Learning to drive: Manual vs automatic

Before starting your driving lessons, you’ll need to decide whether you want to learn in a manual or an automatic car. Here’s everything you need to know.

When you’re learning to drive, you want to make sure you prepare yourself in the best possible way.

But before you begin your lessons, the first decision you need to make, is picking which type of car you’ll learn in.

For the majority of learner drivers in the UK, they’ll opt for a manual car. Although, that’s not to say automatic isn’t an option.

However, it's worth noting that if you pass your test in a manual, you can also drive an automatic. But if you pass your test in an automatic, you'll only be able to drive an automatic. If you decide you want to drive a manual later on, you'll have to re-sit your driving test in a manual car.

Here, we take a look at the pros and cons of learning to drive in a manual or automatic car.

What’s the difference between a manual and automatic car?

The two main differences between a manual and automatic car can be seen in the car’s clutch and gearbox. A manual car has a clutch pedal and a five- or six-speed manual gearbox, whereas an automatic car doesn’t have a clutch and has a simplified gearbox.

In a manual car, you need to press in the clutch pedal and choose the right gear for the car’s speed, giving you full control over its performance. An automatic gearbox selects the right gear for the car’s speed and the road conditions, meaning drivers only need to focus on stopping, starting and turning.

What does a manual gear stick look like?

The shift pattern on a manual gear stick will look different on every car, depending on the make and model. It usually has five or six gears as well as a reverse and neutral option. A car’s gear pattern will be displayed on the top of the gear stick using a series of lines and numbers.

What does an automatic gear stick look like?

Automatics tend to have four options on the gear stick – Park (P), Reverse (R), Neutral (N) and Drive (D). The shift pattern will either be displayed on the gear stick itself or along the side of it.

Should I learn to drive an automatic?

We’ve listed the pros and cons for both automatic and manual driving to help you decide what type of car you should learn in.


  • No need to worry about changing gears.
  • You can’t stall.
  • No need to practice finding the biting point.
  • Hill starts are easier.
  • You might pass your test sooner than if you were learning in a manual, because there’s less to learn.
  • If you do pass your test quickly, you’ll save money on driving lessons.


  • You won’t be qualified to drive a manual car.
  • It might be more difficult to find a driving instructor.
  • Automatic driving lessons might be more expensive.
  • If you pass your test quickly, you might feel too inexperienced to be on the road yourself.

Can I drive a manual car with an automatic licence?

If you take your driving test in an automatic car, you’re not qualified to drive a manual car. So, if you decide you want to drive a manual car at a later date, you’ll need to re-sit your test. If you pass your test in a manual car, you’ll be able to drive both manual and automatic cars.

As learning to drive in an automatic will limit your options for the future, you need to decide whether never being able to drive a manual car will have a negative impact.

Should I buy an automatic or a manual after passing my test?

If you’ve passed your test in an automatic then your choice is limited when you’re looking to buy your first car. If you pass your test in a manual car then you’ll have the choice of both. Before you decide, you need to look at how often you’ll be driving the car and the type of driving you’ll be doing. If you’ll be covering lots of miles and driving in busy traffic, you might be better off with an automatic. However, manual cars are typically less expensive to buy, which can be attractive for first-time drivers. Our online guide offers some advice so you know what you’re looking for whensearching for your first car.

If you’ve hired one of our dual control cars for ten hours or more, remember to claim your £300 voucher off the cost of your first car.

How to hire a manual or automatic dual control car

No matter what you decide, Arnold Clark Car & Van Rental can help you learn to drive for less. With manual and automatic dual control cars available to hire at branches across the UK, we’re the perfect place to go for extra practice in between lessons. With prices starting from £18 per hour, and YoungScot cardholder 241 offers, there are lots of ways to save.

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