There used to be many good reasons for a new driver to learn a manual transmission: To start with, cars with stick shifts were cheaper, more efficient and quicker. The longstanding barrier has been that the learning curve is mighty steep compared with an automatic — and possibly compared with all other aspects of driving combined.
But things have changed. In a nutshell, a young driver’s reasons to learn stick now seem to be down to “they’re harder for millennials to steal” and “some old guy told me they’re more fun and I should put down my phone and pay more attention to my driving anyway.” (We’re doomed.)
I was an audiophile before I was old enough to drive, and now that I look at the statistics around stick shifts in the U.S. auto market, I have a familiar sinking feeling. Trying to explain why manual transmissions are better than automatics in 2020 is like trying to explain why vinyl records were better than compact discs in the 1980s: You can’t … because they’re not, at least not in ways that will resonate with the masses or the business world.
This sentiment might not be what you’d expect from the guy who hosted Cars.com’s video tutorial, “How to Drive a Manual Transmission” (and who formerly worked at audiophile publications), but I am, first and foremost, a journalist concerned with the truth. And the truth from one member of the staff that established the Cars.com-conceived National Stick Shift Day is that manual transmissions aren’t “better” any more than vinyl records, deep-dish pizza or any number of other examples I could name. We just like them. Many of us prefer them to the alternative. I wish that were enough.