CVT Transmissions

I’m considering a new/newer ('11 - '13) mid-size sedan like an Accord, Altima, Camry, or Sonata, and am noticing that many now offer a CVT transmission as either an option or as the main offering. I’ve read a lot of negative comments regarding the long term reliability of CVT’s, with replacement being more likely than repair. What is your opinion of CVT’s? Is any one manufacturer more likely to have a more durable/reliable CVT vs another?


Its not something I would buy and certainly not without a warranty. One of the criticisms was you step on the gas and takes forever to gain speed. They work fine on MoPeds and snowmobiles but not sure about cars. Just my opinion.

The towing part of it also concerns me. I have no problems with towing with an Accord or any of the vehicles you stated as they have proven themselves year over year, and I even have a friend that tows with a Juke that has CVT. But I don’t like to be the guinea pig for much.

So I am wait and see also (if the situation allows me to choose either). If it doesn’t, tell us how you fared in 3-5 years. I will buy then.

One of the most reliable cars ever made over many years is a Honda Accord. One of the reasons they are perennial favorites and the staple of the Honda Motor company is their reliability. If they choose a CVT, it’s reliable. Buy from a car maker with reputation or building reliable cars and you are more likely to,get reliable transmissions, CVT or not… The auto world is filled with cars that had unreliable transmission. Many were traditional gear transmissions. Mopeds and snowmobile CVTs were like car CVTs in theory only. Rubber belts aren’t the same as steel ones. If executed well, theoretically with many fewer moving parts, a CVT has the potential to be more reliable. But, as gears tend to be stronger then belts, I would not recommend one for towing. When they put them as standard fair in trucks, I could change my mind.

The regular automatic gear transmission had it’s share of teething problems too and is still has reliability problems in some vehicles and some applications.

“Buy from a car maker with reputation or building reliable cars …”

Toyota is the Recall King and they have a reputation for reliability. Goo reliability, that is. Maybe the recalls aren’t counted.

It seems like it adds unnecessary complexity.

It adds mpg and has fewer moving parts. I thought that was good.

Well, it’s supposed to improve mpgs. While EPA mpgs look better the recent tests don’t back it up. Latest C and D have the Mazda CX-5 better than the Forester and the Mazda 6 better than the Accord. And both were faster to 60, too.

Have a friend with a new Sentra,gets about 40.5 mpg,not too bad for a non hybrid,they had another sentra cvt beforehand,so they must have thought it was alright,as far as conventional automatics go-I still remember the C-4s and turbo hydramatic 200s& 350s,so it takes awhile to get things right.
I’ve seen a lot of things blamed on the gearbox,when the biggest problem lies under the hood-Kevin

Mazda has more technology in the entire drive train geared to economy then just the transmission debate. Their " sky active" seems to produce results.

I prefer Mazda’s approach: no turbos (aside from the Mazdaspeed3), no CVTs, just thorough engineering and design.

Of the cars you mentioned, the Altima has had a CVT the longest, that I know of. So it’s got that track record going for it

@bscar2,do these things hold up pretty good ? and can you do anything too enhance the longetivity of these devices?-Kevin

decided to do a bit of digging on the Altima CVT.

The complaints seem to be with the programming Nissan has for the CVT in that it causes jerking and lugging/hesitation when accelerating.

Call ETE Reman in Milwaukee (they have a web site) to ask if they do or do not rebuild CVT transmissions. I don’t believe that they do as there seems to be no mention of CVT transmissions on their web site. I don’t care enough to call them as I have no intentions to buy a vehicle with a CVT transmission for now but if they give you an interesting answer, it would be good if you would post it here. I am sure that there are plenty of people who follow this site who would be interested in the answer. It might reveal much that is desirable to know about CVT transmissions.

Quote from Dagosa: “The regular automatic gear transmission had it’s share of teething problems too and is still has reliability problems in some vehicles and some applications.” Unquote

The first Hydramatic, a fully automatic transmission was introduced in the 1940 Oldsmobile if I recall correctly. There have been enough years gone by for others to copy and improve the concept or create other ways to do it but some, such as Honda or even GM, can still get it wrong. This may be due to that there is a constant turnover of engineers over the years and “Institutional Knowledge” is not always effectively passed along. A person would think that an engineering organization would have documentation to record past errors and pitfalls involving the design and testing of a complicated and expensive device such as an automatic transmission for a motor vehicle. Still they get it wrong now and then. Who can say how this is possible?

I think companies like Honda, GM etc. get in trouble because they’re trying to make these transmissions smaller, lighter, cheaper to produce etc.
“Institutional Knowledge” will only take you so far when you’re under competitive pressure.

“The first Hydramatic, a fully automatic transmission was introduced in the 1940 Oldsmobile if I recall correctly.”

I believe that you are correct.
What many people are no longer aware of is the reality that the early Hydramatics (up thru ~ 1951-52) frequently needed to be rebuilt after only about 20k miles. Back in those days, it took many people 2 or 3 years to get to 20k miles, so the short service life of the early Hydramatics was not that well-known.

So, even the transmission that later become renowned for its durability did have teething problems in its early days.

Up until recently, CVTs were only used on low volume cars and they did not have very good track records. Honda tried them in the Civic HX model a few years ago and ended up replacing them with conventional automatic transmissions when they broke down.

My neighbor have an early Altima CVT and she had the transmission replaced three times while under warrantee, then she got rid of the car. But despite that Nissan must be having pretty good luck with the transmission overall as they now use it in just about all models. And now Honda has gone back to it, but only with the 4 cylinder Accord. The V6 still uses the 6 speed automatic.

It will be interesting to see how the CVT fares in the future as many of the automakers have gone in together to develop a common 10 speed automatic transmission due in a few years. We shall see.

A colleague of mine likes GM cars. He bought a Saturn with a CVT transmission. It got replaced twice under warranty. The third time, it was out of warranty. Understandably, he was less than impressed with the vehicle at this time and didn’t see why he should pay for a CVT transmission which might fail in a short time. The dealer offered him a good deal on a new Saturn WITHOUT a CVT.