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Automatic vs. manual transmission

"Postscript Three: The only case I know of where a manual transmission beats a good automatic transmission is when you're driving on the highway, and you know that sometime soon you're going to have to pass somebody, so you downshift to third gear to get ready to accelerate. An automatic transmission can't read your mind, so it stays in 4th or 5th, and has to downshift when you floor the accelerator, thus creating a temporary hesitation between the time you press the gas and the time the acceleration starts which wouldn't exist if you were already in 3rd gear."

Ridiculous.

A manual transmission permits you to control torque independently of acceleration, which is an essential ingredient to driving control.

If all you want to do is point the car and so "go", then you don't want a manual. I, however, prefer to have the control that allows me to avoid potentially dangerous situations that automatics are helpless in.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Thursday, August 19, 2004

This is why I enjoy my tiptronic transmission on my Jetta 1.8T.  I get most of the benefits of a manual with the convenience of being able to ignore the gearshift the majority of the time.

muppet
Thursday, August 19, 2004

Is this one of those lost radio transmissions which was sent out years ago, and then hashed with a secret alien message (like how to cure insomnia), and sent back to earth?

hoser
Thursday, August 19, 2004

Or... it could be a response to Joel's post today. You know... the actual purpose of this forum?

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Thursday, August 19, 2004

Brad, apparently it's not so essential to Joel.

Big deal.

If you feel like continuing to argue, you could also mention the better control in snow and other overly slippery surfaces.

Tim
Thursday, August 19, 2004

The way I read it is that he's presenting some presumed objective fact about all cars and all transmissions, rather than his personal preference.

"I don't find I need the performance or control of a manual transmission" - personal preference

"The only possible value is one very specific corner case" - presumed objective global fact re: cars and transmissions

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Thursday, August 19, 2004

Ok.

Tim
Thursday, August 19, 2004

Methinks Joel should get behind the wheel of an Audi with DSG or a BMW with SMG.

TheGeezer
Thursday, August 19, 2004

It's the  answer to something he mentioned in the API war article.
<quote>
Racing car aficionados will probably send me hate mail for this, but my experience has been that there is only one case, in normal driving, where a good automatic transmission is inferior to a manual transmission. Similarly in software development: in almost every case, automatic memory management is superior to manual memory management and results in far greater programmer productivity.
</quote>

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/APIWar.html

Ken McKinney
Thursday, August 19, 2004

It seems quite obvious to me that when you're paying attention to the gears, you're not paying as much attention to all the other tasks involved in driving a motor vehicle. Huamns have a limited amount of attention to go round, you know!

So given this, I don't see why anyone would want to do a job that a machine can do for you, except in very specialised scenarios (eg a racing car driver needs absolute maximum control because going as fast as you can is the goal, even if it means you crash sometimes).

Iconoclast
Thursday, August 19, 2004

+++Huamns have a limited amount of attention to go round, you know!+++

The capacity to split one's attention varies greatly from human to human.  Some folks can't handle talking on the phone with a hands-free kit while driving.  :P  Hence their ignorant attempts to prevent anyone at all from doing so.

muppet
Thursday, August 19, 2004

... or conversely, a shift gear forces you to keep attention to driving, as opposed to, say, drinking that Big Gulp :-)

And quite a few manage to shift gears _and_ talk in their cell phone. Mmm...

Fred
Thursday, August 19, 2004

"It seems quite obvious to me that when you're paying attention to the gears, you're not paying as much attention to all the other tasks involved in driving a motor vehicle. Huamns have a limited amount of attention to go round, you know!"

I've almost always driven manuals and would strongly disagree with this.  Having to shift gears requires you to pay more attention to driving.  Once you're trained, the couple of additional shifting tasks are beneficial, not a distraction.  Automatics promote lazy, detached driving and people tend to find other things unrelated to driving to distract them, particularly hand held cell phones and eating.  Do those with a manual transmission in the city and you're quickly reminded it's a bad idea and you should get back to driving.

Doug
Thursday, August 19, 2004

"A manual transmission permits you to control torque independently of acceleration, which is an essential ingredient to driving control."

Yes,  if you're driving in the Daytona 500.

For ordinary driving however, manual transmissions are strictly for flaming dorks.

Art Vandelay
Thursday, August 19, 2004

A manual transmission is actually more fuel efficient and it gives you the ability to "downshift" which allows the engine to gather more RPM thus providing more torque at a higher RPM allowing the vehicle to accelerate faster or to pull a bigger load etc...

Anyone who drives/has driven heavy equipment knows that you frequently need this control when pulling heavy loads on hills and other irregular surfaces.

So a manual transmission allows more control than an automatic.  Just like in programming - languages like C++ allow greater control of things like memory management.

C++ is like driving the heavy equipment and the race car.  You need to know what you're doing otherwise you crash and burn etc...

GC environments offer greater productivity and also allow the inexperienced to take the reins without the risk or the knowledge.

C++ is also more fuel efficient, no need for big bulky runtime environments.

Now let's talk hydrostatic transmissions...

(Shifting a manual transmission becomes an automatic response after a while.)


Thursday, August 19, 2004

most modern small trucks only come with automatic transmissions.

mb
Thursday, August 19, 2004

That, and better fuel consumption.  Oh, and try towing uphill and have your auto gearbox hunt up and down.

Of course, I'd take the advice of a New Yorker around driving with some grains of salt 8).

Rodger Donaldson
Thursday, August 19, 2004

The real flaw in Joel's argument is the analogy that automatic transmissions are like garbage collection because you don't need to think about changing gears in an automatic. Anyone who's driven a manual for more than a few months knows that you just aren't thinking about changing gears in a manual. Your brain automatically learns and instictively knows when to change gears in a manual.

But the one big advantage of an automatic is the extra free hand to hold your burger while you drive!

Matthew Lock
Thursday, August 19, 2004

What's the argument here... you can downshift in an automatic just fine, whenever you want.

John
Friday, August 20, 2004

Well, I didn't read that far down into the Joel post.

However, I'm on Brad/Techie/Dog/Cats on this one. And in good company, right?  If automatics were sufficient for NASCAR, F1, IRL, CART, wouldn't they be using them?  Ask Al Jr.

Downshifting into a turn getting both the braking prior to the turn and the RPM's up has no comparison on an automatic transmission.

Additionally, automatic transmissions use fluid to provide a continuous clutch type mechanism.  And on most models, when down shifting, do not sufficiently engage to provide both slowing and the match the higher RPM's to the road.  On my wife's Acura MDX (a fine luxury mobile if ever there was one), you get no engagement until downshifting into 1st gear - and then its far too low a gear.

Now, if you're driving in NYC, how are you going to give the finger to them Jersey drivers if one hand has to be dedicated to shifting?  Or if you're in Seattle, and one hand on Latte, the other holds the cell phone, what are you going to use for the shifter?

Now you've got yourself a user interface connundrum.

hoser
Friday, August 20, 2004

"Methinks Joel should get behind the wheel of an Audi with DSG"

Ooh, an A3 Quattro with 3.2 litre V6 and DSG, now there's a neat piece of machinery. I love that car - I don't have one, but a friend does and I just love driving it. The DSG is such an awesome gearbox, wowzee.

Antti Kurenniemi
Friday, August 20, 2004

Hoser - Damn fine piece of writing there.
Everybody listen to me.  We are programmers.  We get carpel tunnel syndrome.  Vibration tends to make such problems worse.  Manually shifting puts vibration into your wrists.
Verdict: auto trannys for us.

What're you lookin' at?
Friday, August 20, 2004

hoser - If you live in (pick your city) how are you going to aim a gun with one hand, steer, and change gears all at once?

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, August 20, 2004

"Postscript Three: The only case I know of where a manual transmission beats a good automatic transmission is when you're driving on the highway, and you know that sometime soon you're going to have to pass somebody, so you downshift to third gear to get ready to accelerate. An automatic transmission can't read your mind, so it stays in 4th or 5th, and has to downshift when you floor the accelerator, thus creating a temporary hesitation between the time you press the gas and the time the acceleration starts which wouldn't exist if you were already in 3rd gear."

Amusing. So the only time using manual gears is when you want to control the car correctly for any given situation where anticipation is required - i.e. all the time.

Evolve Joel, what has more AI, your car auto gear box, or your brain? Hell, it's not like changing gears is even mind taxing, it's just practice.

Americans who think their way is right and the whole world should follow them *sigh*

I think auto transmission is built for overweight middle american housewives, not for sensible people with a brain. Come on Joel, you've got the extra processing power to cope with - nay, enjoy the control of your car.

john.e.boy

teethgrinder.co.uk
Friday, August 20, 2004

Lighten up john.e.boy.  Besides, trying to get road head while driving a stick is just a pain in the ass.  Trying to get road head while driving a stick and drinking a beer - impossible!!

Yet another anon
Friday, August 20, 2004

>If automatics were sufficient for NASCAR, F1, IRL, CART, wouldn't they be using them?

Yes, as a matter fact they would if rules permitted it.

F1 had automatics for a good stint until FIA banned them (1994 was the last year I believe). In fact, these automatic shifting systems were rather cool, as the computers would actually learn the track (they would drive a car around and data would be sent back to the pits. Some computers would munch and crunch the data, and then the shift points etc would be sent back to the car (of course, FIA banned pit to car telemetry also!!).

For the few seasons that F1 allowed automatic transmissions, then driver DID NOT even need to press the buttons on the steering wheel to shift, since as mentioned shifts where done automatically, and FAR BETTER then any human could EVER possibly do.

You mean you folks actually think that a manual shift system run by a human can EVEN COME CLOSE to a automatic shift system? An automatic shift is 1000’s of times faster then a human can ever hope to be. Cars can go faster then we can walk, and automatic transmissions CAN SHIFT MANY times faster then can humans.

The ONLY reason why auto racing does not use automatics is USEALLY THAT the rules don’t allow them.

>Downshifting into a turn getting both the braking prior to the turn and the RPM's up has no comparison on an automatic transmission.

Actually, the very good automatic transmissions will blip the throttle for you as you hit the brakes, and the computer will actually PERFICLTY match the engine RPMS as your foot is hard on the brakes….in fact, this whole process is done better then what a professional driver can do (in fact, a pro driver will have to “heal and toe” the gas/break pedals as the left foot operates the clutch. This heal and toe allows the driver to match the gears and RPMS as they downshift as to NOT upset the car (myth: race car drivers don’t use the gears for braking!).

>Additionally, automatic transmissions use fluid to provide a continuous clutch type mechanism.  And on most models, when down shifting, do not sufficiently engage to provide both slowing and the match the higher RPM's to the road.

Ah, now things become clear: “on most models”…well, just because a lot of automatics are crappy don’t mean they all are!!! There are a number of automatic systems on the market that do NOT slip, and work VERY WELL when downshifting. In fact, the new slk MB (that replaces mine) will actually now have 7 speeds! (by the way, the ¼ mile time for the auto vs manual trans in the slk are the same!!).

Further, from a gas mileage point of view, most modern auto trans feature clutches that lock up, and thus at hi way speeds give the SAME fuel mileage and efficiently as a manual trans. And, some the really hot cars (like Ferrari) actually use a clutch type mechanism in their auto systems, and once again give up NOTHING compared to their standard auto trans (well, except that the automatically shifting mechanisms are FAR MORE capability then us weak humans with just muscles).

Look, using a computer in a car to shift gears and control the shift points is FAR superior to humans. The computers can know about air temperature, quality  of gas (knock senses, air pressure etc etc). All of these variances are then used to tell the transmissions WHEN TO shift….a human can’t possible know the best shift point compared to a good automatic system we see in the best cars.

Sure, if you are talking about average crappy car, then sure…the manual trans is usually a far better choice, but  when you start talking about a well designed automatic system vs. a standard system?...there is ASBOULTE no comparison…as the automatic systems is MANY TIMES better then is a human trying to row around a shift lever….

The fact of the matter is, the original analogy between automatic transmissions and standard is that automatics are good enough for most people, and is a higher level of abstraction. This is Joel’s point, and I think is just fine.

The problem here is the rest of you are assuming that this means automatic trans are better (or worse), and the augments put forward here are really pathetic.

So, to argue that automatic transmissions are inferior manuals transmissions is just silly.

Sure, go ahead and state that MOST manual trans in the majority of cars are better for performance driving then the automatic. (however, this is rapidly changing, as many auto trans now are 5 speeds…and they do NOT slip when you lift the throttle, or down shift).

Further, when you start spending the bucks, the auto systems beat the manual systems every time….

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Friday, August 20, 2004

I'm suprised that noone has come up with this argument:

Manual transmissions are per se a good deal cheaper that automatics, as is their repair and maintenance. Friends will be less likely to borrow your car, because they're not able to operate it, which brings further incidental savings. (This obviously doesn't apply to areas outside of the US, where the majority of the population has actually seen and operated a vehicle with manual transmission.)

Once you internalize the process, which can take a couple of months, you no longer even notice that you're shifting gears, so there's no disadvantage.

So everything else being equal, manuals save you money.

  -tim

a2800276
Friday, August 20, 2004

So does running £100 near-wrecks the whole time, but would you want to do it? Or running a deisel for that matter.

I don't know anyone who's primary car choosing criteria is cost (I know some who claim it is, but their car-buying choices prove them wrong).

Mr Jack
Friday, August 20, 2004

Good god - Art think my entire country are flaming dorks;-)

Take a deep breath guys and remember a lot depends on road conditions. 

If you drive on straight roads - much favoured by planners, armies and other imperialists (Rome in this case) then gear changes aren't going to be frequent and automatics are less hassle.  If on the other hand you drive on roads that were laid out by making dark age cattle tracks (Anglo-Saxon perhaps) wider and covering them in concrete and tarmac chances are you're going to make a lot of gear changes and automatics aren't as quick. 

While I prefer a manual, I can live with either - my car & my wife's runabout are manual whereas the big family car is an automatic.

a cynic writes...
Friday, August 20, 2004

> The ONLY reason why auto racing does not use automatics


Bzzt. I don't drive round and round a racing circuit all that often. Do you? Automatic transmission can't anticipate what you're going to do next.

How about rally cars? I think normal driving is a lot closer to rally than Formula-1.

Where I live, several months of the year the ground is covered in snow and ice, and manual transmission can give the driver a better feeling to the ground, and she can press the clutch to let the tires start rolling again, if needed. ABS breaks can help too, but not every car has them.

Yes, I've driven cars with automatic transmission. They're a lot more comfortable. But are they safer? More economic? More fun? No way.

Northern Driver
Friday, August 20, 2004

WOW.

All you manual trans freaks must've driven some really shitty automatics.

yes, the world has advanced
Friday, August 20, 2004

The new automatics in some cars are better than anything in the manual cars...

...but I like a manual just because it's more fun (for me) and I feel like I'm driving.

Kent
Friday, August 20, 2004

Which is an entirely fair, and rational, reason for driving a manual!

The fact is, however, most of us spend most of our time in our cars doing one of three things:

1. Cruising at motorway speeds - when it makes no difference - the gears aren't being changed anyway - what you need is Cruise Control.

2. Sitting in traffic jams - where automatics are far nicer.

3. Driving through towns - where you're frequently changing gears, but not having any fun. Automatics are again more suited.

Mr Jack
Friday, August 20, 2004

mmm... no.  Our Ford Galaxy's automatic box is fine but each gear change isn't as fast as manual.  Which isn't a major problem but isn't as comfortable when road conditions require a lot of gear changes.  Such as on winding roads with lots of junctions. 

For example from my house to the station is
r-1-2-3-2-1-stop
1-2-1-stop
1-2-3-2-1-stop
1-2-3-4-5-4-2-1-stop
1-2-3-2-1-stop
1-2-1-stop
1-2-park.
That takes 4 minutes - 2 minutes of which I'm in 5th gear and every stop I'm at a junction on a slope *in gear* balancing clutch & break.

a cynic writes...
Friday, August 20, 2004

tut tut...should be "clutch & brake".  Mr Jack - I agree (1) & (2) but (3) I disagree as in my experience they're slower away from junctions. 

a cynic writes...
Friday, August 20, 2004

I like driving a manual transmisson. Why? I like to be in control, and it's just fun. At least, that's what I like to believe.

But I've never driven an automatic, so I'm really not qualified to compare the two. Perhaps it's something elitist. I know I can drive a manual, so I don't want dumb down to automatic. On the other hand, I tend to believe many of the automatic-lovers consciencely or unconsciencely have fear of manuals because they just don't know how to handle them. Sounds harsh perhaps, but I say that because I know that it happens relatively often that I find myself dislinking something, only because I don't know how it works.

An example: Python. The last few years, the Internet has been full of Perl, Python, Ruby, you name it. I was always opposed to that trend: I know my C, I know my C++. C/C++ ought to be enough for everybody. Away with these modern stuff. But then I started to learn Python, and now I like it a lot.

The same thing with .Net, with the exception that I haven't learned anything about it so I still dislike it.

Not very rational, I know, but the mind doesn't always work rationally.

vrt3
Friday, August 20, 2004

I've got a manual in my corolla.
I live in the city and commute to work.
It sucks. 
I look like hellboy, only with a really big left leg.


Friday, August 20, 2004

Reasons why I drive a manual:
0) Manuals have a clutch too, not just a shifter.  As stated above, you are controlling an additional parameter, like having a wah pedal on a guitar.  Sure, you can use auto-wah, but it's not as expressive as controlling it yourself.
1) Manuals kick ass!  How can I kick ass with an automatic?  It's pretty hard to.
2) Manuals make you feel more connected to the car.  It's like being "jacked in" to the Matrix.
3) Manuals get better gas mileage, based on the numerous factory stickers/stats I saw when I looked for & bought my current car.  Yes, I know the stickers/stats aren't perfect, but 5 mpg across the board does make some difference.
4) Regardless of how many variables a computer-controlled "modern" automatic like a BMW can control, there's still the "it" factor that humans have.  Otherwise, why would race cars have manuals (for the ones that have more than 1 forward gear)?  Because humans can make a judgement based on instinct, which computers can't do because they don't have instincts.  You can't program an instinct, because it can be any combination of signals. There will always be humans that are "gifted when shifted", and that can make the right decision to shift/press the clutch just a little/etc. when a computer would not.

devinmoore.com
Friday, August 20, 2004

My cousin's NASCAR Super Stock Oval has an automatic transmission.  He has driven oval race cars with manual transmissions, and perfers the auto.

He does very well!

XYZZY
Friday, August 20, 2004

Holy crap.

Albert drives an SLK??  I concede all.  And I do mean all.

Even if I had that kind of money to throw around, convincing my wife that I could have an SLK would be impossible.

Like the "all in" round in the ESPN Texas Hold-em thing on TV, I was merely bluffing and Albert had the full house, Ace high.

I want his car.

hoser
Friday, August 20, 2004

"It seems quite obvious to me that when you're paying attention to the gears, you're not paying as much attention to all the other tasks involved in driving a motor vehicle. Huamns have a limited amount of attention to go round, you know!"

The latter part of this statement is basically true. However, the first part is not necessarily true. The reason is that as humans become proficient at a task, they internalize its execution to a point where it no longer requires conscious attention. Shifting is like that; 99% of the time I never even think about shifting, it just happens subconsciously.

John C.
Friday, August 20, 2004

Automatic = boring
Manual = fun

Bilge Rat
Friday, August 20, 2004

I prefer [automatic|manual].  It's really the only way to drive.  Anyone who doesn't use a(n) [automatic|manual] doesn't understand driving.  Driving a(n) [automatic|manual] allows me to focus more on the road.  I have both a(n) [automatic|manual] and a(n) [automatic|manual], and the [automatic|manual] is much better!  [automatic|manual]s get better mileage, too!

...like running in the special olympics...
Friday, August 20, 2004

obviously someone how drives an automatic.

old enuf to be yo daddy, also just hanging around on a friday night
Saturday, August 21, 2004

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