What You Need to Know About a CVT
“CVT” is an acronym you see quite a lot when you’re shopping around for a new car and you look at the specification. It stands for “continuously variable transmission.” In today’s blog, we’re going through all the important things that one needs to know about a CVT system: what it is, how it works, the pros and cons of having one in your car and more.
What Is a CVT?
A CVT, or continually variable transmission, is a form of automatic transmission that is distinct in its ability to change seamlessly through a range of continuous gear ratios while you drive on the road. It differs from more traditional transmission models, in which the transmission effects hard shifts between gears in a fixed number of ratios.
CVTs are not exactly a new technology. Its origins go all the way back to the very beginnings of the automotive industry with its first invention by Milton Reeves in 1879. It was originally built for application in the world of sawmilling.
You can actually go back even further, all the way back to 1490 in fact, where it is known that Italian maestro and polymath Leonardo DaVinci designed the first recognizable continuously variable transmission system, but it wasn’t officially patented until German automotive icons Daimler and Benz patented the system in 1886.
How Does a CVT Work?
As we touched on further above, traditional transmission systems used a fixed set of gear ratios and then worked via a construction of many intricate parts to effect shifts between the pre-set gears. At the heart of a CVT system, on the other hand, is a pulley system.
Each pully within the system has cones that are all connected with a chain belt. The cones move in such a way as to increase or decrease the diameter of the belt, which changes the gear ratios. The result of such a system is quicker shifting, more power and overall better fuel economy than that delivered by the traditional system.
Within the CVT, one of the pulleys connects to the engine, and the other sends power from there to the wheels. The pulleys’ width changes according to how much power is required at any given time. As one pulley gets larger, the other diminishes, and that’s how they can deliver seamless shifts in real time that don’t impact overall performance of the car.
Advantages of Having a CVT
There are numerous benefits to having a CVT over a traditional transmission system:
1. Greater Fuel Efficiency
There’s no doubt that the CVT helps to narrow the gap in efficiency compared with manual cars. Old torque-converter transmissions were why automatics were more wasteful with petrol. The CVT has helped close the gap. You can get very impressive ratings of 45mpg on the average saloon car.
2. Smooth Driving at All Speeds
Whether you’re in a low-speed residential zone or cruising down the M6, the CVT offers a smooth and easy driving experience to driver and passenger alike. The up and down of the manual transmission (with the occasional misstep causing a jolt here and there), and the jockeying of a torque converter are all in the past.
3. Uphill Driving is Easier
Those who live in hilly areas and/or contend with tricky slopes every day sometimes get very anxious in their driving. It’s even more pronounced when you’re driving a larger, heavier vehicle. The CVT responds immediately to changes in gradient to ensure the car is always at the right level of torque that it needs. You never have to worry about those difficult moments.
Drawback of Having a CVT
No system is perfect, however. Below you’ll find some of the disadvantages that come with the CVT system.
1. Costly Installation
The CVT is a more expensive option than its predecessors, there’s no denying that. In terms of buying cars, that means that any vehicle that has a CVT is naturally more expensive than a manual transmission, for example. That has often been the case anyway.
2. No Good with High-HP Cars
When it comes to high-horsepower performance machines, even the CVTs seemingly infinite capacity to keep up with shifting needs is found to have limits. The fact is that the CVT can’t keep up with these sports coupes and performance cars, and that’s why they’re rarely (if ever) applied on those cars.
3. Costly Maintenance
Besides adding to the sticker price of your car, a CVT will also add to maintenance costs. Many dread getting the news that the transmission is shot. It’s expensive enough on a manual car, but it’s even more so on an automatic. That’s the slight jeopardy you get in exchange for better day-to-day driving.
Is It Better to Have a CVT Than a Regular Transmission? What to Look Out For
With the downside being mostly centred mostly on cost, it would seem short-sighted to ignore the many benefits that help millions of people in their day-to-day driving. A CVT may be a simple idea, but it’s clear that the positive impact it has had on the world of driving, especially for those whose environment or driving ability makes a regular transmission difficult, is worth any small amount of downside.
Thanks to the CVT, the world of driving was able to open up to a much wider audience. However, if you are purchasing a used car with CVT, do pay attention to the following things:
- Any lag between shifts. When you put the car from drive into reverse, the effect should be near-instant. If there’s a second or more delay, then that’s a red flag.
- When test-driving the car, watch out for signs of gear slippage. This will appear most obviously as a momentary loss of power while you are accelerating.
- As you’re driving along, observe the tachometer in the vehicle. Does it stay steady (as it should if it has a CVT) or does it fluctuate? Fluctuating RPMs are a red flag.
- Take a look at the transmission fluid dipstick and observe the colour. It will tell you a lot about how well the dealership or previous owner has cared for the car. The fluid should be deep red or close to that. If it’s brown or darker, then it’s been allowed to go bad, which can negatively impact the CVT.
Always stay vigilant when purchasing pre-owned CVT cars. They’re likely fine, but it always pays to be sure.