Is Manually Shifting An Automatic Bad?

There are three main different types of transmission you might come across. If you have an automatic car, which is very common nowadays, you may be wondering whether or not it is a bad thing to shift gears manually.

Under certain circumstances, shifting your automatic may be bad as it can cause extra wear, but in other cases it may even be advised, such as when driving on gradients and when turning.

It is key to assess which kinds of transmissions work with specific driving styles. We will discuss the different types of transmission in this article, along with some advantages and disadvantages of each, so keep reading!

Manual Transmission

The first type of transmission that we will look at is manual. This is the most popular transmission in many parts of the world, while in the USA it is much less common. It is a common transmission used in race cars, due to the amount of control that is offered to the driver. Manuals require a manual clutch, along with an H-pattern shifter to change up and down gears.

A Simple Explanation

When the clutch pedal is pressed, the clutch disengages from the drive shaft within the car, and then the driver selects which gear they wish to use. Then, the clutch is released, and the car is then in a different gear. These three movements are required with every gear change, and they allow the driver to choose when they want to shift up or down.

Lower gears offer more torque, and thus more power, but only up to certain speeds. This is why you start in first gear, and then work your way up through the gears to reach higher speeds. Thus, in racing for example, a manual transmission allows the driver to time when they want to downshift for maximum speed through corners, and then only upshift when they have gotten maximum power out of each gear.

More Difficult To Learn

This does mean that a manual car can be more difficult to learn how to drive properly, and there is more room for error. However, in a racing situation, having that extra level of control can cut a lot of time from each lap. That is only when used effectively, and in most racing situations a manual will be beaten in terms of raw speed by an automatic.

Automatic Transmission

Automatic transmissions tend to be faster than manuals as they carry out all of the same steps described above on their own. This means there is no input required from the driver, apart from acceleration or braking of course. The technology in modern automatic transmissions makes the gear changes smoother and faster than any driver could change.

Faster And Easier

Automatic cars are much more common in the USA than manuals, and the same tends to apply in motor racing as well. Although manuals are still popular, automatics tend to be easier to use in high speed situations, and although less control is offered to the driver, they are able to put more of their focus on other aspects of driving without having to consciously change gears.

Although automatic transmissions work faster than humans can change a manual transmission, they will tend to be heavier. This is something that needs to be considered depending on the motorsport, and some motorsports like NASCAR and some drag racers use manual transmissions to save weight.

Paddle / Sequential Shifter

Best Of Both Worlds

This brings about the best of both worlds for motor racing – the paddle shifter transmission. This is essentially a semi-automatic system, where the driver does not need to operate a clutch, but does have the ability to go through the gears using a set of paddle shifters, usually located behind the steering wheels, with the left being used to downshift and the right to go up through the gears.

In road cars, these are sometimes there simply to give the driver the option of whether or not to use them, with the car more than capable of shifting completely on its own. However, in race cars the driver will be required to use the paddle shifters to change gears. This gives them the element of control, without having to worry about pressing and releasing a clutch pedal.

Instead of paddles, there may be a sequential shifter such as in a rally car, which functions like a gear stick, but only allows a gear change up or down a gear, executed by throwing the shifter either forwards to downshift or backwards to upshift.

The Ideal Choice

This extra control, paired with the speed of the gear changes, makes paddle shifters a very popular transmission choice in sports like Formula 1. It allows the drivers to make rapid shifts through up to 8 gears, and this is vital at the speeds at which they drive. It balances ease of use with maximum performance, and so it is a very popular transmission in racing.

Manually Shifting An Automatic

Is It Bad?

So, now that we know the differences between each transmission, is it a bad thing to treat an automatic like a manual? The answer is usually no, because most automatics will even have a built-in option for the driver to use the gear selector like a manual stick. This is intended to give the driver a bit more control in adverse conditions, such as on hilly terrain.

However, the transmission is built to be better than the driver, and the gear changes should take place at the optimum times. Thus, there really should be no need to shift the gears manually. However, many drivers simply enjoy the feel of changing gears manually and like to be able to do it while driving on hills or around corners for example.

It Can Be Abused

Although not inherently a bad thing, if the driver was to use this as their shifting method all the time the transmission may be susceptible to some damage. This is simply because it is designed to work as an automatic, and so not using it in this way for extended periods of time could put the transmission under unnecessary stress.

Plus, if the driver is using the transmission manually in a low gear for example, in order to provide engine braking when going down a hill, it is almost guaranteed to cause excess wear to the internals of the car and could damage it. The same thing applies if the driver tries to push the car in low gears, by accelerating aggressively above speeds of 30mph.

Generally Advised To Minimize Manual Shifting

This will definitely cause excessive wear on the transmission bands between the internal gears and can thus result in some very expensive damage. Aggressive shifts at any speed can cause some damage to the transmission, and so it is definitely best to minimize the amount of manual shifting done in an automatic car, even if you think you are perfectly good at shifting.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to transmissions, there are various different types, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, one common question regards the idea of manually shifting in an automatic. Although this is useful in adverse conditions, it is generally advised to not be used excessively, due to the high risk of expensive damage being caused to the transmission.