CVT vs Automatic Transmissions: Pros and Cons

Modern vehicles come with a wide range of different transmission options. Two very common ones in the US are traditional automatics and CVTs or Continuously Variable Transmissions. Each one has its pros and cons, and in this blog, we focus on the differences between them.

While just 25% of passenger vehicles globally are fitted with an automatic transmission, that figure is closer to 99% in the US. Clearly, the benefits of a self-shifting transmission are clear. But which automated transmission is best suited to your needs? Read on to find out.

Automatic Transmissions

auto transmission

Automatic transmissions, as we know them, have been around since 1939. The first mass-produced auto transmission was a four-speed unit produced by General Motors. They have evolved from simple mechanical units into complex devices. Often with computer-controlled settings and up to 10 forward gears. Despite the big leaps in development, they still use individual cogs for each gear, requiring a momentary pause as you accelerate.

That said, a modern automatic transmission offers quick, smooth gearshifts. Many allow manual control over the gear changes, too. Most tend to shuffle up to the highest gear possible when cruising along. So, a sudden demand for acceleration can catch them out as they change down to the appropriate ratio.

In regular driving, a modern automatic is smooth and unobtrusive. When driving enthusiastically, the sharp gear changes add to the sporty driving feel.

Automatic Transmission Pros:

  • Automatic transmissions are generally less expensive to service
  • They feel more responsive in enthusiastic driving
  • They offer a more exciting driving experience
  • They can be fitted to vehicles with powerful engines

Automatic Transmission Cons:

  • Increased fuel consumption compared to CVT
  • Not quite as smooth as a CVT
  • Can have a delay while finding the right gear

CVT Transmissions

CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission gearboxes are relatively new compared to traditional automatics. The first practical CVT transmission was introduced in 1987 by Subaru. Early versions could be troublesome, but modern CVTs are far more robust.

CVT gearboxes use a system of pulleys or rotating discs. These either stretch (pulleys) or engage conical rollers (discs), depending on how much power is needed.

Since there are no actual gears, the acceleration is seamless. This makes a CVT smoother than regular automatic transmissions. CVT transmissions tend to keep engine revs at a constant speed while accelerating. This can sound like a droning or ‘mooing’ noise, something that irritates some owners. However, this also keeps the engine operating at an optimal speed, which improves fuel economy.

They are also complex units, requiring trained mechanics to service. Another drawback is that most can only handle up to around 400nm (295 lb-ft) of torque. Making them unsuitable for more powerful sports cars or larger trucks.

There are plenty of positives, though. In regular driving, a CVT transmission is very smooth and delivers a constant stream of power. With none of the pauses in power delivery that you get in a traditional automatic as it shifts between ratios. CVTs are also lighter in weight than regular automatics and more fuel efficient, too.

CVT Transmission Pros:

  • Smoother than regular automatic transmissions
  • Can deliver better fuel economy
  • CVT transmissions are lighter than traditional automatic transmissions

CVT Transmission Cons:

  • Some owners complain of a droning noise – this is because the CVT transmission keeps the engine revs constant for optimum economy
  • CVTs are complicated and require skilled mechanics to repair and service
  • Not as engaging to use as a traditional automatic gearbox
  • Not suitable for very powerful engines

Buy Your Replacement OEM Transmission From Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts

cvt transmission

The choice between CVT or automatic transmissions is a personal one. Whichever you prefer, Tom’s has a quality used OEM transmission replacement unit for your vehicle. Why buy from us, you ask?

Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts has been selling quality used parts for over 30 years. You can save up to 75% off OEM prices, and we offer a 6-month money back guarantee for added peace of mind. We also have an optional extended part and labor guarantee on drive-train components. All our parts are original and fit perfectly.

An optional lifetime guarantee is also available on all other parts. We catalog every available part online, and finding the right part for your vehicle is as easy as searching online or contacting our helpful team.