Today, as we swung forlornly in our individual work-pods, a number of us here at the Jalopnik Automotive Content Origination Facility (JACOF) found ourselves drawn into a strange discussion: what counts as an automatic transmission, or a manual transmission? It seems obvious, but it’s actually a little more complex.

Our own Mike Ballaban triggered this whole conversation when he stated that an automatic-shifting dual-clutch transmission is actually a manual transmission. Here, I have proof, screen-shotted from our communal chat-coven:


See where Mike says “a dual clutch is NOT an auto?” That’s where the madness is, I think. As you can see, Raph, David, and I all disagree with that absurdity.

Look, if there’s a machine that’s shifting the gears instead of a human hand, it’s an automatic transmission. I don’t care if, internally, the transmission is mechanically more similar to a standard manual transmission and has no torque converter or whatever—if it’s shifting on its own, it’s an automatic.

Interestingly, this means that the semi-automatic transmission Volkswagen used and called the “Automatic Stick Shift” which included an automatic clutch mechanism and a torque converter was, for all its mechanical efforts to the contrary, still a manual transmission, because you shifted the actual gears with your moist, human hand.


Now, even more confusing are preselector gearboxes, where you choose the gear you want with a tiny thumb-gate, but the actual gear is engaged automatically. Is the choosing enough to call it a manual, or is the actual automatic engagement of the gear enough to make it an auto?


Now, a dual-clutch transmission you’re shifting with paddles (or a Tiptronic lever or whatever) may momentarily be acting like a manual, but in reality it’s still an automatic, because it can shift gears on its own.

So, my question for you is this: is Ballaban, somehow, improbably right here? Can an automated manual be classified as a manual transmission even if it shifts its own gears? Or are the rest of us correct in saying that if the gears are shifted automatically, it’s an automatic, and it doesn’t matter how it happens (CVT, DSG, BFD).


Tell us who’s right in the comments! Or, remind us we’re all morons! Either way works!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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