Manual or automatic – what’s best for you?

The work you do, the journeys you make and your style of driving are considerations to bear in mind when deciding between a manual or auto van


On-road, off-road, fast A-routes or slow heavy traffic. The work you do, the journeys you have to make and your preferred style of driving are considerations to bear in mind when deciding whether to go for a manual or auto van.

The UK has traditionally been the home of the manual-geared vehicle. Historically, most cars and vans in this country had a clutch pedal and gearstick, while drivers in Europe and the US traditionally opted for an automatic.

And while the auto ‘box has become more popular over the years in passenger cars here, the transmission has always been perceived as more expensive than a manual and therefore not been the chosen gearing for commercial vehicles.

Things are changing though and more and more vans are being built and offered with an automatic option. And they have been welcomed by the van driving fraternity: there are plenty of advantages to having a neat auto drive selector instead of a gear stick, and no third pedal next to the accelerator and brake.

However, there are still many drivers who prefer the ‘feel’ and control of a manual and are happy to continue with changing up and down the gearbox.

Long distance courier, multi-drop delivery driver, farm worker or surveyor – what are the differences between manual and auto, and how does each appeal to different van users?

Manual gearbox

Cost: Manual vans are generally cheaper than automatic ones – often by several thousand pounds. And for good reason: they are more popular, less expensive to make and are built in greater numbers.

Choice: There are likely to be more examples of manuals on the used market, offering more choice and with that, cheaper prices.

Tech: The technology that manual gearboxes employ is simpler and less expensive to produce than autos, and they are rugged and less temperamental.

Control: Some drivers like to be in complete control of their vehicle and that includes the gear selection. Changing down to overtake, getting ready for a steep hill with a heavy load on board, tackling a rough building site or farmland surface – all of these conditions require the right gear and some drivers don’t want to leave that decision to technology.

Proper: Driving a van with a manual gearbox is often considered ‘proper’ driving – using the traditional controls of a powered vehicle. Some people wouldn’t have it any other way.

Automatic transmission

No clutch: They are perfect for driving in heavy traffic as you will never have to pump the clutch in stop-start queues and on congested roads. You simply focus on the driving (steering) without the inconvenience of changing gear.

Stalling: It’s unlikely you’ll stall an automatic (but not impossible, especially if the car’s transmission has a fault such as in the torque converter). Even so, with an auto you won’t have to think about pulling away smoothly – even on a hill – as the gearbox will do all the work for you.

Hill start: There’s no chance of rolling back on an incline with an automatic, especially as most modern autos also have a ‘hill start’ facility to help you get going. They hold the van on the brakes until there’s sufficient power going to the drive wheels.

Relax: Autos are more relaxing to drive. Get in, start the engine, engage gear and off you go. No need to worry about three pedals when two will do. They’ll even creep forward in slow moving traffic without you having to touch the accelerator pedal.

High end: Automatics are smarter, more convenient and usually more expensive than manuals and so are considered more ‘prestige’, generally holding their value better when it comes to selling one on.

Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.

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