Driver instruction: is it time to ditch the stick shift?

The prevalence of automatic transmission is shifting stick shift to margins of auto sales, so should we still be teaching new drivers how to drive manual?

Young Drivers of Canada phasing out manual transmission lessons

Young Drivers of Canada has made a surprise announcement about their driver training courses for manual-transmission cars in the Greater Toronto Area. 2:02

Is learning to drive a stick-shift vehicle still an essential life skill, or has the prevalence of automatic transmission made it no longer necessary?

Due to falling demand, Young Drivers of Canada announced that come February, they will no longer offer manual transmission training for drivers in Greater Toronto Area.

Young Drivers of Canada general manager Angelo DiCicco appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Tuesday, and said in recent years the number of students requesting stick-shift training has fallen to two per cent.

"Very few people know what the word clutch means anymore," he told host Matt Galloway. "We're into generations who have never actually operated a standard shift vehicle."

Those who are advocates of driving manual transmission vehicles are often adamant about its benefits, namely:

  • Better fuel consumption.
  • More control over the vehicle.
  • The ability to slow the car by gearing down instead of pumping the brakes, which can cause skidding in winter.
  • The ability to drive any car, particularly in parts of the world (such as Europe) where automatic transmission remains an expensive upgrade and often not available.

The arguments against learning to drive standard run something like this:

  • It can be difficult for some new drivers to learn.
  • It's unnecessary, as most new cars feature automatic transmission.
  • It's tiresome to shift gears in stop-and-go city traffic and difficult to stop and start on hills.
  • Today's more fuel efficient vehicles, including hybrids, mean the fuel savings of manual transmission are now negligible.

John Gamal is the sales manager at Downtown Honda in Toronto and says while some customers demand stick shift, they are increasingly in the minority.

"There's still the hardcore standard drivers who like the control that they have, but they're further and farther between," he said.

Standard transmission remains an option on smaller Honda models such as the Civic, Fit, Accord and CRZ but not on larger SUVs and minivans.

"Bigger cars they don't offer manual where once upon the time they did," he said.

So do we lose anything by ditching the stick? DiCicco thinks so.

"If you're slipping, you can feel it on the clutch," said DiCicco. "You can change your driving behaviour as the road conditions change. With an automatic transmission, you don't always get that feedback."

With files from CBC's Lorenda Reddekopp


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