Over the past decade, the number of automatic cars sold across the UK has increased dramatically. However, it’s not just licence holders opting for automatics, as new data reveals a significant rise in the number of learner drivers choosing automatic transmission over a traditional manual gearbox.

According to the DVSA, the number of driving tests performed in automatic vehicles between 2011-2012 was 70,429 - a very small percentage compared to the 1,569,069 tests conducted in manual cars. 

However, between 2018-19 this figure rose by 185,043, increasing the number of automatic driving tests by 163%. But should learner drivers be encouraged to ditch the clutch or are there advantages to keeping things old-school with a traditional manual gearbox?

A Shift In Demand

The general demand for manual cars is steadily declining, with figures from SMMT showing a 70% rise in the number of cars with automatic gearboxes since 2007.

The evolving EV landscape is certainly partially responsible for the market shift, but it could also be that technological advancements have finally made it possible for automatic gearboxes to compete against their manual opponents for speed and performance, something manual transmissions always trumped on in the past.

Or perhaps British motorists are simply becoming lazier and would prefer to let an automatic do the hard work. Either way, the popularity of automatic vehicles is increasing at a rapid rate.

Easier to Learn, Quicker to Pass

Learning to drive certainly has it’s challenges. Paying attention to road signs whilst navigating your way through traffic, and trying to avoid hitting that swerving cyclist isn’t easy. But when you’re struggling to master gear changes and clutch control things get even trickier. Until you get to grips with this (which can take a while), you’ll find yourself regularly stalling - particularly on those hill starts.

With an automatic car, you don’t have this problem. Instead, all gear changes are taken care of, allowing you to focus on the road ahead. As a result, those learning to drive in automatic vehicles often require fewer lessons to pass their test. You also avoid the pain and embarrassment of stalling for the umpteenth time as you attempt to pull away from the traffic lights. But remember, these moments are character building.

Higher Maintenance Costs

Maintenance costs are an unavoidable and often expensive part of motoring, however, the amount of money you pour into your car is usually determined by a combination of factors. For example, age, mileage, model, and the manufacturer can all impact the cost of maintaining your vehicle. The same is true for transmission type. 

Typically, manual transmissions are cheaper to maintain, simply because they have a less complex structure. If something goes wrong, it can be repaired easily. Automatics on the other hand have more technical parts and components that can fail. As a result, repairs can be complicated and costly.

Manual gearboxes also have a longer life expectancy than automatics, so you if you’re looking to make a long-term investment, this may be something to consider.

But whilst you may save some cash on repairs, driving an automatic could reduce your fuel costs, as many newer automatic cars are now more economical compared to their manual rivals.

More Expensive to Insure

It’s a well-known fact that insurance rates are eye-wateringly expensive for learner drivers. But learning to drive with an automatic car could make your insurance even higher. According to Admiral, the average premium for automatic cars was 5.63% higher compared to manual vehicles. The is likely a reflection of the additional cost of replacing an automatic gearbox compared to a manual gearbox, and the fact automatics are often higher-spec vehicles.


Licence Type Matters

Unfortunately, things get worse for automatic licence holders, as the average premium for drivers with an automatic licence is a whopping 43.89% higher than drivers with a full licence. Data shows that claims frequency is 19.23% higher for automatic licence holders, implying those without a full licence are more likely to have a crash.

It’s also worth noting that without a full licence, you cannot legally drive a manual vehicle. Yet drivers that hold a full licence are entitled to drive both manuals and automatics. So, if you’re learning the automatic way, you won’t have the option to change to manual in the future unless you take a separate test. This can limit your vehicle choices in the future and may make finding a rental car - for example on holidays, more difficult.

Electric is the Future

Whilst having a full licence may grant you the freedom to drive any car of your choice, it may be irrelevant in a decade or two.

The Government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, with many officials arguing this deadline should be brought forward to 2032.

Electric and hybrid vehicles are expected to take their place, however, all EVs available today are automatic. This means manual cars could be made obsolete in a matter of years. That being said, in 2019 Ford revealed a one-off electric Mustang prototype, featuring a six-speed manual gearbox, suggesting there could still be a future for manual transmissions.

Should I Learn to Drive in an Automatic Car?

If you want to make your learning experience easier and quicker, then automatic may be the best way forward. However, automatic cars are more expensive to maintain and without a full driving licence, your insurance premium could be significantly higher.

By learning to drive in a manual car, you obtain a full licence which can help to reduce your insurance costs. Having a full licence also gives you the flexibility to drive both automatic and manual transmissions. But as we approach an electric future, a manual licence may soon become a relic of the past.

At the end of the day, it’s about weighing up the pros and cons, and choosing the option that’s best for you.

Find your perfect automatic car

With a flexible range of finance options available and thousands of automatic cars ready for delivery, you can choose the best package for your circumstances. Apply online today and discuss your options with one of our friendly customer consultants.


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