CVT 101: What you need to know about this special transmission

What you need to know about this special transmission

Updated on April 23 2024

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a type of automatic transmission (AT) that doesn’t have a fixed number of gears; instead, it’s a system of two pulleys-one attaches to the engine and the other connects to the wheels- with a flexible interceding belt joining them. It works distinctly from the standard AT. When you step down on the accelerator, the engine rotates and the pulley moves depending on how much power is asked for. The other pulley adjusts consistently so that the drive belt keeps the same tension, which also determines when the car opts to accelerate.

The CVT transmission is known as a seamless shift gearbox, which means one gear can be engaged and the next gear can be pre-engaged ready to take a switch. Thus, it offers infinite shifts ratios with a single-speed gear that is variable to all driving conditions. CVTs have a common high-revs character since engine turns aren’t associated with wheel acceleration. The engine works with much efficiency regardless of the engine speed. CVT transmissions are most common in smaller vehicles in these makes like Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Nissan, and other manufacturers.

Advantages of CVT

The CVT transmission is usually ideal for light vehicles, which include sedans or hatchbacks. Its compact size makes it more efficient to use in a smaller car than a regular AT. It has no clutch pedal so you can move it on an automatic. The CVT transmission can power the car without switching gears while driving up a mountain. Here are some of the advantages of a pulley transmission:

1. Smooth rides for long trips

Compared to ATs, drivers of CVTs won’t feel the shift from one gear to the other. They will simply notice a change in engine speed or revs per minute. The pulleys make the necessary shifts consistent with the vehicle’s momentum. When CVT transmission moves, it’s refined when revving forth.

2. Efficient engine speed

CVT transmission provides an efficient engine for speed in every driving condition and even during rapid acceleration. Since CVTs don’t have any fixed gear ratios; they deliver a positive response when the accelerator is pressed down during the uphill drive. With no worries about shifting, a driver gains the right pace when navigating an inclined path.

3. Improved fuel economy

The CVT transmission is highly rated for fuel efficiency and has comparatively better fuel mileage per gallon, especially for city drivers. CVT transmission operates on infinite shift ratios, thus affording a driver the advantage of fuel economy.

4. Better torque ratio

The CVT transmission keeps the rpm (rev) within a relaxed range that helps a very efficient rotational force under any driving situations. The constant performance of torque makes CVT cars very reliable, with instant power when taking off from an idling or by staying idle for a longer time.

5. Fewer components to mend

Since CVTs use fewer parts, there are fewer things to repair. CVT transmission doesn’t require gears since it uses "cones" and pulleys, The weight of the transmission is lighter and requires less space thus the scope for a practical cabin is available.

Cons of CVT

The CVT transmission is a relatively new technology in the car industry and makers are innovating to improve its overall performance. Driving a CVT transmission might not be as easy as driving a standard AT; drivers may take some time to be accustomed to moving a pulley transmission. The common complaint is engine drone that some drivers find annoying is worrisome to some drivers. Consider also the repair and maintenance costs of CVTs are expensive and sometimes difficult to find a professional for the service. If the CVT transmission is your choice, it’s recommendable to take a thorough test drive before purchasing it.

Tips for caring CVTs

Preventive maintenance is the key to keeping the life of your CVT transmission lasts longer. Your vehicle is vulnerable to damage and repair that can cost a lot when you fail to give it suitable care. While CVT transmissions are relatively fair to drive but also the easiest gearboxes to break down. The following are some tips for maintaining your CVT transmission.

1. Flush the fluid periodically

Damage can occur if the CTV transmission fluid is not flushed on time. Usually, the draining of fluid is prescribed in the car manual regarding the mileage run. Most vehicles need a changing fluid after the 30,000-50,000 kilometer mark. Regularly replenish the fluid to allow the transmission to work properly. Avoid delay, this could prevent the proper lubrication of the metal gears resulting in transmission failure. Bring it to a service center on time.

2. Use the correct transmission fluid for CVT. 

CVT fluid is different from ATF since CVT transmission has pulleys and is reliant on friction to operate normally; it has the proper solution for the needed friction to prevent overheating of the transmission. Remember not to overfill the reservoir, ensure that adding fluid shouldn’t be more than 75% of the tank capacity.

3. Avoid heavy loads

Carrying load beyond the transmission capacity will strain the drive belt and pulleys as CTVs are not built for heavy pickup. Avoid towing another vehicle, and stick to the suggested manual guide as to the maximum allowable load capacity of the vehicle.

4. Check on the mudguard

Mudguards are essential to filter dust, water, gravel, and other foreign particles that collect on the surface of the vehicle, and they serve an important function to the CVT transmission. Ensure that it’s well-placed to help prevent external scums or impurities, which can damage the system in no time. Also, the pulleys (drive belts) should be replaced when they become worn out after extended use.

5. Take the vehicle to an experienced mechanic. 

There’re car issues that commonly occur with CVT and are often caused by poor maintenance practices. A specialist or professional can do the most work for your CVTs; take the car to the dealer or experienced service center at regular intervals to keep your transmission’s life longer. Be warned that caring for CVTs isn’t a DIY project.

The common CTV transmission issues happen due to fluid maintenance, which includes dirty or low transmission fluid, the incorrect fluid used, damaged belt pulleys, transmission overheating, and impaired valve wear due to lack of use. These lubrication concerns can trigger a check engine light that warns of a gearbox issue. The transmission is one of the most expensive parts of the car. Maintaining and taking care of the vehicle will operate up to the original mileage.

As per the maker’s evaluation, a CVT transmission is efficient to operate on the roads. A CVT gearbox doesn’t have complicated parts and is relatively dependable. It’s usually employed in low-power applications so cars equipped with CTV transmission are fairly unstressed. With the right fluid to lubricate, regular maintenance plus a periodic inspection of the drive belt between the pulleys can make your car reliable for many years to come.