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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JMJR
JMJR
1 year ago

I just bought my fourth vehicle, all Mazdas, all manuals.

1993 Mazda B2200 regular cab, short bed, 5MT
2006 Mazdaspeed6, 6MT
2014 Mazda3 Sport 2.0L, 6MT
2017 Mazda CX-5 2.0L, 6MT

For the past 6 years I have lived just east of Toronto and commuted to Scarborough for work (eastern Toronto). Commuting with a stick shift is totally doable and enjoyable most days. The odd time you have to deal with long weekend gridlock can get a bit tiring, but it’s still worth it when you get to enjoy rowing through the ggears everyday. If I had to drive down the DVP into Toronto’s core on a daily basis I might consider an automatic however.

Giulia Louis-Dreyfus
Giulia Louis-Dreyfus
1 year ago

Indeed. I drove a manual VW GLI into and out of Chicago everyday for many years. It made traffic on the Ike a little more enjoyable than with an auto. Granted I’m not frail.. 🙂

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 year ago

It’s funny that this story popped up now, because I’m currently back to daily-drving my manual truck for a few days. My truck has a four-speed, with a granny first gear, so really it’s a three-speed for all intents and purposes. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up driving all the way across Portland right at rush hour yesterday. Took an hour and a half.

And I discovered a technique that made creeping along in traffic not only bearable, but kind of a fun challenge: Use the granny gear. It takes a little finesse, becuase it’s un-synchronized, but after a few tries I was double-clutching between low and first (or first and second, depending on how you look at it) at about 3-4 mph with relative ease. It gave me something to do rather than sit there and be frustrated by the traffic. I ended up letting a few cars in that I didn’t intend to, because it sometimes took me a second to change gears, but it was fine. Amusing, even.

But it was also 85 degrees out, and the AC in the truck is broken. Gotta get that fixed.

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
1 year ago

I haven’t owned an automatic vehicle since 1993. Just yesterday I nearly triggered the airbags whilst coming to a stop in a automatic dual cab Ford Ranger in an open field with a full complement of passengers (mostly farmers) because I thought the brake pedal was a clutch. Fuck I hate automatic transmissions…not quite as much as I hate Ford Rangers but YMMV.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 year ago

I did that in traffic in my mom’s Audi 5000 on the way to my senior prom. My date was not impressed.

MP81
MP81
1 year ago

It’s not – but I’d certainly not prefer to if I can avoid it – but my only manual vehicle is my ’81 Z28, which has a mechanical clutch, not hydraulic. And in all honesty, the people around me are more of the issue than the car itself – and that’s at all times.

Between starting to go, but then moving so slowly I lug the engine in first gear to pulling right up on your ass, on a hill…it’s infuriating. You can tell who recognizes you have a manual and who doesn’t very quickly based on that latter part.

For reference, the Challenger has a twin-disc, hydraulic clutch so…not, it’s probably not nearly as bad.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago

I daily a manual, too. But two caveats… the metro area I live in rarely sees heavy traffic, and it’s a Miata so it’s the best manual transmission ever made.

I dailyed a manual in Baltimore for several years and even that was fine. But if I had to commute in DC or LA or someplace like that where traffic jams are a daily occurrence, I don’t know if I would keep doing it. Also, I’ve driven a manual Challenger and I definitely don’t have the leg strength to handle that in traffic on a daily basis (although with time and practice I’m sure that would change!).

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago

I’ve been daily driving a 6MT for the last 10 years. With the current prices of cars, I’ll probably be driving it for another 5 years too

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
1 year ago

I learned how to drive a manual on my second car, a ’96 Saab 900 Turbo. Loved that car to death. I owned it while interning at a engineering firm in the suburbs north of Philly. It’s an area that has become massively developed over the years, but they forgot to you know, build actual highways despite the massive unregulated sprawl. Other than the NE PA Turnpike extension which is useless unless you happen to be near one of the exits that are 20+ miles apart.

I digress.

The Saab was pretty miserable to drive in traffic. The clutch wasn’t exactly light, the engagement point was a little vague, and the AC was broken. Hmmmm, maybe Torch is right and it was more about me cooking to death in a leather lined Saab with a severe moisture problem, sweating and screaming while doing 5mph north of Doylestown.

Let’s move on to probably or probably not a great excuse to spurn the manual #2: my wife refuses to learn. Let’s do that one!

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 year ago

When I dailied my ‘89 Defender (no PAS, non-turbo diesel) I’m pretty sure my clutch leg and right arm got bigger, because you had to keep changing gear all the time to make any progress (right arm on the steering, left constantly shifting).

Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
1 year ago

When you were saying “the freer side” I naturally assumed you meant the Canadian one.

changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
1 year ago

I switch between my auto and my manual car every week or so. Commuting in traffic. They are about the same to me. Manual is more fun but is older, auto car I can stream a podcast via bluetooth. Having to change gears makes no difference regardless of traffic.

Fruit Snack
Fruit Snack
1 year ago

My commute is only 7 miles, yet I cannot wait to put my manual daily driver away after 25+ years of it, and pick up an automatic something or other soon. “It’s not that bad, really” is still “not as good as”.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

I am the itch you feel from an amputated limb.
The static void between your left foot and the floorboard.
I am the arm that resists reaching for my phone.
The lips waiting for sips between shifts.
I am the cartilage and tendon that refuse to give up.
The crippled man behind the wheel with the demeanor of a pup.
I am ghostpedalsyndrome, hear me roar!
Agreeing with Matt, automatics are a bore.

Parsko
Parsko
1 year ago

COTD

Mike F.
Mike F.
1 year ago

I never bought the idea that you have to have an auto for heavy traffic. I have a commute that is 20 minutes with no traffic (which is to say at 2 AM), 30 – 35 minutes on a good day, and 50 minutes to an hour on Thursdays and Fridays. I’ve been doing it daily for 23 years with only manual transmissions and there has never once been a time when I’ve been stuck in traffic thinking, “I wish I had an automatic transmission”. If you want to drive an auto, great. But don’t give up on the fun aspects of a manual just because of traffic.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mike F.
Slayazu
Slayazu
1 year ago

Driving a manual in traffic is only a problem when your are still learning…

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
1 year ago

My knee strongly disagrees with you. Maybe it’s my height? Size of the manual vehicles i have owned but my knee would get very sore in traffic.

Manuals are fun but I just can’t daily one.

Last edited 1 year ago by JaredTheGeek
Goof
Goof
1 year ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

But see, you have a 120% valid reason.

No reasonable person (keyword: reasonable) would argue with you over that.

If you have a knee problem, sure, autos are fine. I also wouldn’t want a manual in something like a Lexus LS — I’d MUCH rather have the butter smooth lockup torque converter that vehicle has to do the job it is intended to do.

As I mentioned in another post, in general people are getting way too spoiled by how refined every single vehicle is. Even something like a RAV4 or a Camry are pretty damn nice considering the market segments they complete in. That’s part of where the battle was lost for vehicles that could be a more engaging experience.

I’d rather the bread-and-butter family haulers have the best automatics the industry can provide, because that’s what those customers want. What was sad is when people who haul around their families in full-size executive sedans and Bentley Bentaygas also then wanted that in their Ferrari they barely drive, or their (rare! so rare!) Corvette they drive for 10 miles every 2 week at the behest of the occasional enthusiasts I meet who have dailied their manual Murcielago since they took delivery of it.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

My left knee is the good one. I have more trouble in a vehicle without cruise control on long trips. I still remember the incident over 20 years ago that wrecked my right knee. Damn you Nate S! Damn You!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

I dunno, maybe if everyone drove manuals traffic jams would flow more smoothly in general. There’s something that becomes ingrained in manual driver’s brains that traffic society seems to be collectively forgetting. Leave space between vehicles.
As a passenger I can tell whether or not the driver has past experience driving stick based solely on how close they ride the bumper of the vehicle in front of them.
Kind of like how you can easily spot the human who has never worked a day of customer service in their life based solely on their poor manners at a restaurant.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
1 year ago

One pedal EV driving is absurdly good in traffic. My current ride, a manual frontier, isn’t as annoying as I thought it might be (especially since I haven’t consistently driven stick in years). It’s not so bad.

However, if I was dealing with traffic on a daily basis…I’d 100% be in an EV.

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

A manual makes it easier to play the “find the average speed” game in stop-and-go traffic, which is kinda like “the floor is lava” but instead, if you stop rolling you lose.
But yes, an EV is nicer in heavy traffic. It’s not like driving an automatic, it’s like driving a manual that is always in the right gear.

Frackle
Frackle
1 year ago

I’m brave enough to admit it: I think it sucks to drive in bumper to bumper traffic on steep hills, which happens in downtown Seattle. I’d rather drive an automatic in that situation.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Frackle

Agree, especially with all the rain. My second car and first manual I owned was a Ranger. Bought it and learned to drive it in Oklahoma City then moved to Seattle a year later. Not the easiest city for driving a manual rear wheel drive truck with a damn pedal parking break.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Leo T.
Leo T.
1 year ago

Did you use the brake or did you get good at getting on the gas?

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo T.

I used the brake, then the fishtail technique, then got new tires and eventually got good at it.

Carter Young
Carter Young
1 year ago

With a few exceptions, from when I started driving in 1973 until 2010, I always had a manual transmission car (VW vans, Volvos, early Subarus, even two MT Ford Tempos that were my perks as company co-owner). One of the main reasons was because of a “rule” I learned as a youngster exploring the mountains and deserts of Californa: with a MT, you can always roll or push start the car when either the battery was dead or the starter gave out. With an automatic so far away from the pavement, you would be hosed. Other advantages were that you could put it in neutral for going “Georgia Overdrive” down the long mountain pass roads (think the Grapevine)–and start in second for less slipping getting underway in the snow.

Then in 2010 my 5MT Subaru wagon was destroyed in a rear-ender, and the only Subaru I could find in my price range was a 1998 automatic. And to my surprise, I found I was getting better gas mileage–it was easier to keep the cruise control going on interstate roller coasters here in Montana, and it would happily go at 1200 RPM while doing 25MPH on city streets. I learned to drive in my dad’s 1958 MGA, and he told me never to lug the engine–always keep it above 3000 RPM, and I did so with every MT car, not realizing that by the mid-1990s electronic fuel injection and these things called ECUs made for very tractable engines. I’m looking for a MT Subaru now, but all my cars (two Subarus, one 4Runner, and one 4WD Mazda MPV) have automatics.

RWD-by-the-Sea
RWD-by-the-Sea
1 year ago

Meh. You’re all crazy.

Can I drive a manual in traffic? Yes. Do I want to? No.

If I’m driving somewhere and I want to have fun (i.e. not in traffic) I take the car with the manual transmission.

If I’m driving somewhere I know I’m going to encounter bad traffic, I take the EV every damn time.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago
Reply to  RWD-by-the-Sea

Right?
It’s just kind of a hassle with no real payoff.

I mean I think if I was stuck with the option of only one car yeah manual is the way but if I can have a DD that’s easy to drive? Sign me up.

And I am never getting a manual trans tow rig again…

ScottyB
ScottyB
1 year ago

So I’ll just say it… people with manuals are always the slow car that can’t get out of your way fast enough when the light turns green or traffic starts moving again. It’s not that manuals are bad, but so, so many people who own one have no idea how to drive it.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  ScottyB

If you would stop pulling up two inches behind their bumpers on hills this might be less of a problem for you.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
1 year ago
Reply to  ScottyB

lol I’m pretty sure that’s people on their phones, my dude

Unclesam
Unclesam
1 year ago
Reply to  ScottyB

There aren’t enough manuals on the road anymore for this to be statistically significant, at least in the US

MegaVan
MegaVan
1 year ago
Reply to  ScottyB

What part of them not knowing how to drive causes them to be slow?

Thomas Benham
Thomas Benham
1 year ago
Reply to  ScottyB

I disagree. Normally I take off from a stop in my manual before the guy with auto has even taken his foot off the brake pedal. He has to put down his phone, wait for the auto stop/start to kick in, and then wind up the torque converter or CVT.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 year ago

I’m closing on 900k miles of driving manuals, most of which has been around Boston and traffic is no more tolerable with an automatic, but the automatic does suck when it opens up. People who are insecure use that excuse when they feel they need to justify buying an automatic. If you want one, who cares—own your decision. I wish I was so easily satisfied that I could still enjoy driving without a manual or feel that the DCT is “just as good”. It’s kind of like people I know who can enjoy sleeping with the Tuesday night leftovers when the bar closes—good for them!

Stacks
Stacks
1 year ago

I’m 44 and I’ve never owned an automatic transmission vehicle in my life. I’ve done plenty of traffic jams with a stick shift. It’s fine! If anything, I worry about my clutch, not my leg. But whenever I’m in traffic in a rental car or something, I find it noticeable how much nicer and easier an automatic is. I always think something like, “whew, glad I’m not in the Jeep right now.” The people choosing an automatic because they know it will be better for 90% of their driving are not wrong!

McLovin
McLovin
1 year ago
Reply to  Stacks

I’m in the same boat. Drive stupid manual dailies for most of my life (Elise, 50 year old Lancia, Alfas etc) and when I hop in a big boat and cruise with one foot I think I have made the wrong choices but can’t make myself buy one.

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