(Updated on July 16, 2020)
What is a CVT Transmission?
A CVT (continuously variable transmission) is a type of automatic transmission that has an indefinite number of gear ratios. While a conventional automatic has a fixed number of gears (4 gears for a four speed, 6 gears for a six speed, etc), a CVT can form any number and combination of gears based on its mechanical limits and the transmission control unit’s programming.
Though many CVTs are programmed to shift like a conventional automatic, they actually don’t need to “shift” at all. The process of changing ratios is seamless and can be done under engine load. This gives the car a very smooth power delivery, almost like an electric vehicle.
The reason some CVTs appear to shift is because many consumers don’t like the way a CVT feels or sounds. CVTs have the ability to hold the engine at its most efficient RPM for maximum torque, power, or fuel economy, depending on what is requested by the driver.
When the transmission does this, the engine will drone at a constant RPM even as speed increases. This “rubber band” effect reminds some people of a motorboat or a snow machine.
If you’re used to a manual transmission, a CVT may feel like a slipping clutch when you first hit the gas. This is especially true at full throttle. When you floor it, engine speed will jump up rapidly to about 5,000 RPM and stay there. This is normal operation for many CVTs and likely not a cause for concern.
How Does a CVT Work?
There are several different types of CVTs. One of the most common designs uses a pair of conical pulleys and a belt or chain between them. As each pair of cones moves closer together or farther apart, the “gear” of that pulley changes.
In addition to the variable diameter pulley system used by other manufacturers, Nissan also manufactures a toroidal CVT. This design is better for high torque applications, such as rear wheel drive sports cars.
A toroidal CVT works by moving a pair of rollers that transmit torque between two disks. As the rollers rotate, they spin each conical disk at different speeds.
Toyota produces a special CVT that has a physical first gear like a conventional automatic, then transitions seamlessly to a CVT after one upshift. This transmission is used on the Corolla Hatchback.
There are a couple other types of CVTs such as hydrostatic and magnetic (that use fluids and magnets to transfer torque respectively), but these are less common in cars and trucks.
Here’s a good video showing how a CVT works:
How Long Do CVT Transmissions Last?
The longevity of a CVT is dependent on many factors. CVTs have been around for a while, but only recently have they become affordable and reliable. A CVT in a late model vehicle should easily surpass 100,000 miles with regular maintenance but older CVTs may not last as long.
Some auto manufacturers no longer produce a conventional automatic transmission and have invested significant resources into CVT technology. Over the past few years, CVT quality has stabilized quite a bit, allowing most manufacturers to produce them confidently without large scale reliability issues.
A good CVT will last a very long time when taken care of. Regular maintenance should be performed according to the owner’s manual.
Are CVT Transmissions Reliable?
While data on failure rates isn’t readily available in the automotive industry, it’s possible to do some research on any vehicle you’re interested in buying to see what technical service bulletins (TSBs) and recalls have been posted.
This should give you an idea if you should expect any major problems. Customer complaints are also a good anecdotal indicator.
That said, most CVTs produced by major automakers in the last 5 years or so are generally pretty reliable and should easily last 100,000 miles. After that, it varies depending on owner maintenance and build quality.
Most vehicles that use a CVT come from Japanese manufacturers: Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Nissan, and Mitsubishi. Toyota and Honda still offer a 6-speed automatic, but Subaru and Nissan have stopped using them (save for the Subaru BRZ, which was co-developed by Toyota).
Mazda continues to use conventional automatics and manual transmissions almost exclusively.
Toyota is a large company that has perfected lean manufacturing. Their CVTs are some of the most reliable on the market.
Honda is also known for its reliability and has done an outstanding job with the design of their CVT. A 10th generation Honda Civic equipped with the 1.8L turbocharged engine and CVT has more power than you would expect. It accelerates quite a lot like an electric vehicle.
The Subaru CVT does an excellent job of squeezing every last mile out of a tank of gas, which is important to keep the brand competitive in a market controlled by emissions numbers.
Many people like to use Subarus off road. Be aware that a CVT often cannot hold as much torque as a conventional automatic or manual transmission, and may be prone to overheating if used outside the parameters it was designed for.
Nissan has had many reliability issues with their economy car CVTs in the past, so do some research before buying a used automatic Nissan. Their CVT reliability has increased as time has progressed and they’ve had a chance to iterate on their design.
Failure at 80,000 miles on older units is not uncommon with Nissan CVTs.
Mitsubishi has been struggling over the past decade but continues to produce some of the least expensive cars on the market. If you’re interested in purchasing a Mitsubishi, it may be wise to do a little research first on their CVTs.
Do CVTs Need a Transmission Flush?
Most owner’s manuals do not specify a CVT transmission flush interval, stating that the continuously variable transmission fluid (CVTF) will last the lifetime of the vehicle.
You will find, however, that a vehicle with many miles may develop a leak in the transmission fluid, or the fluid may become burnt or contaminated and require changing.
Exercise common sense when deciding whether to flush the transmission or perform any other potential maintenance item. If your fluid looks or smells old, has particles in it, or you just have high mileage on the vehicle, consider flushing the transmission fluid.
35 thoughts on “How Long Do CVT Transmissions Last?”
One more note: Be sure to scan the transmission before your warranty expires. It could save you thousands!
I heard awful things about the CVT transmission after I bought my son a 2015 Nissan Altima (80,000 miles) last year. However, thank goodness I bought an extended powertrain warranty. I took the car in for a hood latch recall (free) and asked them to scan the transmission to ensure all is well. It came back with two error codes and needs a new transmission. I only had the car one year and just under 100K miles. I personally would not ever buy a car with CVT transmission again.
Manufactured seem to embrace CVT’s in an effort to gain a little bit of MPG and in general CVT’s are cheaper to manufacture. But many car makers like Nissan which owns a CVT factory tend to focus on the latter and have had many issues with reliability on their transmissions. Some of this is related to a claim by car makers that the trans fluid is lifetime fill and doesn’t require a service. Added to that is that many trans don’t have a dip stick either to check for correct level. In some cases, a small leak can go un-noticed and cause early failure of trans.
I have a 2017 Forester with 226,000 miles. CVT is having some slippage now and I am replacing it with a used one.
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. 2014. 120k. Cvt trans failed without warning. I replaced with a used trans @ $2700. Adding labor came t $4500. I will never buy a vehicle with a cvt trans again. At least with a snowmobile you can change the belt. My next vehicle will be stick shift or conventional auto trans. Federal government needs to step in and ban cvt transmissions. Engineering disaster. Also, Mitsubishi will not supply repair shops with information. The cvt transmission cannot be rebuilt as far as I know. Junk.
Yeah, they don’t have a great track record for reliability so far. My guess is the technology is so new they are still working out some of the bugs. Or perhaps maybe they’re just not designed to last.
I’m with you; I will stick with manual transmissions as long as I can.
i have 300.000 on my 08 lexus rx 400h, no cvt problems, until i was coming down a steep long canyon at 80 mph, i accidently down shifted to b drive, a week later my cvt started slipping under heavy acceleration,i checked the fluid, it was burnt, im going to put another cvt in, with a heavy duty trans cooler, and be careful not to use b drive at high speed,
My fit Honda had a problem with shaft solenoid when I took for diagnostic I realised one of the solenoid had already been damaged and it’s pretty expensive to replace.im I’m now wondering how long these CVT fluids to take before replacement.
Must say that CVT’s make me mighty nervous. I just had a brand new Toyota Corolla out for a test drive today and found that the transmission was “wondering” what gear to be in when under a little acceleration. If it is like this brand new, then what will it be like five years from now?? A shame as I would certainly think of buying one but don’t like the CVT. At all. Otherwise it is a great car.
Gear hunting is annoying, but not necessarily indicative of a mechanical issue. Gear selection is mainly determined by transmission programming (software), and there is some learning involved for the computer.
Nissan will be adding automatic transmissions to a couple of their 2022 models. I bought a new 2021 Mazda CX-5 because it uses a 6-speed automatic transmission, and not a CVT. It also doesn’t have iStop technology, or Cylinder Deactivation (w/turbo models).
Cylinder deactivation is a neat feature when it’s done right. Some manufacturers have struggled with the implementation initially, which has caused some reliability issues and bad press.
I think that’s the same story with the CVT.
Reliability is why I try and buy stick shift transmissions whenever possible. My 2001 Audi A4 1.8T 5MT has 200K with the original engine, turbo, transmission, and clutch. 2005 Pontiac GTO, 80K miles, no transmission problems. I want to get a 2021 Bronco 2 door with the 7 speed, but I cannot get the option package I want with a MT. I hope they change this. My company provided car is a 2016 Honda CR-V with 60K miles. The CVT now takes a few seconds to engage drive, it makes a high pitched whining noise that sounds like a turbo and the engine sounds like a diesel for a few seconds when started cold. The dealer said this is all normal for the model. I think he’s full of it. My former company car, a 2005 Forester, had 320K miles with the original engine and 4 speed auto trans. I wish I had purchased it from them instead of turning it in. Now that Subaru has gone CVT, I won’t consider one. They’ve eliminated the MT for the Outback and Forester. Boo.
I think they still have a manual option on the Crosstrek and Impreza. They definitely have it on the WRX.
I read that the MT option on the Crosstrek and Impreza will not be available in the next generation models. It makes sense that the WRX and STi would retain the MT option because of its sporting intentions. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they ditched it for better CAFE numbers. Fuel economy is better with a CVT or 10 speed conventional automatic, but any money saved on fuel will probably be spent on a new transmission unless you ditch cars every few years. There are plenty of lousy conventional automatics, but there are some decent ones. From what I see, there are no good CVT transmissions that will go 200K without that steel “belt” grenading and destroying everything. I bet the MT take rate would skyrocket if a manual trans was standard equipment and an automatic was a $3,500 option…
Didn’t know that about the MT Crosstrek and Impreza, though I can’t say I’m surprised. Did you know the WRX’s automatic option is actually a CVT? I personally am not a fan of CVTs in sports cars, but the CVT WRX drove pretty well around town when I tried it out.
I would bet manufacturers generally don’t care much if their vehicles can make it to 200k miles. I suspect the service life most companies shoot for is about 60k-100k miles. In other words, at least as long as the warranty, maybe a little longer. After that, you’re in uncharted territory and nearly anything could become a wear item depending on how robust the initial engineering was.
I actually think the automatic take rate would be pretty similar if automatics were a $3,500 option. Lots of people commute in heavy traffic or have a physical limitation that prevents them from driving a manual comfortably. Autos often cost $1,000-1,500 more now and it doesn’t stop anyone from buying them.
I leased a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek in May 2017 in Nebraska. Drove it to Arizona and it was horrible. The cvt just couldn’t take the usage. I had late model (1990s) subarus passing me it was truly a disappointment. I jad always wanted a subaru based on the longevity of the brand. Now that most manufacturers are switching to cvts, I am very hesitant to purchase a vehicle.
Consider buying a used vehicle with a conventional automatic. There are also some manufacturers today that still use conventional automatics, such as Mazda.
I have a 2015 Honda Civic with a CTV Transmission, that has 194,000+ miles on it (90% highway driving across the country for work) and I was driving my car along just fine last night… I stopped at a stop sign, then the car just wouldn’t go… complete loss of power. Car is still running but doesn’t go….
According to the tow truck driver last night, Whoever serviced my car/checked my fluids last didn’t put the sealed dipstick for the transmission back on/in– Meaning I’ve been driving around for the last month with my transmission fluid leaking out. With no fluid and the system being open, the hydraulics can’t work and build pressure… he was hoping by adding fluids it would fix it… but said to be prepared for it to be the whole transmission…
Well, I just got off the phone with the shop this morning… Annnnnd the CVT transmission is officially dead. Apparently when your transmission dipstick is left out after having your car serviced, your sealed transmission system becomes wide open and all of the fluid will leak out… When there’s no fluid in your transmission, the internal pump runs dry… When the internal pumps goes bad from running dry, it spits metal shards into the transmission causing grinding and further internal damage…
I’ve been quoted $2,700+ for a USED CVT that’s coming foam Pick N Pull with a 3 year warranty, and a week of sitting and waiting…
It really is hard to say that the CVT would’ve lasted much longer based on the mileage alone, but I had regular maintenance done and the car never had any issues what so ever up until this point… debating about trying to get the first shop to cover the cost of their mistake but don’t know if it is even worth it or if I’m able to prove it…
I’m sorry to hear about that. It’s a shame when mechanics make simple mistakes with such expensive consequences. I think you’re right, it probably will be hard to prove… especially since a month has elapsed. It’s a good idea to check all your fluids at regular intervals to prevent situations like this in the future. Dipsticks make the process really quick and easy.
You could try asking the original shop nicely if there’s anything they can do to help out in this situation, but the price for the used CVT sounds about right. I would probably take my chances with the used CVT if it came with a 3 year warranty. Good luck, and I hope you’re back on the road soon.
I leased and then bought out my 2017 Civic. I had the CTV transmission fluid changed at 42,000 miles / 36 months. If I still own the car at 80,000 -90,000 miles / 72 months, I will have it changed again. The work was preformed at a dealer. I previously ran a 2004 Nissan Sentra for 11 years / 211K Miles on the original engine, 4-speed auto trans, and original radiator. I changed the trans fluid and coolant every 40-50K miles, and engine oil every 6K miles. Sentra was totaled in accident, it never left me stranded for 11 years & 211K miles, but that was when Nissan made good vehicles that lasted. I would not trust the Nissan CVT. Hopefully, if I properly maintain the Honda CVT it will to 200K and beyond. If not, it may be Toyota/Lexus time. But Honda is pretty good, IMAO. I used to drive the Nissan pretty hard, but I tend to drive the Honda very slow by comparison. I believe Mr. Scott said that “if you treat her like a lady, she will always take you home.”
I have had a great experience with my 2017 Civic. I did a trans flush at 60k miles and plan to do it every 30-40k miles. It has been a fantastic car. I put about 500 miles a week on it commuting through mountain canyon roads. The CVT feels strong and much more responsive than my wife’s Outback.
I think the CVT has had a bad rap because of the early implementations. They weren’t as reliable and well made. And because we generally don’t like change. A traditional gear transmission should, according to common logic, last longer than a CVT. Unfortunately most of the general commuter cars–sedans, SUVs, minivans, etc. are changing to CVT.
However, as time goes on I’m sure they will get better, be more reliable, and last longer.
My 2013 Nissian Rogue with 98,000 miles started to have “jerky” acceleration with the transmission. I had the transmission fluid flushed and it started working perfectly instantly.
We’ll see if how much longer it lasts.
Honda, Toyota, Nissan…newer models fine….if not abused & maintained
What constitutes “abuse”?
High speed driving? Like 80 on freeway or whindy road driving?
I would not consider either of those situtations to be abuse.
Abuse is kind of an ambiguous term when it comes to vehicle performance. Driving your car hard isn’t necessarily abusing it, since they’re made to use. As long as you’re only running the vehicle hard after you’ve reached normal operating temperature (and don’t run it hard if it’s overheating), you probably don’t have to worry too much about it.
I am the owner (soon to be former) of a 2015 Subaru Outback. Vehicle mileage is under 49,000. Our CVT failed while my wife was driving on the freeway. It was an abrupt stop and we feel fortunate that there was no accident with other vehicles. We had the car towed to an ASE certified repair shop and paid $4400 for a used replacement.
We soon after discovered that Subaru offers an extended 10 year/100K warranty on the CVT in response to “lemon law” actions. I think that was the cheaper route opposed to a recall. After contacting Subaru I was informed that they would not help at all financially because work was not done by Subaru. I think it’s a lame excuse to limit their losses on a poorly design product.
Long story short; avoid CVT and avoid Subaru who will leave you out to dry.
I have a 2010 outback with 180000 miles and the cvt is still going strong
2020 Subaru sport owner, i do not off road, 63yrs old , no turbo, do i have a shot at 200k on my cvt. i plan on changing fluid at 100k. i would do it every 50k buy dealer wants $500.00 for fluid change. new cvt around 8k if it goes in 6yrs at 130k you have a disposable car. my mechanic can rebuild the old 4speed automatic for 2800.00. next car will be a 4RUNNER, IF I do not reach 200k.
Agree ! We have a 2016 Forrester whose cvt just failed at 32,000 miles. (clicking noise like a cv joint failing any time wheels were rotating)
Dealer charge- $8400 for replacing with new ! But luckily we had paid to transfer the original warranty from the first owner we bought it from. So much for “improving” and “should” last for 100,000 miles- we’ll definitely trade this in a year or 2 for something with a conventional transmission
You describe me perfectly. CVT went out at 130k, 8g to replace. I complained to Subaru and they gave me 2g off but still! I bought a Subaru based on reputation for quality. Will not buy another. Am looking to sell and replace with a Toyota which I have always had good luck with. Will not buy any car with a CVT, which unfortunately is most of them these days. 2013 Outback btw.
I have a 2016 Forester with 95k miles. Just had to have the valve body replaced because of a bad solenoid. This of course includes a flush and replacement of the fluid. I didn’t pay a penny, even for the loaner car, because it was still under the 100k warranty. I bought it used, and didn’t have to pay extra to “transfer the warranty” because that’s a scam. The power train warranty is from the manufacturer and stays with the car. I would recommend anyone with a cvt that hasn’t had any problems, go to a Subaru dealer to replace the fluid at about 95k miles. They’re very good about their service, and if they notice an issue when doing the flush, they’ll fix it under warranty.
yea….I have a 2016 6-cyl Outback. 120,000 miles. CVT transmission is bad. Subaru dealer wants $5K rebuilt and $12K new. WTF…..I have had Honda’s and Toyotas that went for 170K+ miles with no tranny issue. This is absurd. I will never buy another Subaru. and they have the balls to say their cars go for 200K+ miles. Bull crap! And they dealer service man acted like 120K was A LOT of miles and that I should be grateful.