Top 9 Symptoms of a Bad CVT Transmission

Bad CVT Transmission Symptoms

Nissan has been widely regarded as the pioneer of continuously variable transmission (CVT). This automatic transmission uses a computer to set the ideal gear ratio for the optimal driving experience.

The company started developing this feature in 1992, but it wasn't widely used until 2003. Despite its technological advancements, the CVT still hinders Nissan's ability to continue developing new products and many consumers still find it detrimental to their driving experience.

However, according to Nissan, the durability and longevity of the Clunkingtransmission are some factors that make it more reliable. Unfortunately, the various defects with the CVT have negated the company's claims that it's reliable.

In addition, the multiple problems have exposed the transmission to more heat and friction, which can cause it to perform poorly.

Let’s discuss the common symptoms of a bad CVT transmission.

What Is CVT Transmission?

Although the CVT only recently became popular, its design has been around for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci designed the first transmission in 1490, but it was granted a patent in 1886 by Daimler and Benz.

So, the design of the CVT has been around for centuries, and its innovations offer greater efficiency. In 1910, Zenith motorcycles featured a CVT transmission, and in the 1980s, Subaru introduced the model into the mainstream automotive industry.

As a result, most car brands today feature a CVT in their vehicles, especially those small and mid-sized. Unlike a manual transmission, which requires a clutch pedal to maintain its position, the CVT doesn't require a clutch pedal.

This feature allows the car to change its gear ratios while moving continuously. This makes it unique compared to other mechanical transmissions, which typically have a set number of gear ratios.

The continuously variable transmission has a unique ability to provide unmatched flexibility and improve the car's acceleration and fuel economy. This feature also helps improve the driving experience by allowing the vehicle to move smoothly and efficiently.

Unlike other mechanical transmissions, the CVT does not require gear. Instead, it's constructed on twin pulleys connected to the car's wheels and engine. These two pulleys can work in tandem using a belt or a flexible chain.

One of the main advantages of CVT is its ability to provide unmatched flexibility. This feature is because the width of the two pulleys can vary according to the car's power requirement. This allows them to offer various gear ratios.

Some types of CVT transmissions work similarly to gear-based systems. These point-based transmissions are commonly equipped with paddle shifters or regular shift levers. They utilize the movement of the two pulleys to set points on the road.

Symptoms of a Bad CVT Transmission

Compared to other types of mechanical transmissions, the CVT features fewer moving parts and is designed with a more straightforward structure.

However, it still has some problems that are common to other transmissions. The following are the symptoms of a bad CVT transmission:

1. CVT Transmission Slipping, Grinding, and Jerking

If you notice that your car's CVT transmission is declining, you must take immediate action to address the issue.

Excessive slipping can signify a severe structural problem or a lack of transmission fluid.

If the car's belt or chain is not lubricated properly, the transmission might not be able to adjust its pulleys properly.

If the transmission fluid is worn out, it could cause excessive transmission slipping. Although it's normal to feel this issue, it can still occur during regular driving sessions.

Although there is no definitive explanation as to what's causing the intermittent transmission noises, the issue may be related to the car's internal components.

A local Honda dealership in Germany told us that worn-out parts could cause the noises. They suggested that the driver replace the transmission fluid at a shorter interval.

If the car lurches forward or trembles when it's driven, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

Some drivers also report that their CVTs are not as smooth as other transmissions.

Some drivers insist that jerking is expected when the CVT shifts between the "high" and the "low" gears. Dealers and online users also state that this issue is typical.

2. CVT Transmission Control Module Problems

Like other transmissions, the CVT also comes with a control module. This component monitors the various signals from the car's sensors to determine how the car should react.

If the control module of the CVT is defective, it can cause sudden changes in the car's behavior.

These symptoms include a lack of engagement, accelerated slipping, and delayed gearbox engagement.

If these symptoms appear suddenly without any previous problems, the issue could be related to the control module.

Mechanical and structural damage to the CVT can eventually develop gradually, but electronic topics usually appear immediately.

3. CVT Gearbox Whining, Clunking, and Rattling Sounds While Driving

If you hear strange noises from the CVT, something may be wrong with the car's internal components.

According to experts, some drivers might be experiencing issues with the internal components of their CVT.

A good mechanic would first rule out other potential causes of the strange noises, such as the brake system, suspension, and wheel bearings. Doing so would be cheaper to repair than fixing the transmission itself.

4. Transmission Fluid Problems with the CVT Transmission

The most common cause of CVT issues is the lack of proper transmission fluid.

Having a low level of this fluid can lead to various problems, such as the lack of cooling and mechanical damage to the transmission.

Having the proper amount of transmission fluid can help prevent these issues from happening in the first place.

Regular maintenance and replacing the transmission fluid according to the manufacturer's interval are also essential steps car owners should take to keep their CVTs running smoothly.

5. CVT Overheating Problems

The sensitive nature of automatic transmissions makes certain types, such as CVT, incredibly prone to overheating.

Overheating can be caused by improper use or insufficient or worn transmission fluid. It can also occur if the oil pump is faulty.

The dashboard of your vehicle should notify you if the transmission is overheating. The transmission may be defective if the warning message continues to repeat itself.

If this happens, make sure to stop the car immediately. If it's caused by excessive heat or prolonged stop-and-go traffic, the vehicle should turn off the engine and go to the nearest service center.

6. Check Engine Warning Light Due to CVT Gearbox Problems

Certain vehicles with automatic transmissions have a warning light on their dashboard that says "Check Engine." This warning light usually comes up after the car has been thoroughly checked.

In most cases, it's the internal components of the transmission that are causing the issue. Some CVT cars also have a gear selector lever designed to indicate the problems with the transmission.

7. Slipping of the Metallic Multi-Plate Chain or Belt

The belt or multi-plate chain of the transmission must be firmly held down to prevent it from slipping on the pulleys, which regulate the gear ratio. Having too much slip can be a sign of severe transmission damage.

8. CVT Flywheel Problems

A CVT's flywheel or torque converter is similar to a standard hydraulic transmission.

Some dealerships have also suggested replacing the entire transmission due to issues with the flywheel.

In a forum discussion, a CVT owner said that he was about to have the entire transmission replaced for around $4,000. However, the problem was a faulty CVT flywheel.

Although various symptoms of a defective CVT flywheel, such as juddering and slipping, diagnostic tools do not usually have fault codes.

This usually leads dealerships to believe that the transmission is faulty.

9. CVT Clutch Problems and Symptoms

A CVT is usually equipped with a clutch between the engine and the car.

When the gas pedal is pressed, the clutch slowly engages the vehicle and the transmission to ensure smooth take-off.

If you're experiencing issues like jerky starting or lurching forward, this could be the issue with the clutch. Sometimes, a simple reprogramming of the clutch can help resolve the issue.

Pros and Cons of CVT Transmission

There are several advantages as well as disadvantages of continuously variable transmission.


1. Fuel Economy

Hybrid vehicles, which are commonly equipped with advanced technologies, exploit the capabilities of CVT transmissions by offering better fuel economy.

For instance, some mid-sized cars with CVT transmissions can achieve a 38 miles per gallon rating.

2. It Is Easier To Drive Uphill

The correct gear ratio can be very challenging to drive in traditional transmission systems.

With a CVT, the driver can easily find and execute the ideal gear ratio in just a few steps.

3. Better Driving Experience

Finding the proper gear ratio is one of the main advantages of a CVT transmission. This allows the car's engine to deliver power without hard shifting.

In addition, this feature improves the driving experience because it ensures that the car's engine performs consistently across the rpm range.

4. Responsive Acceleration

The responsive acceleration that a CVT transmission provides is also another advantage. It can be used in various driving conditions, such as highway passing.


1. Expensive

The cost of replacing and repairing a CVT transmission is significantly higher than that of other types of transmissions.

2. Not Suited for High-performance Situations

Unfortunately, CVT transmissions are not suited for high-performance situations like some other types of transmission.