Learners Are Shifting To Automatic Cars

In a recent blog post, we detailed how searches for cars with automatic gearboxes are on the rise, and it now seems that the move to automatic is also impacting younger drivers.

Learning to drive has always been a right of passage – many of us will have had driving lessons for our 17th birthday, dreaming of the freedom that first car might bring (or simply borrowing our parents’ car…)

An almost inevitable occurrence was then the stalling and crunching of gears during early lessons as we found that driving maybe wasn’t quite so simple after all. 

It seemed worth it though – learning to use gears and control the transmission a small price to pay for that freedom.

Learning on an automatic transmission may not have seemed much of an option. It would limit all future driving, its also likely that any parent’s car would be manual and so you couldn’t even practice on the family car.

Now, though, things are changing. More youngsters are learning to drive automatics. Many more.

That isn’t to say that automatics are the most common type of transmission for those learning to drive, manuals still dominate, but there is a clear trend towards automated systems.

The BBC recently reported that figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) show that the number learning on automatics has increased every year since 2012. It seems likely that this trend is well set and will continue.

In 2011/12 70,429 driving tests in the UK were conducted using automatics.

By 2018-19, the most recent figures available, that had risen to 185,403. In percentage terms, that is an increase of 163%.

In the BBC article, they report that driving schools are also switching to automatics; whereas they would previously have had a fleet of manuals with maybe one automatic vehicle, now the split is closer to 60/40 (still in manual’s favour).

Reasons Learners Are Switching To Automatic

Why are we seeing this trend?

One theory is that young drivers are looking to the future. Petrol and diesel cars are set to gradually fade from production (albeit we are talking over a lengthy timeframe). Given electric vehicles will all have automatic transmissions, are some 17 and 18-year-olds taking a decision that learning on a manual is needless extra hassle? Do they see it as learning something that will be an obsolete skill?

Have the rapid enhancements in automatic transmissions and the development of electric and hybrid vehicles played a key role? Decades ago, many chose manual in part because manuals had better performance. They were punchier, more fun to drive and with better acceleration and top speed (even if top speed is usually somewhat irrelevant). 

Modern automatics suffer less in this regard, they can be fun to drive and have superb performance, there is less of a pay off to be made.

Perhaps it is also more common for their parents to have an automatic – if they have an automatic at home and this is what they will get to drive post test, why bother learning on a manual? This would be a reversal of why automatic rates were so low years ago.

It could also be that the development of better automatics and the fact that learning on an auto is growing in popularity becomes self-fulfilling. Years ago, anyone struggling to cope with gears would likely just have stuck with it, we all master it in the end. Maybe now it is easier to quickly decide that, actually, it will be easier to ditch the clutch and go for an automatic.

What we can say with confidence is that drivers young and old, experienced and new are increasingly turning to automatic.

Manual still dominates, but it’s getting closer all the time.


At North West Transmissions we repair gearboxes or source replacement with guaranteed refurbished units.

A family-run business, we have a truly superb reputation, this shown by our 4.9 out of 5 average rating from dozens of reviews on Google.

All reconditioned gearboxes come with guarantees for 12 months or 12,000 miles while reconditioned automatic units come with a re-manufactured torque converter that has a lifetime guarantee.

Our technicians are all highly skilled with vast experience in reconditioning and repairing all units – importantly their efficiency helps cut down the price of repairs and so too the cost.

Gearbox problems are all-too common. If you find yourself in need of a repair or reconditioned unit, that often being the more economical option in the long term, please contact us.

Call us on 0151 933 0257 or use our Contact Form.