How Manual Transmissions Work

Where Have the Manuals Gone?
Manual transmissions, also known as 5-speeds, have declined in popularity in the United States and in 2016 accounted for just 5 percent of cars sold. Vladdeep/Thinkstock

As of late 2016, only 5 percent of new vehicles were sold with manual transmissions, according to U.S. News & World Report. That's down from a peak of about 25 percent in 1987.

Even if you're among the rare car buyer who prefers to drive a manual, you'll have a hard time finding one the next time you go to a dealership. Some manufacturers keep the manual around as an excuse to charge more for an automatic or CVT, but the flip side of that is it's difficult to get a well-equipped car with a manual transmission. If you want options such as engine upgrades or all-wheel drive, those features often come only on models or trim levels that do not offer manual transmissions. Sports cars, which used to be surefire ways to get manual transmissions, are also turning toward faster and more efficient automatic options.

Automakers say that automatic transmissions are simply better in every way, especially the CVT and dual-clutch options we covered on previous pages. Actual interest in owning a car with a manual transmission is on the decline, as well, especially as American drivers spend more time sitting in heavy traffic, where constantly feathering a clutch pedal can get tiresome. As U.S. News reported, "as drivers encounter more of these excellent modern automatics, fewer are interested in learning to drive a manual."

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