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?

9 Answers 9


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.

  • 1
    +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
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 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
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 21:14
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 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. Commented Dec 12, 2014 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. Otherwise...it 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.

  • 1
    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. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 16:19

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.


I'd say it depends on the car:

A 2003-2007 Honda Accord manual transmission replacement (i4 or V6), is going to run about 8-10 hours labor + parts.
You're looking at about a $2,000 U.S. expense. I know - ridiculous and frankly surprising but that's the consensus.

Then again, an Accord with an automatic transmission needs to have the timing belt & water pump replaced ~ every 100,000 miles. That surely would cost ~ $800-900 U.S. (My car has a timing chain - life of the vehicle)

Or, I get lucky and my clutch lasts for as long as I decide to keep the car. That's the ideal scenario. I'm not sure I'd get a manual trans. again - knowing the potential large cost, but we'll see.

  • Replacement of the timing chain and water pump is the same whichever transmission you have, and nowadays a clutch will last well over 100,000 miles. So I don't follow your argument.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 21:04

It entirely depends on the car and the transmission in question and how they are used.

Some transmissions are insanely strong and some are delicate and some are just poorly designed or manufactured from the start. The reasons why are not always obvious. Transmissions are enormously complex in design and manufacture, and there are many ways in which they can fail.

At first glance, it depends how well the transmission is matched to the engine and the use of the vehicle. A car with a weak transmission and a powerful engine will have reliability problems. A car used for towing that isn't equipped with the means to resist the heat will have reliability problems.

However, a car with a high quality, well matched transmission can become unreliable if you change the power or the intended usage.


I have had a manual transmission last over 177,000 mi with the original clutch. Much has to do with driver ability. Semi trucks can go 500,000 miles and more on the same clutch with proper habits. The weak points on today's manuals are the master and slave cylinders. Slave cylinders which deactivates the clutch used to be mounted to the outside of the tranny and used a fork to push the throwout bearing. Now they are mounted over the input shaft which means you have to unbolt the tranny to replace as in the case with Ford. Master and slave cylinders have seals that can leak over time. With that said, there are still far less parts to maintain in a standard.


I bought a 1991 Nissan 240SX new with a 5 speed manual. I drove the car for 150K miles on the original clutch and it it was still fine when I sold the car. Many people do not know how to properly shift, and have never heard of double-clutching on downshifts. Aside from all the known arguments that manuals get better fuel economy, are more responsive, more fun to drive, faster, can be push started, offer better control in snow, and are less expensive to purchase and maintain- here's another. With so few people capable of driving a stick, it is an effective anti-theft device these days. While regular sedan type cars with manuals are less valuable on resale, this can be in your favor when buying. Furthermore, this ignores the fact that with collector cars, the manual is always worth more- a lot more in fact!


This question seems to assume that there is one kind of automatic gearbox. This is not true. There are at least five automatic gearbox types:

  1. Conventional torque converter automatic
  2. Robotized manual
  3. Dual-clutch gearbox
  4. Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
  5. Hybrid electric CVT-like transmission

The problem with (1) is mainly that it wastes fuel, but newer models have improved on that. If (5) was not available, this would be my fallback choice, but unfortunately, at least in Europe, many manufacturers are using (3) and (4) a lot instead of (1).

Of the gearbox types, (2) is quite poor. Manual gearboxes are not usually designed to be used as robotized gearboxes. I wouldn't choose (2). Toyota used to use (2) after it switched to (4) (and (5), of course; Toyota has many hybrid models).

(3), on the other hand, is better than (2) when it works. Unfortunately, at least Volkswagen has had major troubles with their DSG dual-clutch gearbox.

Some people dislike (4) and (5) due to the fact that when accelerating, engine RPM is not linearly proportional to wheel RPM. Of these, (4) may cost a lot to replace if it breaks, and it is fairly recent development, meaning it may not be as durable as the variants that have withstood the test of time.

My solution? I choose (5). The hybrid electric CVT-like transmission is far simpler than any other manual or automatic transmission. It has the benefit of automatic transmission (no clutch to replace), without the drawbacks (fuel consumption), yet its replacement cost if something breaks is lower than that of any other manual or automatic. Also, it is so simple that it's extraordinarily rare that it would break.

So, my summary is that when comparing automatics and manuals, one needs to specify the exact type of automatic transmission considered. The answer is going to vary based on the automatic transmission type.


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.

  • 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
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 16:26
  • @TomPenny - I think the $200 is the shop charge he's talking about ... per hour. Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 18:09

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