Everyone Should Know How To Drive A Manual
We are a dying breed. No, I’m not talking about humans, or truck enthusiasts, or anything of that sort. The breed I’m referring to is those who can operate a manual transmission. It wasn’t that long ago that a transmission in which you selected your own gears was called standard. Automatics were options and they were upcharged. When the automobile was born, manual was the only option. Over time, automatics have become the norm, starting with cars and slowly working their way into pickups. Now you’re hard pressed to even find a truck with a manual transmission. In fact, there are only five options left for the ’16 model year: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, and Ram HD. If something isn’t done to save the manual transmission, we’re going to see it completely vanish within our lifetime.
So what’s causing the demise of the manual? A combination of factors can be blamed for the downturn. From a fuel economy stand point, they have lost their advantage over automatics. For a long time, manual transmissions were far more efficient, but the automatic has not only caught up, but has also surpassed, the manual in efficiency. The addition of gears—upward of 8 to 10—and advent of DSG and automated-manual technology have taken over as the economy leaders. Now, manufacturers don’t need these in their portfolio to meet federal fuel economy standards, and buyers seeking the highest miles to the gallon aren’t relegated to base model truck.
The second (and scariest) reason we’re seeing the demise of the manual is a simple lack of demand. If people bought them the manufacturers would keep offering them—simple as that: money talks. Nevertheless, the fact is that the take rate on manual transmissions for the models for which they are available is less than five percent. Knowing this, the handful of manufacturers who still offer the do-it-yourself gearbox should be applauded.
So why should we all care about this eventual extinction? For starters, we’re all worse drivers now than a generation prior. Automatics have made us lazy and greatly reduced the amount of attention to the process that driving requires. I feel that the greatest way to reduce the amount of distracted driving incidents is to require manual transmissions. If you’re busy shifting gears there’s no time for texting, putting on makeup, or eating triple cheeseburgers. Since I know it’s not practical to mandate that everyone drive a manual, I’d propose that all kids learn on a standard transmission. I feel that this will make everyone a better driver in the long run. But since my reign ends at my property line, all I can do is promise that my children will learn how to drive stick and encourage everyone else to do the same.
Aside from the practical benefit of cutting down on distracted driving, rowing your own gears is just plain fun. There’s a reason that while the manual transmission is dying most places, it’s still alive and well in sports cars. The newest addition to our long-term test fleet is a ’16 Nissan Frontier equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, and it is a blast to drive. On an off-road trail, revving up the 4.0L V-6 engine and banging gears near redline is a ton of fun. Of course, I only do that when I’m feeling a bit frisky. Another truck I drove recently was a ’15 Ram 2500 Tradesman with the 6.7L Cummins diesel and six-speed manual. Driving that truck felt like piloting a semi. It’s a feeling that is almost indescribable and will make for a very sad day when Ram quits building them.
If you’re reading this right now and don’t know how to drive a manual transmission, I encourage you to find a buddy with a truck and learn. It’s not a necessary skill, but one that every man and woman who holds a drivers license should have. If we don’t pass the skill along to those younger than us, we could see the demise of the manual within a generation—and that would be a crying shame.