A CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission is a type of automatic transmission. You don’t need to manually change the gears as you drive along. However, unlike a conventional automatic transmission, it doesn’t use a gear assembly. Therefore, the CVT transmission repair cost is a bit different than conventional automatics.
CVT transmissions are often a bit more expensive to repair or rebuild than a conventional automatic. We’ll explain how it works, why it’s more expensive, and everything else you need to know about CVTs:
How CVT Transmission Works
We always like to explain more about how the part works before we get into the costs. This helps you to understand how in some cases it can cost so much to repair or replace.
As mentioned, a CVT transmission doesn’t use a set of gears to control its power output. There are two types of CVTs: a belt and pulley system, and a Toroidal system. The belt and pulley system is more common and has been around for decades. Chances are this is the type of CVT your car has, here’s how it works:
Belt And Pulley CVT
As the name suggests, this system uses a belt and a set of pulleys to control the output from your engine to the driven wheels. In essence, the system has an input pulley that receives power from your engine. Then this pulley connects to an output pulley via a belt (or sometimes a chain). The output pulley transfers power to your wheels via a driveshaft.
When you’re setting off, the driven pulley will be wider than the output pulley. During this state, the output pulley will rotate slowly. However, the belt essentially increases the radius of the output pulley. This provides you with more torque which is what you need when you’re setting off. As you drive along, the car’s transmission control unit will adjust the width of the pulleys.
Once you go faster, the input pulley’s width will decrease while the output pulley increases. This means the belt will be narrower at the output pulley, increasing the speed of the output pulley. Since the output pulley now rotates faster, it provides you with more power which is what you need at higher speeds.
This eliminates the need for multiple gear ratios. So, the car doesn’t need to change gears as you accelerate. As a result, you have a much smoother acceleration. However, as the video above shows, a set of planetary gears and a clutch pack is still needed to change the rotation direction of the pulleys to engage reverse.
One last note, CVTs also use torque converters just like a conventional automatic. This is a device that controls the power delivery from the engine to the transmission. We won’t get into how it works, but it essentially replaces the function of the clutch pedal in a manual car.
Meanwhile, a toroidal CVT uses a couple of input discs, output discs, a set of rollers, and a variator. It’s an entirely different system, but the principles are largely the same as a belt and pulley system, in the sense that it variates a power delivery system. Here’s how it works:
The system has an input disc at each end, and an output disc in the middle. In the cavities between these discs lies a set of rollers that contact all the discs at an angle. These rollers are what transfers power from the input discs to the output discs.
As you drive along, the variator will change the angle of the rollers. This affects the speed of the output disc which affects your power output. The faster you go, the faster the output disc will spin to deliver power and keep up with the wheel speed. Perhaps an animation will help you to understand better:
Unlike a belt and pulley system, the toroidal system is much more complex. However, the basic principles are the same, in the sense that it doesn’t change gear, but rather uses a variator to change the speed of the output disc.
As a result, this system is also very smooth since there are no gear changes as you accelerate. But as you can imagine, a more complex system like this will likely be more expensive to repair.
Another advantage of this system is that it has a parallel power flow. This allows the system to handle high torque inputs, hence you can use it in vehicles that need a high-torque engine such as SUVs and trucks. Meanwhile, a belt and pulley system tends to slip when you pair it with a high-torque engine.
A Third System: Launch Gear CVTs
This one isn’t quite common, but we feel like it’s worth mentioning. Toyota mainly uses this CVT system which has a launch gear. What’s a launch gear, you ask? While other CVTs don’t use gears, this system has a first gear that engages when you set off the car.
The main purpose of this is to give it better acceleration when you set off from a standstill. This allows for more torque down low and you can set off faster, and it feels like you have a conventional automatic at the start. That’s all there is to it. As the speed increases, the car will switch to the CVT and use the belt and pulley system.
How Does An Automatic Differ?
Now you know how these different CVTs work, how does it differ from a conventional automatic? We already explained in great detail how they work in our article about parts of an automatic transmission. And you can read that instead if you have some free time to learn more about automatic transmissions. Or watch the video below:
The gist of it is that it uses a set of planetary gear assemblies with different gear ratios to control the speed of the output shaft. The car’s computer uses clutch packs to switch between the gears depending on your car’s speed.
There’s one more type of automatic transmission, which is called an automated-manual transmission. It’s essentially a manual transmission, but the gear changes are done automatically by the car’s computer. The main difference with a conventional automatic is that it uses helical gears rather than planetary gears, and it doesn’t use a torque converter.
Just like a conventional automatic, an automated-manual system requires no input from the driver to change gears. Hence it can be considered a type of automatic transmission. These days, a dual-clutch system is the most popular variation of an automated manual. You’ll find this in most VW vehicles and many performance cars.
CVT Transmission Repair Cost: How Much?
So, how much will you need to pay to repair a CVT transmission? When you have a bad transmission, you have two options; rebuild or replace the transmission. Either way, they cost between $3,000 to $5,000 on average for CVTs. But in some cases, it may go as high as $8,000.
The question is, should you rebuild or replace your broken CVT? There are a lot of arguments about this, but you’re probably better off replacing it entirely with a remanufactured transmission. A remanufactured transmission or “reman” for short is a used transmission that has been restored as close as possible to factory specifications.
It’s essentially as good as new and often comes with a warranty that lasts for up to three years. If you want better peace of mind, we recommend getting a reman transmission rather than rebuilding one as they cost around the same anyway. Additionally, it seems that most CVT owners replace their transmissions rather than rebuild them.
We scoured owner forums to find some examples. In a post at a Nissan Murano forum, one owner said they had to spend $4,100 for a replacement job. Other owners also say that their local Nissan dealer quoted around the same price. One owner broke down the quote for their 2005 Murano and said that the transmission costs $2,642, with another $2,142 for the labor.
Meanwhile, an owner at a Subaru XV forum said that their local dealer quoted a replacement cost of $7,500. As for Honda, we haven’t seen any experiences from owners. But according to AutoWyse, the replacement cost for a Honda CRV is around $3,900 at a dealer with OEM parts.
CVT Transmission Repair Cost: Why Is It So Expensive?
As you can see, the CVT transmission repair cost (or replacement to be exact) ranges between $3,000 to $5,000 on average. With certain makes and models costing up to $8,000 at the dealership. But why is it so expensive?
The first reason is that CVTs are more costly. We’re not sure why as there’s no specific information on why CVTs are more expensive, and it’s a bit weird considering CVTs have fewer parts. Our best guess is that CVTs are cheaper to produce at a large scale production. However, more expensive when produced in small numbers and hence replacements are more expensive.
The next reason is the labor cost. While many manufacturers use CVTs, not all technicians are familiar with them. It requires special training to repair and replace CVTs, hence the higher cost.
CVT Transmission Repair Cost: Signs You Have A Bad CVT
Before you go ahead with the repairs, let’s first make sure that you actually have a transmission problem. Here are the signs to look out for:
- Burnt smell. A bad CVT will often produce a burning smell while driving, especially at high speeds or when it’s under high loads such as when towing. This is a sign of excess friction, and may also be caused by low transmission fluid.
- Transmission fluid leaks. If you see a red or dark red fluid leaking underneath the car, this means you have a transmission fluid leak. Note that a bright red fluid leaking from the front of the car can also be a coolant leak.
- Surging, lurching, or slipping. If the car surges or lurches as you change gears (such as from Neutral to Drive), then you have a bad transmission. CVTs can also slip just like conventional automatics, and it usually feels like the car momentarily loses power while accelerating.
- Refusing to engage a gear. In some cases, your transmission might refuse to engage a gear or there might be a delay when it does. This can mean there’s a problem with either the shifter or the solenoid, which shouldn’t be too expensive to fix. But it may also be a sign of a more serious problem.
- Check Engine Light (CEL). The most obvious sign is when you can see that dreaded amber light lit up on your dashboard. The good news is that you can scan your car’s OBD system to diagnose the problem. The bad news is that this often means a serious powertrain problem.
The symptoms of a bad CVT are similar to any other type of transmission. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you need to take a look at the transmission.
CVT Transmission Repair Cost: Questions & Answers?
Do you still have questions about CVT transmissions? We try to answer as many questions as possible below:
Can I Repair It Myself?
The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe. A transmission replacement job is very difficult to do and is one of the most difficult repair jobs you can do in a car. But if you’re confident in your mechanical skills and have the right tools, you may be able to do it yourself to save money on labor. We wouldn’t recommend it though.
How Can I Save Money On CVT Transmission Repair Cost?
Doing it yourself is often the way to save a lot of money, but in this case, it’s out of the question. You can probably save money by looking for a used CVT, rather than rebuilding it or replacing it with a new one.
Used transmissions are usually cheaper, often between $500 – $1,500. You can find them at scrapyards or companies specializing in used transmissions. However, the quality of the transmission can be questionable sometimes. We recommend looking for a seller that provides a warranty for the used transmission.
Doing the repair job at an auto repair shop rather than at the dealership can also save you money. Dealers often charge inflated prices, making them more expensive. But before going ahead with the repairs, check the reviews of the auto repair shop to make sure they won’t do a questionable job.
If your car is still relatively new, you may be eligible for a free transmission repair. Check if your warranty is still active, and if it is, you should be able to request a transmission repair for little to no cost at all. Also, check if you can extend the warranty for better peace of mind in the future.
Is The CVT Transmission Repair Cost Worth It?
With major repairs like this, we recommend comparing the potential repair cost with your car’s resale value. If your car’s resale value isn’t much more than the repair cost, you’re probably better off selling the car as-is.
For example, let’s say your car is worth $15,000 on the market. Meanwhile, your quoted repair cost is around $5,000. In this case, your car’s resale value is still much higher and we believe it’s still worth it to go ahead with the repairs.
However, if for example, your car is only worth $8,000 on the market, then the resale value isn’t much higher. The repair cost is more than half the value of your car. In this case, you’re probably better off selling your car.
Of course, selling a car as-is means you’re going to have to sell it at a much lower price since you’re selling a broken vehicle. You’re essentially still paying the repair costs for the next owner, but this at least puts cash on your hand. If you’re having difficulties selling the car as-is, then you can scrap the car instead.
How Long Does CVT Last?
The typical life expectancy for CVTs is around 100,000 miles. However, it’s quite common to see them fail as early as 70,000 miles. Nissan’s CVT transmissions are particularly prone to early failure. In comparison, a conventional automatic can be expected to last at least 150,000 miles with proper care.
How Do I Maintain A CVT Transmission?
It’s the same as maintaining any other type of transmission, here are the things you can do to prolong its lifespan:
- Check your transmission fluid every 30,000 miles. If the fluid is dark red or even black, then you need to do a fluid change. Check your owner’s manual for the exact interval, but it’s usually between 30,000 to 60,000 miles. While you’re at it, check when to change the filter as well.
- Use the right transmission fluid. CVTs in particular use a different type of fluid than conventional automatics, so make sure you use the right one to avoid damage.
- Keep the engine’s cooling system in top condition. The transmission relies on the engine’s cooling system for staying cool, so make sure it’s working properly.
- Avoid heavy loads whenever possible. Don’t tow when you don’t actually need to as this puts extra strain on your transmission.
- Avoid driving on spare tires for an extended period. This can also put a strain on your transmission and induce excess wear. Needless to say, don’t drive with mismatched tire sizes.
- Let your car stop before changing gears. For example, if you’re reversing, let the car come to a complete stop before engaging Drive or Park. Changing them while still moving can cause the components to grind which induces wear.
Do the things above and you should be able to get the most out of your transmission. The key thing is to keep up with general maintenance and have some mechanical sympathy for your car.
Is A CVT A Bad Transmission?
Not necessarily. While we car enthusiasts don’t fancy them, it’s mostly because CVT lacks the feel of a gear change which takes the fun out of driving a car. However, there’s no denying that they’re smoother. And in some cases, more fuel-efficient than conventional automatics.
One thing for sure is that many of them seem to have reliability issues. Nissan’s CVT in particular is quite unreliable. For example, the Nissan Rogue is notorious for transmission problems, especially the early to mid-2010s models. Problems can occur as early as 60,000 miles, and we recommend avoiding them like the plague.
Can I Replace The CVT In My Car With Another Type Of Transmission?
No, your car’s engine has been programmed to work with a certain type of transmission. If for example, you want to replace the CVT with a conventional automatic, you’re going to need to do some extensive programming to the car’s computer to make sure the powertrain works smoothly afterward.
It is technically possible, but it’s not worth the effort and will likely cost a lot of money. You’re better off buying a different car that has the transmission that you like.
CVT Transmission Repair Cost: Wrap Up
In conclusion, a CVT transmission will cost you between $3,000 to $5,000 to repair on average. However, it may cost upwards of $8,000 to repair for certain makes and models at the dealer. You can save money by looking for a used transmission and doing the repair job at an auto repair shop where the labor is usually cheaper than at a dealer.
As mentioned, with an expensive repair job like this, always compare the potential cost with your car’s resale value to see if the cost is worth it. If your car’s resale value isn’t much higher, you’re probably better off selling or scrapping your car and buying a new one.
One last note, whether you choose to rebuild or replace your transmission, always make sure there’s a warranty and check what it covers. If anything goes wrong, you can repair it again for little to no cost at all.
A rebuilt transmission or a remanufactured replacement usually comes with at least a one-year warranty, often up to three years. Meanwhile, a used transmission from a reputable seller sometimes comes with at least a three-month warranty. Hopefully, this has been helpful, and good luck!
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