Driving Stick: Can a Manual Transmission Save You Money?

stick shift
Grant Bacon under Creative Commons

Although most people in the U.S. and Canada drive cars with automatic transmissions, plenty of folks love driving cars with standard transmissions for a variety of reasons.

I’ve been driving stick ever since my first car was totaled. By a stroke of luck, one of my relatives wanted to get rid of his old car, and it ended up in my driveway for a few months instead of a junkyard. Learning how to drive stick was a necessity, but now it’s just fun.

It takes time to learn to drive a manual transmission, but that skill can save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars during your driving lifetime.

The savings achieved by driving a stick-shift vehicle can add up if you’re not fussy about buying an older car, or a particular make or model. Some of the savings will become easy to see, while a handful might depend on several variables.

Here’s how driving stick saves you money.

Manual Transmission Cars are Cheaper Than Automatics

The biggest savings of all comes from the purchase price. If you’re in the market for a new car, take advantage of driving stick to save some cash. Stick-shift vehicles can be quite rare on the dealership lot — unless you’re looking at expensive, high-end options like Lamborghinis — and some dealers just want to get rid of them, even if it’s close to the wholesale price.

For example, a relative of mine bought a brand-new 1997 Kia Sephia — a bare-bones model with no air conditioning, no radio and roll-upwindows. For a car that averaged 32 miles per gallon and lasted over 130,000 miles, the dealer couldn’t get rid of it fast enough, so he sold it for little more than $8,000 (including tax).

The savings increase when you start looking at used cars. Compare bargains on multiple car sites like AutoTrader and Cars.com to find great deals.

Let’s say you can only afford to spend around $5,000 and want a vehicle with less than 60,000 miles. Seems a bit tricky, eh? I did a test search to compare options. Searching within 100 miles of New York City on AutoTrader, I found two Chevrolet Aveos that fit the bill. One, a black 2004 Chevy Aveo Hatchback, had around 45,000 miles. It had an automatic transmission and managed 31 mpg on the highway. The dealer had priced it at $5,994, not too shabby for a car that normally has a sticker price of about $12,000.

The other vehicle, a yellow 2008 Chevy Aveo5, had a stick shift and a reduced price of $3,995. It had the same equipment as the 2004, but was three years newer and achieved 34 mpg on the highway — and as we’ll see later in the post, those three additional miles per gallon could save you over $100 per year.

Here’s the kicker: the odometer showed just under 30,000 miles. An automatic with similar mileage, a 2006 Chevy Aveo with 23,000 miles, was priced at $7,998 — so driving stick could save you $3,000, even before you leave the dealership.

Want to boost your savings even more? Make sure to visit the dealership near the end of the month, when research suggests is the best time to buy.

Savings That Add Up Over Time

While none of these reasons will save you a ton of money at once, they’ll add up over time to a nice chunk of change.

Fuel Economy

If you’re looking for a new car, then you’ll barely notice a difference in savings between automatic and manual transmissions. Even Consumer Reports explains how some of the newer automatic engines are matching up to their manual counterparts. However, if your budget restricts you to looking at older cars without fuel-efficient technologies, learning how to properly drive a stick-shift vehicle could help you save money in fuel costs each month.

By comparing two older cars at FuelEconomy.gov, you can see how some of the reported mpgs by drivers of older stick-shift vehicles outshine the automatics. For example, compare the fuel economy for automatic and manual 2004 Chevy Cavaliers. While the official EPA difference is only 2 mpg for combined city/highway driving, driver reports show nearly a 5 mpg difference between the transmissions. If you drove 20,000 miles a year and bought gas at $3 a gallon, you’d save just over $315 per year in fuel costs. Even the official EPA difference would save you $177 per year.

Roadside Assistance

Except for getting a car towed, most people rarely take advantage of their automotive club memberships. Driving a stick-shift vehicle could eliminate this cost, especially in urban areas. If your automatic vehicle stalls out, you’ll need a tow to the garage. When a stick shift stalls out, you could actually drive the car to the garage by popping the clutch.

Once, my car’s ignition switch failed and I stalled out on a slight incline, which makes it harder to pop the clutch. Luckily, a police officer whose vehicle had a rubberized ram on the front bumper offered to push. With that boost, I was able to get the car to the repair shop without paying for a tow truck.

Repair Costs

When it’s time to repair your transmission, driving a manual can save you a bundle, according to Alex Glenn on esurance’s blog. He reports that while automatic transmissions often cost around $3,000, manual ones often run around $1,200 to $1,500 — half the cost.

Rental Cars

This benefit might not kick in very often, but when it does, it’s a huge money-saver. If you travel overseas for work or pleasure, being able to drive a stick shift can be quite valuable. Some areas of the world may not have automatic rental cars, so you’ll need to drive stick or hire a private driver.

Even if the company does have automatics, I’ve seen rental companies charge nearly triple the standard amount for them. You could pay for part of your next trip with the money you save by knowing how to drive stick!

Theft Prevention: An Additional Benefit?

Since new drivers often learn on automatics and fewer people know how to drive stick, conventional wisdom says that opportunistic thieves looking for a car to steal might just skip one with a stick.

This isn’t a proven benefit, according to Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks car theft trends.

“Some thieves might be thwarted in their attempt to steal a car with a manual transmission, since many thieves possess varying levels of intellect,” Scafidi told Edmunds.com. “But there are those in the car thief ranks who are quite capable of making off with anything that they intend to steal.”

While it shouldn’t be your only reason for switching to stick, it might be a slight potential benefit — just ask the woman in Seattle whose manual transmission foiled three would-be carjackers earlier this year.

Your Turn: Do you drive stick, and was saving money one of your reasons for learning?

Craig Martin is a freelance writer/editor who loves to drive around with a stick shift, but his pet peeve is when drivers ride his bumper.. on an incline.. at a red light. You can follow him on Twitter (@CMBizWriting) or visit his website, CraigMartinBusinessWriter.com.