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Is an Automatic Car Good for Long Drives?

Whether you’re planning a road trip or just have a long commute, picking a car with the right transmission can make all the difference. 

So, which type of car does better on those longer drives: automatics or manuals?

Whether an automatic car is a good choice for long drives depends on the driving conditions. For example, if you are driving for a long time on an open highway, manuals may be preferable. But, if you have to go a long way in traffic, you’ll probably want an automatic. 

In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of driving an automatic during long drives on the highway and in traffic. 

Then, I will detail whether automatics are suitable for driving in the mountains and if long drives in a manual are too much for a new driver. 

I’ll end by explaining whether it’s a good idea to take a manual on a long drive if you’ve never driven one before. 

Is an Automatic Better for Long Drives on the Highway?

Photo of highway through the car's windshield.

When talking about driving long distances on the open highway, automatic transmissions aren’t quite as good as manuals. 

However, there are some pros to using an automatic on these kinds of drives. 

Reasons an Automatic Is Better on the Highway 

Probably the biggest pro of driving an automatic on the highway is the fact that you don’t have to keep changing gears like you would in a manual. 

And, yes, when driving on the highway, you don’t have to change gears super frequently because you’re usually cruising at a set speed. 

But, if you have to drive a long way, not having to switch gears can reduce driver fatigue and give you a more comfortable ride. 

Additionally, you will get an overall smoother ride with an automatic transmission. 

Of course, a manual will give you a decently smooth ride on the highway, but if you’re someone who gets motion sick easily, you should still probably opt for an automatic on long drives. 

Finally, you may just be more used to an automatic vehicle, especially if you live in the US, which will make your ride more comfortable. 

Reasons a Manual Is Better on the Highway 

Overall, driving an automatic for long distances on the highway isn’t much different from operating a manual. 

However, there are certain features of manual transmissions that make some people believe they’re preferable for highway driving. 

For example, many people find that the need to switch gears gives them a more engaging driving experience, which keeps them from getting bored. 

Manuals also accelerate faster, and some people prefer this for highway driving, especially on high-speed limit roads. 

Additionally, most manuals get better fuel economy than automatics, which will help you save money on long trips. 

Lastly, manuals aren’t as likely to break down and are typically cheaper to service since they have fewer parts. 

And this fact can be important on long trips because they put your car under lots of stress, making it more likely to suffer from an issue. 

Is an Automatic Better for Long Drives in Traffic?

Overall, automatic cars are better for long drives in traffic. 

Yet, that doesn’t mean driving a manual has no advantages. 

Reasons an Automatic Is Better for Long Distances in Traffic

Anyone who has sat through hours of stop-and-go traffic knows it can take a toll on your mind and body. 

However, automatic cars do not put as much strain on the driver as manuals. 

Basically, the biggest advantage of automatics in heavy traffic is that you don’t constantly have to deal with the clutch or shifting gears. 

Therefore, both your legs and arms are less likely to get tired or cramp up. 

Your mind also won’t get as easily fatigued. 

But, you may be thinking, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to say that you can get tired from just that little bit of movement and thought?

Well, under normal driving circumstances, the effort spent on shifting gears is negligible, and many people actually prefer it. 

But, when you’re in traffic and likely already irritated, these repetitive movements can make you even grouchier. 

So, if you want to be in a better mood when you get to your destination, you should choose an automatic. 

Reasons a Manual Is Better for Long Distances in Traffic 

For the most part, the only real con of driving an automatic in traffic is that the ease of driving one could cause you to pay less attention to the road. 

And in boring traffic, where you can get easily distracted, it may be better to have a vehicle where you have to focus a lot on what you’re doing. 

Yet, there is a counterargument that claims that the ease of driving an automatic in traffic causes less mental fatigue, making fender benders less likely. 

Really, it’s up to the specific driver whether they feel more alert driving an automatic or manual in traffic. 

Is an Automatic Good for Long Drives in Hills and Mountains?

A man wearing a green jacket driving in the mountains.

Like for most driving conditions, it’s hard to say whether manuals or automatics are better for hills and mountains. 

Mostly, it just comes down to personal preference. 

However, many people prefer automatics in the mountains because they change gears by themselves so that you don’t have to keep doing it. 

Furthermore, automatic cars are much more likely to have hill start assist, which prevents them from rolling backward when starting from a stop on a slope. 

This technology can make driving in the mountains less frightening, especially for new drivers. 

It can also cut down on the rate of car sickness in passengers when they’re on long rides in the hills or mountains. 

Will a Long Drive in a Manual Be Too Much for a New Driver?

Manual transmissions are more challenging to drive than automatics and can put a lot of unnecessary stress on new drivers if they need to drive a long way. 

Generally, if a new driver is going to go for a long drive for the first time, it may be more manageable and less overwhelming for them to drive an automatic. 

Yet, again, which car is preferable always comes down to the driver. 

Some new drivers may feel more comfortable with the control they feel in a manual vehicle. 

If they do, a manual will probably be the better option for them when going on long trips. 

Is it Wise to Take a Manual on a Long Drive if I’ve Never Driven One Before?

A woman driving a manual during sunset.

If you’ve only ever driven automatics, you’ll probably find it difficult to jump right into a manual. 

Plus, if you try to drive a manual without knowing what you’re doing, you can damage the car. 

Therefore, you should save the long drive for a later date when you’re more confident in your skills. 


Automatics are your best choice if you are going to be driving for a long time in traffic. 

But, if you are taking a long journey down the highway, you may want to pick a car with a manual transmission.

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