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Want fuel economy? Consider a good old stick shift

Fewer cars are being built with manual transmissions.

By Karen Datko Sep 28, 2009 3:28AM

Better gas mileage can be had from what used to be standard in cars -- the manual transmission, or stick shift. But how many drivers know how to use one these days?

It's a lost art, but a very efficient one. For its October issue, Consumer Reports bought two versions of seven different cars -- ranging from a $15,800 Scion to a $24,000 Mini Cooper -- and found a gain of 2 to 5 mpg with a standard versus  automatic transmission in the same model.

Extra bonus: The three-pedal versions were not only faster, they were $800 to $1,200 cheaper.

This sounds great. A Green Lantern piece at Slate says a very proficient driver can improve gas mileage by about 15% -- cutting annual carbon dioxide emissions by two-thirds of a metric ton. (Green Lantern also informs us of this shocking fact: A gallon of gas puts out 19.564 pounds of carbon dioxide.) Plus, your brakes will last longer, and your transmission will be cheaper to repair or replace.

Also, we know from experience that stick shifts are more fun to drive. Our current new-to-us car, purchased about four years ago, is our very first automatic. 

Plus, as this post at suggests, run-of-the-mill car thieves don't know how to drive with a clutch.

But, as the Lantern says, don't count on the manual becoming the transmission of the future, at least in the U.S. "Fewer than 9% of new cars in the United States are manuals, and that figure is set to drop to 6% by 2012," the Lantern writes. (In more energy-savvy Europe, most cars have manual transmissions.)

Also, although stick shifts are more expensive to make, car companies can charge more for an automatic transmission "because it's a marketable creature comfort," wrote Tom Whitehurst of the Corpus Christi Caller.

Yet another reason stick shifts aren't popular: Fewer people know how to use them or are inclined to learn, even though Patrick at Just Wondering ... says it takes only 45 minutes. We like his instructions about what to do if you stall while trying to get moving after stopping on a hill. "Don't freak and don't let the guy with the horn bother you. Brake. Clutch. Key to restart and try again."

Published Sept. 3, 2008



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