What is a CVT Transmission?

“CVT” stands for continuously variable transmission. A CVT transmission uses a pair of variable-diameter pulleys and a belt or chain to provide unlimited gear ratios.

How does a CVT work?

To illustrate, think of a traditional automatic or manual transmission. They’re built with a defined number of gears, for example first through sixth (plus reverse). The transmission can operate in only one gear at a time. You typically feel a slight surge with each gear change.

CVTs, however, offer unlimited gear ratios.

Take a look at the image. You can see the metal belt connecting the two pulleys. Depending on engine speed and load, the computer automatically varies the pulley sizes to ensure the optimal gear ratio for the driving conditions.

CVTs use variable-diameter pulleys to create unlimited gear ratios.

CVT transmission pros and cons

What good does that do?

Imagine pedaling a bike. As you approach a steep hill, you adjust the shifters so a smaller chainring attached to the pedals is driving a larger sprocket on the rear wheel. This reduces the effort required to move the bike.

When you reach a stretch of flat road, you adjust the gear ratio again so a larger chainring attached to the pedals is driving a smaller sprocket. This helps achieve the perfect balance between energy expended and bicycle speed.

The same principle applies to a CVT, except the computer does all the thinking for you. When starting from a dead stop, it varies the pulley diameters (smaller drive pulley and larger driven pulley) so the engine can move the car as efficiently as possible. As you accelerate, it continuously varies the pulley sizes to keep the engine in its “sweet spot,” which results in improved fuel economy. Plus, you never feel the gear engagements because, in effect, there aren’t any.

CVTs gaining in popularity – but there are negatives

These benefits are why many car makers, including Nissan, Honda and Toyota are introducing more vehicles with CVTs.

There are drawbacks, however, including the “rubber-band effect” (you rev the engine, yet it takes a moment for vehicle speed to catch up) and lack of driver involvement (zero fun). In addition, most CVTs’ relatively diminutive parts can’t handle the power and torque of the truck or SUV you use to tow your boat or camper, which is why you find them mostly on smaller cars. Although there are some exceptions, as the list shows, which shows popular vehicles with a CVT.

What cars have a CVT transmission?

  • Honda Accord
  • Honda HR-V
  • Mercedes-Benz A- and B-Class
  • Nissan Altima
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Camry
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • Toyota Prius

Slip into something special

One look at the guts of a CVT and you can’t help but wonder how the belt doesn’t just slip wildly over the pulleys.

Believe it or not, the transmission fluid plays a major role in ensuring the belt or chain remains in contact with the pulleys without slipping.

That’s why CVTs require specialized CVT transmissions fluids, and not the traditional automatic or manual transmission fluid you probably have in your garage. CVT transmission fluids must be formulated with the correct frictional requirements to guard against slipping. Using the wrong fluid will reduce performance and potentially wreck your transmission.

Wear protection also important

Solid wear protection is also vital to maximizing CVT performance and life. That’s why we designed AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid to fight wear and help extend transmission life.

To demonstrate, we pitted AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid against Nissan NS-2 CVT Fluid in a field trial. After 100,000 miles, the belt lubricated with AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid demonstrated minimal wear, as you can see in the images. This helps you get the best performance and most life out of your CVT.

 

The belt lubricated with Nissan NS-2 CVT Fluid demonstrated increased wear.

Buy AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid

While driving purists may initially scoff at the notion of a transmission that requires no driver input, many eventually warm up to CVTs’ increased gas mileage and smooth operability.

If you’re one of them, make sure you protect it with a good CVT transmission fluid.

Understanding Oil Viscosity Viscosity is the measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow. _by David Hilgendorf|January 17, 2023 The physical properties of lubricants are measured by characteristics like viscosity, shear stability, high- and low-temperature performance, water resistance and volatility. Lubrication science seeks to optimize a lubricant’s performance by managing these properties using different base oils […]

Top 5 Skid Steer Maintenance Tips _by David Hilgendorf|September 29, 2023 Skid steers are built for tough construction, excavation, agricultural and other professional projects. Whether you’re clearing land, moving rocks or tearing down a wall, a skid steer is an excellent piece of equipment for many different jobs. But these nimble machines can be expensive […]

thermal runaway occurs when viscosity drops out and wear increases

How Often Should I Change Differential Fluid? Fluid change intervals depend on your vehicle, driving conditions and gear oil quality. Save time and cash first by improving the situation with this differential fluid solution! _by David Hilgendorf|Feb 26, 2023 A differential is a set of gears that allows a vehicle’s driven wheels to revolve at […]

New European oils for 2023 0W-30 and 10W-60

New AMSOIL Synthetic European Motor Oil Viscosities A new 10W-60 and 0W-30 for several BMW, Volkswagen and other fancy European cars. _by Brad Nelson|June 13, 2023 Those who know, know. The sophisticated engineering, finely-tuned performance and artistic styling of European cars can turn a daily commute into a grin-inducing experience. The design of these vehicles […]

EZ marine lower gear lube service

Service Marine Lower Units to Prevent Water Damage Preventing rust and other water-related problems in marine lower units. Most other Marine Gear Oils fail to make the grade. We learn more on that from our own customers when they make the switch. by David Hilgendorf|April 24, 2023 Water and gear lube don’t mix. Unfortunately, you […]

How To Fix Motorcycle Engine Pre-Detonation Your bike can automatically detune its engine, but there’s an easy fix. _by David Hilgendorfen Vandorf|May 10, 2023 Many modern motorcycles are designed to compensate for low-octane gasoline in an attempt to prevent motorcycle engine knocking. Unfortunately, the technology involved may also cause reduced performance, rough idle or lack […]