Car enthusiasts have always been eager to know all about CVT transmission life expectancy and how reliable they are despite being a relatively new technology. And that is the aim of writing this educative article. Continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a recent technological advancement in automobiles.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) system was first invented by Daimler-Benz back in 1886. This technology was also first employed in a sawmill machine by Milton Reeves not too long thereafter. Since its first commercial use, it has been found in motorcycles and automobiles. Recent reports show that continuous variable transmission (CVT) systems have gained popularity even amongst ATVs and snowmobiles!
This article will cover different sub-topics regarding Continuously Variable Transmission systems (CVT) and, of course, the big fish; CVT transmission life expectancy. To better understand how a CVT works and the CVT life expectancy, let’s fully explain what a CVT is all about. Stick with us.
So what is a CVT?
- CVT Transmission Explained
- CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
- Common CVT Transmission Problems
- CVT Transmission Replacement Cost
- Pros And Cons Of CVT Transmission
- Wrapping Up
A continuous variable transmission, otherwise known as CVT for short, is a transmission system that continuously changes gear ratios as you drive. It is an automatic transmission that varies gear ratios based on vehicle speed, engine rpm, and load.
A continuously variable transmission isn’t limited to a certain number of gears, as is observed in manual and automatic transmissions. It is fitted with an undisclosed (almost infinite) number of gears as preprogrammed by the engine control unit (ECU). A CVT system is built to allow the car’s engine to perform at optimum power in varying conditions.
A Continuously Variable Transmission is related to automatic transmission because it doesn’t employ clutches and gear changes are automatically performed as you drive. The CVT maintains a seamless upshift.
A CVT system delivers a very smooth gear shift experience such that the driver does not notice any gear upshift. The engine runs smoothly without an increase in tempo, yet the vehicle continues to accelerate.
The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) system has undergone about 3 unique designs in development and has been used in recent automobiles. These designs come with varying CVT life expectancies.
- 1st design (Variable Diameter Pulleys)
- 2nd design (Toroidal Continuously Variable Transmission)
- 3rd design (Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission)
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Design #1: Variable Diameter Pulleys
These are the earliest continuously variable transmission (CVT) models commonly used in older 1st generation CVT cars. They comprise alternating diameter pulleys connected by a steel or mesh belt. The “driver pulley” diameter is alternated and transmits torque from the engine to the “driven pulley,” which transfers torque to the wheels. In doing this, the gear ratio is changed seamlessly and continuously, hence the name continuously variable.
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Design #2: Toroidal Continuously Variable Transmission
This design was brought to the limelight by Nissan. This design comprises two opposite discs: the driving and the driven discs. The driving disc is connected to the car’s engine, while the driver is connected to the transmission and wheels.
Two rollers engage the two discs in a vertical position, towards the center of the driving disc and the drive disc’s edge during a low gear or starting point. This arrangement accounts for a high amount of torque and low engine speed.
The arrangement goes in the opposite direction in high gear or when the car is speeding up. The rollers are connected towards the edge of the driving disc and towards the center of the driven disc. This arrangement results in high speed and low torque.
With the movement of the connected rollers along the driving and driven discs, an infinite number of gear ratios is possible.
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Design #3: Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission
Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) is more advanced than CVT designs. This design is arguably the best amongst its peers because it observes the driver’s behavior and acts accordingly to provide the perfect blend of engine performance and fuel economy.
It uses electronic sensors and microcomputer chips to achieve this feat. Cars fitted with ECVT usually have faster acceleration from the start than manual or automatic transmission systems.
Electronic CVT transmission life expectancy is usually rated at the same as other designs, at around 100,000 miles. However, this figure varies from person to person and depends on how carefully the driver drives the CVT vehicle. For some reason, CVT life expectancy for some drivers has been capped at 300,000 miles. Hence, how long your continuously variable transmission lasts depends on the durability of the CVT and, of course, driver handling.
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy Of Popular Auto Brands
As always, there is stiff competition between brands that offer CVT designs. We will look into these brands as well as the CVT transmission life expectancy of each of them. We will be comparing the following popular brands.
- Nissan CVT transmission
- Honda CVT transmission
- Subaru CVT transmission
- Toyota CVT transmission
Nissan CVT Transmission
Nissan is among the first car manufacturers to integrate a continuously variable transmission into their cars. Nissan’s CVT technology mostly uses the variable diameter pulley design. Their first major CVT-enabled car was rolled out in 2003. And since then, Nissan has been a major force to reckon with in the CVT market.
Examples of Nissan continuously variable transmission cars include:
- Nissan Altima
- Nissan Kicks
- Nissan Maxima
- Nissan NV200
- Nissan Pathfinder
- Nissan Rogue and Rogue Sport
- Nissan Sentra
- Nissan Versa
Nissan CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
Nissan was the first manufacturer to roll out popular CVT-enabled cars properly. Due to the early developmental stages that CVT was undergoing then, Nissan faced a couple of problems that followed their first commercial CVT sales. Due to a faulty CVT, drivers faced challenges like stalling, jerking, or slipping.
Many lawsuits were filed against the vehicle manufacturer because of the accident risks involved with faulty Nissan CVTs. These lawsuits have been mostly resolved, and the company has provided an extended warranty period of about 120,000 miles on all their CVT models.
Another problem that Nissan is still unable to resolve is CVT overheating. Nissan CVT transmission systems are known to overheat when engine load becomes extended.
The company has engineered its CVT to reduce speed and acceleration while overheating, to avoid damage to engine components. That is a red flag for speedy customers. Nissan’s continuously variable transmissions are presently described as durable, having almost the same CVT transmission life expectancy as other models.
Honda CVT Transmission
Honda has become quite a household name when it comes to CVT transmissions. Their CVTs, boast excellent fuel economy coupled with excellent engine performance and are famed for presenting a sporty ride sensation to their lovers.
The Honda CVT transmission is durable and reliable. Compared to Nissan CVTs, which have received a lot of backlash from consumers, Honda CVT transmissions have received accolades from users. The manufacturing company has spent millions of dollars on research to improve the durability of its CVT transmission systems. Their efforts are evident, with results to prove their excellence.
Honda vehicle models that are equipped with continuously variable transmission systems include
- Honda Civic
- Honda Insight
- Honda Clarity
- Honda CR-V
- Honda Accord
- Honda HR-V
- Honda Fit (in the meantime, make sure you research which is the best year for Honda Fit)
Honda CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
CVT failures have plagued the world of CVT transmission systems over the years. Does it mean that Honda’s excellence in CVT transmission has no flaws? Of course not! Honda CVT transmissions experience conventional CVT problems. A Honda CVT transmission should last for at least 100,000 miles. Over time, the pulley belts wear out and reduce performance with CVT transmission life expectancy.
Also, the cost of repairing a Honda CVT transmission is quite expensive. A sign that your Honda’s CVT transmission has developed a fault would include hearing a loud noise from your CVT system. Vibrations can also be present when your Honda CVT transmission goes bad. Poor acceleration comes as a result of a failing Honda CVT transmission.
Overall, Honda CVT transmission systems are quite reliable and famed for durability. Hence you will expect that Honda’s CVT transmission life expectancy is GREAT.
Subaru CVT Transmission
Subaru is one of the few manufacturers focusing mostly on CVT transmissions. They have continued to release several car models that are CVT enabled for several decades now. Subaru has stuck with CVT transmission systems for a couple of reasons. Most Subaru models feature an all-wheel drive drivetrain and a boxer engine design.
The CVT transmission enables Subaru engines to operate efficiently and transmit precise power to all wheels.
As previously noted, CVT transmissions enable seamless acceleration and improve engine performance. This manufacturer has decided to tap into these benefits found in continuously variable transmission systems.
Subaru vehicles equipped with CVT include:
- Subaru Outback
- Subaru Legacy
- Subaru Impreza
- Almost all vehicle lineups from 2014 upwards are fitted with CVT transmission systems.
Subaru CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
Many users have trashed Subaru CVT systems as being highly unreliable. The good news is that it isn’t as bad as the infamous Nissan CVTs. The company has resorted to investing huge sums in research to make its CVT systems top-notch. It is, however, observed that they are yet to arrive and cannot be compared to Honda CVT systems.
Like all other continuously variable transmission systems, Subaru CVTs experience problems like vibration, jerking, stalling, and slow acceleration. That is due to wear and tear on the CVT. Like other CVT cars, the CVT transmission life expectancy of Subaru vehicles is placed in the 100,000-mile range.
Toyota CVT Transmission
Toyota CVT models are known to be reliable and have excellent fuel economy. They are famous for developing electronic CVT designs. The Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission, often known as ECVT, is a more sophisticated form of CVT than the ones stated earlier. This system is fundamentally the best among many that are similar to it.
Toyota’s Electronic CVT monitors the driver’s actions and responds appropriately to give the optimal balance of engine performance and fuel efficiency. It does this by utilizing many electrical sensors and microcomputer chips in its operation. The acceleration of cars equipped with continuously variable transmissions (ECVT) is often superior to that of cars equipped with manual or automatic transmissions.
Some Toyota models fitted with continuously variable transmission include:
- Toyota Yaris (2020-present)
- Toyota Corolla (2018 – present)
- Toyota Camry (2019- present)
- Toyota Avalon (2019- present)
- Most Toyota models come equipped with CVTs.
Toyota CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
Toyota CVT transmissions have reliability issues. As the pulley belts in a CVT inevitably wear out, the transmission’s efficiency and effectiveness decline along with its lifespan.
Furthermore, fixing a Toyota CVT transmission is not cheap. Noises from the CVT system indicate that something is wrong with your Toyota’s transmission. In addition to noise, vibrations may be present when the CVT transmission in your Toyota breaks down. An inefficient Toyota CVT transmission is to blame for the car’s slow acceleration.
Toyota CVT transmission systems are well-known for their dependability and longevity. Thus, you can anticipate a long CVT life expectancy from a Toyota CVT. It is usually rated at around 120,000 miles for its CVT transmission life expectancy.
CVT Transmission Problems
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Common Problems #1: Overheating
The presence of pulleys and belts in continuously variable transmission systems amounts to friction between moving parts. This friction will generally produce heat, leading to overheating. Overheating can occur when the vehicle’s cooling system goes bad.
A burnt smell is usually observed whenever your CVT transmission overheats. Some manufacturers have engineered their CVT transmission systems to reduce speed and acceleration whenever overheating is detected to avoid damage to engine components.
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Common Problems #2: Bad Transmission Fluid
Wear and tear can cause the transmission fluid to leak or go bad. When leaking occurs, the efficiency of the CVT transmission goes down drastically and will require proper maintenance. Regularly servicing your CVT transmission fluid can help prevent this problem.
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Common Problems #3: Slow Acceleration
When the CVT transmission system overheats, it becomes harder to accelerate while pressing the accelerator pedals. Most CVT transmissions are engineered to slow down acceleration and speed when overheating is detected to prevent engine damage. Slow acceleration is a common sign that shows a bad CVT transmission.
CVT Transmission Life Expectancy, Common Problems #4: Jerking Transmission
Most drivers have complained of jerking while driving. That is one of the most common complaints since the innovation of the CVT transmission. CVT transmission jerking is also commonly associated with total CVT transmission failure.
How reliable are CVT cars? What is the average CVT transmission life expectancy?
Considering that continuously variable transmission systems are relatively new and still under development, CVT cars aren’t as reliable as manual and automatic gear transmissions. They are still undergoing a developmental stage, with new designs and innovations being rolled out occasionally.
However, most modern CVT transmission cars do have a reliable CVT transmission. Toyota’s Prius CVT car has been reported to last about 300,000 miles. That goes a long way to prove that CVT reliability depends on how durable the manufacturer built it and driver handling.
The average CVT transmission life expectancy for cars is about 100,000 to 120,000 miles. Your CVT transmission will last longer if you drive carefully and periodically maintain your CVT system.
CVT Transmission Replacement Cost
Replacing a bad CVT transmission will cost you a bunch of money. You could spend about $3,000 to $7,500 based on the car model, location, and brand. And a replacement may fail about six times before it reaches 100,000 miles. After several repairs, the CVT might fail, requiring another complete replacement.
Replacing a CVT transmission is costly because its parts are considered very expensive.
CVT Transmission Pros And Cons
As expected, the continuously variable transmission system has a lot of benefits and some disadvantages as well. Let’s deal with them one after the other.
1. Fuel Economy
The CVT transmission is widely renowned for its excellent fuel economy. Compared to automatic transmission cars, CVT transmission cars return excellent miles per gallon (mpg) rates.
2. Light Weight
CVT transmission systems are made with lightweight components. Hence, they are lighter than conventional gearboxes. This feature aids in acceleration, and better speeds are attained. They are used in sports cars to increase the vehicle’s top speed and acceleration. Formula 1 banned using CVT F1 cars because they believed “it gives an unfair advantage” to bigger race teams (you can learn more in our write-up on Indy Car vs Formula 1).
3. Smaller Size
CVT transmission system is smaller than conventional gearbox systems (manual and automatic transmissions). Its smaller form factor makes building smaller and better aerodynamic cars a breeze.
4. Smooth Acceleration
The CVT transmission ensures smooth acceleration due to the lack of gears. The moving pulleys aid seamless accelerations, constantly changing the gear ratio depending on the engine rpm, speed, and environment.
The CVT transmission is not without its disadvantages. Some of which include:
1. Uneasy Driving Experience
Most drivers are mostly used to the conventional increase in engine rpm as speed increases. With a CVT transmission, the speed increases while the engine maintains the same rpm and revs. Most drivers are not used to this modus operandi, and it may take a while to get comfortable with this pattern.
2. Overall CVT Replacement Cost
Compared to automatic and manual gearboxes, the cost of replacing a damaged CVT transmission is rather expensive. Most consumers may find it hard, as it costs around $7,000 for a replacement. A manual or automatic transmission replacement can cost about $1,500 to $5,000.
3. Shorter Life Expectancy
CVT transmissions have a shorter life expectancy than traditional gearboxes. An average CVT transmission life expectancy is around 100,000 to 120,000 miles. Its building components also easily wear out and require a replacement.
4. Hard To Maintain
Servicing a continuously variable transmission is an uphill task that an average driver cannot do. It requires the services of an experienced mechanic. That is because its intricate system does not have a simple layout. Procuring the services of a good mechanic for servicing throws more bills on the table.
Best CVT Transmission
Continuously variable transmission users argue about which car manufacturer or model possesses the best CVT transmission and the car with the highest CVT transmission life expectancy. It is safe to say that all car manufacturers with CVT models have their ups and downs. However, some models have the best CVT transmission with high reliability and life expectancy.
Toyota and Honda models are the most popular when talking about cars with the best CVT transmission. That is because of their proven CVT transmission resilience. For instance, the Honda CRV is reviewed as having very silky smooth gear ratio changes, so smooth that the driver rarely notices them. The Toyota Yaris also shares the same accolade with the Honda giant.
We believe that CVT life expectancy depends highly on durability and driver handling. Hence, if a rough driver handles a durable CVT car, its CVT transmission life expectancy reduces drastically.
Wrapping Up On CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
The CVT transmission is a relatively new technology that offers various advantages over conventional gear systems. It improves engine performance, ensures seamless acceleration, and boasts excellent fuel economy. It does, however, come with its cons of being a new technology.
CVT transmissions use belts and pulleys to continuously change gear ratios according to engine load, rpm, and environmental conditions. A lot of vehicle manufacturers have employed CVT transmission systems. Based on our research, companies like Toyota and Honda stand out in manufacturing durable and reliable CVT transmissions.
However, most car makers cap their CVT transmission life expectancy at 100,000 miles on average. As previously stated, how long your CVT transmission lasts depends on how careful you are when driving.
FAQs On CVT Transmission Life Expectancy
What Is A CVT Transmission
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a gearless transmission system that uses pulleys and belts to continuously vary gear ratios as you drive. CVT transmissions achieve seamless acceleration and enable the engine to work at its optimal rate.
How Long Do CVT Transmissions Last
A typical CVT transmission is projected to last for about 100,000 miles. However, some CVT models have been reported to last longer. That proves that CVT transmission life expectancy is highly dependent on driver handling.
How Does A CVT Transmission Work
Continuously Variable transmissions change gear ratios seamlessly and continuously. Steel or mesh belts connect alternating pulleys. At the same time, the driver’s pulley alternates in diameter to transmit engine torque to the driven pulley, which transfers torque to the wheels.
Are CVT Transmissions Bad
No. The CVT transmission has numerous advantages, like excellent fuel economy and seamless acceleration. As a matter of fact, most consumers now prefer CVT transmission cars to conventional gearboxes.
Are CVT Transmissions Reliable
Yes. Manufacturers like Toyota and Honda now make reliable CVT cars. However, CVT transmission life expectancy highly depends on driver handling.
What Cars Have A CVT Transmission
The Honda Insight, Civic, Toyota Corolla (2019), Subaru Legacy (2013), and most cars from 2019 and above have a CVT transmission.
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Great article. Totally agree with what I read elsewhere. I currently own a 2013 Subuaru Legacy 3.6 H6 which came with a traditional 5 speed transmission. I did this to avoid the CVT concerned about its reliability as I keep my cars a very long time. Now 9.5 years old in early 2013, it has 130,000 miles and no transmission problems or engine problems. It has had other issues relatively minor related to just maintenance (replaced most of the suspension on the bad roads in Connecticut at 120,000). Otherwise a good car. Probably won’t buy another Subaru because of the CVT as replacing the transmission within 6 years and 100,000 miles is not something I want to do. Probably will go with the gas RAV4 which still for now has an 8 speed traditional automatic.