Thursday, August 20, 2015

I'm giving up the manual transmission

For the first time in nearly 20 years, I am not driving a stick-shift transmission in my main ride. Over those 20 years, I drove a 1994 Honda Del Sol and a 2003 Honda Accord V6 Coupe. The Del Sol had a five-speed, and the Accord had a six-speed. I enjoyed the shifting of the gears and the greater sense of control the stick-shift gave me. It was also nice being a little different from most everyone else. Stick-shifts are in sharp decline in the United States. A friend who was in the car business in Tennessee for many years said when the started, the dealership's inventory was about 25% manual transmissions (Hondas and Volvos), but more recently (five years ago), the breakdown was under 5% manual. Being different, however, my family at one time had three vehicles with stick shifts — my Del Sol, my wife's Altima (Nissan was offering a phenomenal deal on leases with manual transmissions) and my son's old Subaru wagon. When I fell and broke my shoulder blade in 2003, leaving my right arm immobile, I had to switch cars with my wife (who by then had an automatic) so that I could reach with my left arm across my body to shift the car into "D" for about a month until I got the use of my right arm back.

But now I've succumbed to modernity and aging, and my new ride has an automatic transmission. It's not that I was tired of shifting gears. The decision was a rational one, recognizing my advancing age and the likelihood that if I keep my next car ten years or more (as I usually do), my left leg might not be nimble enough to operate a clutch. So my new car is an automatic, but it has a "clutchless automatic" option — you can switch from "D" to "M" and shift the gears without use of your left leg, at least up to a point. The automated manual does not allow you to shift into fourth gear until you've reached a certain speed, and your downshifts are also limited. Still, the option is there if ever I want to use it.

This, I've told myself, is my retirement car. It's the car I will drive in retirement, taking long-postponed trips to places on our bucket lists, so I opted for the top trim line with all the bells and whistles for comfort and entertainment. It's a car I hope will last me for 20 or 25 years. And I hope I'll last that long, too, and still be able to drive.

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