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Demystifying Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

An easy-to-understand explanation of how CVT works

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a pulley-based system that eliminates fixed gears and allows for smoother, more efficient vehicle performance.

Illustration of standard transmission


Unlike the traditional automatic transmission—a complex cluster of moving parts—CVT’s simpler technology does not use interlocking toothed wheels. The most common version consists of three fundamental elements: a high-strength belt, an input pulley and an output pulley.

Illustration of pulley system in continuously variable transmission


While keeping the belt tight, the increase and decrease of the diameter between each pulley allows for an infinite number of gear ratios, which translates into smooth acceleration without any jolting or aggressive gear changes.

Illustration of car accelerating uphill


A typical transmission may jump back and forth between gears—like when you’re travelling up a steep hill—but a CVT system allows for a perfect “in between” spot, so the engine doesn’t have to continually rev up and down.