Manual vs. Automatic: Which BMWs Are More Reliable?

In recent decades, there has been a noticeable decline in drivers with cars that utilize manual transmissions. These cars, of course, require drivers to manually shift between gears while driving by using a clutch pedal. Many drivers today, however, are instead opting for cars with automatic transmissions. If you are wondering which type of transmission is more reliable in a BMW, you’ve come to the right place!

Statistics show that, in the United States, only 41 of the 327 car models released in 2020 were available to purchase with a manual transmission. Among those 41 manual models are some outstanding BMW vehicles. When it comes down to which is more reliable, it depends on the needs of the driver as both automatic, and manual transmissions have great advantages.

In this article, we will look at the manual versus automatic transmission debate and break down what you need to know! That way, when it’s time for you to choose the transmission type for your next vehicle, you’ll know which one you should go with.

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Manual vs. Automatic: A Breakdown

When it comes down to the manual versus automatic transmission, most drivers will have a preference for which type of transmission they prefer. Today, most U.S consumers prefer automatic transmissions, in fact, most drivers in the U.S today do not even know how to drive a manual stick-shift transmission.

BMW still makes manual transmissions, however, they are becoming less common. BMW made the shocking announcement several years ago in unveiling its seventh generation 3 Series G20 that it would not be offering a manual transmission option. This was stunning news for many BMW enthusiasts, as the 3 Series has always been the central pillar for BMW enthusiasts. Thankfully, BMW continues to offer new M3s with a manual transmission.

The US automotive market is unique compared to many other countries because of its growing rejection of manual transmissions. Many drivers in the United States have been opting for automatic transmissions in recent decades, but manual transmissions are still the norm in many European countries. This has resulted in the decline of drivers who know how to drive a car with a stick shift, which has been referenced in popular culture many times as a source of humor.

In fact, in a 2012 episode of Desperate Housewives, the show’s writers poked fun at the fact that many American drivers cannot operate cars with manual or “stick” transmissions. The episode saw two of the titular housewives struggle to dump a car with a manual transmission. This demonstrates that the decline of manual transmission, especially in the US, has been a long time coming.

Availability has certainly declined precipitously across the automotive world if you seek a manual transmission. The BMW 2 and 4 Series were holdouts, however, BMW has announced over the past year that it will be dropping the manual transmission options from these vehicles as well. Therefore, the main option to obtain a manual transmission in a BMW is a M3 or M4. New manual options are certainly limited, nonetheless, we are here to make your choice a little easier when it comes down to transmissions!

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Manual BMWs

Manual BMWs go back a bit further than their automatic counterparts. Many BMW enthusiasts (including myself) still swear by now classic E30 and E36 manual transmissions.

Unfortunately, as discussed earlier, your options for a new BMW with a manual transmission are quite limited, however, if you are interested in an older vehicle there are plenty of great options! To make this choice simpler, we’ve highlighted some of the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing a manual transmission BMW below.

The Advantages

#1: Typically, cars with manual transmissions cost up to $1000 less than their automatic counterparts. If you invest in a BMW with a manual transmission, you’re sure to pay slightly less than the automatic model.

#2: Cars with manual transmissions are generally cheaper to both maintain and repair in the long run. While you may need to eventually pay for a clutch replacement – which is the pedal used to switch gears – the price of doing this would be half the price of replacing an automatic transmission.

BMW drifting

#3: With all things considered, manual transmissions will almost always beat out automatic transmissions in terms of longevity. BMW automatic transmissions generally have a reputation for being well built, however, your manual should still last longer.

#4: We’ve saved the best advantage for last: more control. Drivers of cars with manual transmissions have better control and responsiveness in terms of their cars. This is especially true when drivers face adverse conditions on the road, from rain to mud and snow. Driving a manual transmission allows you to really feel in control of your car. Plus they are a lot more fun and an absolute must if you are interested in tracking it.

The Disadvantages

#1 It’s more manual. If that makes you think of manual labor, you’re not far off. If you’re driving long distances, your arm may get tired of having to switch between gears. They are also more pain than they are worth to drive around in highly congested cities.

#2 At a red traffic light on a steep incline, many drivers would probably wish they had an automatic car. That’s because the driver of the manual car has to ensure they don’t roll backward.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Automatic BMWs

The more popular option! In fact, if you compare the number of cars being sold with automatic transmissions versus those with manual ones, this becomes abundantly clear. In 2020, just 41 of the whopping 327 new car models released that year were offered with a manual transmission.

Of course, this was in the United States, and the percentages vary considerably globally. However, 13% is a low percentage when it comes to the number of new cars with manual transmissions, though not all that shocking. Especially when you consider the advantages that cars with automatic transmissions boast!

The Advantages

#1 It’s the easier option by a longshot! Remember that tricky situation we outlined above, the one with the red light on top of a steep incline? With an automatic transmission, that’s just a normal situation. No turning your music down to concentrate for you!

#2 With an automatic car, you can keep both hands on the wheel when you need them most! For the driver of a manual car, if they found themselves in a tricky situation on the road, they’d still need to keep maneuvering the gears with one arm. Imagine how easy driving in heavy traffic is with an automatic car.

The Disadvantages

#1 As mentioned earlier, cars with manual transmissions are easier to maintain. When you buy a car with an automatic transmission, you should expect higher maintenance costs than the manual counterpart.

#2 When you drive an automatic car, while you will likely have an easier time driving, you won’t have as much control as a car with a manual transmission. Especially when that winter weather hits!

#3 You really need a manual transmission 3 Series in your garage to really appreciate what these vehicles can do and how fun they really are.

Which Is More Reliable: Manual or Automatic?

manual transmission knob

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is subjective. Ultimately, it depends on your driving needs. Are you looking for an easy ride, or are you looking for one that will give you more control while saving you some money? At the end of the day, it comes down to which advantages you’re looking to utilize.

It is certainly true, that BMW has had more mishaps over the years with their automatic transmissions than with their manuals, as exemplified by this “jerking issue” that is common in some ZF automatic transmissions.

When you read through the list of advantages and disadvantages of cars with manual or automatic transmissions, we’re sure some stood out to you above others! Only you know what your driving needs are and which car will be the most reliable for you.

When it comes down to the automatic versus manual debate, there is no right or wrong answer. On this one, you should follow your gut with which would be the better drive for you personally. Luckily, no matter which transmission you decide to get, BMW will have you covered either way with one of their world-class cars.


In this day and age, automatic transmissions have become the standard for many new cars. While cars with automatic transmissions don’t give drivers as much control as a manual transmission would, many drivers prefer the ease provided by an automatic. While fewer new cars today are being released with a manual transmission option, you still have a choice. That is especially true when it comes down to BMWs fantastic range of older model manual options such as the 3 Series E30, E36, and E46.


Stephen Metellus

I am a BMW enthusiast and owner of! I have been repairing, flipping, and parting out BMWs for nearly ten years. I love these vehicles and I hope you will find my articles and YouTube channel helpful for whatever BMW project you have in store!

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