What is a CVT Transmission? Should I Get a CVT?

If you’ve been shopping for a used car or SUV, you might have noticed that more and more vehicles are being built with something called a CVT. What is a CVT and should you buy a vehicle that has a CVT transmission? 

Major World gives you straight answers about the Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT and a list of pros and cons so you can make a smart used car buying decision. 

Continuously Variable Transmission (or CVT) cutaway.

What is a Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT?

The Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT is an alternative type of transmission to the conventional automatic, dual-clutch (DCT), and manual transmissions we’re all used to. Most CVTs use a system of pulleys and chains rather than the intermeshing gears you find on all other transmission types. The idea is to allow the car’s engine to rev to the RPM needed based on driver input, rather than RPM being dictated by the the speed of the vehicle and what gear it’s in at the time. 

In simple language, the CVT is a different type of transmission designed to give you better fuel economy and a smoother drive, since there’s no changing of gears happening. 

What’s a CVT?

  • A CVT is a newer type of transmission designed to give better gas mileage.
  • CVTs are different in that they use pulleys and chains instead of gears. 
  • CVTs are most often found in hybrids or smaller cars. 

Are CVT Transmissions Good? Should I get a Car with CVT?

The answer to this question depends on how you drive, what kind of performance and feedback you expect from your used car or SUV, and what your priorities are. CVTs have some good qualities in that they improve fuel economy because they let the car’s engine operate at optimal RPM all the time, regardless of what speed you’re driving at. Some people don’t like CVTs because many of them behave differently than the automatic transmissions and DCTs they are used to.

How do I know if a vehicle has a CVT or not?

  • Just ask your friendly Major World salesperson.
  • Check the vehicle’s window sticker or look on the back. 
  • Subaru’s CVT is called Lineartronic. 
  • Nissan’s CVT is called Xtronic

What’s It Like To Drive a Used Car with a CVT?

The engine RPMs in a used car with a CVT can run independently of the speed of the car. When you step on the gas in a used SUV with an automatic transmission, the RPMs climb in sync with your speed as it goes up. The speedometer needle may pause or dip as your automatic transmission swaps gears, but for the most part, the RPM needle and the speedometer needle move together. 

In a car with a CVT, the transmission doesn’t have gears to jump into. Instead, it uses a system of pulleys with a chain that can move. When you step on the gas pedal, the RPMs will go up, but they will usually reach a set RPM and stay there as your speedometer continues to go up. This can be disorienting to some people, giving them something like the sense of driving a manual with a slipping clutch. But this is completely normal in a CVT and doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

Automatic vs CVT:  What You Should Know

If the description above sounds a little weird to you, we have good news. Most auto manufacturers have recognized that some consumers were confused by the different behavior of a CVT compared to a regular automatic. In response, many of them, like Subaru, have redesigned their CVTs to incorporate “simulated shift points”. Their CVTs will hit preset RPM plateaus to produce behaviors that are more in line with what people expect from a conventional automatic transmission. 

If you drive one of the newer used cars with a CVT, such as a Subaru Outback or Toyota Sienna, you will most likely not notice any difference at all in the way they drive compared to a “regular” automatic transmission. In fact, many people find CVT-equipped vehicles feel a little peppier moving off from a stop than a regular automatic. 

Some automakers, like Subaru, have even added a “sport shifting” function to their CVTs that allows the driver to manually select “gears” for a sportier driving experience. These advances have made CVTs more or less a non-issue for most consumers. But, it’s still good to be informed about them so you can choose the best used car or used SUV for yourself. 

What to know about vehicles with CVT:

  • Most vehicles with CVTs now drive and feel much like a regular automatic.
  • A CVT usually bumps your fuel economy up by 2-3 miles per gallon or more. 
  • Many CVTs also offer a “sport shift” mode or even paddle shifters on the wheel. 

Should I Buy A Used Car with a CVT? 

The million-dollar question. Is a CVT right for you? In our opinion, CVTs are a good fit for most regular drivers. They deliver better fuel economy, with few trade-offs that the average driver is likely to ever notice. A lot of people find them smoother than a regular automatic or DCT (dual-clutch) type transmission. 

People who are very performance-oriented drivers or plan to chiptune or modify their car’s performance will probably be happier with a conventional automatic, DCT (dual-clutch transmission), or a manual transmission. People who tow more than 1000 lbs with any regularity should stick to automatic transmission vehicles with a built-in transmission cooler

Consider buying a vehicle with a CVT if:

  • Gas mileage is an important deciding factor in your used car choice. 
  • You’re an average, normal driver, not an Autobahn-bred speed demon.  
  • You very rarely or never tow anything with your vehicle.

Avoid buying a vehicle with a CVT if:

  • You plan on towing a trailer, camper, or boat regularly.
  • You are a performance-oriented or aggressive driver.
  • You care more about performance than gas mileage. 

Major World For Major Value in Used Cars

Your next car or SUV is at Major World. With one of the best low-mileage used car selections in Long Island, you’re bound to find something you like on our lot. Check out our outstanding inventory via our online search portal. We offer a famously easy, no-nonsense financing process that you can start online before you even get here (it won’t impact your credit either!). 

Don’t settle for less than the very best used car dealership in Long Island. You deserve the Major World standard of customer care. Give us a call now at (866) 614-2884.

Share This Post, Choose Your Platform!

Related Posts