I have to laugh at Brendan I. Koerner’s recent article over on Slate arguing that manually shifted transmissions are better for the environment than automatic transmissions. While in a sense, he answered the question correctly (though not completely, as Martin Schwoerer argues over at The Truth About Cars: Koerner completely disregarded the fuel efficiency of a spate of new transmission technologies – CVTs, DSGs and automatic clutches among them – that have cropped up in new cars over the last several years), he missed the entire point.
Sure, buying a manual trans car may be better for the environment, but what’s best for the environment is not buying a car at all, and if you do have to buy a car, it’s still best not to buy a new car. Regardless, Koerner’s suggestions seem to come back to buying a brand-new car. Only once does he seem to say otherwise:
This calculation, however, doesn’t include some less obvious benefits of manual transmissions. The brake pads on stick-shift cars, for example, tend to wear out less rapidly than those on automatics. And manual transmissions are relatively cheap to fix and replace, so you can wait longer to buy a new vehicle. Manufacturing auto parts is energy-intensive, so anything that can be done to curb their production has to be a plus.
Bingo. Study after study shows that just as many pollutants go into the atmosphere during the manufacture of a vehicle as during the vehicle’s lifespan once it leaves the factory. But at no point do we hear Koerner or any of the greenies advocate buying a used car. Instead, in marketing-fueled America, the message is to buy green – whether it’s Toyota’s emphasis on hybrids, Chevrolet’s emphasis on E85-powered cars or any number of consumer products (shrink-wrapped in plastic and entirely non-biodegradeable) that claim to be better for the environment.