Don’t be scared shiftless

Don’t be scared shiftless

Which future do you want: Going along for the ride vs. shifting for yourself?

“I will die before I buy another car,” Kara Swisher declared in an opinion piece published last week in The New York Times. 

Her article, “Owning a Car Will Soon Be as Quaint as Owning a Horse,” predicts the impending end to widespread private vehicle ownership. Instead, she suggests, “Owning a car will soon be like owning a horse — a quaint hobby, an interesting rarity and a cool thing to take out for a spin on the weekend.”

In her not-that-distant vision of our future, she sees us using car-sharing companies and riding on scooters and in autonomous vehicles owned by someone other than ourselves.

Swisher’s beat is technology, and she notes that she was among those who was early and apparently eager to cut the landline phone service and to go “all mobile.” Next up: “You start using car-sharing services, you don’t use your car as often, you realize as these services proliferate that you actually don’t need to own a car at all.”

Her decision apparently was made easier when her car, a Ford Fiesta Turbo she named Frank, recently had its clutch conk out on a hill in San Francisco. Frank, she writes, is for sale and she’s not buying a replacement.

Two observations: (1) People I know who own horses wouldn’t call it a “quaint” hobby, but rather a time-consuming and expensive one about which they are extremely passionate; (2) I found it interesting that Swisher’s Frank has a manual transmission since she apparently lives in hilly San Francisco (where she reportedly has aspirations to run for mayor).

Frank’s manual gearbox leads me to another New York Times opinion piece, this one from this past weekend. “Bring Back the Stick Shift” argues Vatsal G. Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine.

Thakkar writes about driver distraction and inattention fed by advanced technology driver aids and software glitches that can lead to disaster and notes, “A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially in city driving where a driver might shift gears a hundred times during a trip to the grocery store.”

He cites a study in which teenage boys with A.D.H.D. drove more attentively when driving cars with manual transmissions, and suggests “the cure for our attention voids might be less technology, not more.”

Thakkar writes that he’s owned cars with manual transmissions since graduating from med school 20 years ago, and hopes they’re still around by the time his own children are ready to learn to drive.

“Sadly,” he notes, “sales of manual transmissions are falling, and many automakers… are discontinuing the option in the United States.”

Maybe Thakkar should call Swisher, not to talk about articles, but simply to negotiate a deal to buy Frank.


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  • James McIntire
    March 28, 2019, 7:15 AM

    and suggests “the cure for our attention voids might be less technology, not more.”-Thakkar.
    Thank you sir. This is what I’ve been saying for a long time now. I quite enjoy driving a manual transmission automobile as I have noticed that I do tend to pay attention more and I feel more connected to the vehicle when I have to do the shifting; vs simply sitting and steering as I do with an automatic.

    • Mario Cisneros@James McIntire
      March 28, 2019, 2:10 PM

      Totally agree, driving a manual keeps you more focused on he driving and slims down the chances of distraction, one hand on the wheel, the other on the stick. You gotta be feeling the car RPMs and the road to make shifting decisions all the time, not much left for fooling around on the phone or infotainment. Just my 2 cents.

    • Jeff Sloan@James McIntire
      March 28, 2019, 2:11 PM

      Remember the famous words from the great Mario Andretti, "Those people with manual transmissions like to drive, those people with automatic transmissions like to be driven." Bravo, Mario!

    • Dan Blanchette@James McIntire
      March 28, 2019, 2:12 PM

      I concur wholeheartedly. I love a stick shift and have owned several, wouldn’t be without one. I enjoy being more interactive with the vehicle, using all four limbs as it is. No distractions. Driving an automatic is lazy.

      Should the day come when we can’t get manuals in this country, I’ll just give up altogether. That’s taking the fun right out of it.

    • Palmer Humphrey@James McIntire
      March 28, 2019, 8:23 PM

      I will continue to use my 72 Mercury Cougar convertible with a 4 speed for as long as the state renews my license, and Thakar is correct you need to pay attention.

    • Rhonda Madden@James McIntire
      March 28, 2019, 11:37 PM

      I s agree with you on all levels!’I had to buy a newer car and I dislike all the electronics. Finding s car with s manual transmission is difficult!

  • Rhonda Madden
    March 28, 2019, 2:19 PM

    I taught my son to drive a car with a manual transmission and I feel everyone should know. Any other county has most all vehicles with manual transmissions!
    Only a few companies offer them in the USA. As a car collector and in the business of same, I still get opportunities to drive a car with a “stick”!
    I agree there might be many less distracted drivers if there were cars with far less electronic options. Starting with a real key or button starter, a clutch and more driver control rather than ectronic gadgets. I do support a cut off switch if s driver uses a cell phone w/o Bluetooth and texts!

  • bo bohannon
    March 28, 2019, 2:23 PM

    I grew up swapping gears, my first car 3 in the floor. I love changing gears manually, no paddle shifts. I have a 4 speed, a 5 speed & a 6 speed. Keeping them forever.

  • Jim Penhale
    March 28, 2019, 2:29 PM

    I agree that driving a manual requires more attention, and at the very least it might force some people to put down the phone or the coffee. I also think that a standard actually requires toe driver to be engaged, even if only a little bit, with the vehicle and what they’re doing, and that’s a good thing.

    Driving is dangerous, and it costs lives every day. Personally, if a person is either too lazy or uncoordinated to even be able to handle a standard I question if they should be on the road at all. People tell me "they’re too hard" or "It’s too much work", but they’re not and it isn’t. They’re not anyone’s cup of tea for day-to-day driving (although they’re mine) but it’s a good skill to have.

  • Jon Ross
    March 28, 2019, 2:46 PM

    I have been hanging on to a 25 year old Ford Ranger with a 5 speed transmission so that I can teach my Grandkids how to drive a manual transmission before they even try to drive an automatic.
    I learned to drive with a 3 on the tree 63 Impala, and my kids were forced to master the 5 speed manual transmission in my old Ranger before I would let them drive their Mom’s automatic Mini Van.
    I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit in Europe, where the majority of vehicles still have manual transmissions. Even the 5 speed right hand drive Citroen that I recently rented in England had a 5 speed manual, and I loved learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road over there!

    • Craig Donley@Jon Ross
      March 28, 2019, 5:37 PM

      The younger generation is too focused on their Smartphones and the radio, they could care less. Truth be told, they’re too lazy to learn and enjoy the benefits of a manual shift car. They don’t know how much fun they’re missing downshifting and steering all at once, it takes focus. That’s what is surely lacking in today’s youth.

    • James McIntire@Jon Ross
      March 29, 2019, 6:10 AM

      A 5-speed Ranger is exactly what I learned to drive on also. My dad bought it used in 1988 for the sole purpose of teaching my older sister and I how to drive; and to serve as a dependable first car for both of us while in high school. He told us that if you can drive a "stick" you can drive anything. I still believe that is true. I also still have that same 33-year old Ranger back sitting in my garage once again awaiting its return to the road!

      • Dennis Talbott@James McIntire
        March 29, 2019, 9:00 AM

        I drive a 2018 Leaf and it is a kick, but the feel of my butt locked into the seat of my 6 speed Mini Cooper can not be beat. If only the Mini could be a 6 speed electric.


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