How to Prepare Yourself for Transition from Manual to Automatic
Here in the UK, and Europe in the wider context, have stubbornly clung to our beloved manual transmission cars. This contrasts strongly with the picture in America, which in 2020 was shown by Edmunds to be a market where only 41 out of 327 new car models sold in the US that year offered a manual transmission.
Things are changing, though. In the first 9 months of 2020, the number of new cars with automatic gearboxes being sold outstripped the share of manual cars for the first time. During that period, automatic-transmission car sales accounted for 54 percent of all new cars sold in the UK.
As things begin to electrify, the scope for new manual transmission cars grows even smaller. So, with the inevitability of automatic gearboxes apparently being just around the corner, what can we do to prepare ourselves to make that switch? There are still millions of drivers who are far from prepared for that.
Tips: How to Prepare Yourself to Switch from Manual to Automatic
Tip #1: Know Your Shifter
If you’ve used a manual car for years, then you’ll only be familiar with the numbered gears on the gearstick, as well as reverse and then neutral when you leave the stick centred. An automatic has different designations that you’ll need to be familiar with if you’re going to have a smooth transition.
Though there are a few differences in specific automatic transmission types, the broad range of settings includes:
- Drive (D)
- Reverse (R)
- Neutral (N)
- Park (P)
These are sometimes further divided, in particular Drive (D), which you may see listed as D3, or “2” or even “L.” These refer to drive settings that will keep your car within a low gear ratio. The ratio “L” for instance keeps you in or very close to 1st gear (on modern cars, it will shift up to second when it reaches a certain rpm). The ratio “2” does a similar thing, but the ceiling is 2nd gear, and so you get the idea.
These features are useful when you’re facing a steep hill up ahead. Setting the gears to the lowest ratio ensures you always have enough power to climb a steep incline. Your automatic may also feature a “S” for sports drive mode, which when used should proffer more impressive acceleration.
Tip #2: Know Your Pedals
The most obvious difference between an automatic and a manual car is the absence of the clutch pedal. You only have the brake and the accelerator. When you’ve been driving a manual car for so many years, the absence of the clutch can really take some getting used to. For manual-transmission drivers, using the left foot on the clutch is like a natural reflex, especially when it comes to braking.
This is something that should simply wear off with time. Be prepared for the fact that you might put your left foot into action from its resting position to depress a pedal that isn’t actually there; a ghost pedal if you like. You’ll do it a few times, but eventually you’ll get used to the new arrangement.
There is one risk with shifting from manual to automatic when it comes to pedals and that’s the bad practice of braking with one’s left foot. Some might take the position that since the right foot is for the accelerator, why can’t the now free left foot simply be used for braking. It may sound like good sense, but it is in fact dangerous. In an automatic car, your right foot is the pedal foot, and your left foot gets a permanent vacation.
Tip #3: Get Some Practice
If you’ve never driven an automatic before, it would be a great thing to practice driving one, perhaps with a driving instructor at first so you can get used to the difference. A driving instructor’s car is more than likely a manual, but what you could do is rent an automatic and simply have the instructor in the car. You’re a licenced driver and therefore the instructor shouldn’t have any qualms about riding with you and not having the typical dual pedal setup that driving instructor’s cars usually have.
Getting some professional guidance on driving an automatic is good not just for your own safety on the road, but so you can learn the ins and out of driving an automatic properly without risking damage or unnecessary wear and tear. There are bad habits that people quickly develop, such as flipping the car into reverse while it’s still moving, that are very bad for the health of an automatic transmission. An instructor can help you avoid these pitfalls.
Tip #4: Prepare for More Expensive Insurance and Fuel Costs
It’s an unfortunate fact that, as things currently stand, insurance for an automatic transmission is more expensive than it is for a manual car. According to data collected by MoneySuperMarket.com between July and September 2020, the average insurance premium for an automatic is £801, whereas it’s just £660 for a manual car.
On the whole, they are less fuel efficient as well. The gap between manual and automatic transmissions and fuel consumptions has narrowed considerably with the advent of CVTs and innovations like the VW direct-shift gearbox (DSG). These are far sportier and more efficient, and don’t have the same “lag” factor that traditional automatic transmission cars do.
Tip #5: Prepare for More Maintenance
On top of the additional insurance and fuel costs that you’ll have to pay, there are likely to be more expensive maintenance costs down the road. An automatic transmission is a lot more complex than a manual, especially a CVT or DSG unit. This means that if things do go wrong, it can end up costing you more to fix.
Regular check-ups on your transmission fluid and overall transmission health are very important when you’re driving an automatic car. If you keep it well lubricated and follow up any signs of problems quickly, then it will serve you very well for many, many thousands of miles.
Conclusion: Practice Makes Perfect
After so many years behind the wheel of a manual-transmission car, it’s natural that the shift to automatic will take some getting used to. The fact is that despite issues like greater costs and new sensations to get used to when driving, an automatic transmission actually makes your driving life a lot easier, especially when you’re driving in the city.
How many times have you been in traffic shifting from 1st to 2nd, back to 1st, back to 2nd, back to 1st? It’s tiresome! An automatic will enhance your driving life and leave you more energy to focus on the road ahead.