Stick Shift vs Automatic

December 23, 20138 Comments

Every year around the holidays, I like to write a philosophical piece on investing, just for a change. This year, I thought I’d relate some of the lessons learned from one of my passions. I’m a driving enthusiast. I bought a sports car 4 years ago, and as I reflect on my experiences, I can’t help but draw parallels between the world of investing and the ongoing debate of stick shift vs automatic in the world of automobiles.

A Red Car - Stick Shift vs Automatic

I have been participating in occasional track days, often with a professional driving instructor teaching me to get the most out of my car. One interesting fact about taking a serious approach to high-performance driving is that, before taking instruction, most of us are indeed very poorly equipped to handle our street cars in high-stress situations.

Driving instruction at a race track teaches you emergency avoidance maneuvers for the public roads (picture a dog or child running in front of your car), how to slide your car in a controlled manner from an under-steer or over-steer situation (most snowfall accidents happen due to mismanagement of a slide), and how to corner at high speeds (picture a wet or snowy day where you misjudge a corner).

There are a number of similarities between managing risk while pursuing stock market performance vs. managing risk while pursuing driving performance. In track driving, the risk of sliding off of a race track is a fact of driving fast. If you don’t want to take that risk, you must slow down. But there is not much reward to driving slowly when other cars are lapping you on a track – it kills the reason for your being there. Faster lap times are the reward for taking on proportionately more risk. That risk can be controlled through techniques taught through professional driving instruction. I’ve found that there is a close relationship between my adherence to the laws of physics taught by professional driving instructors, and my cars adherence to the track! I’ve also found that the more “feel” one has for their automobile, the more connected one becomes to its control on the race track. Thus, I have always elected to drive fully manual transmission cars with as few electronic interferences as possible.

A Stick-Shift (Stick Shift vs Automatic)


Similarly, risk is the very nature of the stock market. If you don’t like investment risk, buy a GIC. That’s like going slower on a race track. It’s still investing, but it’s not very rewarding. You buy stocks to reap higher potential rewards. You take on more risk to do so. That risk can be controlled through techniques taught through fundamental and technical analysis techniques (I’ll unashamedly recommend my book Sideways as a great tool for retail investors to learn technical analysis). As with cars, I’ve found that there is a close relationship between an investors adherence to systematic investment techniques – and the performance of one’s portfolio. And, like my observation regarding the connection between you and your car, I believe that the more direct control you have over your portfolio – the more of a feel you have for successful entry and exit timing. You need to be as engaged and aware as possible in your investment decisions to manage your risk/reward potentials.

If you become removed from the investment process through mutual funds and wrap accounts, for example, you can – like driving – lose your connection to the markets. And that can lead to a numbing down of your investment skills – leading into losses when markets change. Just ask the average mutual fund investor how long it took to break even after they numbly rode out the 2008 crash. For this reason, I salute you for studying technical analysis. And I thank you for making SmartBounce part of your learning process. I am humbled by the fact that over 3000 individual investors read this blog regularly! I continue to encourage you to comment on any of my blogs. Please share your thoughts and your questions over the coming year. I read them all.

I wish you and your family well over the holidays, and look forward to providing more ideas and investment musing in 2014.

a Christmas wreath

As we navigate the twists and turns of the financial markets, it’s essential to recognize that the stick shift vs automatic debate isn’t just limited to the realm of cars; it extends metaphorically to our investment strategies. Each approach has its merits and drawbacks, much like the gears we choose while driving. The key lies in understanding the unique dynamics of your financial journey, whether you prefer the hands-on control of a stick shift or the automated ease of an automatic. Ultimately, just as a skilled driver adapts to the road ahead, a successful investor adjusts their tactics to the ever-changing landscape of the market. So, gear up and drive (or invest) wisely!


  • Merry Christmas to you and your family, Keith.

    One thing that I’ve learned this year is that my market timing skills are terrible. I’ve read your book “Sideways” and enjoyed it so thoroughly that I bought Martin Pring’s “Technical Analysis Explained”. I feel I have a good grasp – but certainly no professional – on TA, yet was hurt by staying in cash far too long and selling too soon.

    I have recently been looking at a sort of semi “buy-and-hold” strategy, a strategy with which I can use my TA knowledge to buy and to sell only when the markets look vulnerable. My own feeling is, based on the stock/bond ratios, that the markets look strong for stocks and should remain so for some time, so my strategy should not be too risky over a longer term.

    Alas, I’m just a little guy, to small for you. But I can understand your problems with taking on small accounts so I just read, enjoy and learn from your blogs. And besides, I like to have control over my car, too.

    All the very best for a successful 2014, and keep up the interesting blogs.

    • Thanks Fred
      I know you’ve been a long-time reader, and I appreciate your support. You have a Merry Christmas too–and BTW–during a secular bull market, which we are likely in (albeit due for a proper correction probably after Q1) – buy and hold will work. All you need to do is rotate sectors and stocks–but largely stay invested. So enjoy!

  • Keith:
    Since first listening to you on BNN, reading one of your books and paying close attention to your technique/bias in the marketplace I have enjoyed your commentary and ideas. Now I find you also drive manual transmissions. I knew there was a reason I like this guy. (LOL) I have never owned an automatic. Best of the season to you and through 2014.

    • thanks Terry–all the best in the New Year and over the holidays to you as well. And hey, as manual driving car enthusiasts, we represent only 3% of total car buyers. Its great to be in the minority–like investing, its often a good idea to take a contrary position to the crowd!



    • In the 1980’s, I had a Beetle with the gas heater of which you speak–it was wild–you would turn of the car, but the heater would keep running as it burned off its remaining gas. Scary to leave it in the parking lot. Great car, though. It gave me the love of rear-engine German cars–which I own today (slightly faster than my old Beetle, though!)

  • Keith,
    Wish you & your family MERRY CHRITMAS.
    I am in similar position as Fred & will continue reading your blog + might take a dip in cae-T

    • Thanks Muntazir–appreciate your following the blog.
      And yes, we love CAE–we bought it on the $11 breakout–now that its blown through $13, there’s no overhead to slow it down. If the fundamentals continue to look good, it could be a very nice stock–its one of our “Great Rotation” candidates–which I will be blogging on soon!


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