Is it a Bad Idea to Drive an Automatic in Manual Mode?
One of the top things that drivers say when they move from a manual transmission to an automatic one is how much they miss the gear shifting action. Some people claim that on long drives, it’s better to be in a manual car because the need to shift gears helps keep you more alert, and driving an automatic can become tedious, possibly leading to drowsiness in the driver.
Combining Manual and Automatic
Over the years, car companies have tried to find solutions to this problem in the form of alternatives to purely automatic models. At first, we called them semi-automatic cars, but now they are just known as automatics again. In these models, drivers have a choice on how to manage their gears.
Manual mode gear shifting – The gear shifter is moved into position and then either pushed up or down to move gears up and down. It might require only a quick press or a quick motion.
Wheel-mounted paddle shifters allow the driver to shift gears up and down in manual mode to regain control over the transmission.
They’ve made it look like the best of both worlds, but there is more to consider with this type of car. Some believe that driving an automatic in manual mode is actually a bad idea, potentially causing damage to the transmission, wearing it out faster and resulting in premature and expensive repairs being necessary.
Where Can Problems Occur?
First of all, it should be pointed out that driving your automatic car in manual mode, overall, doesn’t add any significant wear and tear to the car, unless you accidentally overtax the system in some way or mistakenly put the gear shifter back into another mode like neutral, park or reverse while you’re moving.
The first of those two problems — overtaxing the system — is easily done among drivers who have never driven a manual transmission before and therefore are inexperienced in managing gears. This is relatively uncommon in the UK, however, since the vast majority of young drivers still learn to drive in manual cars, even if they then immediately start driving automatics after passing their test.
The second problem is also rare thanks to the design of the gear shifter on this type of car. The shifter’s manual mode will normally be set to one side so you can push the lever up or down to change gears without being able to accidentally push it too far back up into another gear setting. Below are some things that all drivers should be aware of, however, while driving their automatic car in manual mode:
Don’t Forget to Upshift When You are Cruising
One of the biggest reasons people like the manual mode is that it gives the more power and control in particular circumstances. If you’re climbing a steep hill, for instance, having more control and being able to keep the car in first gear is a great way to get the torque and power you need to scale the slope more comfortably.
That’s the plus side, on the other hand, it can become a problem if you forget to upshift back to higher gears as you level out and once again reach cruising speeds. You don’t want to be travelling long distances in first, second or third gear. In a regular manual transmission, you should be in top gear by the time you hit 35mph, in reality. In manual mode, the gears are all in your hands, so remember to shift them.
Changes to Fuel Efficiency
It’s also possible that using manual mode will affect your car’s fuel efficiency, depending of course on your normal driving habits. The inevitable result of spending a longer time in manual mode is that the driver tends to push the car harder. The manual mode is conducive to what people might call more “fun” or “active” driving. It pushes the extremes a little more, which is a point of attraction, too. Pushing the engine harder, however, also means more fuel used, so you can be aware of that.
Increases to Wear and Tear
An additional note to the above is that if you use manual mode as a way of making the car more dynamic so that in turn you can push it harder, then more wear and tear on the transmission can occur. More wear and tear ultimately means it has a shorter life, but it’s very unlikely (if at all) that it would wear the transmission or other components down to the point of premature failure. The key is to not spend too much time dwelling in the realm of high RPMS.
Finally, it’s important to point out that in the majority of cases, an automatic car that includes a manual mode is still built as an automatic car. Manual mode is there primarily to provide drivers with a choice at times when they need an extra power boost or some extra control. Above we mentioned how travelling uphill in a manual gives you more power and control. Equally, travelling down a steep slope in automatic means you spend most of the time riding the brake pedal, which is bad for the brakes. Using manual mode, you can lower the gear and let the engine take over some of the braking legwork, taking pressure off the brakes.
As we say, though, these are all special circumstances and are unlikely to be a part of most people’s regular driving day. Any problems that do occur with using an automatic in manual mode tend to come from over-using the manual mode. By keeping the car in manual mode continuously, you are trying to make the car into something it isn’t in reality. The mode is there to be used, but sparingly.
Spare the Manual – Save it for Special Occasions
In order to maximise the life of your automatic transmission, we recommend sparing the manual mode as much as you can. It’s a useful tool for extra power and control at those special times you need it, and it can be a fun way to add some dynamism and enjoyment to a ride down country lanes, for instance, but not as your “default” setting.