Home » Daily Driving A Manual In Traffic Isn’t That Big Of A Deal, Relax

Daily Driving A Manual In Traffic Isn’t That Big Of A Deal, Relax

Manual Traffic
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I feel it. This one of the greatest duels of my life. Me in a bright lime manual Dodge Challenger R/T Swinger versus a black Jeep Renegade driven by a Quebecois pensioner. A race to the freer side of the U.S.-Canadian border. Of course, it’s the day after the Canadian F1 Grand Prix, so we were only going about 1 MPH.

By conventional standards, the Challenger is probably one of the worst cars to get stuck driving while mired in a territorial traffic jam. It’s loud. It’s bright. It’s inefficient. The clutch is skip-leg-day heavy and the gearbox is so off-brand-PS2-controller clicky that each shift takes work.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Hey Coppers

Frankly, the Challenger was not my first choice for this trip for this very reason. I’d lined up a comfy German electric crossover, but it became unavailable at the last minute. Jumping from a luxury EV to a rip snortin’ Challenger is a bit like trying to buy a kale smoothie and being given a deep dish pizza instead.

Oh well, I love a good deep dish pizza.

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When people complain that they can’t get a manual sports car, or sedan, or whatever because they have a congested commute, the situation I’m in is exactly the one they’re picturing. At one point my wife looks over and asks if my leg hurts.

Shaker HoodI’m fine, I insist. I’m pushing a little pedal in with my foot and then moving my arm a a few inches. Even with the high resistance level of the clutch, this isn’t that taxing. The hardest part is not tossing the Challenger into the car in front of me with the 475 lb-ft of torque begging to be unleashed (I may, in boredom, may have been tempted to make the Shaker hood shimmy a bit)

Allow me to clarify: While I do take care of myself I’m not some muscle-bound gym rat. I am not trying to pretend to be tough. I’m as 8-ply as a Texan is allowed to be. If I can do it, anyone can do it. A little shifting doesn’t bother me.

Jeep Commute GuyWhat’s bugging me more than anything at this moment is that this older gentleman in the stripper Jeep insists on letting in every single car that sidles up to us. Most of these cars are, pretty clearly, jumping out of the lane they were in to try and cut in front of everyone else. The rules of the zipper merge are clear: one car per car. This Canadian dude, in between puffs of his cigarette, is handing out slots in line like they’re free healthcare.

Eventually, I tire of his nonsense and squeeze my way into another lane that’s lining up in front of a border patrol both that feels a million miles away. I have to beat him, of course, because the only thing worse would be to have him let all those people cut the line and then watch him saunter away ahead of me.

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I mention all of this because I saw this exchange on Twitter this week with Matt Farah, talking about the new Acura Integra Type S:

Assuming you don’t have some sort of pre-condition that makes driving a manual difficult (and, if you do, buy whatever the hell you want), I’m just not persuaded by this argument. I’ve daily driven multiple manual vehicles in traffic and it’s just not that big of a deal. I even regularly drove a manual in Austin traffic, which is the particular gripe here.

Is, as Farah points out, an EV with one-pedal driving the best car for traffic jams? Absolutely. If all you’re doing is driving in traffic jams all the time, maybe don’t get a manual if it bothers you. But don’t use it as an excuse not to get a car that’s otherwise excellent.

Stuck At The BorderI haven’t driven the Type S yet, but I did drive the A-Spec with the stick and it was delightful. If it was my only car and the choice was between a stick in an automatic but I had to commute I’d still get the manual.

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Why? The upsides are too great. It’s more fun to drive a manual, even in traffic, as it gives you something to do. I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s a great idea to futz around on your phone whilst driving, even in slow-moving traffic, so trying to perfectly nail a smooth take off without disturbing my passengers was a fun activity (and my pitch for a very bad sequel to Drive My Car).

Manuals are also easier to work on and cheaper to fix. For the kind of cars we generally write about here they’re better and a little effort shouldn’t be an excuse not to buy one.

Seriously, people act like driving in traffic with a manual-equipped vehicle will result in that tennis-player phenomena where one limb is clearly more Thor-like than the other. It doesn’t work that way. Biking or walking. That’s work. Driving a car with a shifter isn’t going to get you swole.

I know this because I did an hour racing this Renegade guy, which involved what felt like hundreds of shifts and my leg still works fine. I eventually beat him, by the way. Not by much. And not for long. Because that dude eventually whipped by me on our way south past Plattsburgh, another cigarette dangling from his lips.

The next day I drove the Challenger R/T to swap for my E39 daily driver, which has a five-speed manual. I almost put my foot through the firewall on the first shift. It was like swimming 1000 meters in a pool full of cherry Jello and then jumping in a pool full of Astroglide.

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It felt so good. I could have done three hours in George Washington Bridge traffic.

It’s America. Buy what you want. If you don’t want a manual, don’t buy a manual, but if you have functioning limbs also maybe don’t use traffic as an excuse.

[Editor’s Note: I just want to add some support here, because I daily drove manuals exclusively during the nearly 20 years I lived in Los Angeles, arguably the worst traffic city in America. And not modern manuals with clutches so light it’s like dunking your foot into a mound of sour cream – I lived with agricultural-grade cable-operated clutches on my VW Beetle, and then heavy-ass hydraulic clutches on my ’68 Volvo 1800S and then my ’73 Reliant Scimitar. 

Laeracars

It just wasn’t that bad. You get used to it. Sure, there were times when I was creeping along at the pace of a baby dragging a sack of hiking boots on the 5 North at 5:15 pm in the middle of summer and yeah, that sucked. But it sucked more because I had no A/C than the fact I had to use a clutch occasionally. In fact, there were times when it actually felt kinda good to use that clutch leg, stuck as I was for hours sitting in traffic. I’m just saying, if you want a manual, don’t let traffic talk you out of it. It’s taken enough from us as it is. – JT]

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DBV7
DBV7
1 year ago

Amen brother! I have daily driven my S2000 in LA traffic for almost 20 years and 200,000 miles. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And don’t forget the best part of driving a manual in traffic – when you’re in a lane that’s stopped and you’re trying to pull out into the next lane that might be moving 30+ mph, you wait for the gap, then punch it to get up to speed. In an automatic, that half second pause as the transmission realizes you need speed NOW makes me cringe every time, but with a manual, it’s in gear, I drop the clutch, and I’m off to the races. Brings a smile to my face every single time.

S Chen
S Chen
1 year ago
Reply to  DBV7

An EV brings even more smile to my face as I have instant torque.

Dsa Lkjh
Dsa Lkjh
1 year ago

Meanwhile, in the UK, we mostly drive “normal” cars, unless we have a leg missing/Jaguar/Merc/EV and absolutely no one bitches about using a clutch. My uncle is deep into his 80’s and on his second metal knee and still drives a manual without even questioning it.

You Americans are so weird about gearboxes.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
1 year ago
Reply to  Dsa Lkjh

Yeah, I never got the manual transmission worship. Both of my cars are manual (one even has the steering wheel on the wrong side) but I never felt like I was special just because I can push an extra pedal and move a lever around. It isn’t particularly hard to do and doing so doesn’t make me some driving god or superior being. It’s just a thing I like to do and I completely understand why someone wouldn’t want to do that and I don’t fault them for it. Today, in America at least, there’s honestly no real reason to learn how to drive manual other than you want to.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
1 year ago
Reply to  Dsa Lkjh

“You Americans are so weird about gearboxes.” The word you are missing is “lazy”.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

I had been a happy driver of manual transmissions ever since I could choose my own cars—40+ years. But a couple of months commuting between Seal Beach and Mid-Wilshire broke me down. No, all that clutch work wasn’t too hard for me—though probably hard on the throw-out bearing. The game of finding spots where I could upshift for more than a few seconds, or seeing how long I could idle along in 1st, lost its appeal. I didn’t feel like a Real Driver, I felt like I had the wrong tool for the job. So after a particularly wretched slog home on the 110 I detoured into a Honda dealer and traded the Integra for an automatic Accord Coupe. My commute became less of a burden on my state of mind.

It’s a little odd that manual transmission lovers don’t whine about other things that make driving easier. I don’t see anyone complaining they can’t get steering and brakes that aren’t power assisted. No one is griping they can’t get hand cranked starting anymore.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
1 year ago

For the record, I like manual steering and brakes.

Goblin
Goblin
1 year ago

I know how to drive a stick, have driven stick for ages, and I’m a complainer.
As much as I love driving stick, doing this day in and day out in Manhattan gridlocks was not fun.

It’s not only about the heavy clutch and all the usual stuff. It’s not about doing it once or twice and decide it’s ok. Of course it’s ok.

It’s about which way things start to drift when it is done repeatedly, and especially in the summer.

Spend half an hour to 45 minutes on the FDR stuck northbound in stop and go traffic, feel that clutch consistency change as that car heats up, feel this lever’s consistency change (to worse), and we’ll talk.

It is not normal conditions for a car, and it’s not for normal cars. It’s for automatics.
Nice flowing commutes in suburbia – yes, manual is welcome.

And the last little bonus – look at a Manhattan parking attendant holding your manual car (on a steep underground parking exit) in place by slipping the clutch because he’s too lazy to touch the brakes and do it right, for 30+ seconds, looking you straight in the eyes, and we’ll talk. The closest my mellow shallow me ever came to beating someone at their workplace.

Last edited 1 year ago by Goblin
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Fifty years of manual trans driving (including daily in a 45 ft. bus in heavy traffic in a southern city with streets barely suitable for horse carriages) and I have never had a moment where I wished for an auto trans. Never an issue. In fact, I think clutching and shifting helped keep me alert. I’d agree, don’t let traffic scare you away from owning a manual trans car; car manufacturers are going to steal that choice from you soon enough.

Vintage Veloce
Vintage Veloce
1 year ago

The complainers just didn’t really know how to drive a stick. They don’t understand how slow they can actually go in 1st with the clutch still engaged. Most cars will go just about walking speed. Leave a bit more space and just let it go. You don’t often really have to stop, go, stop, go, stop, go. Just let the car creep along in 1st and you won’t have to stop as much and won’t tire out your clutch leg. There, isn’t that easy?

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago
Reply to  Vintage Veloce

Well not always, the somewhat lumpy cam in my 347-stroker powered ’85 Ford does not like to creep along in 1st and will buck and protest. But yeah, I can almost come to a dead stop in my manual Mazda 3 while in gear.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 year ago
Reply to  Vintage Veloce

Yup and not riding the ass of whoever is in front of you, like most of the people I see do in their automatics. As a bonus, it’s also more efficient.

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
1 year ago
Reply to  Vintage Veloce

What kind of weak ass traffic lets you “creep” along? I can drive stick just fine and currently have 2 in my fleet. But an automatic or electric car is vastly better when you have a multi-hour commute through dead stop-lurch forward traffic day after day after day. And leaving a bit more space is not an option when stops might last more more than a minute and someone will move into any big gap.

A manual can be driven in heavy traffic, but it is the wrong tool for the job of commuting in heavy traffic.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
1 year ago

With my levels of ADHD the manual in traffic is much appreciated

YetAnotherVariant
YetAnotherVariant
1 year ago

Yes! It keeps me sane and safer.

YetAnotherVariant
YetAnotherVariant
1 year ago

Also DD a manual in Austin traffic and have for past 16 years. I work downtown and live out in suburbs and have driven my 2007 4.6 Mustang with 5 spd (11 years, 187K miles) or later my 2012 Boss 302 (almost 6 years, 80K miles) every day. Shifting all the way…

The tranny did go first in the 2007. It does help when you’ve got a V8 with plenty or torques and and can start in 1st, 2nd or 3rd…

Last edited 1 year ago by YetAnotherVariant
Goof
Goof
1 year ago

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized two things:

  1. My standard of comfort is a LOT lower than most people’s
  2. The average person who buys a higher-end sports car probably has owned more luxury cars (think E-class or X5 on up) than anything else, and expects that level of comfort as a baseline.

I’ve basically only owned pure sports cars. Like, the SCCA definition of a sports car from 50+ years ago. For the past 15 years I’ve driven roadsters exclusively. I have no 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. car. I have one. A manual 981 Boxster Spyder I’ve had since new.

And if I have to drive — barring heavy New England snow — that’s the car. I will drive it top down unless I will be under 40mph in rain. I like it when it’s cold (10F coldest I’ve done) or kind of miserable out! It makes the drive more interesting and engaging when I have to cruise for 2 hours to the beginning of some actual fun mountain roads.

I’ve never had a problem with a manual in Boston-area traffic for the times I’ve had to commute, or get through/around it to do something else.. Hell, I once circumnavigated the US in a Miata! Over 10,300 miles! Never did I regret the manual. Not once!

The reality is people have gotten too used to everything being so refined and comfy, that anything the slightest bit outside of it is anathema. I’m the guy that when it’s cold out, I’ll just put on a sweatshirt, whereas my upstairs neighbors will blast the boiler until it’s 80F in here.

Leo T.
Leo T.
1 year ago
Reply to  Goof

I love hearing well to do folks at bars and cigar clubs saying how they got rid of their Ferrari or Porsche for a AMG Mercedes SUV (or equivalent) because it’s just as fast and a lot more comfortable. Just reminds me that most people don’t care about driving dynamics, they just wanna push the pedal and go

Goof
Goof
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo T.

Legit, most people only do pulls on straight roads in high end toys.

Honestly though, a lot of that is based on people who “had a moment” at one point. Think of the codger who remembers his brother’s cousin’s old C3 Corvette, and how amazing he felt it was. He finally gets a C7, nearly bins it in the first 1000 miles, and then drives it half-afraid for the rest of his days.

Or recently I did an experience on mountain roads for a few hours in a 992 GT3 to see how I got along with PDK (I didn’t). We were trying to stay in a group and not break the chain, and we were often held up by the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder in the back. So to fit the top, the Gallardo Spyder doesn’t move the firewall, there’s just less cabin space to accomodate the top. So the issue was the dude was so overweight, his elbow was getting caught up in his gut every time we had to turn onto a new road.

What did elbow-caught-in-gut-dude leave in on the way home? Mercedes GLE.

Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago
Reply to  Goof

“The reality is people have gotten too used to everything being so refined and comfy…”

It’s true. I hardly ever have to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways these days.

Leo T.
Leo T.
1 year ago

I daily a mkv vw rabbit, and it’s not highway traffic that bothers me, it’s NYC local traffic that drives me up the wall. People that can’t stay still at red lights and end up creeping 2 car lengths before the light turns green, yet the car behind me is also inching forward and honking at me to fill in the gap. Or the moments where traffic is so heavy that you move up 3′ every light cycle and you feel like you’re burning clutch to get nowhere. Coupled with the VW’s less than ideal seating position and I occasionally get some knew pain the next day…

Joey Trimyer`
Joey Trimyer`
1 year ago

I DD a manual Wrangler JK in Austin traffic. My commute goes all the way from N. Central to South Austin on the dreaded I-35. Are there days when I wish I had an automatic? Not really.

John Schwarzkopf
John Schwarzkopf
1 year ago

I can’t stand people whining about driving a manual in traffic. Try driving a semi with an 18 speed Roadranger in traffic. Normally I never used the clutch except for starting and stopping, but stop and go traffic on I-5 in WA was a different story. Plus pulling a tanker so you had the load pushing and pulling you. I think it’s hilarious that now a manual acts as an anti-theft device!

Óscar Morales Vivó
Óscar Morales Vivó
1 year ago

I grew up in Europe and at least at the time no one thought of buying an automatic car unless they had a disability that prevented the smooth operation of three pedals, a steering wheel and a shift stick.

And let me tell you average big European city traffic is no better than average American metro traffic.

To be honest if you’re complaining that you spend all your time dealing with traffic jams your problem is not how many pedals your car has, your problem is where you live and what you do with your life.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 year ago

I’ll just chime in and say that the joys of owning a manual far outweigh the inconveniences of dealing with said manual in heavy traffic.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
1 year ago

I moved to Los Angeles from a rural part of the country and never thought twice about having a manual. It actually helped to take advantage of temporary gaps in traffic. Compared to a traditional auto, I don’t see any merit to the tired argument. Compared to very modern cars that can basically drive themselves in tight traffic? Eh, I might ditch the manual for that if I were to move back to LA (I won’t)

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
1 year ago

I actually find driving my is300 in Chicago traffic with an auto far more annoying than driving my rx8 with a manual. The manual gives you 1 pedal driving as the car slows down as soon as you lift throttle, but with an auto it’ll coast. Maintaining a consistent 5-10 foot distance as you go from 0 – 5 – 15 – 0 every 10 seconds is also a lot easier in a manual as you don’t have torque converter slip while accelerating or it effectively going into neutral when decelerating.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
1 year ago

My wife and I drove manuals exclusively until our latest cars, and we would be driving manual version of those if they offered them. It’s not a big deal. Its less annoying with an auto in stop and go, but I would still rather have a manual everywhere else. This is like those people that bitch and moan about how trucks are empty most of the time and what a waste that is, only backwards. Yeah, it’s not great for a tiny fraction of my car life, but not bad and the rest of the time its better. Should I get an auto because its better for 5% percent of my car time but less fun the other time? 25%? Again, if I could have bought a manual for my car…which is available in other countries…I would have.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
1 year ago

I mostly daily drive my Brompton and the CTA, which is the ideal way to deal with car traffic (skip it); but if I am driving, yes, it’s my 6-speed JSW TDI and it’s easy-peasy to drive in heavy car traffic. If I can do 8-10mph, I can just let out the clutch with no throttle and roll along at idle speed in first.

Andrew Kim
Andrew Kim
1 year ago

I agree 100%. I had a manual E36 M3 for two years in LA (405!) and San Francisco (hills and 580!) and never thought about giving up a manual for an auto.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago

I dunno if your one trip in heavy traffic qualifies you to pass judgment on people who do that EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
I will also say it very much matters what you are driving.

My current DD, a newer Tacoma with a 4cyl/5spd, a reasonable clutch, smooth shifter and sane gearing is fine. However, my F350 with a V10/6spd, towing clutch, truck shifter, and weird gearing would make you crazy after 20 minutes of stop and go. Commuting on the Kennedy every day was miserable in the big truck.

And honestly, I am not even sure the maintenance cost or performance arguments are very good ones anymore if it is not a car you plan to really *driving*. My big Ford was a prime example; by 2002 the automatic that was offered in those years was super reliable, even towing. If I had one of those when I was putting a clutch (that ZF trans is HEAVY) in that I would have been, maybe, dropping the fluid in the AT and enjoying easier driving. Hell, given the reputation of the ZF the AT might last longer…

It doesn’t matter anyway; people should drive what they want to and everybody needs to stop giving everyone else grief over it; the next person to explain why I need to swap my army truck to a manual and not a 4L80 is gonna get a boot in the ass.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

Of course, I complain about the MT but keep buying MT daily drivers so *shrug*

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hardigree

See, the single bad stop and go isn’t the worst case to me.
The worst case is the every single day for 4 months stop and go.

I now work so close I bike to work and now when I do get caught in traffic the manual never bothers me but after a year of every day, I was ready to replace the truck no matter what it cost me.

JDE
JDE
1 year ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

I do….Every single day, in an SRT8 392 Manual, or in the 1971 Scout, or in the 1968 Camaro. I sometime even drive a CJ7 with an SM465 with a 7 ish to 1 first gear. Now my city is the second biggest in my state, but not necessarily LA or even Chicago bad as far as traffic, but I have no issues with the Manual in the modern challenger, the hydraulic setup is far less of a pain than say the Hayes clutch in the Camaro or even the stock unit in the Scout, but neither are bad enough for me to complain.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago
Reply to  JDE

The truly low granny gear makes it kinda nice. My old truck and Jeep with the SM465 weren’t bad, I’d just creep in low. The ZF6 in the F350 with highway gears wasn’t slow enough in low and to fast in first for bad traffic.

V10omous
V10omous
1 year ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

That Super Duty ZF6 is the only manual I was totally unwilling to drive in traffic (I had an 01). The clutch weight makes a Viper clutch feel like a Geo Metro.

David C
David C
1 year ago

A 3 puck clutch with a super heavy duty pressure plate isn’t fun in traffic. Especially if the engagement point is very finely balanced to the point of stalling the car lol.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago
Reply to  David C

Right?
Thinking the factory clutch in that Challenger is anything but a cream puff means they’ve never driven a real leg breaker or grabby clutch.

David C
David C
1 year ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

Even more fun when going up a hill in traffic hahaha!

JDE
JDE
1 year ago
Reply to  David C

That’s why they have the Hill control on the newer stuff. Does not matter much if the Brakes and that system is working as it should

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago
Reply to  JDE

I will never own a vehicle that does that.

10001010
10001010
1 year ago

I’ve been driving manuals in Houston traffic for 25+ years, some of those years as a courier where I spent 10+ hours a day stuck in that traffic, and the clutch never bothered me. Well, there was that one time I laid down an Italian sport bike and broke my left leg*, for a few weeks there I was clutching with my right foot.

*It wasn’t actually fractured, I had to go for xrays and everything and they said my tibula was “bruised” but it still hurt to walk/clutch on. Also, the “Italian sport bike” was my grandfather’s 1976 Vespa P200E that hadn’t run in over a decade that I crashed in my own driveway but it sounds better when I say it the other way.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
1 year ago

Yep, get the car you want and enjoy it when traffic clears. Although, Austin traffic has really kept my motorcycle in the garage too often.

D
D
1 year ago

Hear, hear. I’ve daily-driven manuals almost exclusively my entire adult life (Now in my 40’s), living in Houston, TX and commuting in traffic daily. Anyone that thinks it’s difficult has either never done it, or simply never had to do a difficult thing.

Now get off my lawn.

Last edited 1 year ago by D
Jim Stock
Jim Stock
1 year ago

I did it in my late teens until my early 40s, I am done, I put in my time. I would love a manual again for fun or running errands. Also did the off-roading thing with a manual for 10 or so years and automatics are easier off road now that I am in my 50s.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

I will admit that Im torn on having a manual off-road. I would prefer it on road no question, but having an Auto off-road really is an asset.

Carter Young
Carter Young
1 year ago
Reply to  Pat Rich

I agree that an AT is a good choice offroad–burned out a clutch or two in the back of the beyond.

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