CVT Transmission Problems: All That You Need to Know

Decades ago, it used to be just manual and automatic transmissions. Thanks to automotive innovations, the CVT is fast becoming one of the more popular transmissions found in the modern car. But before you get such a car, you’d need to be aware of the more common CVT transmission problems. So, you know what to expect when you get a vehicle with a CVT transmission.

This article will be providing a lot of information about CVT transmission; its origins and types, how it works, the vehicles it is found, and some of the most common problems.

If you are looking to get a vehicle with a CVT transmission, then you might want to read this article to the end. That said, let’s dive in.

What Is CVT Transmission

Image Credit: autotrader.ca

CVT is short for Continuously Variable Transmission. Although it only recently gained popularity, the design has existed for centuries, with innovations offering greater efficiency. Leonardo DaVinci initially designed it in 1490, but it got its official patent in 1886 by Daimler and Benz.

By 1910, Zenith motorcycles featured CVT transmissions, and by the late 1980s, Subaru launched it into the mainstream automotive industry. Today, there is rarely a car brand that does not have a vehicle with a CVT system, especially in their range of small and mid-sized vehicles.

A CVT system is essentially an automatic transmission that does not need a clutch pedal like a manual transmission. This allows the car to seamlessly change through several ranges of effective gear ratios while it is in motion. It is unique because other kinds of mechanical transmissions offer a fixed number of gear ratios and have hard shifts between them.

This shiftless nature of the CVT system provides unparalleled flexibility and continuous angular velocity irrespective of output speed. As a result, the car’s acceleration becomes smoother, the fuel economy is improved, and the driving experience is ultimately improved. So, how does the CVT system work?

The CVT transmission system does not need any gears. Rather it is built on twin pulleys connected to the car’s engine and the wheels. Both pulleys are connected by a flexible chain or belt that allows them to work in tandem.

The trick behind the way the CVT functions is that the width of the pulleys varies in line with the amount of power needed by the vehicle. That means when one of the pulleys gets larger, the other one reduces. This flexibility makes it possible for the two pulleys to offer countless gear ratios, unlike other transmission systems.

Although CVT systems do not require gears, some are designed to work like gear-based transmission systems. With such CVT transmissions, the transmission works based on movement to preset points facilitated by regular shift levers or paddle shifters.

Interestingly, not all CVT systems are built the same. Here are the different types of CVT systems in modern vehicles:

  • Pulley-based
  • Toroidal
  • Ratcheting
  • Hydrostatic/Hydraulic
  • Electrical
  • Cone
  • Epicyclic
  • Friction-disk transmissions
  • Magnetic

CVT Transmission Vehicles

CVT systems appear to be more popular among Japanese automakers than with their European and American counterparts. That is not to say that CVT vehicle systems have not gotten a foot in the door of the global automotive industry. Especially because of the fuel efficiency that they offer.

CVT transmission vehicles also have dependable gearboxes that offer instant acceleration because they are regularly combined with hybrid powertrains. You can identify most cars with a CVT system by looking up the vehicle model on the manufacturer’s website and the car’s brochure.

Some Honda, Subaru, and Nissan cars and SUVs are designed with the CVT system. Here are some of them

  • Toyota Corolla
  • Honda Jazz
  • Subaru Forester
  • Lexus RC
  • Honda CR-V

Most Common CVT Transmission Problems

CVT systems have fewer moving parts and a simpler design than most other transmission systems. However, like all other automotive systems, they have some problems that are common to them. You’d need to be aware of these problems if you are looking to get a CVT vehicle. That way, you know what to expect. So here are some problems that are likely to occur with a CVT transmission vehicle.

Overheating

Due to the way CVT systems operate with two pulleys offering a countless number of gear ratios, there is a high risk of overheating. A faulty cooling system can also cause overheating. One of the more common CVT transmission problems symptoms is a burning smell in the car.

Transmission Fluid Issues

Transmission fluid is key to the operations of CVT systems. However, any of the components can go bad if there is a shortage of CVT transmission fluid. This leads to transmission fluid issues like leakage, issues with the preset points, or delayed movement.

Another transmission fluid issue that is common to CVT systems is transmission fluid contamination. When the transmission fluid gets contaminated by debris, it affects its working process, causing the car to surge, jerk, lurch, or jump for no reason. You might also notice that the transmission looks muddy/murky if contaminated.

Sudden Loss of Speed/Acceleration 

A vehicle with this issue will shudder and shake when your foot is on the accelerator. One of the best things about CVT transmission systems is that they offer great acceleration. However, when the system gets overheated, the CVT takes too long to respond to input from the accelerator. This is one of the more prevalent honda CVT transmission problems.

Reliability Issues

CVT transmissions often have reliability issues because of the system’s design. The system’s continuous movement increases the risk of wear and tear and makes CVT more susceptible to going bad than other transmission systems. That said, car manufacturers are working on designs that minimize these reliability issues.

Pros and Cons of CVT Transmission

Like with all automotive systems, CVT systems have pros and cons that you need to be aware of.

Pros

Here are the pros of a CVT system:

Fuel economy: Modern hybrid vehicles with hybrid powertrains exploit CVT because they guarantee fuel efficiency. Some regular gas models, midsized sedans with CVT systems, can offer up to a 38mpg rating, which means miles traveled for every gallon of gas.

It is easier to drive uphill: Driving vehicles with traditional transmission systems is often quite challenging because choosing the right gear ratio for the drive can be difficult. It is different from the CVT, which can find and execute the best ratio needed instantaneously.

Responsive acceleration: CVT systems offer responsive acceleration, given that they find and execute the right gear ratio for the drive, whether it is a highway passing or an off-the-line situation.

Better Driving Experience: CVT systems offer an improved driving experience. The ability to find the right ratio allows the car’s engine to deliver power effortlessly; without hard shifting. This way, your driving experience is greatly improved as there is a consistent performance across the car’s engine’s rev band.

Cons

Here are some cons associated with CVT systems.

Expensive: CVT systems are more costly than other transmission systems. Then the repair and replacement costs associated with CVT systems are much, which is a lot more pricey than its counterparts.

Not Suited For High-performance Situations: the engines in CVT systems are not built to manage increased horsepower.

FAQs

Q: How Long Do CVT Transmissions Last?

The longevity of a CVT transmission is largely dependent on the vehicle owner’s maintenance culture and the CVT system’s design. In any case, the average CVT system is known to last up to at least 100,000 miles. Some of the more recent CVT designs are known to last up to 300,000 miles.

Q: Why Are CVT Transmissions So Bad?

The same principle that makes the CVT transmission great also proves to be a weakness. CVT transmissions are prone to going bad because there are many movements of the components of the system.

This continuous movement increases the risk of wear and tear and makes CVT more susceptible to going bad than other transmission systems. That said, car manufacturers are working on designs that minimize  CVT transmission reliability issues.

Q: Do CVT Transmissions Have More Problems?

That is relative to the design and the maintenance of the vehicle owner. Older CVT systems had reliability and durability issues, so they do not last as long as the traditional transmission designs. However, some of the improved CVT designs last as long as their traditional counterparts once they are properly maintained.

 Q: How Much Does It Cost To Replace A CVT?

The cost of a CVT repair depends on the location, the repair shop, and the brand and model of the vehicle in question. However, the average cost for replacing CVT transmission is between $3,000 and $5,000.It might cost more in some cases.

Q: What Car Company Makes The Best CVT?

Not all CVT transmission systems are created equally. Some car manufacturers have mastered the art of making them, so they are way ahead of other brands in CVT manufacturing.

Although car brands like Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Toyota are all great at CVT production, Honda takes the cake. Honda vehicles with CVT systems have a reputation for being the most reliable with the most longevity.

Q: How Often Should You Service A CVT Transmission?

It is recommended that you service your CVT transmission after extended use. It would be best if you did this after you have covered about 30,000 miles with the vehicle.

Q: Can A CVT Transmission Be Repaired?

Yes, you can repair CVT transmissions that have gone bad. Here are some options for a CVT transmission repair:

  • In-House CVT Transmission Rebuild
  • Dealer CVT Transmission
  • Remanufactured CVT Transmission
  • Used CVT Transmission

Final Words

CVT transmission offers a range of benefits to vehicle owners that use them. If you opt to own a car with a CVT transmission, you get to enjoy a better driving experience, improved fuel economy, and highly responsive acceleration. But you need to be aware of the CVT transmission problems that come with using such transmissions.

The article described some of the more common problems that plague CVT systems and provided answers to some frequently asked questions about CVT designs. Hopefully, at this point, you should be better informed about CVT problems in certain vehicles like the 2021 Toyota corolla CVT transmission problems.

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Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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