A report by the AA shows that those of us searching for cars with automatic gearboxes has almost doubled in the past five years, going from 9.9% in 2014 to 18.6% this year.

In their recent survey of 20,000 motorists, the motoring organisation found most people prefer automatics—with well over half claiming they’re easier to drive—but could there be another reason for the increased interest in automatics?

car gears

A shift away from manual?

Used vehicle selling site, AA Cars, said they’ve added more automatic vehicles to their advertised vehicle stock over the last five years and, of the models listed, the number of cars with automatic gearboxes increased from 23.4% in 2014 to 32.1% in 2019.

But it has been the last two years where the largest increase in searches for automatic cars has happened, according to the AA’s figures.

AA Cars looked at where in the UK is selling the most automatic cars and revealed the top 10 towns and cities with both the highest and lowest proportion of automatic cars for sale.

The highest proportion of automatic cars for sale was in Chelmsford, Essex, where 61.4% of second-hand cars for sale have automatic gearboxes. London came second, with automatic cars accounting for 53.6% of available secondhand cars, followed by York, where 42% of cars for sale have automatic gearboxes. The eight other towns and cities with the highest percentage of automatics for sale are Leeds (42%), Bury (39.5%), Luton (39.5%), Lincoln (39.4%), Sheffield (38.7%), Bradford (36.8%), and Doncaster (35.4%).

In the 10 towns and cities with the lowest proportion of automatic cars for sale, Liverpool has the fewest, with automatics making up just 15.5% of the stock, followed by Paisley at 15.6%, and Edinburgh’s used automatics accounting for 17.5% of the market. Making up the rest are Stirling (17.6%), Glasgow (19.8%), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (19.8%), Rotherham (22.2%), Nottingham (22.6%), Wakefield (22.6%), and Preston (22.8%).

Also in the AA Populus poll, 57% of drivers said automatics are easier to drive than manual cars, which meant they found them more desirable and only 9% of motorists said they were harder to drive than a manual vehicle.

Despite the figures highlighting that most people find automatics easier to drive, 32% of motorists say they don’t enjoy driving automatics as much as cars with a manual gearbox, while 20% of the survey respondents said they get equal amounts of enjoyment whether they’re driving automatics or manuals.

By popular demand

Are cars with automatic transmissions more popular because we don’t want the hassle of changing gear ourselves? Well, maybe, but AA Cars said there’s a good chance it’s because more of us are searching online for used pure electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid vehicles. Most EVs don’t contain gearboxes and hybrid vehicles most often use an automatic-style gear-change.

James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars, said:

‘Automatic vehicles are being manufactured in greater numbers, but it is pleasing to see that drivers are responding positively to this added supply with even more of them actively searching for these cars.

‘The increasing interest in electric cars is partly behind these figures, as the vast majority on sale are automatic and they are growing in popularity in the used car market.’

Clutch pedal use can get uncomfortable—more so in areas with heavy traffic—and can cause aching leg muscles because your left foot never gets a rest. Mr Fairclough said it was ‘no surprise to see that congested London is one of the best-stocked areas for automatic cars as they require much less effort to drive when someone is stuck in stop-start traffic.’

‘Every driver has different preferences for what they want from their car, so we would always urge people to take a car for a test drive before committing to a purchase. This can be an important step in determining if the car is in good condition, but will also help drivers decide if an automatic or manual is best for them, added Fairclough.

Shiftless and lazy?

Driving an automatic is a different driving experience than driving a vehicle with a manual gearbox, but is it lazy driving? What about power-assisted steering or other technological advances that make modern driving not only easier, but safer?

The AA’s survey results proved what we already knew; that many of us find it easier to drive automatics. Without the gear stick and clutch pedal, you can better focus more on other aspects of driving, like vehicle position, speed, and the road ahead. You also won’t suffer any embarrassment from stalling the engine, making hill starts and traffic lights easier, too.

Automatic cars aren’t without their downsides, though. In September, we told you about the hidden faults affecting some of the most popular cars, including the Ford B-Max (2012-2017), and the problems with its PowerShift automatic transmission that affected 25% of owners. Automatics also cost around £1,000 more than their manual equivalents, although the price difference decreases on used models.

Drivers who only hold an automatic licence often pay much higher car insurance premiums than those with a full licence and, if you pass your driving test in an automatic, you’re only legally allowed to drive an automatic vehicle, while if you pass your test in a manual car, you can drive both manual and automatic vehicles.

The government is looking into bringing the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars forward to 2035 and, with EVs and hybrids growing ever more popular and advanced, it’s thought manual cars could disappear from UK roads within 10 years—something I remember my driving instructor predicting. I guess she was right. One thing’s for sure, driverless cars won’t have gears.

Do you drive a vehicle with an automatic or manual transmission? Have you driven both types? Which do you prefer? Tell us in the comments.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x