What is a CVT and How Does it Work?

Continuously Variable Transmission

A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is a type of automatic transmission, although it is noticeably different than a conventional automatic you might be used to. The CVT does not need to rev at different speeds through changing gears like other transmissions to accelerate. Rather, it accelerates steadily and powerfully to save on fuel. Drivers accustomed to regular manual and automatic vehicles will notice a difference in the way a CVT sounds and feels, but that shouldn’t deter you. CVTs have faster acceleration and better fuel economy despite their unfamiliar performance.

How Does it Work?

Also known as a single-speed transmission, the CVT uses pulleys instead of gears to improve power in acceleration, fuel economy, and the overall driving experience. A metal chain connects two pulleys, whose diameter varies to change the speed of rotations smoothly. A manual or automatic uses gears to adjust the transmission ratio in stages, felt and heard by the driver when shifting. These transmissions have different ratios to translate engine speed to road speed for maximum torque, horsepower, and fuel efficiency. A CVT does the same job more steadily, allowing the engine speed to vary to provide more immediate acceleration and better fuel efficiency at the same time. Operating at lower RPMs makes for a smoother ride and boosts fuel economy.

Should I Drive a CVT Vehicle?

At first glance, continuously variable transmissions may be unsettling due to their unfamiliar operation. But once drivers look past the different sound and feel, they will enjoy a comfortable and steady driving experience and even save money on gas along the way. Have you ever heard a failing or slipping transmission? Malfunctioning cars give off worrisome sounds. When you put your foot down in a CVT vehicle, its sound may sound similar to a malfunctioning traditional transmission, but really it is just something that takes a little getting used to. That is why some manufacturers program CVTs to follow the familiar shifting patterns of conventional ones. CVT vehicle drivers might miss the sound of a revving engine, but they do enjoy a comfortable ride and better gas mileage.

Written by Transmission Technicians

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