CVT 101

Continuously variable transmissions, or CVT, have become quite widespread in recent years and can be found in many vehicles. Nissan is among the leaders in using CVT, but they can also be found in
  • Subaru (Impreza, Legacy, Forester),
  • Toyota (Corolla, RAV4),
  • Audi (A4, A5, A6),
  • Honda (Civic, CRV),
  • and some other makes & models.
Let's see how they differ and what issues they might have.
Driving CVT

So what does continuously variable transmission mean and how does it affect your driving?
The main difference from a regular automatic gearbox is that CVT does not have a fixed number of gears, also called gear ratios, but it has only the lowest and the highest gear ratios defined. It means that within those limits CVT can choose any gear ratio which is most suitable for driving conditions. This wide range of gears provides better performance and fuel efficiency.

Does it affect your driving? Not really, for a driver, it's still the same automatic gearbox. However, it runs smoother than traditional automatic transmission. Those who are used to tracking the engine speed (RPM) on the dashboard might find it quite unusual though to see it almost unchanging making it impossible to track shift changes. In the later CVT modifications, manufacturers added a feature that moves the tachometer arrow when shifts happen to let you visually track them, but it's just an electronic component, not an actual behaviour of the gearbox.
CVT issues

Due to their unique design, CVTs have their own issues, different from traditional automatic transmissions. Moreover, there are several generations of CVTs now, each with its own improvements and faults.

The older generations of Nissan CVTs most commonly had issues with sliding balls in the pulleys. Those balls wear out and start producing excessive metal debris harmful to the sensitive controlling unit of the transmission - valve body. The newer ones have balls interchanged with more reliable rollers but see damages to the redesigned solenoids controlling pressure and shifts of CVT. Those new design solenoids are extremely sensitive to any metal dust.

How can you spot an issue with your CVT? Usually, it will manifest as shuddering, slipping (the tachometer arrow will be jumping up and down without any changes of gas pedal position), or it will start making unusual noise and eventually stop moving.

CVTs are among the least predictable transmissions when it comes to identifying the exact damage during diagnostic. Road and computer tests will point to a row of potential issues that will be completely clear only after the unit is disassembled.

Whenever you start noticing issues with your CVT transmission, you can always book your service appointment with us on our service page to double-check.
December / 2020
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