If you're looking for one major way to save on your next car, consider buying a manual. Want to know how much a manual transmission save you? Keep reading.

Back in 2011, I was browsing cars at a Carmax in North Georgia when I spotted a glorious, shimmering blue BMW M3. I jokingly asked the salesperson if we could go for a spin.

“Can you drive manual?” he asked.


“Hell, son, I’ll teach you!”

“Won’t we wear out the clutch?”

He peered back towards the sales office, then leaned into whispering distance.

“Son, if I go back in there, they’ll make me sell a Prius to some liberals. Let’s go have some fun.”

Thus began my unexpected initiation into the world of manual transmissions. As M3 owners will tell you, learning to drive manual on an M3 is like learning to ski on Everest. Like the Germans who made it, the M3 is unforgiving of miscalculations. As I desperately sought the sweet spot between clutch and gas, the car lurched back and forth as if assaulted by unseen bumper cars.

Soon, however, I found said sweet spot, and we left the safety of the Walmart parking lot to cruise the back roads of North Georgia. The Bimmer’s roaring V8 catapulted us through looming canopies of Red Oaks as the colors of fall became a blur. It was a moment of motoring bliss that went unmatched for years until I drove the blissful Mazda MX-5 in San Diego this year—another manual masterpiece.

In the age of looming autonomous technology, manual transmissions are perhaps our last connection to the earliest days of the automobile. While Europeans, Asians, and Latin Americans accept manuals as a commonplace (hence “standard” transmission), we Americans would rather let the car do the work once we’re in drive. While over 80 percent of cars sold overseas are manuals, that number plummets to just three percent in America.

Those who rally behind the disappearing stick shift argue for how much more fun and engaging they are to drive. And they’re right; I had more fun driving a ­manual Mazda MX-5 than an automatic Maserati. But could we also argue that they’re cheaper, and thus more responsible for a thrifty Millennial to own? Let’s look at some facts.

Related: Which Manual Car Should You Buy

Manuals are cheaper to buy

From the factory, manufacturers sell manuals around $800-$1,000 cheaper than their automatic counterparts, simply because they have fewer parts than automatics.

Plus, American dealerships are often desperate to get rid of manuals, so you can often negotiate the cost or lease rate of a manual down a nice big chunk.

They’re cheaper to maintain

Automatics are delicately engineered marriages of computers and mechanical parts: Costly to design and costly to repair.

Manuals are effectively 100 percent mechanical, involving just a few nuts, bolts, and rods. The rest is up to your right hand and your left foot (or left hand, left foot if you’re British). As a result, transmission-related repairs on manuals are usually less than half the cost of similar repairs on automatics.

They get better MPG…sometimes

Historically, manuals have always gotten better MPG than automatics. Recently, however, better torque converters, the addition of extra gears, and hybrid technology have allowed automatics to gain a slight edge in MPG, but mostly on the highway in high gears.

Manuals are equally or slightly more efficient in the city, and manuals older than 10 years are likely more efficient than their automatic twins.

They’re less expensive to insure…also sometimes

Insurance companies have wildly varying views on manual transmissions. Some say “they’re cheaper to replace, so let’s make ‘em cheap to insure!” while others say “no! Manuals are driven by hooligans! Bump those premiums!”

Others say “manuals require the driver to be more attentive, so they’re safer!” while others argue “no! Drivers don’t pay attention anyways, and they’re more likely to crash if they stall in an intersection!” The trick, then, is to find the insurance provider that considers manuals to be the best of both worlds—inexpensive to replace, driven by attentive drivers.


All in all, if you buy a manual instead of its automatic counterpart, it’s a safe bet that you can save a couple grand at the time of purchase, and several thousand more throughout the life of the car. Even compared with hybrids, manuals might be the better option since they’re significantly cheaper to buy and maintain, offsetting the hybrid’s advantage in MPG.

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About the author

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Chris helps people under 30 prosper - both financially and emotionally. In addition to publishing personal finance advice, Chris speaks on the topics of positive psychology and leadership. For speaking inquiries, check out his CAMPUSPEAK page, connect with him on Instagram, or watch his TEDx talk.