Manual Transmission

Want to know a secret about the AutoSlash team? We really love cars! In our travels, we get to try various vehicles in exotic places, not just the default Chevy Impala or Nissan Altima provided at the local branch office. One of our favorite aspects of driving abroad is the ability to book rental cars with manual transmissions! Although our team owns a few daily drivers in manual configuration, our options when we purchase new cars in the United States are dwindling fast, and the ability to rent a manual transmission in the United States is effectively non-existent.

How many drivers would enter a quote request for a manual transmission rental in the United States if the option were available and publicized? We think the percentage is higher than the rental car companies might expect. Yet given the current trends in the U.S. market, perhaps we need to visit our local Mazda dealers for the Mazda6 mid-size in manual configuration while we can.

A Trendline Toward Extinction

Why is it so hard to purchase or rent a car with a manual transmission in the U.S. and Canada? There are many reasons:

  • Fewer drivers know how to drive a manual transmission (perhaps less than 1/5th of all U.S. licensed drivers).
  • Rental car companies know many of the rentals would be used to train new drivers. Car-sharing services like Turo explicitly disallow using manual transmission vehicles for driver training.  
  • Automatic transmissions have improved over time. We wouldn't say they are now better than manual transmissions, but they have improved.
  • Manufacturers are focusing on automatic transmissions. It costs an automaker almost $1 million per engine/transmission combination to certify the EPA gas mileage and emissions, each year! A manufacturer offering a model with three engine options, in automatic and manual transmissions, would effectively pay $6 million in certification costs alone before the first vehicle of each model year sells.

We were more than a little saddened by US News’ recent assertion:

for manual models to exist, there has to be a way for those models to seamlessly be able to accommodate technology without distraction.

Somehow, drivers abroad don’t have the same technology/driving problems attributed to United States consumers! In our worldview, for manuals to exist, these models need to remind drivers of the responsibilities and joy of driving! The best way to not be distracted is to be engaged! It’s really not that hard.  

Traveling Outside the U.S. and Canada?

A resident of the rest of the world would think that the U.S. and Canada are relatively backward when it comes to vehicle transmissions. The focus on automatic transmissions is prevalent among auto manufacturers for the U.S. and Canadian market but largely an afterthought in the rest of the world (the other 191 countries). That does have an impact on renters from the U.S. and Canada seeking a car abroad, especially those who have never learned to drive manual transmissions.

Our friend Pawel describes having to strain to find a rental vehicle that comes with an automatic transmission in Europe! When automatic transmissions are available, those models are often far more expensive than the same car class in a manual configuration. And some cities and regions have vehicle fleets that are unimaginable to many travelers. Considering a visit to Ponta Delgada, Portugal (PDL)? There are never automatic transmissions available!


We're moving Ponta Delgada up on our "To Visit" list.

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