Should I learn to drive in a manual or an automatic car?

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When you’re learning to drive, the question of ‘automatic or manual?’ may come up in conversation.

manual gearbox

When you’re learning to drive, the question of ‘automatic or manual?’ may come up in conversation.
One of the most common questions a learner driver will ask is “Is it easier to learn in a manual car or an automatic car?”

And when budgets are often tight, the question of is it more expensive to insure a manual or an automatic car often comes up.

If you’re considering learning to drive and are at a crossroads in deciding if you want to go with manual or automatic driving lessons, we’ve put together a useful guide to help you make an informed decision about which type of licence you may want and which type of vehicle you might want to drive.

Can I drive a manual car on an automatic licence?

The first thing to bear in mind is if you learn to drive in an automatic car, you’ll only be allowed to drive automatic cars going forward whereas if you learn in a manual you can choose whether you want to drive a manual or automatic once you’ve passed your test. A manual licence covers both types of cars while an automatic licence only covers automatic cars.

More manual drivers in the UK


In the UK, drivers aged between 16 and 19 usually learn in a manual car, with only around 40,000 of the 720,000 driving tests sat per year for an automatic licence. And the pass rates differ quite dramatically between transmission types too.

When the Pass Me Fast blog analysed DVSA pass rates for 2017/18, they found “automatic pass rates are considerably lower than the overall average of 46.3%”. 

While manual pass rates stood at 47.1%, automatic pass rates were much lower at 38.9%.

Insuring a manual or automatic

To get a better understanding of the prices new drivers face, we asked our Pricing team to give us some examples of real Admiral customers.

A spokesman for the Admiral Pricing team said: “In general, it’s typically cheaper to insure a manual car, as most automatic equivalents tend to be in a higher risk group to insure.

“They’re normally in a higher vehicle group because the costs of repairs are higher for an automatic car - a significant point for insurers to consider when deciding which group to place a new vehicle in.”

So let’s look at some real manual vs automatic insurance pricing on three popular cars in the UK - the Fiesta, Polo and Corsa. 

The Pricing team looked at the average insurance price for new customers aged under 20, with no claims history (data from Sep 2019 to Feb 2020).

Car Manual Automatic
Ford Fiesta £817.26 £851.49
Vauxhall Corsa £771.34 £988.52
VW Polo £767.23 £1017.64

As you can see, the cost to insure an automatic version of these popular cars is considerably higher than its manual sibling.

Car shopping for young drivers

For many young drivers, a manual licence might be more useful when searching for a first car in terms of the range on offer and price.

Vanda Hutchings, from the Driving Instructors Association, said: ”A newly qualified young driver’s first car is most likely to be an inexpensive second hand car, and passing a test in a manual car will give you access to a much wider variety of the used car market.”

If you’re looking to buy a second hand car, see our guide on buying a car for some advice before you hand over the cash.

Having a manual licence could be more attractive and affordable for a first-time buyer as there’s more variety to choose from. Fuel efficiency is another advantage as fuel consumption is less in a manual when compared to an automatic vehicle.

Many older automatic cars are also not as cost-friendly to run when it comes to repairs and fuel, and the upfront cost of the car might even be more.

Learning to drive in a manual or automatic vehicle

No matter which transmission type you’re leaning towards, the cost of driving lessons isn’t cheap. So here are some things to consider.

Learning to drive in a manual car takes longer. If you’re learning manual you just have more to learn such as clutch control and shifting gears; these aren’t features of an automatic car so there’s less to master.

This means it could cost you more in lessons as you may need more. But, automatic lessons are often more expensive so it’s worth doing the maths before you make your decision.

Vanda added: “If for whatever reason you’re having problems learning to use a manual gearbox, opting to get an auto-only licence could get you on the road faster.

“It can be very frustrating to keep spending money on manual lessons when you could put that towards the cost of a car.”

For anyone with limited mobility or a disability, an automatic vehicle could be better to learn in as they’re easier to control.

The verdict

All in all, it seems that it’s not only the culture of the UK that makes most go out and get a manual licence, but also the cost-effectiveness that comes with having one over an auto-only licence.

The better option for the majority of young learners appears to be getting a manual driving licence - it could be cheaper to learn, cheaper to insure and will give you far more buying options.

Looking for more tips? Check out our helpful guide on which costs the most to insure - manual or automatic?

Great car insurance options for the whole family