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Car rentals are a popular form of transportation when you are either tight on space in a previous vehicle, need an extra car for travel, or simply do not own your own vehicle. They can come in handy when making last-minute decisions that require a car to use. All of this is good; however, some concerns people have, are if these car rentals are automatic or manual.

Most rental cars are automatic in the United States. Companies prefer automatic over manual because it is a popular transmission type and easy to drive. Plus, they are easier to find and purchase. Other countries outside the US may employ manual rental cars more often than automatic.

In this article, I will mainly focus on the US aspect of rental cars and why automatic rental cars are more prevalent. We will also briefly mention why other countries may use a manual transmission instead of automatic. Finally, we will briefly address the renting process.

Differences: Automatic & Manual

Before we address anything, let's focus on what's the primary difference between these two transmission types.

For automatic transmissions, the car itself does all the work and shifts the gears automatically based on the acceleration and deceleration of the individual and their desired speed limit. The automatic transmissions only require the driver to shift the shifter to the D (drive) icon and relax from there, as it does not require using a clutch pedal and further physical movement but to drive.

For manual transmissions, it requires a bit of extra work. For one, the transmission setup for this type involves a total of three pedals (gas pedal, brake pedal, and clutch pedal). The clutch pedal will be the primary factor in shifting gears. For this type, one must actively shift the gears manually instead of the device handling that task itself. To a certain acceleration or deceleration speed, one must shift up or down to compensate, or else a stall will happen, in which one must stop and restart from the beginning as if starting the car up for the first time. This “stick shift” mechanism is challenging to master but is doable.

United States Rental Cars

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As said in the beginning, automatic transmissions are most prevalent in rental cars in the United States. In fact, they are the most popular types of transmission in any vehicle, period. One major reason why they are common and popular in the US is the pairing of this transmission type and computer-controlled engines.

This technologically advanced system operates better than manual-driven vehicles. In the US, automatic rental cars reign superior in that those who are renting are responsible for the vehicle hired, making it easier to manage and causing minimal damage, if any. Also, we should note that manual transmissions are becoming extinct as time passes, so there's no point in using a transmission no one is familiarized with. We must also mention that automatic cars are long-lasting, maintain optimal performance, and have quicker shift timing.

Now that we have discussed why the US employs more automatic rental cars let's discuss the reason why other countries may use manuals more often. Historically, automatic cars were considered a terrible alternative to manuals as they tend to be sluggish, have poor mileage, and are expensive to repair or replace. Another reason countries like the United Kingdom and Spain use manual rental cars is that they are cheaper and allow more vehicle control for a safer driving experience. Lastly, it seems that manuals are part of the traditional cars that have not been forgotten in these countries and will maintain them in the future.

Before we move to our last segment, a note to consider is that those who are exposed to automatic or manuals throughout their lives will tend to have more experience in that transmission type. One person may be used to manual cars rather than automatic ones and find manuals to be easier to operate and manage, and vice versa.

The difficulty is not the focus of this article but is helpful to understand that some people prefer one transmission over the other, and are no real pros and cons between the two types of preferences, only those relative to their current skill level and not with other people's skill level.

Renting Process

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What we mean by the renting process is that some may have concerns about renting a vehicle with a transmission they are unfamiliar with, or whether they can hire a vehicle with the opposing transmission.

Firstly, if you travel to another country, ensure you know what dominant transmission types are installed in their rental cars. Sure, you may be able to have access to your preferred transmission type; however, depending on the country's preference of transmission, your choice may be very scarce and hard to find.

There are only a few options you can do: have an experienced friend or family travel with you to operate on the primary transmission the country uses, or simply start training to get used to the transmission beforehand. Manuals are generally considered challenging and will require practice before operating a manual rental car.

Now the question is, can one hire a vehicle of the opposite transmission than they are experienced with? Driving a manual and hiring an automatic rental car is acceptable and will allow most places to follow through with the rental with no extra hassle. However, if you drive an automatic and want to hire a manual, it will be harder to attain regarding having the company you work for checking your driving history and license limitations. They will not easily hand out their rental cars to someone who could easily damage the vehicle because of the unfamiliarity with the transmission type.

Hope this article provided enough information to understand the transmission types, what country uses what for their rental cars and all other vehicles, and why it is important to know how to drive one before renting one out.