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Unless you‘re a diehard proponent of a stick shift and are holding steadfast to traditional gear changing, your car probably has a CVT. These transmissions smoothly move between an unrestricted number of gear ratios during driving, resulting in increased fuel economy and an easier time with hilly terrain. Now, a CVT system won’t work its vehicular magic on its own — you have to feed it a healthy supply of transmission fluid.
And, if you really want your transmission to hum, using the best CVT fluids is the only way to go. To help you along, we’ve sourced the best CVT fluids on the market, along with tips on taking care of your transmission.
Valvoline Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid
This transmission fluid can be used in most belt and chain-driven CVTs. It's formulated with premium synthetic base stocks, long-life friction modifiers, special anti-wear additives, and shear stable viscosity modifiers.
- Fluid is compatible with new car warranties
- Offers high-level wet clutch performance
- Prevents wear and tear on gears
- Cost-effective option
- Not suitable for Ford hybrids or Toyota CVT rides
- Creates a strong odor requiring ample ventilation
Cam 2 Full Synthetic CVT Fluid
Affordable and effective, this automatic transmission treatment features lubricating additives on top of its existing base stock formula. It improves shifting ease when moving into higher gears.
- Protects internal components from friction wear
- Limits risk of transmission shudder
- Not prone to thickening if exposed to high heat
- Not suitable to all vehicles on the market
- Only use on vehicles using a belt- or pulley-type transmission
Castrol Transmax Universal Fluid
Formulated to be a universally-compatible transmission fluid, this synthetic treatment is a blend of base oils and special additives to improve lubricating ability. Coming in a full gallon, it makes transmission upkeep easy.
- Extremely durable against wear and tear
- Drastically limits the friction coefficient between internal hardware
- Limited risk of corrosion due to oxidation
- Improves overall vehicle performance
- Because it is universal, not CVT-specific, it may cause warranty issues
- Higher price point than other comparable products
Types of CVT Fluid
Not all continuously variable transmissions are made alike. In fact, there are three subtypes of these transmissions: pulley, toroidal, and hydrostatic. The first is also called a belt-run system. It uses interconnected pulleys as opposed to gears to complete transitions. Toroidal models rely on rollers and discs to get the job done. A hydrostatic model relies on pumps to control fluid and rotational movement. Because of the different hardware employed to achieve gear transitions, there are available fluids to accommodate the specific target friction coefficient of each subtype. If you are looking to go the extra mile in caring for your transmission, though these might cost a bit extra, the specialized formula often makes it worth it.
OEM Transmission Fluid
This type of transmission fluid has a big market share, partly due to its compatibility with service contracts. It’s usually made by a subsidiary of the manufacturer itself, meaning the formula is curated to that exact vehicle — factoring in things like heat dissemination and engine model. There are some OEM transmission fluids that are fairly versatile, boasting a long list of vehicles with which they are compatible, while others only work on select models.
Universal Transmission Fluid
There are two ways to break down the concept of universal transmission fluid. The first is the most common: CVT fluid that works on all continuously variable transmissions. If it’s touted as a universal model, you can expect it to work whether your car relies on a pulley system or hydrostatic setup. Preferred to those newer to car maintenance, you can find high-end formulas, complete with effective base oils and efficient additives.
The other approach to universal transmission fluid is when the formula reportedly works on both ATF and CVTs. Some companies have achieved impressive results with these synthetic formulas; but, unless the product has proven itself on the market, avoid this type. If you end up with a solution that is actually meant for an ATF transmission, you could do serious (and irreparable damage to the vehicle). If you’re looking for universal use, make sure it is a CVT-specific universal application.
CVT Fluid Pricing
- $15 to $20: This is typically what you will pay for a quart of CVT fluid. A manufacturer's "genuine" CVT fluid maybe a little more expensive than a universal brand.
- Over $50: Expect to pay this amount for 6 quarts of transmission fluid. Pay attention to the quantity because some brands sell quarts, while others sell gallons of transmission fluid. European brands favor liters.
Best CVT Fluids Reviews & Recommendations 2021
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