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Should I Own a Car with a Continuously Variable Transmission?

Brian England, Mon, Nov 19, 2012

CVT Electronically Controlled Valve BodyBelieve it or not, it was Leonardo da Vinci that conceptualized a stepless, continuously variable transmission (CVT) back in the 15th century.  Then, in the 1950’s it was a Dutch company that mass produced a car with a CVT. But what about now?  Should you buy a car with CVT?  Or perhaps you are asking — “Do I have a car with a  CVT?”  — Or maybe you’re even wondering, “What is a CVT?”

According to Wikipedia, a CVT is a transmission that can move steplessly through an infinite number of gear ratios within a range of maximum and minimum of values.  Conversely, other mechanical transmissions offer a fixed number of gear ratios. One of the reasons CVT’s are attractive to vehicle manufacturers is that they offer better fuel economy by allowing the engine to maximize  efficiencies across a range of speeds.

So… should you own a car with a CVT?

First of all, there is is no reason not to buy a car with a CVT, and you should not worry if you currently own a car with a CVT. The most important thing to remember is to properly maintain the CVT.

Many manufacturers produce cars with a CVT, but they fail to tell their customer how to look after the CVT. You can look through many manufacturers’ service recommendations and see that a transmission fluid change or service is not included. Some manufacturers even state that the fluid is a “lifetime” fluid.  Well they’ve got that right; when the fluid fails the transmission fails! The “lifetime” fluid lasts the life of the transmission which can be as little as 70,000 to 80,000 miles if it isn’t properly cared for.  Fortunately, this type of failure can easily be avoided.

The CVT is a precision piece of machinery with a complex electronic valve body.  Replacement can cost from $4,000 to $7,000, however if the fluid is changed every 40,000 to 50,000 miles the life of the CVT can be greatly extended. The transmission fluid used on a CVT is expensive and ranges from $15 to $30 a quart. The transmission’s capacity is 4 to 5 quarts. The labor to change the fluid can be from $70 to $110. If you add it all up, for between $120 to $260 you can prevent a major problem!  $260 sounds a lot better than $4000 to me.

Wondering what cars have a CVT? The list is rather long, and though I can’t vouch for its 100% accuracy, here is a link to a list of cars that have a CVT.

Think you might need to have your CVT serviced.  Give us a call at 410-381-2700 or click on the link below to schedule your appointment online.

Have any questions about the article? Reach out to the author!

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About Brian England


Brian England, the current president of BA Auto Care (formerly British American Auto Care) got his start with an auto apprenticeship in a small town in the northwest of London. He came to the U.S. in 1972 to work for a Land Rover dealer in Rockville, MD, and a few years later, started British American Auto Care with his wife, Jennifer. A big believer in preventive auto maintenance, Brian's philosophy is to encourage and educate drivers on the benefits of adhering to a regular maintenance plan.