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The Differences Between Automatic and Manual Transmissions

Most average vehicles these days will have an automatic transmission. However, some trucks, large vehicles and sports cars will still have manual transmissions for more specific performance traits. We’re not here to argue which is better. It really depends on the vehicle and the driver’s preference. However, there are some key differences between automatic and manual transmissions that it helps to understand when it comes to maintenance and repairs.

In a basic sense, both automatic and manual transmissions perform the exact same function of shifting gears and converting power from the engine into to the vehicle’s drivetrain system and its wheels. How this function is performed, however, is a bit different between the two.

Mechanical Components

As you might expect, automatic transmissions are definitely more complex than manual. The simpler it is for the driver, the more complicated the inner workings of the transmission need to be. Automatic transmissions will use a torque converter that automates all the shifting between gears. They also use a planetary gear system. A manual transmission features a flywheel attached to the engine’s crankshaft. The clutch system is another distinctive component of a manual transmission.

Driver Control

With automatic transmissions, you don’t need to shift between gears when driving forward. You simply put the vehicle in “drive” and the transmission does the rest of the work. Manual transmissions require you to use the clutch and shifter to manually change between gears. Some people prefer the control of a manual set-up, but many like the convenience and ease of an automatic.

Fuel Economy

In most older vehicles, a manual transmission will usually provide a slight boost in fuel economy (though it depends somewhat on the driver and how hard they push the vehicle). Nowadays, you have more hybrid, electric and specialized engine designs that provide improved fuel economy and a majority of these vehicles will have automatic transmissions.


All transmissions require regular maintenance, which includes changing the transmission filter, transmission fluid and transmission pan gasket every 30,000-60,000 miles. This cannot and should not be avoided no matter what type of transmission you have.


Likewise, all transmissions are complex systems and parts can naturally wear out. At the first sign of any transmission problems, you should have it inspected by an auto repair expert. A lot of times, a simple fix now can save thousands of dollars in transmission repairs (or a full transmission replacement) down the line.

San Francisco Automotive Solutions has all your transmission repair and maintenance needs covered. Our ASE Certified technicians are experts at working on both automatic and manual transmissions. If you need transmission help, contact San Francisco Automotive Solutions today at (415) 957-1170 or schedule your service appointment online.


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