What You Need to Know About CVT Transmissions

Are you aware of the different types of transmissions? Besides just automatic and manual?

Do you know what a CVT transmission is and why it can be efficient if it’s installed on your vehicle? This article will discuss what a CVT transmission is and exactly how they work. 

Before we begin, it does no good to explain what a CVT transmission is if you don’t have the proper knowledge regarding transmissions in general. The following section explains how car transmissions work and the difference between the two main types. 

Understanding Transmissions

When you think about car transmissions, two types come to mind: automatic or manual. You probably know more people with an automatic transmission than a manual.

If you’ve done any research on this topic before, you probably already know that manual transmissions typically get better gas mileage. However, more manufacturers equip vehicles with automatics because of their convenience and ease of use. 

Let’s explore how exactly a car transmission 

How Does a Car Transmission Work

Before we get into all the details regarding your transmission, let’s start by explaining the basics. A typical automatic transmission uses clutches and gear sets to connect the engine to differentials, final drives, and wheels, depending on the type of vehicle. 

To change directions quickly and efficiently, vehicles need a series of shifting mechanisms called “gears” spaced out evenly along the shaft. The closer these gears are to each other, the faster the vehicle will go but also the less efficient it becomes due to slippage caused by heat buildup and wear-and-tear over time. 

On top of that, these gears take up space inside the housing. They also put extra strain on certain components, such as bearings, causing premature failures.

Most modern-day automatic transmissions utilize electrohydraulic control systems instead of cables and pulleys to accomplish shifting using hydraulics. By placing sensors everywhere throughout the system, computers calculate the correct amount of pressure needed to engage specific gears based on various factors, including speed, torque, RPMs, current temperature, etc. 

These hydraulic pumps create force via pistons moving back and forth within cylinders. When this happens, pressurized oil flows into another cylinder creating enough pressure to push against another piston and eventually engaging the desired gear completely.

This process repeats itself until the right gear engages and the clutch disengages, allowing power to flow to the driven wheel(s). Depending on whether the clutch remains engaged or not determines whether the vehicle moves forward or backward.

Now that we understand the basic concepts of how automatic transmissions work, what about manuals and CVTs? 

Manuals, Autos, and CVTs

Even though most cars today still ship with automatic transmissions, many manufacturers offer alternative drivetrain solutions. One of those is CVTs since they provide high performance. Let’s look at how a CVT transmission compares to regular auto transmission.

It’s important to note that technically, a CVT is considered a type of manual transmission. However, the two are completely different animals for all intents and purposes. 

Cost: While CVTs are typically more expensive than standard automatics, they tend to last longer and perform better overall. Why?

Because, unlike conventional transmissions that usually rely heavily on friction material, CVTs employ special rubber materials whose characteristics allow them to handle extreme conditions. CVTs and regular automatic transmissions require about the same amount of service. Depending on the manufacturer, both require regular flushing every certain amount of miles. 

Manual transmissions require less regular maintenance than both of them. 

Efficiency: As mentioned earlier, CVTs operate much smoother thanks to less slippage and improved lubrication. However, automatics and manuals beat out CVTs when it comes to horsepower and torque. 

CVTs can’t handle anything much higher than 250 horsepower; otherwise, the belt may snap or fly off. This is why high-performance vehicles typically don’t come equipped with CVTs. 

Power delivery: Another benefit of CVTs is that they deliver constant power regardless of rpm level just like electric motors. So whether you want to accelerate slowly or reach maximum speeds instantly, CVTs give you complete flexibility.

Manual vs. Autos: Since CVTs are halfway between auto shifts and full manual shifts, drivers who prefer manual transmissions might find themselves missing out on the benefits offered by CVTs. However, if you enjoy the feel of shifting yourself, CVTs are perfect for you since they feature similar shifters found on manual transmissions.

What Is a CVT Transmission?

The term “continuous” comes from CVTs having varying ratios spread across their entire range rather than having fixed steps like traditional automatic transmissions. With a CVT, the driver doesn’t need to stick to a specific ratio setting to achieve optimal acceleration and cruising speeds. 

Instead, CVTs adjust their output accordingly according to several factors, including road surface condition, throttle position, vehicle load, etc. In the following section, we’ll go into greater detail regarding the function of CVTs. 

How CVTs Work

 Now that we briefly discussed the inner workings of a CVT transmission let’s examine how the whole thing operates. 

First off, CVTs contain multiple input disks connected to crankshafts. Each disk contains grooves cut into it specifically designed for the purpose of guiding rollers. Just like sliding blocks inside a track, these rollers run along the groves achieving smooth transitions from one ratio to another. 

Once the proper ratio is achieved, the rotation continues uninterrupted, passing this roller assembly down to the output side containing endless chains made of cogs. Here, a belt connects the chain to the differential, which turns the axle attached to the rear wheels. Thus, the transfer of energy occurs directly through the CVT rather than going through a set of gears.

Since CVTs lack gears, they also eliminate wasted space required for clutches and additional springs. Due to fewer parts involved, CVTs are generally lighter weight, smaller in size, and more durable than ordinary automatic transmissions.

How Is a CVT Transmission Different

While the concept may sound simple, CVTs present numerous technical difficulties to overcome due to their unique design. As mentioned earlier, CVTs have varying ratios spread across their entire range. 

For example, a 2nd gear may vary anywhere from 0% – to 100%. This creates problems when trying to apply consistent braking forces to the ground. Imagine stopping a truck traveling at 50mph suddenly applying brakes after coming to a stop. Even if you were able to successfully bring the vehicle to a halt, it wouldn’t stay stopped long with this setup.

CVTs have incorporated advanced sensor technology known as traction controls to solve this problem. These sensors detect the rotational direction of the front wheels and immediately adjust the output accordingly. 

Some models include sensors that monitor lateral movement as well, keeping the vehicle stable on curves and corners. Other important functions include anti-skid brake assist and electronic stability control. All of these features help prevent accidents or injuries while improving safety.

Another challenge associated with CVTs is overheating, particularly when equipped with older engines or working hard on steep hills. Heat builds up rapidly because CVTs lack cooling fans. 

To avoid possible issues, experts recommend remaining vigilant regarding certain negative conditions. Additionally, monitor the amount of transmission fluid in the vehicle, since this is what CVTs rely on to keep them cool. 

Pros and Cons of a CVT Transmission

This section will examine the advantages and disadvantages of CVT transmissions.

Pros:

High efficiency, great power delivery, lightweight, small in size, and cheaper to manufacture than other alternatives

Cons:

Can be difficult to install, requires specialized knowledge, takes longer to learn, and may increase repair bills due to complicated designs

With all this said, CVTs are not for everyone. Many drivers simply aren’t interested in learning how things work underneath their hoods. Others may fear potential repairs or upkeep related to broken parts.

CVTs also suffer from poor reliability issues mainly attributed to improper installation, incorrect replacement of seals, and worn-out belts. However, the belt will normally slip, requiring a replacement before more vital, higher-priced components malfunction.

Are CVT transmissions worth it? Well, it depends on what platform you’re speaking from. If you’re more of a traditional car person, you probably won’t benefit much from a CVT.

However, if you’re more into compact cars and more fuel-efficient models, then a CVT would benefit you much better. Remember, you can only get up to about 250 horsepower before you compromise the operation of the belt and entire unit.

To put things in perspective, these are some of the most common vehicles with CVT transmissions installed:

Kia Carens
Kia Forte
Kia K5
Kia Picanto
Kia Seltos
Kia Sonet
Kia Soul
Honda Airwave
Honda Amaze
Honda Avancier (crossover)
Honda BR-V
Honda Brio
Honda Capa
Honda City
Honda Civic
This is just a fraction of the vehicles with these types of transmissions, but you get the idea. In the end, it’s difficult to decide which transmission is “better” since it’s a matter of personal preference.

Any time you have the same types of parts but different designs, you’re always going to sacrifice certain benefits for gaining others.

There is one significant point to keep in mind regarding CVTs. When these are the transmissions installed on a vehicle, additional safety features are typically present in these models.

While CVTs may not equal performance, they do equal higher levels of safety, which is just as important.

CVTs FAQs

Are CVTs made for high performance?

Actually, no. CVTs are designed for power performance. More specifically, these transmissions are made for more fuel-efficient, compact vehicles. As a vehicle with a CVT approaches 250 HP, it’s possible to compromise the belt. Just to be safe, if you have a CVT installed, try to remain around 200 HP if you can help it.

Are CVTs manual transmissions?

No. CVTs kind of fall between annual and automatic transmissions. They are a form of automatic transmissions because they shift on their own. However, some of their internal design elements work similarly to a manual transmission.

Is it true that CVTs require less maintenance than other transmissions?

Technically, no. Automatic transmissions and CVTs normally require the same amount of maintenance. This maintenance isn’t anything too demanding and consists of having the fluid flushed and replaced every 50,000-75,000 miles. When it comes to manual transmissions, these require less maintenance than both automatics and CVTs.

Do CVTs overheat a lot?

CVTs do have several reports of frequent overheating. This is most likely because of a combination of several factors. Number one, a high amount of horsepower or torque can cause overheating. Second, if you’re driving long distances and it’s an extremely hot day, the transmission may overheat. This is because there’s no fan installed on the component, and it relies solely on fluid for cooling. Because of this, it’s important that you always check the transmission fluid and top it off before every long trip.

Which transmission is the best? CVT, automatic, or manual?

There really is no definitive answer as to which transmission is the “best.” It’s a matter of personal preference and what driving elements are important to you when you’re on the road. Each transmission has its own set of advantages and drawbacks that cater to specific demographics. While we can’t give an answer for which transmission is the best, we can tell you what situations and types of drivers each transmission would be best for.

CVT

CVTs are most likely best suited for individuals who drive compact cars that are more efficient on gas. If you’re easy on your vehicle, prefer something with low horsepower but great on gas, CVTs are built for you. Additionally, individuals driving with a kid(s)could be more suited for CVTs as well. Because of how these transmissions are built, cars fitted with them often have additional safety features when it comes to driving and turning.

Automatic

Automatics are for the average car owner. If you have a four-door, an SUV, or a standard vehicle, the automatic should suit you just fine. While these

Manual

If you like a little more speed and find yourself pushing it to the limit on the road, you might want a manual. These transmissions can take more of a beating and don’t require as much maintenance.

Resources

https://www.edmunds.com/car-technology/cvt-enters-the-mainstream.html

https://www.findthebestcarprice.com/cvt-transmission/

Written by Strut Daddy's

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