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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.

24 responses to “Should I Own a Car with a Continuously Variable Transmission?”

  1. Simon jr says:

    What do you think could have happened to a brand new CVT transmission with only 20,000 miles on it

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      Hi Simon, I don’t think anything is going to happen as long as the fluid is kept in good condition. It’s condition and level should be checked at the service intervals. Use a service facility that has skilled technicians stay clear of quick lube places. Brian

  2. Chantel says:

    Hi, I’m thinking about purchasing a used 2011 Jeep. The car has 84k miles on it and the maintenance records are currently unknown. Is it risky to buy a car with a CVT if I can’t be sure how well it was maintained? Also the car is jerking hard when I accelerate. Could that be related to an unkept CVT? Thank you.

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      Hi Chantel, I would strongly recommend a pre purchase inspection with special attention on the jerking issue. It’s worth having a skilled technician spend 1-2 hours of time checking over the whole vehicle. Brian

  3. sb says:

    Hey Brian,

    I’m looking to get a 2011 Nissan Juke that has 95Km on it – any recommendations of things I should look out for?

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      1st give a good test drive and test of the controls, AC, Radio etc. 2nd Check the maintenance record, did it have all the recommended service or just a quick lube now and again! If these are ok then have a skilled technician give it a good look over. Allow 1 to 1/2 hours labor.
      Hope everything works out. Brian

  4. Clay Newton says:

    Why does a Nissan versa use a lot gas

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      Hi Clay, Do you me in general or are you experiencing a drop in mpg? Brian

  5. Hi, thank you for such a brilliant post. I have been reading some blogs that gives me more knowledge about this topic car repair education with a continuously variable transmission. I must say this is one of the best among them. You have done a great research for I feel, thanks for sharing.Do visit this Belairmitsi.co.nz For vital information that can be used again by anyone.

  6. Jean says:

    how would you go about inquiring about such low milage for a 2007 dodge caliber SXT 64,334? 3 owners?

  7. Sunpreet says:

    I’m looking to busy 2017 sentra SR turbo with 36,000 km on it should i go for it or i avoid it because of all that cvt transmission issues?

  8. Alec says:

    I have a 2017 Nissan Altima that I just bought with 80,000 miles on it. I had no idea what a CVT was until this car. There is no signs of failure or problems I’m just worried I made the wrong choice. It came with car facts but not sure if the fluid has been properly changed. Also would a CVT cooler help at all with the life span? I have also heard the lifespan is less then 100,000 miles on average. Why is that? Should I worry about my transmission failing?

  9. I bought a 2015 Nissan Murano Platinum that I absolutely loved. After 1 day of driving I got an AWD error after being parked. It went into the shop. They fixed something in the internal transmission, so they also flushed and put all new fluid in. Picked up the car 1 Day later same error. This time the shop said it was a tire speed sensor. I have 10 more days to return for full refund. Should I or will it be ok now if I get transmission flushes?

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      Hi Paulette, Seems like the shop is going through the right process, often you have to do some basic maintenance first. Dialogistic work up is a step by step process. Sounds like having the sensor replaced will be the end of the process. Brian

  10. Brezzy says:

    Do not buy a car with a cvt trans. I had a 2011 Nissan Maxima with 193,000 miles and it went out.I would say I got my money out of the car, however I wanted to replace it and the price was 3,800 for a used one(not including removal,install, and service). Did I mentioned a USED one! But if you can afford this price go right ahead. I will never purchase another car with this trans.

  11. This article provides details about the car repair education and info bid. I enjoyed reading this article and would suggest others it as well. Thank you for this article! This is really very informative for us and look forward to more such in future for all of us. Do check out this Belairmitsi.co.nz, it has some great and nice ideas to look for.

  12. Aaryan Ghimire says:

    Hey Brian, roughly how many more miles can I expect to get if I do continue doing transmission fluid changes?? – i’m looking to buy a 2008 audi a5 with a 3.2L V6 that has the CVT transmission.

  13. Sandy says:

    Hi Brian, Allow me to say how grateful I am of your information, as a female I’m always anxious to learn. I have a 2007 Nissan Maxima, with 148,000 Klms, I just LOVE my car, yet it’s a recent purchase, so I have no service records. At this time I am not having CVT problems and am wondering if to be safe would you suggest fluid change, and is there anything else to charge?
    Thank you from Canada.

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      Hi Sandy, I think it would be a good idea to have a transmission fluid change and the old fluid inspected. If everything is good, that is the fluid is clean and no sign of metal then this will put your mind at rest. Take care Brian

  14. Devin Graham says:

    Hello Brain! I recently bought a 2008 Altima Coupe and I’m still financing it. It has 135k miles and seems to be lagging a bit with it’s accel aswell as I’ll hear a minor scrape every once in a while. When I bought the car it came on 20in rims that I still haven’t changed out for smaller ones. Could the tires contribute to my problem? Thankfully I haven’t felt any jerking or sputtering in-between gears (I also drive it in the manual drive option cause it accels way slower in auto). I don’t have any mechanical history on this car other than the oil change sticker I spotted on the windshield. I’m currently looking into getting the fluid done and the oil. Do you think the 2008 Altima Coupe could be reliable if maintained well??

    • Avatar photo Brian England says:

      Hi Devin,, I don’t think the wheels would contribute to the problem but it would not be a bad place to start. If this car has been well looked after it should respond well to keeping up with the “preventative maintenance”. I would strongly suggest having a diagnostic check performed to look into the lack of performance. The ELAD diagnostic form on our BA Auto Care website is a good place to start gathering information on the lack of performance. Use the NVH form for the noise. These completed forms will help the technician zero in on the problems.

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.