I drive a car the way most people use a computer

It was interesting to me reading the reactions to my adventures driving a manual transmission. People seemed to be spending a lot of time trying to convince me that if only I were to expend a bit more effort in learning the finer points of driving a manual transmission and log enough time behind the wheel, then the activity will become less taxing on my mental brainpower.

But why should I care?

To me, driving is not an end in itself. It is just a tool for solving the problem of getting from point A to point B. The less I have to learn about how to accomplish this task the better.

My goal is not to become a car expert. My goal is to get to my destination conveniently. I don't want to "have greater control over the experience"; I don't want "more power"; heck, depending on where I'm going, I often prefer to take the bus, where I have no control over the experience at all!

It occurred to me as I read commenter after commenter try to convince me that my own personal priorities were incorrect that I drive a car the same way most people use a computer. They don't want to know about the difference between ROM and RAM or how many floppy disks you can store in a 6 megabit cable modem. They just want to surf the web, send email, and look at pictures of their grandchildren. (Okay, they may want to do other stuff too, but knowing the difference between PIO and DMA is definitely not on the list.)

There's no point trying to get these people to learn all these details about how computers work because they don't care. They just want to know where they need to click to see that picture of baby Annie. You can even tell them that the way they're doing it is suboptimal and there's a much more powerful way to view those pictures which also gives them the ability to alter the gamma curve and apply the correct color adjustment to the image to match their monitor's color temperature, but they won't care.

And I don't blame them. Because I don't care either.

Comments (82)
  1. steveg says:

    To carry the analogy further: you don’t want to drive a car, you want to get from point A to point B (do your really care if it’s manual, auto, car, bus, train, bike, hovercraft, hydrofoil, helicopter, balloon, etc?). Most people don’t want the computer to make their lives easier they just want to get the task done.

    (BTW Manuals shouldn’t, by definition, be better. It’s just that autos are still crappy).

  2. DrkMatter says:

    I can only heartfully agree with this conclusion, as I feel exactly the same way about cars myself. With the one, important difference that any mistake I commit while driving my car could possibly kill me and all of my passengers!

  3. Duncan says:

    The difference between a manual and an automatic is that an automatic can only be in the appropriate gear for the road currently under the rubber whereas a skilled manual driver changes gear in anticipation of the road ahead.

    Similarily a computer user might just want a computer to look at their family photos but don’t they want to be able to easily do something on their computer that they haven’t even yet thought of?  

  4. SRS says:

    If a skilled manual driver changes gear in anticipation of the road ahead then they’re in the wrong gear most of the time. I’ll take the auto.

  5. SAS says:

    If a skilled manual driver changes gear in anticipation of the road ahead then they’re in the wrong gear most of the time. I’ll take the auto.

    I take it you don’t drive in bad weather much, travel widely varying (curvy, hilly) roads much, or do any offroading?

  6. Bryan says:

    The more funny thing will be the inevitable people who will comment trying, again, to convince you.

    I enjoy having a "fun" car that I can drive with good amount of convenience.  Thus, I generally end up spending a couple of extra dollars for the automatic version of the car I want.

    Of course, I used to drive 100 miles in rush hour traffic every day.  I don’t do that anymore, so I might get a manual next time.

  7. I prefer manual transmissions because it’s one less thing in the car that can break.

    I also prefer headlights that I have to turn on and off manually to headlights that turn themselves on and off, and door locks that only unlock when I stick a key in the relevant door and turn it to magic locks that unlock every door in the car, and manual windows to power windows, and manual steering to power steering.

    But that’s just me.  I recognize that different people have different tastes.  I applaud your attempt to learn a manual transmission, but I will not revile you for preferring the convenience of the automatic transmission.

  8. Susan says:

    I am annoyed by many of those automatic door locks.  Being able to unlock my car from afar is great, but having my doors unlock automatically when I put the car in park or turn off the engine stinks.  What if I’m in a bad part of town? What if a shady character steps out just as I pull into my space and park the car?  What if I’m gathering my purse and possessions?

    I don’t manual transmissions either.

  9. st says:

    Instead with computers, I would make the analogy with cameras. Either you have a fully automatic point-and-shot, or a camera which requires you to set aperture and shutter speed for each shot. Fortunately, most cameras today support both – you can go automatic most of the time, and switch to manual when needed.

    I wish more cars would have both as well, it is pretty rare.

  10. Duke of New York says:

    Well Duncan, if they haven’t thought of it then they certainly don’t want to do it yet.

    In any case there’s something called the third-party software industry, which Microsoft has been supporting since day 1.

    Some idealistic folks think that everyone could become a programmer, if only they were forced to learn. The reality is that a fair percentage of CS graduates can’t even program.


  11. kristof says:

    I hate manual. I live in Europe now so I’m forced. Of course, on the bright side, I’m biking a lot more.

    I start thinking, you know what would be really cool… a machine that would do this boring repetative task for me. Oh wait, someone already invented that.

  12. R. Bemrose says:

    I know the original poster that I’m quoting here wasn’t me, but since I agree with what they said, I’m responding anyway.

    >If a skilled manual driver changes gear in anticipation of the road ahead then they’re in the wrong gear most of the time. I’ll take the auto.

    I take it you don’t drive in bad weather much,

    That depends on your definition of bad weather.  Driving in snow and rain mainly consists of driving slower than usual and giving yourself more stopping room than you would on a nice, sunny day.

    I’m not a tornado chaser, and we don’t get hurricanes or earthquake where I live, so I haven’t bothered learning what to do in those situations.  If I ever am near a tornado, I’d get out and away from the car, as being in a car during a tornado hit is much, much worse than being low to the ground, such as in a ditch.

    travel widely varying (curvy, hilly) roads much

    Correct, these routes don’t make very good ones when traveling to/from work, friends houses, and stores.

    or do any offroading?

    …and now you’ve just made Raymond’s point for him.  Which part of "It is just a tool for solving the problem of getting from point A to point B." did you not understand?

  13. AsmGuru62 says:

    "I live in Europe now so I’m forced."

    …uhm… Europe supposed to be more advanced than that! Is that relly true, that in Europe one is forced to drive manual?! Why is that?

  14. Joey says:

    AsmGuru: at least here in Germany you have to learn how to drive manual. Doesn’t mean you’re forced to buy a car with manual transmission, though; there are cars with automatic transmission here as well :)

  15. benjamin says:

    I wish more cars would have both as well, it is

    pretty rare.

    My wife’s Mazda3 has this, where it’s automatic until you move the selector over a notch at which point you can manually set the gearing.

    I really enjoyed how it was a good ‘discoverable’ feature. If you want to only drive automatic you’ll never need to use it, but if you want to try your hand at driving stick you’re free to give it a try and even go back if it’s too difficult.

    I also want to voice my support for cars that have other manual features, be they lights, locks or wiper blades. Each of those features are highly situational and I think it’s a little much to expect software to know when and how to interpret them.

  16. Neil says:

    By comparison, the UK provides two types of car-driving licence: an auto-only licence or a manual/auto licence.

    What really annoys me about so-called "automatic" lights is that they turn on when the ambient light only dims slightly (such as when driving under a bridge) when it could be mistaken for braking, although this is less of a problem for cars with a known working high-level stop light repeater.

  17. me says:

    @Joey: No, here in Germany, you are not forced to learn how to drive a manual. You can also learn with an automatic. In this case, you are not allowed to drive a manual afterwards, though: Your license is limited to automatic only.

  18. Marcus says:

    With the advent of hybrid vehicles and the continuously variable transmission, I wonder if this debate will even be relevant in a couple of decades.

  19. SAS says:

    @R. Bemrose

    …and now you’ve just made Raymond’s point for him.  Which part of "It is just a tool for solving the problem of getting from point A to point B." did you not understand?

    Oh, your bad. You should have noticed that I wasn’t addressing Raymond’s post, but SRS’s comment.  Go back and read it in context then ask yourself what you do not understand.

    Here are some clues:

    The original poster expressed that "a skilled manual driver changes gear in anticipation of the road ahead."  SRS, much like you, decided to be a smart ass.  He knew that, or would have it he read and thought a moment, the implication was that automatic transmissions can only respond to road conditions as they encounter them – which under certain circumstances (those I mentioned) can be too late.  A skilled driver can anticipate those conditions and prepare for them ahead of time by shifting into a more appropriate gear.

    Some of those conditions are ice, especially blackice on bridges.  Ever had an automatic transmission up or downshift on ice?  If the conditions are right you can lose traction.  How about mud?  Have better luck getting out of mud with an automatic? Drive a lot of crooked, hilly, roads then it often pays to stay in a specific gear.  Yes, you can keep most automatics from shifting into a higher gear, but that’s where the "skilled" comes in.  Most drivers of automatic transmissions aren’t as skilled or knowledgeable about the uses of specific gears.

  20. SAS says:

    Oh, I forgot this one.

    Correct, these routes don’t make very good ones when traveling to/from work, friends houses, and stores.

    Kinda sucks when you live in a rural or hilly region then huh? Do you think, perhaps, those may be the only routes a person could have to travel to/from work, friends houses, and stores.  

    City boy… ;-)

  21. John says:

    asdf:  All he said is that he doesn’t care to learn about cars.  You don’t have to be a car expert in order to be a safe driver.

  22. Edit says:

    As with most things in life, you can take either an active role or a passive role.

    What you get out of any endeavour is typically proportional to what you put into it.

  23. Mike Dimmick says:

    I bought a Prius nearly a year ago. I don’t miss manual transmission one bit.

    The Prius "E-CVT" works out more efficient than a manual transmission, because it can always vary the engine speed in relation to the ground speed. There are no gear ratios, no selectors, no belts, no torque converter, so no sources of mechanical loss. It effectively controls its ratio by adjusting the speed of the motors (2) in relation to the engine speed. There’s a certain amount of electrical loss involved in converting from motion to A/C electricity, to D/C, back to A/C at a different frequency/voltage, when passing power from one motor (acting as a generator) to the other.

    If you’re a Prius-sceptic, I recommend reading http://prius.ecrostech.com/original/Understanding/Contents.htm. (This is a sub-site of a framed site; see http://prius.ecrostech.com/original/PriusFrames.htm for the main frameset.) I was one, until I read this site.

    The Prius is weaker at higher highway speeds (above 60mph), because the engine has to run at a relatively high speed – while the generator could spin fast enough to run the engine nearly idle, it isn’t producing enough power to overcome the drag. It’s still better than most other petrol-fuelled cars though. I get about 50mpg (Imperial gallon) in motorway driving at 70mph.

  24. stickshift driver says:

    "What you get out of any endeavour is typically proportional to what you put into it."

    What I get out the car is usually proportional to what my wife puts into it, groceries generally–I don’t drive that much.

    The fascinating thing about this is that an analogy meant to illuminate computer use has turned into a comment thread about auto transmissions. Perhaps an analogy from some other field next time?

  25. Erik says:

    I read the comments to your earlier article and most of them were offering sympathy to you about how it can be difficult at first to get the feel of the clutch.

    People related their experiences driving a manual transmission.  Only a few crossed the line into advocating that you change your personal priorities.  Though some of these commentators were trying to emphasize that it becomes second nature after a while.

    I greatly enjoy driving my 5 speed, and I do agree with the commentators who said it offers better control of the car- especially in snowy weather.  But I have no problem with people who prefer to drive an automatic.  To each his own.

  26. some_guy says:

    Driving a manual transmission car is like riding a bike without training wheels. I could expend the effort to learn how to balance on my own, but why should I care?

    Everybody tells me it’ll become second nature if I just do it, but the less I have to learn, the better.

  27. Carmen says:

    I’d prefer a dual-clutch manual system.  It gives you all the benefits of the manual (and more…you will never shift as fast as it does, period, and none of the power losses of an automatic)…all with the ease of use of an automatic.

  28. frymaster says:

    "…uhm… Europe supposed to be more advanced than that! Is that relly true, that in Europe one is forced to drive manual?! Why is that?"

    you’re not forced, but just about anyone I know who drives prefers manual to automatic and thus they’re not as prevalent.

    In the UK as well if you pass your test in an automatic you are not licenced to drive a manual car, which I suppose aligns with Raymond’s original blog post

  29. davidlmorris says:

    I would have thought a better computer analogy was, being a user who doesn’t care beyond the basics is like being a passenger in the car.  Driving an automatic is like programing in .Net and driving a manual is like programing to the Win32 API.  (Though I recognize that this comes dangerously close to putting the topic back on topic).  

    Driving is much more difficult than being a passenger, but there are things you can do and things that you are aware of, along with the need for more effort a stick shift gives you, that uou just don’t get with an automatic.

    For example, Automatics are so much harder to push start with a flat battery.  You have more options when that pesky brake pedal goes all the way to the floor with no resistance (as happened to me once!).  And, when avoiding oncoming trains, you get to control that award gear change timing.  But, otherwise automatics are so much easier.

    Of course, I only say that because I am a Win32 and C coder and not a .Net and Vb coder, which gives me this smug sense of superiority.

  30. JMarkP says:

    I agree with you up to a point. I think there’s a tendancy in this profession to class people as ‘beginner’ users and thus assume that they only want ‘basic’ functionality, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll NEVER need to do something more advanced.

    To take your photo of baby Annie example then just viewing that photo is almost certainly all they want to do, but let’s say the photo has really bad light levels (common for consumer cameras in bad light conditions) and they can’t really see anything of baby Annie.

    In that case they would care *very much* about being able to adjust light levels, or the gamma curve, so a good photo viewer will make such features discoverable (Windows Picture and Fax Viewer does, to an extent) and highlight when you might use them.

    I suppose my point is that we shouldn’t think ‘most users won’t care about this feature, lets hide it away from them.’ But rather ‘all users might benefit from this feature if only they knew what it did and how to use it.’

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying we should force users to learn more advanced techniques (just like you shouldn’t be forced to learn manual transmission), but that we shuld ensure those techniques are discoverable (so that if you ever find yourself getting frustrated at the automatic transmission you have an idea of how to improve matters).

  31. Big true, Raymond. Easily the best article I have read in the whole week. So much, that I have dedicated an entry in my blog to your article. Here it is:


    It’s in Spanish, but maybe you and your love for foreign languages can cross that barrier :-) . Anyway, thank you for exposing this topic so clearly!

  32. Kevin says:

    I want to use my computer the same way I drive a car. I want to step on the gas and pass everyone on the Information Superhighway!

    Wait, what year is it? Oh shoot, lemme change that.

    I want to use my computer the same way I fly on a plane: I want to sit back, sip some whiskey, and relax while I whiz through the Cloud(s).

  33. Ray says:

    My 2 cents is that you don’t have to know anything about plumbing in order to use the toilet, but if your plumbing breaks, you’re going to need to call a plumber or learn how plumbing works if you’re going to fix it yourself.  

    The same thing applies for computers – you don’t even need to know what win32 is in order to send email, but if your email client breaks or lacks a feature, you either need to learn how it works or you need to pay someone to fix it.

    Life is full of that stuff – I can drive a manual transmission, I can program win32, but I cannot do brain surgery – just reading the "instructions" on it would probably make me pass out.

    Learning to drive a manual transmission is either way fun or way too much like work depending on your opinion of driving.

    I think the purpose of this post is to remind people that other people’s point of view is a valid one – some people want easy to use, some people want uber-control.

  34. mdchris says:

    Here are non "preference" reasons why you would buy a manual tranny car

    1) better fuel economy

    2) far less likely to break down

    3) cheaper to purchase

    If somebody told you when you were buying a laptop that if you got one with some option that it would be less likely to crash, the battery would last longer, AND it would be cheaper to purchase, then i think most standard computer users would pick that option :)

    On the other hand that option would probably be called linux, and it’s definitely not what most people would pick :P

  35. Michael Puff says:

    Me again.

    @Ray: uber-control? I’m German. What does uber-control mean? There is a German word or prefix: “über”. That means “above” respectively  “more”. Does “some people want uber-control” mean that there are somepoeple who want to have more control?

    [“Über” is a word that got imported from German to American English with a different meaning from the original language. Short version: In American English, Über means “ultimate”. -Raymond]
  36. Michael Puff says:

    Thanks Raymond for your explanation.

    But where is my first post?

    [Looks like the spam-detector gnomes ate it. -Raymond]
  37. Chris Lineker says:

    I’m with Raymond on this one.

    Having recently purchased a car, getting an auto was defiantly a priority. After a few years of 45mins each way to work, I’m really over having a manual.

    Also helps that the car I specifically wanted (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_BF_Falcon) has a fantastic 6 speed auto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZF_6HP26_transmission)

    As well has having two automatic modes – standard and performance, it also allows for full manual gear selection.

  38. David Craig says:

    Having lived in Japan for 8 years and driving there for more than 6 using manual transmissions, I was more than happy to never return to a manual again.  It has been almost 29 years since I last used a manual transmission, except for an occassion when I drove my son’s car.  I care for driving so little that if I was wealthy I would hire someone to drive me all the time.

  39. asdf says:

    I always discourage automatic-only types from learning manual. That way, I’ve always got a valid excuse never to lend my car to people who can’t drive.

    People who resent having to pay attention when they’re driving generally *don’t* pay attention. On the road, that means I have to look after their safety as well as my own. Ask yourself who, among your acquaintances, has had the most collisions. It’ll be the ones who don’t like driving and don’t want to think about driving. They don’t watch where they’re going and they don’t watch out for who’s coming at them. They kill themselves and each other with depressing regularity, and unfortunately they also kill responsible people as well.

    Raymond’s feelings about transmissions are neither here nor there; manual transmissions can be a positive nuisance in traffic, and it’s a matter of taste anyhow. Raymond’s feelings about driving are a different matter. If his attitude really is what he claims, he’s dangerous and too arrogant to know it.

  40. The Imp says:

    I completely agree with you, Raymond, to the extent that I am of exactly the same opinion. (Including the part about the bus.)

    But the difference as I see it, is that various transmission types are not the least bit fundamental to *driving*. To the operation of the car, maybe; but that’s not the same thing as driving.

    To quote a very famous person: "Things should be made as simple as possible; but not simpler."

    You see, manual transmission depends upon you knowing how the car works. Automatic transmission doesn’t, but is likely inefficient because the mechanism by which it works lacks the decision-making power of a knowledgeable user (for example, I believe that originally, automatic transmissions were optimized for reducing wear-and-tear on the parts; now I understand they’re optimized for fuel-efficiency based on an inner-city-driving heuristic). That’s fine; as you point out, some users just don’t care about concepts such as efficiency – and truthfully, most people don’t if there is no alternative.

    For cars, this is fine. Because it won’t explode and ruin my freshly-collected dry-cleaning if I try to accelerate and decelerate inefficiently, and there aren’t transmission-ninjas that will commandeer my vehicle and use it to run-down other drivers if I can’t operate it with a requisite understanding of the mechanical properties of its internals. Sadly, this is quite the reality of modern computing, and insofar as it cannot be abstracted away, it *has* to be understood.

    Some of this might apply less, if Windows-classic had been kept distinct from Windows NT – one a single-user operating system, and the other a multi-user operating system with the assumption that the user can always get the administrator to fix their problems, apply their patches and backup their data. But here we are, and this has not happened, and so there is little choice now; users have to understand how to use their computers to the same degree as a true administrator, if they don’t have someone else who can be that administrator. Or, fall victim to the problems of not understanding those things.

    And to fix that? Yeah, it’s more or less a case of doing exactly what Microsoft has been doing: get developers to re-think the design of their applications with consideration for all of the limits of the knowledge of their user-base. Though I personally think that Microsoft could do a much better job of it by leading by example (standard interfaces, no secret/private APIs, etc., the usual arguments).

  41. Jonathan says:

    I wholeheartly agree with the sentiment in the original post. Furthermore, people often tell me "I only know computers a little bit, but I really don’t understand them" with a guilty tone, as if computers is some fine art everybody should master.

    In my last flight, I just had this discussion with my neighbour. I gave her a whole speech of "the computer is a tool, if you can it to do what you want then it’s fine, you should serve it it should serve you etc. etc.".

    English being the native language of neither of us, I’m not sure it went through. Sigh.

    P.S. I drive an auto, though I learned to drive on a manual, double-clutch 15-ton truck. Gears are implementation details I care little about.

  42. Aaron says:

    There is also the toy/tool dichotomy to keep in mind here.

    For instance:  I grew up in rural Pennsylvania.  As a teenager without real responsibilities or any sort of serious daily commute, a manual transmission was a very fun option.  It made driving on the lonely, twisty roads more enjoyable and for some reason it felt a lot more masculine, which is important to a teenage boy.

    I then moved to southern California to attend University and after 2 days of driving in LA, I wanted an automatic.  I just wanted to get to campus on time for class, and I didn’t want to have to go rowing through the gears on my way from stopped traffic to stopped traffic.  It was far too much extra work.  My car had gone from being a fun toy to being a tool I relied on for important things.

    The same is true of the difference between my PC at work and my PC at home.  My PC at work is left with nearly every setting on ‘default’ or ‘automatic’.  I don’t really care what the RAM timings are, I don’t have any custom shell extensions installed, and I don’t want the latest snapshot builds of all the software I like.  I just want it to work reliably so that every morning when I fire up Visual Studio, it opens and I can get going.

    My PC at home isn’t so much a tool or productivity device as a toy or a hobby.  It has the case open a couple times a month so I can tinker with something.  Every BIOS setting is tweaked.  If there’s an OS feature I don’t use, I remove it.  Every service I don’t consistently require is set to ‘Manual’, and I have a handful of variously dependable extensions I’ve cobbled together to make my computer "better" for me.  I also like running Betas of everything from the OS and browser to the media players I use.  

    It’s fun to play with that kind of stuff when the objective is to have fun with a toy.  On the other hand, when something is a tool, it simply needs to be as easy to use as possible.

  43. Gabe says:

    There are really licenses that won’t let you drive a manual transmission? I would have thought the transmission itself would prevent that. I’ve seen people without the ability to drive stick try it. They don’t get very far.

  44. Adam Ruth says:

    I’m with you on this. I used to be the ultimate tweaker, playing with every setting and *never* wanting to accept the defaults.

    But, I’ve gotten past that. Now, my computer isn’t a toy it’s a tool and what I do with it that matters most. I always make an effort to adjust to the default settings, so it’s less work when I move to another computer or have to reinstall something. It doesn’t always work, sometimes the defaults suck.

    I feel like I’ve gone full circle and now I’m like that person who only wants to view the grandkids’ photos. I’m making software, instead, but that doesn’t make the computer any less of a hindrance if it gets in my way.

  45. zardoz says:

    They say women drive with BOTH hands on the wheel since they feel the car is simply an "external" tool helping them to get from point A to B.

    They say men drive with ONE hand on the wheel as they feel that the car is an extension of their body.

    If one does NOT like driving, auto or manual transmission will not make a difference. The bet is already lost.

    Both hands then …

  46. Anonymous Coward says:

    Manual transmission is like the proverbial old watch that shows the right time twice a day. If you’re driving manual you are almost always in the wrong gear, especially in urban environments. A good manual is easier to use, more efficient, less prone to wear and breaking down, accellerates faster, is nicer on the engine and gets you faster from A to B. So. That was directed to all those ‘Real Men’ and their manuals, talking about selecting the best gear for the situation but just doing it for the orgasm they get when they feel the jerk of the gear shift. Back to topic.

    I am a techie. And I don’t want to know how my computer works. Yes, I program, and have even used machine code and done, admittedly out of necessity, really horrible low level things with C++ and even VB using RtlMoveMemory, let’s just say that I used the Alias keyword to be able to call it Peek and Poke… but no, I really don’t want to know how the software I use is implemented. In fact, I don’t much care to know which software I’m using, I just want to get my data, do my calculations, put it on disk, and so on. The only time I care about what software I need is when I can’t open something and I need to download for example 7-Zip to open an archive. And that’s where it stops. Which is why I can get into terrible nerd rages when I see implementation details leaking through to the user. I’m a techie, I often know why these things happen and what to do about it, but most of us don’t. Why, when I right-click in a zipfile do I get a different context menu than normal so I have to first copy it somewhere else for something so trivial as ‘Open with…’? Why can’t I save a file in an archive but is it perfectly possible to copy a new version of a file to the archive overwriting the original? Why doesn’t it warn me that the save failed, pretending all’s well? I’ll stop now before I get on a roll, but you’ll probably get my point by now. I can deal with these easily, but some people I know have more trouble and even less patience with computers when confronted to seemingly baffling problems like these.

  47. The Imp says:

    @Michael Puff

    Raymond is exactly right.

    Also something to keep in mind, in case you hear it instead of read it: as well as getting the meaning mostly wrong, our pronunciation is decidedly wrong too. Outside of Germany, über is pronounced as "ooh-ber".

    I understand that the actual usage derives from the Nietzsche term "Übermensch",  which translates as "Superman" for us. The context in which Nietzsche used the word was valid, but the subtlety was not picked up by the broader American population with knowledge of only that one word. So, people tended to equate "über" strictly as "super", and it degenerated from there.

  48. R Singers says:

    The comments are all amusing.  How many of the commenters would voluntarily down grade their O/Ses back to Windows 3.11.  However there’s plenty here that seem to want outdated technology which the claim is more reliable, because there is less to go wrong.  My experience is that manual cars need more gearbox replacements due to the damage that unskilled drivers do to them.

  49. Daniel says:

    Yes, the car by itself is a tool. Using it to get from A to B is definitely one purpose of the tool, but not the only one.

    Driving along a twisty road and controlling the car is something completely different, and the same is for any other tool that can be used in several way (not the least the computer)

    Did you take an advanced driving course? like any tool, the moment you learn what else it can do, the more you can enjoy it.

  50. AnonStickShifter says:

    Raymond says "An automatic transmission gets me 90% of the benefit of a car with only 10% of the effort" … of course there is a simple failure of common sense here.

    It is very easy to buy an automatic in the UK. If they were 10x less effort to drive, almost everyone would do this.

    But hardly anybody buys automatics, because manual is easy. It’s all instinctive after a little practice, just like turning the wheel. And the learning represents a very small part of your driving career.

    I’m not interested in a discussions of the benefits. But the cost is totally trivial.

  51. manicmarc says:

    One key difference is in order to drive a car you had to pass a test, this was to stop you doing stupid things that would be dangerous to others. You are told about certain key functionality, such as breaks and indicators.

    Imagine if computers had a mandatory test…

  52. someone else says:

    What, you don’t want to reassemble the engine the engine by yourself? But it’s a free and open car!

    Oh wait. This isn’t slashdot. I’m sorry.

  53. Dustman says:

    Of interest: Most full-size pickup trucks in north america do not even have the manual transmission option anymore. With the highly overpowered engines that most models come with, far too many drivers were simply tearing their drivetrains out by being in the wrong gear.

    I wonder when computers will do the same.

  54. manicmarc says:

    For some reason here in the UK, most people drive manual cars.

    One thing I noticed in my trip to the states (LA) was then when a light goes green, the cars just *go*. Here in the UK, there’s a 2 second pause while people find the right gear, and the people behind them do the same thing. Or people just leave it in gear gradually rolling back and forth, wearing out their clutch. Yes, engine breaking can be useful, but it’s hardly needed, is it any good for the engine anyway? If large HGVs manage without it, I’m sure our little cars can.

    I drive a manual because it was cheaper. My next car will be an auto. "Because my left leg deserves more"

  55. Peter says:

    manicmarc: "For some reason here in the UK, most people drive manual cars. "

    The perception (whether still true or not?) is that manuals are more fuel efficient. Given the rather large discrepancy in fuel prices between the UK and the US, manuals are a lot more popular in the UK.

    I drive a manual, because it would have been wrong to have a sports car without one. Since we’re doing computer analogies today in an odd reversal of Slashdot, it would have been sort of like getting a flash new computer with a fast CPU and graphics card, gigabytes of RAM and a 40MB hard drive.

    Obviously that doesn’t apply if one "just wants to go from A to B" though.

  56. Rikard says:

    manicmarc: "Yes, engine breaking can be useful, but it’s hardly needed, is it any good for the engine anyway?"

    Yes. In the book used by Swedish traffic schools it’s recommended as a way to save fuel.  So is skipping gears when accelerating, btw. ("EcoDriving" is noted as important, with a whole chapter dedicated to the environment.) The only other related section I can find in the book is the part about driving in the winter (quickly release the gears if the tires lose their grip). I can’t find any mention of automatic (or manual) transmission in it. I suppose the issue isn’t deemed important enough. (Though I know that the law is the same here as others have stated about their countries: If you take the driving test in a car with automatic transmission, you’re not allowed to drive anything else.)

    I guess preference is in a large part due to habit. I borrowed a colleague’s car not long ago, and had my first encounter with an automatic transmission. It felt a bit scary, having the car roll away on its own even before I pushed the gas pedal, but I’m sure I could get used to it if I had to.

  57. porter says:

    > If you’re driving manual you are almost always in the wrong gear, especially in urban environments.

    If you are always in the wrong gear, get an an automatic because you clearly have no idea what you are doing. I would also advise you not to get a credit card or a home loan, as chances are you have no idea there…..

  58. Falcon says:

    I use engine braking with an automatic. It reduces wear on the brakes and, perhaps more importantly, the chance of brake fade. I don’t know how likely it is to happen, but I’d rather not learn the hard way!

    There’s a reason for signs like "Trucks use low gear". (I don’t drive a truck, but the same principles still apply.)

  59. Falcon says:

    That’s why it’s better to keep it in gear in case of engine failure, so the wheels and transmission will continue to drive the crankshaft (I don’t know if this is possible with the electronically controlled automatics). That way, the power steering pump and brake booster will still work, provided that the failure isn’t one that physically locks up the engine.

    Also, I’ve seen automatic cars where the gate prevents selection of Neutral from Drive without using the release mechanism, however that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

  60. Puckdropper says:

    Part of the problem with the computer is it is simply the most complex device brought in to homes today.  A car has on the order of 20 devices (I didn’t count, it’s just a way to indicate magnitude) that can be operated to control the car or the experience of driving.  The computer, on the other hand, has potentially one "device" (interface) for each program.

  61. Sabiland says:

    I have to disagree with this one Raymond. If people would know how and why the car works/reacts in some specific situations, there would be far less ending-life accidents on the road.

  62. porter says:

    As for the picture of Annie, if the picture’s contrast is wrong, do what you do with the TV; turn the dial at the bottom of the screen.

  63. Andrew R says:

    I believe that the simplest test of a good driver is not what options they’ve chosen for their vehicle but whether they can handle that vehicle under engine failure.  I honestly think this matters more than being able to parallel park (though you should be competent at that too).

    Engine loss is an extremely common reason for breakdown (probably second only to tyre fail) yet I’d be willing to bet more than half of the drivers in the world could not safely handle their car at speed with a dead engine.

    All cars made today are built to allow reasonable manual control after engine fail (or power-loss by other means – fuse, etc)

    * If you have power-steering, it reverts to manual (steering is still fly-by-wire – power is merely assisting).

    * The gearbox (manual or automatic) can ALWAYS be pushed into neutral without any buttons or pedals (try it, just push the stick towards neutral, it’ll always go).

    * The brakes are also fly-by-wire (so they get heaiver but they still work) and the hand-brake always works (though it only applies to the rear wheels).

    Can you control your vehicle at 100kph (60mph) without the help of the engine?

  64. jcs says:

    Andrew R: Be careful…if you have disc brakes (even on just one side), they will become *impossible* to activate after several actuations during an engine failure.

    The power brake booster contains an pneumatic cylinder which provides reserve power in the case of an engine failure, but it will run out after pressing the brakes several times, and the force of your leg isn’t enough to effectively activate disc brakes. The hand brake will still work, but it is not effective at high speeds.

    And, to the guy who complains that automatic transmissions send the car out of control because they shift when driving over icy patches: why on earth are you accelerating when driving over an icy patch anyway? Release your foot from the gas when driving over an icy patch in either an automatic or a manual. An automatic transmission will not shift while the engine is spooling down.

    To the guy who complains that he can’t get out of mud while driving an automatic: Did you realize that all automatic transmissions allow manual selection of 1st and 2nd gear? You can even shift while the car in motion, which sounds suspiciously like a manual transmission when you think about it.

    Sometimes, the problem is just between the chair and the steering wheel…

  65. Drak says:

    I think what most people are overlooking is that the computer can do *many* things. And when a layperson sees a more experienced person do these things they want to know how to do them too.

    You show them. They manage it once. Then the next week they call you, asking ‘how it went again, to do the thingy’. I don’t think people do that when driving a manual instead of an automatic (they feel too embarrased probably). But with a computer it seems to be OK to want to do stuff but not to bother learning it.

    (Yes, I do this myself when it comes to Linux sometimes. I’m trying to improve my knowledge of how stuff works, but sometimes Google does not help :S)

  66. DavidTan says:

    Some funny but true comparisons :)

  67. DWalker says:

    @Maurits: "I prefer manual transmissions because it’s one less thing in the car that can break."

    One less thing?  Do you think that if you have a manual tranmission that you don’t have a transmission at all?  No, you have a DIFFERENT transmission, rather than none at all.

    A manual transmission can certainly break.  Both an automatic and a manual have gears in them.

    You might claim that a manual transmission is mechanically simpler, but don’t claim that it’s not in the car at all!

    @Raymond: I agree with you 100%.  A friend asked me the other day how to get icons on to the desktop.  I started exeplaining that icons can point to programs or files, that most installation programs will put an icon on the desktop, and when an icon "represents" a file, the thing you see on the desktop can be the "thing itself" or a shortcut to the thing, when the thing is stored somewhere else.  

    The explanation got complicated, and I realized how much knowledge it takes to understand all of this.

    My eventual answer is "don’t worry about it.  Let me know when you want any new icons on the desktop and I’ll put them there".

    The casual user shouldn’t have to worry about all of this.

  68. Ricardo says:

    It’s much more fun to drive a car with a manual transmission. However if you are in a situation with a lot of traffic an auto transmission would be less annoying.

  69. Mark Jonson says:

    So, how many floppy disks <i>can</i> you fit in a 6Mbps cable modem?

  70. Mark Jonson says:

    So, how many floppy disks <i>can</i> you fit in a 6Mbps cable modem?

  71. petrol head says:

    @James Schend :

    Actually your automatic probably has several clutches and/or bands (which have a similar purpose) in it, as well as myriad hydraulic switches and valves which may be controlled by electronics – depending on the age of your vehicle. Also, the total number of gears in an auto is usually more for a given number of drive ratios because of non-drive gears needed to make an automatic function.

    Yeah, automatics definitely have more moving parts to fail. And since servicing requires openeing the transmission, manual clutches are usually less expensive to replace than repairing an automatic.

    @Andrew R:

    You are using "fly-by-wire" incorrectly. It means there is no direct mechanical connection from the input to the control. An F-16 is fly-by-wire. Its joystick does not even move, it merely senses the direction and amount of force applied and converts that to electrical signals which are translated into motion at the control surface. A car still has a mechanical connection from the wheel to the shaft to the steering gear to the tie rods to the wheels. Your mechanical motion at the steering wheels is the direct cause of the motion a the wheels. And, power steering without power is considerably harder than manual steering because you must also expend energy to force the hydraulic fluid through the system which now includes a pump that likely won’t turn.


    Even more interesting: the 2009 Dodge Ram 3500 only comes with a manual. It has 350hp and 610 lb/ft. That is serious torque and power. Ford also still offer manuals in super duty trucks. I think the disappearance of manuals was caused by truck model lines gaining popularity among suburbanites as family cars, such as the F-150 and Ram 1500. They weren’t selling sufficient numbers of manuals to justify the cost of including the option. Some "work" and "tow" rigs still do, for now.

  72. Duke of New York says:

    People who can’t drive a manual transmission shouldn’t be allowed to drive, have children, own property, work, or wear clothing. That’ll teach them.

  73. James Schend says:

    > Maurits: I prefer manual transmissions because it’s one less thing in the car that can break.

    Uh, your clutch will wear out long before your automatic transmission needs servicing. Seems to be automatics have *fewer* things that can break in them…

  74. Falcon says:

    @petrol head:

    Actually, I believe the reason power steering is hard when the pump is not running is because of gear ratios. Unassisted steering uses a higher ratio for leverage, which makes the wheel easier to turn, but you have to move it through a greater angle. With power steering, you get assistance from the engine, so a lower ratio is used to reduce the number of turns required at the steering wheel.

    BTW, I have to wonder what Raymond’s thinking

    if he’s reading all these comments.

  75. LongTimeListener says:

    I’m from the UK and learned in a manual car.  As others have said, learning in an automatic over here prohibits you from driving manuals and would therefore have limited my future car purchase choice.

    That said, I find that as I get older I prefer the comfort and ease of an automatic box.

  76. AndyB says:

    firstly, manuals are more fuel-efficient. Take a look at the co2 ratings for the same car with a manual and auto gearbox – the manual is always 5-10% better. eg my s-type is 175g/km v 189g/km in the auto model. I won’t say I’m saving the planet, but I’m saving myself as it falls into the lower tax banding :)

    But.. to get a computer analogy to Raymond’s car post: if you only know how to drive an auto, you’re like my friend. She only wants to "just use the computer" like surfing the web etc. Is it any wonder her PC is full of viruses and popups. If she knew just a little more about how it works, she would be far better protected.

    Its the same with other aspects of cars – drivers should know to check the tyres, oil and water. They should know how to top up the screenwash and make sure the tyres are correctly inflated. Many, many people (of the "just want it to work" inclination) do not know how to do these things. These people are a (admittedly slight) danger to themselves and others – just like the PC user who doesn’t understand simple things like how to keep a PC virus free.

  77. Mr Pickles says:

    I have looked at a car. I have looked at a computer. And they are not the same. For instance the only wheel on a computer is the mouse wheel. But a car has at least four of them, all bigger. And the only screen on a car is the windscreen. And Windows on a Computer has a funny ™ sign next to it. And the windows don’t overlap on a car although they can be moved. But with a switch not a mouse. A mouse in a car would eat the carpets.

    I don’t understand what’s happening any more.

  78. Jeff says:


    I prefer manual transmissions because it’s one less thing in the car that can break.

    That’s really just not true anymore.  Modern automatic transmissions are really very reliable.

    This topic has been covered on Car Talk and in various automotive magazines over the last several years.

  79. Cooney says:


    Uh, your clutch will wear out long before your automatic transmission needs servicing. Seems to be automatics have *fewer* things that can break in them…

    I don’t know about your car, but mine should last for 150k, unless I go and upgrade to the 6mt.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content