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What is a Continuously Variable Transmission?

By Jessica Reed
Updated May 23, 2024
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A continuously variable transmission, also known as a CVT, uses a belt to allow the vehicle access to an unlimited number of gear positions. This has several advantages, such as improving the fuel economy of the vehicle. To understand this transmission, it is important to first understand how a manual or automatic transmission works.

The transmission found in most cars, whether automatic or manual, has a fixed number of gears it can switch between. In an automatic vehicle, the car does all the work and the driver does not need to shift between gears while driving. In a manual car, the driver must use the gear shift and the clutch to shift gears as his driving speed increases or decreases. As he does so, he is engaging and disengaging different size gears.

Switching into a different gear is important to allow the car to produce the maximum power it can with the least amount of energy. Constantly driving a car in the wrong gear at high speeds can damage the car. The transmission will wear out quickly when the gears are not working properly.

Disadvantages do arise from the regular car transmission, however. The car still has a fixed number of positions it can switch into and cannot always find the most efficient gear for the speed the vehicle is traveling. Certain machines, like the snowmobile, have overcome this problem by using the continuously variable transmission. Since the continuously variable transmission uses a belt, it allows the transmission to switch through an unlimited number of gears, adjusting its position in time with the vehicle.

This type of transmission creates a more fuel efficient vehicle. The unlimited number of positions ensures it is always using the appropriate amount of power. Thus, the vehicle also emits less exhaust because it is using less fuel overall. There are other advantages to the continuously variable transmission. The vehicle does not need to change gears since it is constantly adjusting and because of this the vehicle does not jerk around as it adjusts, unlike some cars.

As with any machine, the continuously variable transmission does have some disadvantages. Depending on the strength of the belt, the vehicle may not get enough power. It is limited in power and speed by how strong the parts of the transmission are to begin with. The transmission may also fail earlier than a normal transmission would. It all depends on the quality of the transmission and how the vehicle is used.

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Discussion Comments
By anon257894 — On Mar 29, 2012

Does this mean that I don't have to switch gears and use a clutch?

By anon73412 — On Mar 27, 2010

so, this means we no longer need gears in our transmission?

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