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My friend is against cars with automatic transmission because he thinks that they break easily and that their repairing cost a lot. He thinks that it is impossible to maintain an automatic transmission box. Hence he is avoiding all cars with automatic transmissions -- I am very skeptical about this.

What are the lifetimes of automatic transmission boxes and manual transmission boxes? By which actions you can increase the lifetime of an automatic transmission box? Is it more expensive to maintain a car with automatic-transmission than a car with a manual transmission?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

They will probably work out to be the same.

An automatic transmission is inherently more complicated which means more can go wrong and usually does (more so than manuals). The increased complexity also makes them more expensive, heavier, less fuel efficient etc.

A manual transmission is less complicated which means there is less that can go wrong. Through normal use a manual transmission should far outlive an automatic transmission with regards to absolute lifespan. HOWEVER, a manual transmission requires the use of a clutch which will wear out quite quickly relative to an automatic transmissions life-cycle. If you are not able to replace a clutch yourself (which requires removing the transmission) then you will be paying quite a bit more maintenance on the manual transmission every time the clutch wears out (anywhere from 2-8 years). With the automatic transmission there is less high ticket maintenance required besides fluid flushes. If your automatic transmission dies however then it will probably be at-least $1000 more expensive than the equivalent manual transmission to replace.

So it probably depends how long he wants to keep the vehicle and whether he cares about having to replace clutches or is able to do that himself to save money.

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+1 good point about the fact of doing some things yourself such as changing the clutch, I found an instruction video here and it requires good space to change the clutch. Manual can be cheaper if you have sufficient time, space, tools etc to do some things yourself but if you need to run all the time to mechnaic about clutch/gear/etc, it may be about the same. – hhh Jun 6 '13 at 19:27
I have done a fast googling and it looks like clutch-items/parts cost under 1k EUR (done myself) altogether and automatic-gearbox cost about 2-3k EUR altogether (done by a mechanic). So the manual car is cheaper to fix if the gearbox is found to be broken, about 1-2k difference. My peer has driven his Volvo over 10 years without changing a clutch-etc -- it looks like the gearbox-change depends a lot on the driving style, environment and maintenance. He is very careful in maintaining the car. So I speculate that the manual becomes cheaper for a very careful driver particularly if able to repair – hhh Jun 6 '13 at 21:14
I agree that the manual is probably cheaper in most cases because if you do have an issue with the automatic it will cost you alot more. However if you have a solid well working automatic the maintenance on the manual could be more expensive in some cases but again it depends on whether you are hard on the clutch. – Mike Saull Jun 6 '13 at 23:12
Clutch change intervals are affected by driving conditions and style. Towing loads aggressively up mountains is the worst case and can kill a clutch in mere thousands of miles (or, actually, even faster if driven VERY poorly). Long cruises with easy acceleration and infrequent, precise gear changes can see a clutch lasting 100,000+ miles. – Brian Knoblauch Dec 12 '14 at 21:21

Manual transmission BOXES last much longer than automatics. The clutches, however, vary with the driver. If the driver is good, then the manual is just as good as the automatic. If not, then the automatic's clutches will last longer.

This is true because there is at least one clutch for each gear in an automatic, and you can't replace them without rebuilding the entire transmission. You also can't normally operate the transmission if even one of them is unserviceable...they will cause the others to fail. Cost of rebuilding is $1000-$2500.

The manual has one large clutch. Replacing it requires temporarily removing the entire transmission. But good manual transmission drivers commonly have clutches that run over 100,000 miles (or even many hundreds of thousands). Cost of replacing a clutch is $450-$600. The clutch itself only costs $100-$150. The rest is labor.

The way to make an auto transmission last longer is to keep the fluid cooler. For most systems this involves a separate transmission cooler unit, possibly a cooling fan, and one of various types of transmission temperature sensor and gauge.

Yes. It is more expensive to maintain an automatic because it will eventually require fluid and filter changes which may not be within the capability of a Do-It-Yourself-er. The automatic will also be less fuel efficient in otherwise identical vehicles, by the very nature of the automatic's fluid coupling with the engine through the torque converter versus the manual transmission's physical coupling through the clutch.

You should note that Automatic transmission fluid change may not be required for the first 100K miles in some models. Materials in models that can be changed by a DIY-er usually cost $30-60 for fluid and about $20 for filter and gasket. For a shop to do it usually costs from $100-$300 (or even more) depending on the transmission.

But it is rare for an automatic to go much beyond 150K miles or so without a rebuild...because of the accumulated effects of heat on clutch material, soft parts, and normal wear on springs that most manuals don't have. The way to extend that time is by controlling transmission temperature.

So your friend is right, if we are talking about a driver who does not drive in a way that burns out clutches, and if he is going to keep the vehicle for a long time. depends on how many clutches he burns out.

Or you might be right, if we are talking about stop-and-go traffic in an auto with a great transmission cooling system, or if you only intend to keep the vehicle for 30K or so miles as most people do.

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I have some huge issues with your answer. Mainly, most of this is subjective. Some vehicle transmissions last much much longer than other transmissions, just because of they way they are built. You cannot throw all automatics into a single bin and call it a day. Then you have how are the individual transmission treated by individual owners? Is maintenance kept up to date? How much of what you said is hear-say versus actuality? Cost of repairs are irrelevant due to locality. If I remove/replace an auto trans myself, rebuild cost is about 1/3. Your answer does not take these things into account. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jun 16 '15 at 16:19

Auto transmission uses fluid to generate torque. That puts a little less strain on the components that are actually touching. And each gear has it's own "clutch"

Manual ones goes directly to physical contact. and there's one big clutch.

So the auto will outlast the manuals everytime. But when it finally comes time to rebuild it (remember, the clutches are in each gear) it's usually a $1000 to more.

The manual will burn the clutch faster*. but it's $200 and an hour in the shop to replace.

.* keep in mind this is all affected by several factors. so for one case you can have a manual lasting 150k miles and an auto lasting 50k miles... but it's two different cases that can't be compared easily. All that i said here is based on the most common designs and ignoring driving conditions/drivers.

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I like your answer but $200 sounds like the price for a simple do-it-yourself clutch job. Front or four-wheel drive will take more effort (and more $$ for labor) as more stuff needs to be taken out before the transmission can be removed. – Tom Penny Feb 27 at 16:26
@TomPenny - I think the $200 is the shop charge he's talking about ... per hour. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Feb 27 at 18:09

I had a revelation after the manual transmission in my '97 Ford was replaced three times under warranty: Quality is more important than any inherent design advantage of automatic vs manual. As I see it, manufacturers make a lot of automatic transmissions and they put a lot of effort into making them reliable and durable. They don't sell many manuals in the US, so they don't put the development effort into them.

As a result, I got a series of bad transmissions until they finally put a stop ship on them, and a couple months later I finally got one that lasted over 100k miles. But even though this one has been "trouble free", it is still somewhat balky and sometimes doesn't want to go into gear on the first try, especially as it gets older. It's really embarrassing when you roar away from the light in first and then can't find second.

I see a similar thing with crank windows. Most cars have power windows nowadays, and if you find one that does have manual windows (like my Ford), they're cheaply made and don't wind as smoothly as they used to.

I've never worn out an automatic transmission, or a manual for that matter.

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