Manual vs Automatic Car Hire

Hiring a car for your holiday comes with a lot of questions, mainly: should I get a manual or an automatic? Your choice will depend on a lot of factors, like destination, driving ability and cost. Here we’ll answer all the important questions including key differences, advantages of each, the type of holiday and the price.

Why does it matter what transmission type I hire?

While any car will get you from A to B, driving a manual is not the same as driving an automatic. The difference in transmission could seriously sway your hiring decision. Without delving into the mechanics, the main distinction is how the car shifts gears. An automatic transmission changes gears for you, while a manual requires you to shift the gears using the gear stick and clutch.

This seemingly small difference can have a big impact on your journey, which is why it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before you set off. The main things to consider are:

  • Comfort: driving a manual requires more footwork across the pedals, often having to hold one foot in an uncomfortable position for quite some time.
  • Policy: once you’ve booked your car hire, it can be quite difficult to change the transmission type if you decide that you want to switch.
  • Ability: depending on how long you’ve been driving for, you may find handling one type of transmission easier than the other.
  • Length of trip: one type of transmission might be a better option depending on whether you’ll be driving for a few days or weeks.

What are the benefits of renting a manual or automatic car on holiday?

The advantages of one transmission type over the other really depends on the destination of your trip, so it’s best to look at the general benefits and decide which apply to your particular holiday.

Manual Car Hire Benefits

  • More control: manual cars have five or six gears and a clutch, giving the driver added involvement in the car’s control, which many drivers find reassuring.
  • More engaging: because of the increased action required by the driver, more attention needs to be paid. This keeps the brain active and less likely to go on autopilot.
  • Better fuel economy: traditionally, manual transmissions (when driven correctly) are more fuel efficient than automatics because you can change gears quicker and accelerate faster. However, advancements in automatic technology mean we could see this gap closing.

Automatic Car Hire Benefits

  • Easier: with four modes (park, reverse, neutral and drive) and no gears to change, driving an automatic is far simpler.
  • Frees up more headspace: hiring a car on holiday requires focus. Unfamiliar roads, foreign road signs and GPS tracking is enough multitasking without the added element of gears to think of. An automatic allows you to concentrate more on the road.
  • Less stress: Studies have shown that people who drive an automatic experience lower stress levels, which is great for keeping your holiday nice and relaxed.

When would it be best to hire a manual vs an automatic car?

The first thing to ask yourself here is how comfortable you feel driving a manual vs an automatic. On holiday, you may be required to drive on the side of the road that you’re not used to, which means the driving seat and controls will also be different, so going with the transmission you feel most at home with will make this easier.

Specific destinations also tend to favour one type of transmission, with some places even offering only one option. Automatic cars are more popular in countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, whereas manual car rental is more typical in the UK and Europe.

If you’re travelling to the US, for example, and want to hire a manual you will not only find it quite uncommon, but the cost may be higher because of this. However, the uncommon factor could work in your favour as transmissions that are not widely driven in that area deter thieves from stealing a car they’re not used to driving.

Automatic cars are typically better to drive in urban areas, like cities, as you’re more likely to be driving through stop-start traffic. The smooth transition through gears in an automatic car will make this a more pleasant experience. For those cruising down long and open roads, the fast acceleration and greater control of a manual may make this option more appealing.

Of course, this is all down to personal preference. Some drivers like to keep control the whole time with a manual, even in congestion, whereas others think covering a lot of miles is easier in an automatic.

Does it cost more to hire an automatic car?

Hiring an automatic may be more expensive in countries where that transmission type is not preferred. In the UK, for example, manual transmissions are more widely used. The availability of automatic cars to hire will therefore be lower, which means that the price goes up due to demand.

If you’re travelling to the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, however, hiring an automatic is generally cheaper as this type of transmission is more common.

Whether you’ve decided to hire an automatic or a manual car, our European, Worldwide and Worldwide Plus insurance covers you against damage, theft and more.

Why choose a policy from insurance4carhire?

Excess cover is often offered when you pick up your rental car, but at a high cost - between £9 and £20 per day. A policy from insurance4carhire will cost you from £12.79 per trip or from £46.99 per year* and will cover your excess - up to £6,500 per claim. 

About the author

Adam Summersby - blog author, car hire excess insurance business unit directorThis is a marketing article from insurance4carhire by our car hire excess insurance business unit director, Adam Summersby. Adam is a respected leader with 11 years’ varied experience in niche personal and commercial lines insurance, including caravan, site operators and excess reimbursement, with proficiency in leadership, sales and account management.

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