Taking Control

5 May 2019

Cars are taking over. Now before you dismiss me as a lunatic who thinks automobiles want to rule the world, let me explain. They are taking over the role of the driver. The amount of driver replacing technologies proliferating through the auto industry is astronomical. Lane departure warnings, backup cameras and beepers, auto adjusting headlights, and now cars can even stop themselves! When did the chair in front of the steering wheel and pedals become a passenger seat? Modern vehicles are training drivers to detach from driving. I know who, or should I say what, is to blame for this travesty. It is the automatic transmission’s fault.

I learned to drive in our family’s Volvo S70 and Acura MDX, both automatic equipped vehicles. But when the time came to purchase my own car my dad suggested I consider a manual, also known as a stick. This suggestion did not interest me in the slightest at first because there was sure to be a frustrating learning curve that would take months to get around. Six months later, I finally purchased my first car, a 2005 Nissan Sentra SE-R SpecV. Besides coming equipped with a tongue-twister of a name, this sporty sedan also came with a 6-speed manual transmission. By that time I had spent maybe an hour behind the wheel of a friend’s manual to learn the basic technique. But learning to drive my car constituted the first extended experience I had “rowing my own”. Much to my surprise, I was driving stick like a pro within a week. And now, I would not give up a manual for anything. A few months ago my younger sister bought her first car, a 5-speed wielding Kia Spectra5. We are now a house divided, the children driving manuals, and both my parents putting around in automatics.

Taking Control Essay Example

Let’s examine these two transmissions purely for mechanics. Manual transmissions use a driver actuated clutch that connects and disconnects the engine from the transmission. A system of gears actuated by a shift lever composes the gearbox. It’s a relatively simple and lightweight design. Automatic transmissions use a torque converter assembly to couple the engine to the gears. This system works using fluid coupling, and has fewer parts than a clutch. But the gearbox itself contains a jumble of planetary gear sets and clutch packs. The computer uses fluid based actuators to activate different clutches and change whether the sun, planetary, or ring gear is being driven, causing the automatic to shift. Sound complicated? Probably because it is. Manual transmissions have far fewer parts which means less can go wrong. It also produces a lighter assembly, which aids in the performance and efficiency categories.
While the inner workings of cars fascinate me, the mechanics of a transmission are a little over the top for many people. But everyone knows how to have fun. The manual transmission creates a far more entertaining driving experience than an automatic. The driver has complete control over the gear selection in a manual. A driver can downshift, causing the engine rpms to jump and gain speed. Or they can go into stealth mode by shifting to higher gears and dropping the rpms low, making the vehicle soundless. Even on the big screen manuals beat automatics. Think about the Fast and Furious franchise. Where would they be without their repeated sequences of quick upshifts for more speed or downshifts to initiate a drift? In an automatic there are essentially three choices. Forward, park, and reverse. Choosing among those hardly constitutes exhilarating driving. Imagine the look on your friends’ faces as they cling to the door handles while you manually fly through gears and corners. Your expertise will surely impress them. True, this kind of driving is not as easy as the movies make it seem. An automatic is easier by far. Jump in and go, no hassle. A manual requires a certain amount of practice and skill, but so does riding a bicycle, and we all overcame that challenge. Log a few miles in a car with a stick and one becomes proficient at shifting. The “fun” choice in transmission is clearly the manual.

However, cruising the open road is not always about fun and games. An enormous amount of responsibility goes with driving a car, and the danger you pose to yourself as well as to others when you shirk your duty behind the wheel is real. For safety, manuals are a clear winner as well. With an automatic, the simplicity of the driving task, and the degree to which the car can take over the driving operation encourages the driver to let his or her hands and mind wander to other things. Guys can be tempted to shave, tie a tie, and drink coffee while cruising to an early morning business meeting occupies our attention. Women tend to apply lipstick, mascara, and other beauty products. These operations can require taking your eyes off the road, a huge no-no in the safe drivers’ handbook. Manuals, however, require much more attention. Gears need to be changed and clutch pedals need to be pushed. The car will not shift by itself. And since the driver is forced to pay attention to the driving process, these other distractions must wait. Though driving a manual may necessitate getting up earlier to finish getting ready for work, it is sleep well worth losing.

In the end, the deciding factors are factors are power and efficiency. I feel that the manual most effectively combines both aspects. When one wants to accelerate quickly, a manual gearbox allows you to hold the gear longer, rising higher into the power curve of the engine. Or you can downshift, bringing the engine rpms up rapidly and gaining more power. If efficiency is your goal, simply shift earlier, and keep the rpms as low as possible. With a manual it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Automatics however can only really accomplish one of these tasks. The car’s computer tuning decides whether the transmission will strive for efficiency or power. If you are looking for efficiency though, modern day automatics have become incredibly mileage oriented, even to the point where some surpass manuals. And a well-tuned automatic can accelerate as quickly as a manual off the line. They are capable machines, but they lack the ability to multitask. When seeking the perfect blend of performance and efficiency, the manual takes the checkered flag.

The difference between a manual and an automatic transmission is like the difference between baking your own cake and purchasing one from the store. Baking isn’t easy. It may take a few burned attempts or a crumbly, dry disaster before you get the delectable wedding worthy cake you had a craving for. But a certain pride goes into producing your own cake, just as pride goes into completely controlling your car. Even if it first comes at the cost of embarrassing stoplight stalls or a burned clutch. The real beauty in baking a cake though is in making it your very own. So the grocery store has 6 different flavors and 4 different frostings. Hey they even have sprinkles and chocolate shavings! But did you add a little extra sugar for sweetness? Did you subtract a little butter to spare your arteries? Or is your rum cake more rum than cake to make things interesting? Homemade cakes are one of a kind. They are made to fit your tastes, not a plastic container. Manuals allow you to craft your own driving style. Make it fast, make it fun, make it efficient, make it yours. Do not settle for an automatic’s preconceived notions about when you should shift. What makes it think it knows better than you? It is your oven, or your car.

Auto manufacturers insist on taking away our ability to drive. You cannot go more than a mile without the “helpful” beeping of that collision prevention sensor from hell assaulting your ears. Believe me I know. The backup sensor in my family’s Ford Excursion beeps about 20 times a second if you are closer than 5 feet to some object, which happens in every parking lot, and yes it is as annoying as it sounds. Literally. It is time to take back control. The car thinks it knows better than we know, but as long as we sit in that driver’s seat, we will be the boss. Manuals are being phased out in favor of the automatic. Car salesmen everywhere say it is better this way, that automatics conserve power and efficiency without damaging the driving experience. They would be misinformed. Manuals offer more power, efficiency, and fun while maintaining safety. The battle for the driver rages on, and saving the manual is the key to winning it. Because, to quote Car and Driver’s Eddie Alterman, “Little boys asking their fathers, ‘Daddy what’s the third pedal for?’ makes baby Jesus cry.”

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