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Rental Car and the MANUAL obsession

I've been looking at rental car deals and find that manual transmission is a good 40% or more cheaper than Auto.
Is it because Manual cars aren't as popular?

I can drive both, but i wanted to hear from some of you who have driven the manual car across Austria (including the mountain roads etc) and your experience in terms of fatigue etc. My wife & I will be driving across the country over a span of 12 days.

Thanks.

Posted by
4041 posts

Most small/medium sized cars in Europe (the size you would hire?) are petrol and manual and a car with automatic transmission is more expensive to buy, hence the rental prices are higher. Larger cars can be diesel and automatic.

I drive a manual car and I don’t get fatigued.

Posted by
381 posts

I also had no problem with driving a manual in Austria and Germany. The only time I have found driving in Europe to be stressful was in Ireland, Scotland and England due to the driving on the left hand side of the road while sitting on the right hand side of the vehicle and shifting with my left hand!! In Scotland the gears were actual reversed so after shifting from first to second, then third was up and away from you and fourth was straight down from third. That took some concentration!!! If you are comfortable driving a manual in the US you should be fine.

Posted by
17 posts

Ha! Funny you say that @stmurray2

I live in Australia and we drive on the LEFT side of the road, sit on the right side of the car. So, driving for me in Europe mainland is exactly the opposite. Last year we had gone to Spain and had done a last minute rental for a day trip from Barcelona. Landed up getting a Fiat pocket-rocket manual (only one left). Took me about 30 min to get used to it. Didn't stop smiling for the rest of the day as i was driving it through the Spanish countryside.

This time, its 12 days of driving, and often winding roads through the hills. Hence the question.

Posted by
2847 posts

As one who has always (out of necessity) rented an automatic in France, I know that part of the apparently large difference in price is due to the fact that there are generally no automatics in the smallest car categories. So when I see a matrix of available automatics on Auto Europe's web site, listed by rental agency and car class, there will be none listed for the 2 smallest car classes. I always look to get the smallest class of car I can, and thus, for example, if I were to select a manual in the smallest class available and compare it with an automatic in the smallest class available, the manual is likely to be much more expensive than the automatic. However, it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges.

Posted by
17 posts

The heart says Manual.... the head says Auto..... the wallet says Manual.... the wife says Auto.....

Therein lies the dilemma :)

Posted by
8889 posts

Manual cars are actually more popular than automatic. And as the others say, for small and medium cars they are cheaper and/or the only option. Many car hire places will only have a limited number of automatics and only in the higher categories. You are paying extra for the "extra-spec" automatic.

In European countries if you pass your test in an automatic car, your licence is only valid for automatics. If you pass in a car with manual transmission you licence is valid for both manual and automatic.
The result, everybody learns on a manual, unless you have a physical disability which only allows you to drive an automatic. And your first car is a cheap car and hence a manual.
So everybody is familiar with driving a manual.

If you passed your test on an automatic in Australia, you are getting through a legal loophole to be allowed to drive a manual.

Posted by
696 posts

I don't have a problem driving a manual transmission anywhere. I've rarely encountered traffic in Europe that's anything like what you get in Los Angeles, so I can't remember the last time fatigue was an issue. What I found disconcerting was the automatic shutoff of the engine when stopped. It took me a while to get used to that as I thought I was somehow killing the engine when putting it in neutral.

I have driven all over Europe. My last trip was 20 days in a loop from Munich to Salzburg, to Prague, and back thru Germany. Never had a problem. Car was an Audi 5 series.

For the record I normally drive either a paddle shift BMW or a manual truck daily.

Posted by
23886 posts

I have always driven my personal (UK) car to the big countries of the mainland Europe.

I've driven over in a miniature Toyota - once, never again - my back and legs wouldn't let me repeat the journey, manual transmission, 1.0 lire petrol, no overtaking, all the way to Switzerland and back - no cruise control.

Same in a 1.3 petrol manual Corolla - again no cruise control, but I did have air conditioning, surprisingly nippy on mountain roads but the brakes got too hot too quickly. So, again, just the one trip.

For almost 10 years I drove over in the 2.2 litre manual diesel Honda Accord Executive. What a dream to drive. 5 speed, cruise control, arctic airconditioning, huge boot, excellent winter heater if a bit slow (typical of diesels, because they run much cooler than petrol the heater takes longer to heat up, but then excellent), and just simply a fabulous car to drive. Nippy (nobody would know it was a diesel), huge amount of grunt and the car just loved the mountains. First gear mountains near Chur and Seefeld in Tirol and the car just laughed and buckled down. Same going down, that big engine was a great engine brake.

That car finally gave up the ghost and for 3 years I've been driving a new model Honda 1.6 litre manual diesel Civic. With a 6 speed and all sorts of technical whizbangs it is a truly spectacular car to drive. Huge low speed grunt, happy to cruise at 180 kph which is where I like to be (between 160 and 180) in Germany, but perfectly happy at 120 to 130 elsewhere, a little more lively than the Accord on rough roads but with a much stiffer suspension, but not so happy as the Accord going down steep mountain roads - the smaller engine gives less engine braking so there is more load on the brakes, and the brakes are smaller.

So in addition to the simple question of manual vs automatic there is the question of fuel type and how many gears, and how big an engine.

Just by the way, with the Civic I get about 800 km per fillup (45 ltrs) in mixed driving, about 1200 km in the East of England, France, and Netherlands.

I'd never want an automatic in the mountains because it is not easy to use engine braking on the downhill, and there would be too much hunting uphill.

I don't get fatigued by driving until it has gone too long and I'm just plain tired. I've never used paddles, always a traditional gear stick. In the 1960s I used a 3-on-the-steering-wheel manual on a Chevrolet.

Posted by
5547 posts

"Come around idiot, come around": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZCn5ia4zVk

If you are experienced with a manual transmission and know how to operate a clutch on a hill, why pay more for a manual. WE drove a manual shiftier from time to time in San Francisco and would have to make use of the hand parking brake as a hill holder for those uphill stop sign intersections and hope an idiot with an automatic didn't come up from behind and crowd us.

Posted by
1571 posts

Having driven for years in the mountains of Colorado, and then on the hills in San Francisco, I would much rather have a manual for gear control on uphill and downhill stretches.

Posted by
4843 posts

What you are seeing is a divergence in automotive tastes. Americans long ago went the route of Auto Transmission, Air Conditioning, Cup Holders, Cheap Gas, and Larger cars being standard. In Europe, they for the most part drive less, in narrower tighter places, and for shorter distances. Virtually none of the trends in the US took off in Europe.

Posted by
5547 posts

...divergence in automotive tastes.

Manual shiftier with clutch vs automatic was somewhat driven by clutch life and heavy vehicles with towing capacity. Just look at how many Americans drive vehicles with towing hitches.

Clutch life could not be warranted for heavy vehicles, especially those towing loads, because of clutch life. Starting up with heavy loads required some slippage of the clutch causing wear. And for the heavy footed driver with minimal clutch operation skills would shorten clutch life.

Posted by
23886 posts

My little Civic has 8 cup holders!!! You can't fit more than a 500ml bottle in any of them, except one in the back-seat armrest, and coffee only fits in the centre, next to the hand brake, and only if you don't mind it popping out from time-to-time, but it does have both adaptive cruise control and speed limiting as well as a whole shedload of cameras and lidar and radar.

But I do have 8 cup holders!

Posted by
696 posts

The trend in the USA over the past 4 decades was driven (pun intended) by Drivers Training more than any other factor. Schools were mandated to provide drivers training at the high school level and it is much easier to train drivers to an auto transmission than to a manual. It's also much cheaper.

The inability of schools to train significant numbers of people to drive a manual transmission was noted by the US Military over 30 years ago, and is the reason that the last two generations of military vehicles have all had automatic transmissions. It's also the reason that most manufacturers no longer offer anything other than automatics, with even the "enthusiast" vehicles trending that way. Modern automatics are much more efficient, smoother, last longer, require less maintenance, and faster than manuals. They are however, more expensive to manufacture.

Before electronic assisted, steering, braking, and other wonders of our CPU regulated driving experience it was fairly common for manually shifted vehicles to go down long inclines with the engine off. That could be exciting...

On a side note, drivers training in Europe is not offered in school and is paid for directly by the individual. Since this tends to be rather expensive, and conducted on a one-to-one basis, a greater percentage of drivers overseas learn on manual transmissions.

Posted by
2586 posts

I grew up driving both a manual and automatic cars. We currently have one of each. I do get more fatigued driving the manual and finally insisted that new cars going forward would have to be automatic. The reason for this decision was the fatigue associated with driving in stop and go traffic, usually accident, road closure or construction caused. The other reason I didn’t want to deal with a manual on a daily basis anymore was my fear of starting on steep hills with cars close behind me. If you think you may encounter these types of road conditions on your 12 day drive then I too would vote for an automatic.

EDIT: the day I called it quits was a day they closed our major highway along the coast (101) and rerouted EVERYONE over the mountains. I spent 4 hours going 2 miles in stop and go traffic and eventually turned around (illegally) and went back to a shelter for the night. When I finally made it home the next day I said no more manuals for me as my main car.

Posted by
4702 posts

Well, preference and rental order aside, you have to be prepared to be told, "Sorry, we have no automatics left today." Or, almost worse, "We have a GIANT automatic vehicle that no one else wants." I've had little luck getting automatics at the major airports of Europe.

Posted by
636 posts

Most modern manual transmission cars have a variant of Berganfahrassistent (hill start assistant) making stops on inclines not so dramatic. For me the downside of a manual is in stop and go traffic/Stau on the Autobahns where your clutch foot gets a workout. Manuals can be fun in the mountains, if you prefer a sportier drive with a car with good PS/HP. Modern automatics are now getting better fuel mileage than manuals. They also will break/slow going downhill with the cruse on. I've had both and driven across Austria with no problem. In good weather go for the convertable and drive the secondary roads! Nothing like the mountain views and air from a Cabrio.

Posted by
329 posts

Most modern manual transmission cars have a variant of Berganfahrassistent (hill start assistant) making stops on inclines not so dramatic.

Indeed. Actually, it's pretty amazing just what is available on many modern manual cars - hill start assist, automatic rev matching on downshifts (no more need for heel-toe or anything), automatic anti-stall (let the clutch out too soon and the car stalls, it can immediately start up again so you don't really experience a stall at all), and so on. While an economical, compact manual might not have some or any of these, the technology does exist to eliminate a lot of the problems many people might have had with manual transmissions.

I was raised on manuals, and always had at least one around until fairly recently. Even when living in Los Angeles with a 30mi work commute one-way, I drove a manual. For sure, though, I quite looked forward to replacing that car with an automatic because it was starting to wear out my left ankle! For sportier cars I certainly prefer manuals, but there is something pleasantly relaxing about driving an automatic on a day to day basis.

At least knowing how to drive a manual certainly comes in handy when renting overseas. It can save you some money, as well as give you more options for rental cars. On one trip with friends in Europe where we each rented cars in Vienna to drive around Central Europe, I got a nice and nimble little Skoda with a manual transmission that was comfy and practical through the whole trip, while some other friends got suck with a big Mercedes Sprinter van because that was the only automatic the rental location had and none of them drove stick (and they had to take that to the rental location in Budapest to swap it out for an automatic a few days later). Another time in Costa Rica the rental I picked up in San Jose eventually broke down a few days later when we were at the coast. The tiny rental office in the town we were in only had manual cars available - had I needed an automatic, I would have been stuck waiting for them to bring one down from the capital.

Posted by
1653 posts

To me, the one thing to remember with an automatic when not used to driving in hilly regions is to force it to downshift while going downhill for long periods of time (I've always seen a way to do it but the details depend on the actual transmission), so that you don't have to brake continuously. Else, I actually prefer driving automatics in mountains / scenic areas because it lets me focus a bit more on the road and enjoy more of the landscape. Modern automatics available for rent in Europe don't have the performance / sluggish shifting issues of older ones.

As a side note, I've always been able to get an automatic when I booked one (in France and Spain at least)... And I've been upgraded to automatics several times because the small manuals are the first cars to go on busy rental days. Last time was almost hilarious: had booked the equivalent of a Fiat 500, drove away with a 4.9 meter long Skoda station wagon with the largest trunk I ever saw.

Posted by
613 posts

Its not just Austria, but as others have noted, small cars tend to be manual. Small cars are desirable because EU roads are narrow, parking spots are tiny, and gas is expensive. A small car is the answer, and small cars are manual. I've driven manual all over Austria with no problem (if you want to know what all over means, try to find how to get to the birth place of Jakob Prandtauer. I've done that)

Posted by
1008 posts

Automatics are a bit of a rip-off, unfortunatley, but they are all I drive. On a steep, windy road my Smartfortwo came to a complete standstill a couple of times.

Posted by
919 posts

In school we learned on automatic cars but my parents always had manual so I learned on a manual-which is scary when you are first starting out and on your first hill but I now I wouldn't drive an automatic-it's just so boring.:) Again, worst part is driving on the opposite side of the round and remembering to turn correctly. My uncle almost got hit in Bath because he turned right into the opposite lane!

Posted by
1268 posts

On a side note, drivers training in Europe is not offered in school
and is paid for directly by the individual. Since this tends to be
rather expensive, and conducted on a one-to-one basis, a greater
percentage of drivers overseas learn on manual transmissions.

That is not the reason, as learning automatic would require fewer lessons and hence be cheaper. The reason is as explained earlier, that if you learn to drive with automatic transmission you will get a "limited" licence and only be allowed to drive cars with automatic transmission.

Posted by
8889 posts

Other reasons driving lessons are not provided by schools:

  • The minimum age for driving is 18 in most countries, 17 in the UK. You are only old enough to drive in the middle of your last year at school, in some cases only a few days before or even after you leave school.

  • "Schools were mandated to provide drivers training at the high school level" - I could never see that being adopted in a European country (even with the above age problem).

    • That would be an unnecessary waste of money for schools that have much better uses for restricted funds.
    • That would be a biassed policy, promoting the products of one industry as the norm.
    • Some people do not want to learn to drive. Putting it in the school curriculum makes it compulsory.
    • If you have money to spare, spend it on developing public transport.

On the subject "biassed policy, promoting the products of one industry as the norm", I am amazed whenever I read that "jaywalking" is actually a crime in the USA. That is definitely discrimination against pedestrians. The attitude in Europe is more that both pedestrians and motor vehicles have equal rights on roads, and in city centres pedestrians have more rights.
(Sorry if that sounds like a rant).

Posted by
12137 posts

As far as price is concerned, when I inquired as an option in France in the late 1990s, ie driving around in the North, to get to different small towns and villages, renting a car basically meant, as the locals interpreted it, a manual, since an getting an automatic had a distinct price increase to it, ie, you pay for that luxury. It was well known that was the case. So, since I can't drive a manual anyway, I dropped the idea.

Posted by
5547 posts

Just curious since I don't rent cars in Europe. Looking at Eurocar, its rental web site filters by manual vs automatic but seems to be silent on air conditioning. Given the heat wave news, just wondering if air condition is standard or an option. Air could be more critical than an automatic in the coming week.

Posted by
3436 posts

Chris,

Your response shows the difference between the US and the countries of Europe:

Driving instruction in the US High Schools was/is provided to those in their final 2 years of school. Meaning those 16 and older. You can only get a learning permit for driving at that age (baring exception hardship). Learning permit means you can only drive with a parent or other licensed adult in the vehicle with you. Then when you turn 18, you go and take a written and driving test to prove you know how to drive and get your permanent license.

You state that some people do not want to learn to drive. That is just not true in the US. Everyone wants to drive. Mainly due to the lack of decent public transit in most parts of the country. And it is just embedded in our DNA that we must drive! High school students have some flexibility in what classes they take. Classes like driving are not compulsory and there is a limited total number of students allowed to take the driving class each year. Where I grew up in Texas, it also cost extra.

Not sure what you meant by biased

Now, at least in Texas, High Schools no longer provide driving instruction classes. It satisfies the current law for you to learn to drive from your parent or other adult. No formal education required. You do still have to pas the same driving test and written test at 18. Not sure I agree with that because not everyone knows all of the rules and laws of driving like a professional instructor does and can pass on bad habits. You can take proper driver training if you want and it speeds along the licensing process.

Jaywalking is crossing a road except at marked crossings or intersections. Not sure how making that a crime is discriminatory. It is supposed to help keep pedestrians safer because they are not crossing at random points in the road.

Posted by
12137 posts

It used to be in France when I was told of this in the late 1990s (may still be true too), you, the individual, had to go to driving school, pass it, get that piece of paper indicating you did just that in order to get that license, and after all the expenses incurred, the total cost to you amounted to over one thousand dollars. In towns I passed through or visited in Northern France, I saw several of these driving schools.

Posted by
449 posts

I am going to chime in for the obvious. Since you drive on the RIGHT side at home but will be driving on the LEFT side in Europe, it would be less stressful to rent an automatic car so you can concentrate on driving in the correct lane and not trying to learn to shift with your left hand. (Edited to be correct on the LEFT/RIGHT references)

Posted by
636 posts

Strange as it may sound, I think you brain compensates for driving on the wrong side of the road rather quickly (at least for me). For a manual the clutch, brake and gas pedals are in the same place, just need to shift with the other hand. I've managed with a manual right hand drive in Ireland and the UK and right hand automatics in Australia and New Zealand, without any big problems. A good navigation device really helps, either your own or in a good rental car. I guess manual or automatic comes down to your preference being able to drive either. For those who can't drive a manual (or are rusty), saving @40% while learning how to drive it in a foreign country on the wrong side of the road and in the mountains does not make too much sense. Driving through Tirol in Spring-Summer with the top down in good weather is great! I'll be doing it next week, but unfortunately the weather forecast is not looking too good for it.

Posted by
31056 posts

Being of an "older" generation, I learned to drive both types of transmission and am comfortable with both. However when renting cars in Europe I prefer an auto transmission whenever possible as that's one less thing I need to focus on, especially in busy city traffic and an unfamiliar environment. I strongly prefer an automatic when driving in the U.K. on the "correct" side of the road, as that's the opposite side to what I'm used to and while I can adjust to shifting with my left hand, I'd rather not. I don't really care about the difference in costs between the two types.

If your driving is primarily going to be on steep mountain roads, that's certainly a good rationale for choosing a manual transmission. I've done a lot of mountain driving and while it is possible to manually downshift an auto to lighten the load on the brakes, a manual is more effective in that situation.

I assume you're aware that for driving in Austria, an International Driver's Permit is compulsory - https://www.austria.org/driving-a-vehicle

Posted by
17 posts

Fellow travellers / drivers / nomads....

We are back from our trip.

Landed up booking a Manual (Ford Sedan) and walked out with a Ford KUGA SUV / Manual / Diesel. After the first 30 min or so, it was effortless. Loved every minute of it. The car worked like a treat on the hills, highways etc.