How to Take Care of Your Car’s CVT Transmission
Updated on February 22 2024
The CVT or continuously variable transmission works differently than a conventional automatic gearbox. Instead of having a fixed number of gears, the CVT provides an infinite number of gear ratios via pulleys connected to the engine and the driving wheels. Combining the two pulleys is a flexible belt, and the width of the pulleys will change depending on how much power is applied by the driver.
What are the advantages of a CVT?
The advantages of a CVT are aplenty, like:
- CVTs are lighter and more compact than a regular automatic.
- There are fewer moving parts inside a CVT.
- CVTs deliver better fuel economy since the engine is constantly maintaining the ideal torque ratio.
- The CVT is smoother and operates with virtually zero “shift shock.”
- CVTs offer faster acceleration and no gear hunting when driving over inclined roads.
What are the disadvantages of a CVT?
The CVT has a few disadvantages, but the pros outweigh the cons. Some drawbacks include:
- Depending on the vehicle, some CVTs could produce a loud, droning sound under heavy acceleration.
- According to some drivers, CVT-equipped vehicles are less engaging to drive due to the absence of physical gear ratios.
- Similar to other automatic transmissions, CVTs are expensive to repair or replace.
CVT Car Care Tips
Like the engine, the CVT in your vehicle requires periodic maintenance. Most of the long-term problems associated with CVTs have something to do with inadequate fluid maintenance. Similar to conventional automatics, the CVT needs regular fluid replacement to function efficiently.
1. CVT fluid is different from ATF.
Conventional automatic transmissions use ATF or automatic transmission fluid. ATF functions similarly to synthetic engine oil in that it reduces or prevents friction while cooling the entire transmission unit.
On the other hand, CVT fluid is different. Since a CVT has chain-driven pulleys or rollers that rely on friction to function perfectly, CVT fluid has friction modifiers that provide adequate friction while protecting the unit from excess heat.
Mixing fluid types is a bad idea since you’ll end up damaging your CVT if you end up using ATF. The same rule applies if you happen to pour CVT fluid inside a standard automatic transmission. If you want to be doubly sure about what type of CVT fluid to use in your car, check the owner’s manual.
2. Replace the CVT fluid periodically.
Here’s another reason to consult the owner’s manual of your CVT-equipped vehicle. Not all cars are the same, but all vehicles require periodic transmission fluid changes. Check the owner’s manual to see the required maintenance interval. If the manual prescribes draining and replenishing the CVT fluid every 50,000 kilometers or 100,000 kilometers, follow it. Regular fluid changes will not only extend the life of your CVT but allows the unit to perform flawlessly in every drive.
3. Check the transmission dipstick.
If the engine has a dipstick, the transmission has a dipstick, too. However, not all CVT-equipped vehicles have a transmission dipstick. Some cars (like particular Subaru models) have no dipstick and may require a visit to the service center to check the fluid’s condition. Check the owner’s manual to determine if your vehicle has a CVT dipstick and to know the dipstick’s location in the engine bay.
The CVT dipstick is an easy way to know if the unit has sufficient fluid. The dipstick will also tell you if the fluid needs replacement. Most CVT fluids have a reddish hue. If the oil in the dipstick is dark brown, black, or has a burnt odor, replace the fluid immediately.
4. Avoid heavy towing.
Unless you have a heavy-duty pickup truck, you should avoid towing heavy loads with your CVT-equipped car. Towing puts undue stress on the transmission and may cause it to overheat under constant duress.
5. Take it easy on the gas pedal.
Although some performance cars come with CVT gearboxes (like the Honda Civic RS Turbo, for instance), the CVT is most common in affordable and fuel-efficient practicars. Although you can flog a CVT like a conventional automatic, applying light pedal inputs will pay dividends in the long run. Not only will you save more fuel, but you are prolonging the useful life of the CVT.
Although CVTs are lighter and more compact, it does not mean they are cheaper to replace when damage occurs. On the other hand, CVTs are more expensive, and not all mechanics or service centers have the inclination or expertise to repair a CVT.
If you notice anything unusual with your CVT – whether it be excess noises, vibrations, or an illuminated check engine light – drive the car to a mechanic as soon as possible for a thorough diagnosis.