People in the market for a new car face a choice about whether to drive a vehicle with a Continuously Variable Transmission. CVT’s are gaining popularity, but many consumers are confused about what they are, how they differ from traditional transmissions, and how driving a CVT will affect them.
Traditional transmissions have gears, but CVT’s operate with a system of variable pulleys connected with a belt. The Nissan Murano crossover was one of the first popular cars to have a CVT transmission in 2003. Nissan now offers the CVT in its Altima, Maxima, Sentra, Versa, Murano, and Rogue. Some Audi A4 models, Jeep Compass and Patriot, BMW Minis, certain Honda Civic Hybrids, Mitsubishi Lancers, and even some Toyotas also have CVT’s.
Ford and Chrysler offered CVT’s in some of their vehicles, but changed back to traditional transmission after consumer feedback indicated some insecurity about the CVT’s reliability.
While it’s true that CVT’s and traditional transmission owners now enjoy the same level of reliability in general, it’s also important to know that CVT’s require a different kind of routine maintenance than traditional transmissions.
Proactive maintenance on a vehicle with a CVT includes more frequent transmission fluid changes. Traditional transmissions often go over 100,000 kilometers before they need any maintenance. CVT’s require specific oils and high temperatures are a problem for them. Before committing to a vehicle with a CVT, you may want to have a conversation with someone in the dealership’s service department about how best to care for the car.
Efficiency is the CVT’s specialty; fuel economies that reach over 35kmg are common among cars with this type of transmission, even in a mid-sized sedan. Hybrids use CVT’s to maximize fuel economy and to create a smoother ride. Since the CVT doesn’t shift with gears, there’s no feeling of mild whiplash as the car accelerates and the transmission shifts into a higher gear. Some drivers think that a CVT creates a better overall experience behind the wheel.
If you need a vehicle capable of towing, you may want to look for a traditional transmission. CVT’s aren’t known for their ability to pull heavy loads and they don’t seem to pair well with high torque and high horsepower engines.
CVT’s are limited for the torque they can handle. Manufacturers are working on this problem by improving the belt quality. Even though CVTs have fewer moving parts than a traditional transmission, they are heavy.
CVT’s don’t usually last as long as a traditional transmission at this point in time. While automakers are working to continuously improve reliability, consumers still may feel the sting of this expensive alternative to the well-known manual and stick shift transmissions.
CVT repair cost
Replacing a faulty CVT is expensive, and typically costs between $3,000 and $5,000. Unlike traditional transmission parts, CVT parts are difficult to find. Most of the time, a damaged CVT is beyond repair, anyway.
This kind of sticker shock leaves drivers nostalgic for the traditional transmission ease of repair and less expensive replacement cost. Most CVT’s on the market today last less than 100,000 kilometers so drivers should be aware of the inevitable replacement cost should they decide to drive their car longer than that.
It’s also important to understand that manufacturers are willing to take care of the problems that arise with CVT’s by offering a transmission warranty that will cover repair or replacement cost. One of the advantages of buying a new car is the warranty, so if you want a vehicle with CVT, it’s likely that you’ll be protected by the manufacturer.
CVT driving experience
Some drivers find the noise a CVT makes during hard acceleration disturbing. Their limited torque capacity means they often end up in cars with smaller four-cylinder engines. A CVT is never used in a higher performing vehicle.
When accelerating, drivers may hear a droning noise. The CVT isn’t as “fun” or engaging as a traditional clutch transmission. For drivers that are used to paying attention to engine sounds, the CVT can leave them feeling lost and irritated.
Choosing between a car with a traditional transmission and one with a CVT could make or break your decision to buy a certain make and model. It’s important to pay attention to engine noise, power, and your ability to accelerate hard while test driving a vehicle equipped with a CVT. If you are the type of driver that prefers three pedals and a manual shifter, the CVT may not be for you. If you prefer a completely smooth ride, would like an extended transmission warranty, and want better fuel efficiency, a CVT is probably a great choice.
Whether you drive a car with CVT or a traditional transmission is a personal choice. Ultimately, you’ll get to enjoy (or you’ll be stuck with) the transmission you choose for a long time.