I got my driver's licence as soon as I turned 15. In those days you got the full licence right away; there was no such thing as a learner or restricted licence. However my parents instituted their own rules. As I was a newly licensed driver they sensibly didn't allow me to drive after dark or carry passengers, measures which seemed draconian to me at the time.

I passed my practical test in my mother's automatic Honda Civic then my parents gave me their old V-dub to drive. It was a car with idiosyncrasies. If the V-dub's side indicators wouldn't retract I'd have to slap them back down by hand. And, thanks to its annoying habit of flying up as I was driving along, the bonnet was tied down with baling twine.

But the most remarkable thing about that car from my point of view was that it was a manual - and I'd never driven a manual before. Somehow I figured out how it worked and over the next few years I owned a series of manual cars. It was my transmission of choice. I think I considered drivers of automatic cars to be staid, unadventurous namby-pamby types.

It was living in St Heliers and driving along Tamaki Drive in rush-hour traffic every weekday morning for years that put me off manual cars forever. The erratic stop-start-stop-start progression meant the clutch was perpetually in action. I have a slightly dicky left knee to this day. From then on I was an unashamed convert to the effortlessness of an automatic transmission.


According to manualversusautomatic.com, "[m]anual transmission cars use less fuel and give you more control over the car but are less convenient, while automatic transmissions burn (a little) more gas, provide less control but they are easier to use." This site agreed with me about driving in rush-hour: "if you commute in bad traffic, buy an automatic and forget about control - it's just not worth the stress driving a stick-shift through traffic jams."

It was close to 20 years before I drove a manual vehicle again - and that was last month. Of course, to complicate matters, on this occasion I was driving a truck and undergoing assessment for a truck licence. No pressure, then.

I checked the rego (registration) and hubo (hubometer) reading, made a note of them in the logbook, checked the vehicle and load, and then climbed up to sit in the driver's seat. I was mildly alarmed to see the gearstick. "Oh, is that the clutch?" I asked, indicating the left-most foot pedal. "Yes," my examiner replied. He must have been wondering what exactly he had struck. "I haven't driven a manual for 20 years," I said, by way of explanation.

So I had a small bit of trouble getting the vehicle moving in the first place; it just took me a while to understand the nuances of releasing the clutch but then I was away. Third gear was always tricky to find. "I think that's fifth," my assessor repeated a few times. Still, I passed the practical test and successfully completed the unit standards on fatigue management, work time and logbooks.

I'm now the proud holder of a Class 2 licence which entitles me to drive a "medium rigid vehicle" so next show season I'll be behind the wheel of a horse-truck - an automatic Isuzu. Many people still think you're a bit of a wuss for driving an automatic but I'm hoping the staunchness of driving a truck just might mitigate the wimp factor to some degree.

Is driving a manual vehicle somehow better, more real, than driving an automatic? What's your preferred type of transmission: manual or automatic? Is it simply preference or has a particular experience shaped your attitudes?