When you are just starting your driving lessons, you may be wondering if it’s better to learn to drive manual or automatic first. Some friends and family will argue that you should learn manual because it’s easier to move to automatic later, others will argue that automatic is better because most cars in Australia are automatic. In fact, these days more than 90% of cars sold in Australia are automatic, and that number continues to rise.
That doesn’t mean that learning to drive a manual or automatic is worse or better, there are pros and cons for both. Your decision for which type of car you want to learn in will depend a lot on your circumstances, as well as what you want to do in the future (e.g. for travel or work) and your personal preference.
In the past a significant factor would have been differences for automatic vs manual driving lessons pricing, however most reputable driving services such as EzLicence offer manual and automatic driving lessons at a similar price - therefore we won’t consider driving instructor pricing differences for this article.
If you find yourself wondering “should I learn to drive manual or automatic first?”, then hopefully this guide will be able to help you make a more informed decision on what is more comfortable for you.
Let’s take a look at some factors you need to consider when deciding on automatic vs manual driving lessons.
What type of car(s) do you have available at home?
Let’s start with what your options are for learning at home. Regardless of whether you may prefer learning to drive manual or automatic, what type of cars do you actually have available to learn with outside of your structured driving lessons?
Do you only have a car with either manual or automatic transmission available, or do you have a choice in what you learn to drive at home?
If you are going to learn to drive manual or automatic at home then you may find it much easier to simply find a driving instructor that can help you learn with what you have available, and you will be able to maintain consistency between your structured driving lessons and your practice sessions with a parent.
Verdict: More people in Australia will learn to drive automatic transmission than manual transmission with a parent.
Will you be travelling overseas?
Drivers in Australia have an overwhelming preference for automatic cars and you are far more likely to encounter driving instructors offering driving lessons in automatic cars. While that isn’t the only choice between learning to drive manual or automatic, if your travel plans only extend as far as another state then learning automatic should be fine to drive anywhere you want should you need to rent a car.
If you plan to travel or move overseas in the future and you want to drive yourself around, then you’ll find it’s probably worthwhile taking the steps to learn in a car with manual transmission now so you are ready when the time comes to obtain or convert your international licence. Australians largely tend toward automatic cars, but Europeans and South Americans still overwhelmingly favour cars with a manual transmission and you will find your options for car rental are skewed toward a manual transmission in these regions.
Verdict: If you want to travel and drive overseas, consider learning manual transmission. If you won’t travel far, then automatic may be fine.
Do you enjoy a challenge or do you lean towards ease of use?
If you enjoy a bit of added challenge and love to multi-task, then you may want to learn to drive in a manual car. Many students that learn to drive with a manual transmission say that it gives them a feeling of confidence, and they feel that they learn to be better drivers because they are forced to be more attentive at all times.
On the other hand, some students feel that manually changing gears is a distraction and that they’re able to focus more on the road and have a better experience in an automatic. If you prefer to spend more of your time focusing on the road without feeling the pressure of manual gear selection and potential car stalls, then that’s fine too.
If you choose to drive an automatic, you are still going through almost exactly the same learning process as you would in a car with a manual transmission. You learn the same road rules, the same good driving behaviour, and you will use the same slow speed manoeuvres - you are simply doing these things and letting the car take care of your gear changes rather than doing it yourself.
Verdict: If you like a challenge, learn manual. If you want less pressure, learn automatic.
Is there a particular type of car you want to drive in the future?
Let’s face it, some cars are designed and produced to be a specific way. You may find cars that only exist as manual or automatic transmission, and it can end up becoming extremely costly if you want to modify them.
Think about your dream car and the future, far from now when you’ve been driving for ages and you can afford any vehicle you want. If you have long term plans to drive a car that is known for being produced with a manual transmission, then you will want to learn to drive a manual transmission (for example, many older cars are only available in manual transmission).
If you just want to buy “whatever is affordable and gets me safely from A to B”, then it may be worth looking at taking the extra steps to learn how to drive in a manual. Cars with manual transmission are often marginally cheaper to purchase outright than their automatic counterparts, and they can be cheaper to maintain too. Improvements to modern car designs are steadily evening out the differences in these areas though.
Verdict: If you want to drive an older style of car or performance sports vehicle in the future, it may be worth learning manual transmission. If you just want to drive, then automatic should be fine.
Do you have a strong preference for learning to drive manual or automatic?
If you’ve made it this far and you’re thinking “I don’t have a particular car or job that needs it, but is it better to drive automatic or manual if I just want to enjoy driving for the sake of it?”, then let’s talk about driving for enjoyment.
Some people say that they enjoy driving manual because it gives them more focus on the road, and makes them feel more engaged. Some people prefer their driving experience to be relaxed, and for them they consider manual transmission to be a bit of added stress. When it comes to preference there’s no right or wrong for car transmission - just what feels comfortable.
If you could imagine yourself sitting in your car and driving in traffic, relaxed and just enjoying the feeling of driving, how do you envision yourself doing it? In your mind are you also thinking about changing gears and paying feeling your car? Or is your attention solely on the road?
If your thoughts are only on the road then you may prefer automatic, and if you find yourself thinking about fine control of the car then you may prefer manual driving lessons.
Verdict: Learn whichever you intuitively feel will be more enjoyable for you.
Do you intend to drive a heavy vehicle in the future?
A class C licence allows you to drive a variety of medium sized vehicles including cars, vans, and some “light trucks” (including utes/pickup trucks and 4WDs). If you plan on learning to drive a large truck, bus, or other heavy vehicle, then learning to drive a manual can be a great stepping stone.
While there are an increasing number of heavy vehicles that use automatic transmission, many businesses that use heavy vehicles continue to use manual transmission vehicles because cheaper purchasing, running, and maintenance costs, as well as better vehicle control for drivers.
In the future this is likely to change as continued improvements to modern vehicle designs are made, and similarly to light passenger vehicles, the sale of heavy vehicles with manual transmission is currently on a rapid decline.
Verdict: If you want to drive a heavy vehicle such as a truck or a bus in the near future, consider learning manual transmission.
Do you mind having a potentially restricted licence?
Before you panic, this limitation is only on the transmission of the vehicles you can drive. It also only applies in some states - so please consult your local state road authority to if you are unsure.
In certain states, when you graduate from your learner's licence to your provisional licence you will be licensed according to the transmission of the vehicle you used while taking your driving test.
If you passed your test in a car with automatic transmission, then you may be restricted to driving automatic vehicles until you retake and pass the test in a car with manual transmission.
If you pass the driving test in a car with a manual transmission, you will be licensed with an “unrestricted” version of the licence - meaning you are allowed to drive cars with either automatic or manual transmission.
Licence restrictions upon passing your driving test may carry over from your provisional licence to your full licence.
Verdict: If you want to drive any type of car, learn to drive with manual transmission. If you just want to learn to drive, automatic transmission is fine.
When deciding on automatic vs manual driving lessons, it’s worth remembering that regardless of what type of transmission you learn to drive with, both types of driving lessons are going to be great for getting you familiar with driving and building your confidence on the road.
To browse and compare the range of driving instructors servicing your area, enter your suburb postcode into the instructor finder form below. With greater transparency and the largest selection of driving instructors across Australia, learning to drive is easier with EzLicence.