote?

Compare car insurance quotes with us today and see if you could start saving.

Get a quote

Rory Reid - car and technology expert

Rory Reid is a car and technology expert. He serves as the main presenter on Auto Trader’s YouTube channel and was previously a host on BBC Top Gear and its sister show Extra Gear. He is also a presenter on Fifth Gear. Previously, he hosted Sky TV’s Gadget Geeks, CNET’s Car Tech channel, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition and on the YouTube channel Fast, Furious & Funny.

Learn more about Rory

Compare car insurance Get a quote