Manual driving: the death of a dying art?

A close-up of a manual gearstick

Toby Hagon

Posted March 28, 2022

As automatic cars become faster, more efficient and easier to resell than their manual equivalents, is it time to hang up the gear-shifting glove? 

Those who can cast their mind way back will remember when driving used to be complex and vaguely arduous: no power steering, no air-conditioning and having to wrestle around with a gearstick and finely balance a clutch pedal to get the desired forward motion. 

These days electronic assistance and computers take a lot of the effort out of hitting the road, especially when changing gears.

As cars have become more tech-savvy, it has led to many drivers on our roads having never driven a manual car. 

Of the more than one million new vehicles sold last year only 5.5 per cent of them (56,041) had a manual gearbox, according to figures supplied by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

So, are manual cars a dead technology, and should the next generations bother learning to drive one?

Faster and smarter 

Early autos were seen as high tech, but not high performance. 

Letting the car sort out its gear changes was a luxury, but autos were largely left to luxury machines before morphing into mainstream models. 

Autos were known to lower power and reduced efficiency, limiting their appeal. Hence why early auto transmissions rarely touched performance cars. 

But that’s changed thanks to tech. 

Modern automatic transmissions have advanced computer controls that shift far quicker than any human could. 

Buying a manual once bought you more gear ratios, now an auto typically has more - in some cases up to 10. 

There was a time when manuals brought performance advantages over automatics. A manual would also use less fuel, adding to its appeal. These days, it’s the opposite on both counts. 

While Porsche is an exception, many sports cars don’t bother offering a manual these days. Go shopping for a Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren and there are only two pedals, all because the autos are so much quicker. 


A white Ferrari sports car

Ferraris are one of the many sports car brands that only offer automatic.

Computer control 

Computer smarts also means it’s tougher to wrong-step a modern auto transmission. 

They monitor driving styles and road conditions and can pre-empt downshifts, sometimes using artificial intelligence. 

In the case of Rolls-Royce, the auto is even connected to mapping data to prepare for hills and corners before the car arrives. 

James Stewart is the chief instructor at Driving Solutions, which offers defensive and advanced driving courses, says autos are a logical choice. 

“Ninety per cent of people who come and do our courses are driving automatics,” says Stewart. “With the transmissions being so much better, it does make sense to be in an auto these days.” 

There are exceptions, but they’re rare. He says his daughter will learn to drive on a manual because she’s planning a move to the UK and many second-hand cars are manuals. 


There are exceptions to the manual exodus. 

Some affordable sports cars, such as the Mazda MX-5, Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Nissan Z work beautifully with a manual. And there’s something appealing about having full control of what gear the car is in. 

It’s all part of the driver-focused experience, according to Nissan Australia managing director Adam Paterson “there is definitely still customer demand for manual in Australia”. 

“The new Nissan Z will arrive in Australia this year – and around 70 per cent of customers who raised their hand to buy have said they want a manual.” 

Many utes, too, still offer a manual gearbox option, with Paterson saying about 15 per cent of Nissan’s Navara sales are manuals. 


A blue Toyota 86

The Toyota 86 is an affordable sports car that works well as a manual vehicle.

Legal limits

Anyone applying for a driver’s licence will also need to ensure it allows them to drive a manual car.

If you live in South Australia, there’s no issue - your licence allows you to drive a manual or auto regardless of what car you did your test in. That’s a rarity in Australia as most parts of the country have conditions on driving a manual car.

In Victoria, for example, if your driving test was done in a car with an automatic transmission then you’re only allowed to drive autos while on the probationary period, which is at least four years. 

In NSW, drivers on a P1 licence can only drive a manual if they did their driving test in a vehicle with a manual gearbox. Otherwise, they need to wait at least 12 months until they get a P2 licence.

Queensland takes it a step further, only allowing people to drive a manual once they’ve completed a practical test in a car with a manual gearbox.

Hip-pocket protection 

So, is it worth buying a manual or should you follow the masses into an auto? 

The only real advantage is cost. Without the computer controls and additional components manual gearboxes still tend to be cheaper, although in many instances the gap has narrowed. 

It’s also worth considering what it could cost you when it comes time to sell it – in time and/or money. 

The market for some manual cars will be very small, which means it’s harder to find a buyer. Try selling a manual SUV and you’ll instantly wipe out about 98 per cent of the buyers. 


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.