Continuously Variable Transmissions: What Are They and How Do They Work?

If you’ve been shopping for a new car recently, you’ve probably noticed the surge in continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) on the market. This innovative transmission technology is capable of perfect gear ratios and upping fuel economy.

According to Autoguide, a CVT doesn’t use gears, in the traditional sense. Instead, this transmission works by using a pair of variable-diameter pulleys (which look like cones) and a special high strength belt. Instead of shifting in and out of gears through a complex clutch and hydraulic system like a normal transmission, a CVT uses a system of cone-like pulleys (with one end thicker than the other) to eliminate unnecessary steps.

Jim Paris, director for Continental in the NAFTA region, explains: “By varying their dimensions the belt itself rides higher or lower on the pulleys and changes the ratio between the drive and the driven pulley.”

What’s different? Drivers will notice that CVTs don’t shift like normal cars; instead, you’re offered one smooth ride. Although this takes some getting used to, you’re always in the right “gear” when you’re using a CVT. This boosts fuel economy and optimizes power transfer. Though this technology was actually found in small engines, like some mowers, the belts were not strong enough for cars. Thanks to recent breakthroughs, the CVT is quickly becoming the ideal transmission option.

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