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What is a CVT Transmission?

CVT transmission cracked open

CVT Transmission? How Does It work?

“CVT” stands for continuously variable transmission. A CVT transmission uses a pair of variable-diameter pulleys and a belt or chain to provide unlimited gear ratios.

How does a CVT work?

To illustrate, think of a traditional automatic or manual transmission. They’re built with a defined number of gears, for example first through sixth (plus reverse). The transmission can operate in only one gear at a time. You typically feel a slight surge with each gear change.

CVTs, however, offer unlimited gear ratios.

Take a look at the image. You can see the metal belt connecting the two pulleys. Depending on engine speed and load, the computer automatically varies the pulley sizes to ensure the optimal gear ratio for the driving conditions.

CVTs use variable-diameter pulleys to create unlimited gear ratios.

CVT transmission pros and cons

What good does that do?

Imagine pedaling a bike. As you approach a steep hill, you adjust the shifters so a smaller chainring attached to the pedals is driving a larger sprocket on the rear wheel. This reduces the effort required to move the bike.

When you reach a stretch of flat road, you adjust the gear ratio again so a larger chainring attached to the pedals is driving a smaller sprocket. This helps achieve the perfect balance between energy expended and bicycle speed.

The same principle applies to a CVT, except the computer does all the thinking for you. When starting from a dead stop, it varies the pulley diameters (smaller drive pulley and larger driven pulley) so the engine can move the car as efficiently as possible. As you accelerate, it continuously varies the pulley sizes to keep the engine in its “sweet spot,” which results in improved fuel economy. Plus, you never feel the gear engagements because, in effect, there aren’t any.

CVTs gaining in popularity – but there are negatives

These benefits are why many car makers, including Nissan, Honda and Toyota are introducing more vehicles with CVTs.

There are drawbacks, however, including the “rubber-band effect” (you rev the engine, yet it takes a moment for vehicle speed to catch up) and lack of driver involvement (zero fun). In addition, most CVTs’ relatively diminutive parts can’t handle the power and torque of the truck or SUV you use to tow your boat or camper, which is why you find them mostly on smaller cars. Although there are some exceptions, as the list shows, which shows popular vehicles with a CVT.

What cars have a CVT transmission?

  • Honda Accord
  • Honda HR-V
  • Mercedes-Benz A- and B-Class
  • Nissan Altima
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Camry
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • Toyota Prius

Slip into something special

One look at the guts of a CVT and you can’t help but wonder how the belt doesn’t just slip wildly over the pulleys.

Believe it or not, the transmission fluid plays a major role in ensuring the belt or chain remains in contact with the pulleys without slipping.

That’s why CVTs require specialized CVT transmissions fluids, and not the traditional automatic or manual transmission fluid you probably have in your garage. CVT transmission fluids must be formulated with the correct frictional requirements to guard against slipping. Using the wrong fluid will reduce performance and potentially wreck your transmission.

Wear protection also important

Solid wear protection is also vital to maximizing CVT performance and life. That’s why we designed AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid to fight wear and help extend transmission life.

To demonstrate, we pitted AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid against Nissan NS-2 CVT Fluid in a field trial. After 100,000 miles, the belt lubricated with AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid demonstrated minimal wear, as you can see in the images. This helps you get the best performance and most life out of your CVT.

The belt lubricated with Nissan NS-2 CVT Fluid demonstrated increased wear.

Buy AMSOIL Synthetic CVT Fluid

While driving purists may initially scoff at the notion of a transmission that requires no driver input, many eventually warm up to CVTs’ increased gas mileage and smooth operability.

If you’re one of them, make sure you protect it with a good CVT transmission fluid.

Should I Change Fluid in a Filled-for-Life Transmission?

Should I Change Fluid in a Filled-for-Life Transmission?

What’s up with these “Filled-for-Life Transmissions”?

Casual motorists generally take no interest in crawling under their vehicles on a Saturday afternoon. And, when was the last time you heard someone express excitement over dropping their car off at the dealership for maintenance?

The automakers know this, which explains the proliferation of sealed, or filled-for-life, transmissions and differentials. Many vehicles also use “lifetime” factory fill fluids in these components that supposedly don’t require changing. Some transmissions and differentials don’t even include dipsticks or access plugs for checking the fluids.

The dirty little secret is that “filled-for-life” really means “filled for the life of the warranty.”

Suppose the “filled-for-life” transmission or differential on your truck fails after the factory warranty has expired. What do you think the dealership is going to do? That’s right – slide a bill across the counter to the tune of several thousand dollars.

It’s a good idea to change fluids in a filled-for-life or sealed transmission or differential at least once during its lifetime, and more often if you tow or haul. Here’s why.

Big power = increased heat

Modern vehicles are tougher on transmission fluid and gear lube than ever. For starters, the automakers are in an endless arms race to produce more power than the competition. All that added power has to go through the transmission and differential before reaching the wheels, yet modern transmissions are smaller and lighter than their predecessors. Meanwhile, the gears and bearings in most differentials remain unchanged despite the increased power they must handle.

This adds up to increased heat, and heat is one of the transmission fluid’s biggest enemies. It speeds the oxidation process and causes the fluid to chemically break down. Fluid that has broken down can cause sludge and varnish to form, which clogs narrow oil passages and can lead to stuck valves. Soon, your vehicle can begin to shift hard, hesitate or quit shifting altogether.

The situation is just as dire downstream of the tranny where heat and pressure wreak havoc inside the differential. Towing and hauling increase friction, which in turn increases heat. Extreme heat causes the gear lube to thin, reducing the effectiveness with which it keeps gear teeth separated and prevents wear. Thinner gear lube further increases friction, which causes heat to increase in a vicious cycle known as “thermal runaway.”

Lighter fluid, and less of it

Components also use lower-viscosity fluids to help boost fuel efficiency. That translates into thinner fluid protecting against intense heat and wear – not an easy task. In addition, many automakers use less gear lube than before to help reduce energy lost to friction and boost fuel economy.

Given such challenging conditions, what’s the best way to combat heat and stress to ensure your vehicle keeps running strong? Never change the fluids? Hardly.

“Filled-for-life” is misleading

In fact, your “lifetime” fluid may require changing if your driving habits full under the “severe” designation, which includes towing and hauling.

The differential in the 2016 Ford Super Duty 250, for example, is considered “filled for life.” However, the owner’s manual instructs you to change the fluid every 50,000 miles (80,467 km) in “severe” conditions and anytime the differential is submerged in water.

Did you hear that, anglers?

The 2017 Toyota Tundra likewise features a “filled-for-life” differential. But Toyota tells you to change fluid every 15,000 miles (24,140 km) if towing.

Complicating matters, some vehicles don’t even include a service schedule for changing transmission fluid. The Mazda CX-5 is one example. That doesn’t seem like a great idea if you plan to keep the vehicle past its factory warranty period.

For maximum life and best performance, change the “lifetime” fluid in your vehicle’s filled-for-life or sealed transmission or differential at least once, but more often if your driving conditions fall under the severe designation.

Changing fluid in these units may tax one’s mechanical aptitude, but it can be done. You likely need to visit the dealer or a mechanic since special tools can be required. Some manufacturers also prescribe complicated procedures spelled out in a service manual for changing fluids.

Anyone who has changed gear lube before – whether on a “filled-for-life” differential or traditional unit – knows the hassle involved: a tough-to-reach fill hole, gear lube spilled everywhere and bloody knuckles.

Find out how often to change gear lube here.

Our SEVERE GEAR easy-pack offers the perfect solution. Compared to rigid conical bottles that waste a quarter of the gear lube or more, our easy-pack offers the dexterity to maneuver around vehicle components and the flexibility to install nearly every drop of gear lube. It eases the process of changing gear lube, saving you time and hassle.

Transmission Pan Drop vs. Flush: Which is Better?

Get rid of worn ATF

Transmission Pan Drop vs. Flush: Which is Better?

It depends on what you want to accomplish. But, first of all, check your owner’s manual to see if your vehicle manufacturer recommends one instead of the other.

If you want to ensure removal of nearly all the old transmission fluid, then have your transmission flushed.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is a Transmission Flush?

The benefits are self-evident: all the old, dirty fluid is replaced with fresh, high-quality fluid. (And, as you can see in the image, new transmission fluid is preferable to old fluid). As a result, your transmission should run cooler and receive maximum protection against wear to clutches, gears and bearings. It should also shift consistently and crisply since the new fluid will provide the correct frictional properties (old fluid loses its frictional properties over time).

Not only that, but performing a flush helps clean the transmission. Sludge and other contaminants can accumulate in the fluid due to extreme heat breaking down the fluid. These contaminants circulate throughout the transmission before lodging in the filter. Before the filter can safely capture the contaminants, however, they can lodge in the narrow fluid passages inside the valve body, leading to poor shift quality.

The narrow fluid passages in the transmission valve body can easily clog with debris, reducing shift quality.

Performing a flush also allows you to use a flush additive to help clean the transmission and more effectively remove accumulated sludge and other contaminants.

Any downsides?

Potentially.

For one, it’s more expensive. And some people warn against performing a flush on a transmission using old, dirty fluid. The flushing procedure may direct the fluid in the opposite direction of normal flow, which may increase the risk of dislodging debris and causing it to settle somewhere it shouldn’t. Since the way each shop performs a flushing procedure varies, you can’t know for certain.

What is a transmission flushing machine?

A typical flushing machine uses hoses that connect into the transmission cooling lines. It drains the old fluid and holds it inside the machine while replenishing the transmission with new fluid. Unlike a simple pan drop, a flushing machine removes just about all the old fluid, including the fluid inside the torque converter.

Since the procedure uses new fluid to perform the flush, it requires several quarts of new fluid beyond the transmission’s final capacity. Those extra quarts are where most of the added cost lies.

(Find out how an automatic transmission works.)

The good ‘ol pan-drop

If you have reservations about a flush, go with a pan-drop instead. While it reduces the risk associated with flushing old, dirty fluid through the transmission, a pan-drop also has downsides.

  • Removes only about a third of the fluid
  • Can be a mess
  • Can be a pain on some vehicles

I can tell you from experience that a pan-drop can be a bigger job than you think. You may have to remove plastic splash guards or metal skid plates to access the transmission pan. In case you haven’t been under your vehicle in a while, plan on encountering rusted, stuck bolts if you drive in wet, snowy conditions. Don’t be surprised if you crack a splash guard in one or two places as you try to remove/reinstall it.

Tips for performing a pan-drop:

  • Have a large catch pan handy. Otherwise, once you loosen the pan bolts, fluid is going to ooze from the pan/transmission interface and end up all over the floor.
  • If you’re crafty, you can back out the pan bolts in one corner further than the surrounding bolts, effectively tilting the pan so the fluid drains from a single corner instead of overflowing the entire pan. This reduces mess quite a bit.
  • Wear safety glasses and gloves.
  • Don’t forget the new filter and pan gasket.
  • It’s a good idea to know the torque specs on the pan bolts and use a torque wrench to reinstall them. Otherwise you risk overtightening and ruining the gasket.

You might get lucky, though

Some vehicle manufacturers install a drain plug on the transmission, similar to a motor oil drain plug. This allows you to easily and cleanly drain some fluid from the transmission minus the hassle of removing the pan. Again, though, you only get a third to half the fluid out.

You can then drive the vehicle for a while, then drain the fluid and change it again. Do this 2-3 times and you’ll remove nearly all the old fluid and perform a sort of poor-man’s transmission fluid flush.

Bottom line: Visit a pro and have the transmission flushed for best results and least hassle (unless your vehicle manufacturer specifically warns against it in the owner’s manual). But, if you have reservations about dislodging debris due to old, dirty fluid, a series of pan drops works just as well.

FIND AMSOIL TRANSMISSION FLUID FOR MY VEHICLE

Remember This When Trying to Find Which Transmission Fluid You Need

Remember This When Trying to Find Which Transmission Fluid You Need

Remember This When Trying to Find Which Transmission Fluid You Need

Take a look at just a few of the dozens of automatic transmission fluid (ATF) specifications on the market:

  • ATF+4
  • Mercon V
  • Mercon LV
  • Dexron VI
  • ATF DW-1
  • ATF T-IV
  • SP-IV
  • Toyota ATF-WS
  • Honda DW (ZF
  • Diamond SP-IV

You’ve likely heard the term analysis paralysis.

That’s what many people feel when they scan the shelves at Advance Auto in search of transmission fluid. They just want a quart or two of ATF to top-off their vehicle, but instead they must decipher a series of hieroglyphics or face the specter of ruining their tranny by choosing the wrong fluid.

There’s a sure-fire way to avoid this hassle.

But first, check out this survey by the Petroleum Quality Institute of America (PQIA), which confirmed what many already know about buying ATF – the specifications listed on ATF labels can be confusing and misleading.

One reason is the sheer number of ATF specifications on the market. Interpreting the made-up words (“Mercon” and “Dexron” sound like diabetes medication or the latest U.S. Defense Department initiative, after all) leaves you shaking your head and vowing to service your transmission next spring.

It wasn’t always like this. At one time, Ford Mercon- and GM Dexron-type ATFs dominated the market and reduced your choices to a manageable few. Today, demand for those fluids has slipped below 50 percent and is declining as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) continue to introduce their own, proprietary specs.

What is an ATF spec?

Simply put, it’s a set of performance standards. It’s not an actual fluid, meaning you don’t go to NAPA in search of Mercon or Dexron transmission fluid. You go in search of a fluid that meets the Mercon or Dexron specification. In an attempt to make it easy for you, many ATF manufacturers print those specs in giant letters on the label. Judging by the survey, though, it’s not working. This means the fluid was subjected to – and passed – a series of performance tests stipulated by the authors of the Mercon or Dexron specifications.

Today, it’s normal for most OEMs to author their own performance specifications rather than recommend using a fluid that meets a different OEM’s specifications, for example Mercon or Dexron. You can blame it on technological advancements that have made vehicles tougher on transmission fluid than cars of yesteryear. An automaker that introduces its latest 500-hp land rocket wants to be sure you’re using a transmission fluid capable of standing up to the intense heat and stress churning through all those gears.

It may also have something to do with money. Brand XYZ would rather you buy Brand XYZ transmission fluid than another company’s fluid, which helps explain why some OEM-branded fluids are so expensive.

That brings us back to analysis paralysis.

How can we cut through the confusion and make transmission fluid selection easy? And how do we do it while meeting the performance demands of most modern automatic transmissions?

One transmission fluid to rule them all

That’s a bit of hyperbole in honor of my favorite trilogy about hobbits and orcs, but it’s not far off.

We formulated AMSOIL Signature Series Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid and OE Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid to take the guesswork out of ATF selection. Both fluids are recommended for most of the common ATF specs on the market.

Mercon V? Check.

Dexron III? Check.

ATF+4? We cover that, too.

We take convenience a step further with our online Product Guide, which tells you which fluid your vehicle needs.

LOOK UP TRANSMISSION FLUID FO MY VEHICLE

If you tow, haul or engage in other types of severe service, use Signature Series Synthetic ATF. If you stick to the highway and mostly run to work and home, OE Synthetic ATF is your best bet.

So, when it comes to finding the right transmission fluid, forget about the hieroglyphics and just remember these six letters: AMSOIL.

Common Fixes for a Transmission that Jerks or Hesitates

Common Fixes for a Transmission that Jerks or Hesitates

Common Fixes for a Transmission that Jerks or Hesitates

The AMSOIL ATF is one of our best sellers in the Sioux Falls store. Thanks to you many local transmission shops are now suggesting it to their customers. You can pick up here and take to your favorite transmission shop.

Here are a few common reasons why your transmission may shift erratically, jerk or hesitate.

• Low fluid level
• Depleted fluid frictional properties
• Poor cold-temperature fluidity

Start with the easiest fix

There’s an old adage when troubleshooting: start with the least expensive and simplest fix. In this case, check the transmission fluid level first. Low fluid can prevent the transmission from shifting properly. It’s important to find out why the fluid is low and fix any problems. It could be a leaky seal or other mechanical defect. Otherwise, adding new fluid won’t ultimately solve the problem.

Worn fluid equals poor shift quality

Transmission fluid that has aged and lost some of its frictional properties can also lead to poor shift quality. When your vehicle’s computer tells the transmission to shift gears, hydraulic pressure (provided by the fluid) squeezes a series of plates together inside a clutch pack to connect the engine to the transmission output shaft and route power to the wheels. The fluid’s frictional properties play a vital role in ensuring the clutch plates bind together properly and gear shifts occur seamlessly.

Over time, the fluid’s frictional properties can degrade, leading to elongated, jerky or inconsistent shifts. In this case, it’s time for a fluid change.

How do you know for sure the fluid is worn? The only definite way to find out is to conduct used fluid analysis. However, fluid that smells burnt or appears dirty is likely due for a change. It’s best practice to change the fluid before the frictional properties are depleted and you experience poor shifting. Those poor shifts can cause the clutches to wear more rapidly and lead to bigger issues that need mechanical repairs.

Be aware of “adaptive” transmissions

One interesting note affects newer vehicles equipped with adaptive transmissions. These units “learn” your driving habits and the characteristics of the fluid to adjust shifts accordingly. As the fluid loses its frictional properties, the computer compensates and adjusts transmission performance.

** If you’ve recently changed your fluid, the computer may still operate as if old fluid is installed, causing poor shift quality. In these cases, keep driving and eventually the computer will “relearn” your driving habits and the behavior of the new fluid and adjust accordingly. The problem was significant enough on some 2012-2013 Ford F-150s to cause Ford to issue a technical service bulletin (TSB 13-1-10).

What do “frictional properties” look like?

We know what good, crisp shifts feel like. Can we dive in even further and see what they look like?

We can, and they appear as a flat, boring line on a graph. The dark blue line represents the frictional properties of new AMSOIL Signature Series Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid. The light blue line shows the frictional properties of the same fluid after more than 180,000 miles in taxi cabs operating in the intense heat of Las Vegas.

As you can see, the lines are extremely close, with no abrupt spikes or dips. This means, after 180,000 miles of severe service, the fluid continued to deliver crisp, confident shifts.

Granted, it’s not exciting to look at – unless you love driving and want to protect your transmission.

Cold weather can reduce shift quality

When the temperature drops, transmission fluids with poor cold-flow properties can thicken and cause elongated and hard shifts until the fluid has warmed up enough to flow properly. Switching to a high-quality synthetic transmission fluid will help. Synthetics don’t contain waxes, as conventional fluids do, meaning they remain fluid at lower temperatures for improved shifts during cold weather.

The best transmission fluid available won’t fix a broken transmission. But using high-quality synthetic fluid can help improve shift quality and maximize transmission life.