LAST UPDATED: October 10, 2019
Best CVT Transmission Fluids: Top Picks for Lubrication
These top CVT transmission fluids will keep your car running smoothly
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON October 10, 2019
Many modern cars have a continuously variable transmission, known as a CVT. These types of cars require special CVT fluid for lubrication purposes, and the fluid is different than what's required on other automatic transmissions. If you have a vehicle with a CVT transmission, check out our buyers guide to find the best fluid on the market.
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Benefits of CVT Transmission Fluid
- Transmission lubrication. Unlike a geared transmission, CVT vehicles use a belt drive that helps the engine run efficiently. Modern belt drives are strong and made of steel and composite materials, but in order for them to operate properly they need correct lubrication.
- More efficiency. The best CVT transmission fluid will ensure that the belt friction is consistent and doesn't shudder. It also protects against wear and corrosion, prevents sludge buildup, and helps sustain viscosity and low-temperature fluidity.
- Peace of mind. All vehicles require maintenance in order to run properly. Using the proper CVT transmission fluid will ensure that your vehicle drives smoothly, and it's one less thing you have to worry about.
Types of CVT Transmission Fluid
Many automotive manufacturers sell CVT transmission fluid that's specific to certain makes and models. Some brands work for two or three different manufacturers but not others. The reason why is because not all automakers build their own transmissions. For example, JATCO manufactures transmissions for Jeep, Nissan, Infinity, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki. As a result, you may find a transmission fluid that works for a variety of vehicles.
A universal CVT transmission fluid can be used on a variety of vehicles. These are generally good products that may be a little less expensive than vehicle-specific options. Since CVT transmissions are becoming increasingly popular, the number of lubricants available is increasing as well.
Valvoline was founded in 1866 in Binghamton, New York, and is currently based in Lexington, Kentucky. The company has been making lubricants and automotive chemicals such as motor oil, automatic transmission fluid, and antifreeze, for over 150 years. We recommend its Valvoline Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid.
The British-based Castrol was founded in 1899. Its BP Lubricants is headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey, while Castrol Industrial North America is based in Naperville, Illinois. The company produces a wide variety of automotive and industrial lubricants, such as the Castrol Transmax ATF Black CVT Transmission Fluid.
Red Line Synthetic Oil
Red Line was founded in 1979 in Novato, California. The company initially manufactured oils for racing and then started releasing synthetic lubricants for mainstream applications. One of its popular products is the Red Line Non-Slip Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid.
CVT Transmission Fluid Pricing
- $15-$20: This is typically what you will pay for a quart of CVT transmission fluid. A manufacturer's "genuine" CVT fluid maybe a little more expensive than a universal brand.
- $50-$70: 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.
This is the most important factor to consider when shopping for CVT transmission fluid. It's critical that the lubricant you choose is designed to work with your vehicle's make, model, and year. This confirmation is vital because if you don't pick the right fluid, it can cause a lot of damage, which can be costly.
CVT transmission fluids should perform well in several areas. They should have high steel-on-steel friction and protect against wear, rust, and corrosion. They should minimize sludge and varnish formation and have low-temperature properties so it's easier to shift in cold weather. The fluid should also have foam resistance, good shear stability, and oxidation stability.
- Cost: As we noted above, the price of CVT transmission fluid is based on the size of the container as well as whether it's a universal product or specific to the type of vehicle you own. It's up to you if you'd rather spend a little more money on an OEM product you know is compatible or save a few dollars on an aftermarket brand. Many universal CVT transmission fluids work just as well as OEM fluids.
Best CVT Transmission Fluid Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Valvoline's full-synthetic CVT transmission fluid is designed for most belt- and chain-driven continuously variable transmissions. The fluid has a variety of special features, such as superior synthetic base stocks, metal-to-metal protection, long-life friction modifiers, anti-wear additives, and shear stable viscosity modifiers.
The fluid provides great anti-shudder durability, wet-clutch performance, and anti-wear performance. It is also engineered to flow well at low temperatures and provide greater protection at high temperatures. Added benefits are that it's not as costly as OEM fluid and it will not void a new car warranty.
The biggest drawback with this lubricant is that it's not designed for Toyota or Ford hybrid CVT vehicles. In addition, it emits a very strong odor, and in certain makes and models it might not perform as well as OEM transmission fluid.
This CVT transmission fluid is designed for certain Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Daihatsu, Mazda, Suzuki, Hyundai, Chrysler, Mini Cooper, and Ford vehicles. The lubricant uses Smooth Drive Technology and is formulated with a premium, full-synthetic base oil.
This transmission fluid has enhanced friction durability for a smoother driving experience. Its superior variator torque capacity is designed to prevent belt or chain slippage. It has high temperature protection to prevent oxidation and provides enhanced wear protection for a longer transmission lifespan.
However, this fluid may not work with all of the vehicles that it's reportedly compatible with, and this can cause shifting issues. Also, there have been some complaints that the product may leak during shipping.
You really can't go wrong with genuine Nissan OEM CVT transmission fluid if you own a Nissan. Nissan CVT-2 Transmission Fluid comes directly from the Japanese automaker, so you know it’s a good match for your car, SUV, or truck.
The lubricant is designed to keep your Nissan's transmission from shuddering, slipping, and whining. One of the best things about this product is that it's a fairly good price considering it's an OEM fluid. You can usually save money if you purchase it online instead of from your local dealership.
There are not many downsides to this fluid. Obviously, one issue is this product is designed for Nissan vehicles, so if you drive another type of vehicle you have to look elsewhere. Also, you may be able to find a universal fluid that is slightly less expensive.
This universal fluid is designed for American, German, and Japanese vehicles, such as Audi, BMW, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Mazda, and Subaru. This fluid has a high viscosity index to prevent too much thinning in extremely high temperatures and too much thickening in very low temperatures.
Triax's formula controls transmission shudder and does not harm synthetic rubber seals. It provides smoother shifting, and its lubricating features promote quiet operation. The fluid protects against rust and corrosion and has high-quality, anti-foaming agents. This fluid should last the lifespan of the vehicle.
The one problem with this product is that it's not recommended for e-CVT transmissions, such as the Prius, or conventional stepped automatic transmissions, dual clutch transmissions, and manual transmissions.
Once again, OEM products are the way to go if you want to guarantee that you're using the proper CVT transmission fluid in your vehicle. Honda's genuine fluids are the identical formulas that the automaker uses in all of its new vehicles. There's no guesswork involved in choosing the correct lubrication.
Honda Genuine Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid features advanced wear protection to minimize wear and maximize service life. It's designed to reduce friction and keep sludge out of the transmission. It also provides superior shifting capability. It does an excellent job of eliminating shuddering issues, especially when it's cold.
The biggest drawback with this fluid is that it's only intended for Honda vehicles. Another issue is that it's slightly more expensive than products that are universal in use.
If you drive a Mitsubishi and you're unsure of what type of CVT transmission fluid to use, then this is the go-to product. This particular formula works on 2008-17 Lancer, Outlander, and Outlander Sport Models with CVT transmissions. The automaker recommends servicing the transmission every 36,000 miles.
Using this fluid with a new filter makes a big difference in your Mitsubishi compared to using aftermarket fluids. The manufacturer's formula contains certain additives that are designed specifically to make your Mitsubishi perform efficiently. And the best part is that you don't have to worry about compatibility with this product.
However, it's designed solely for Mitsubishis. If you drive a different type of vehicle, this CVT transmission fluid will not be the right match. Also, this OEM fluid is not as cheap as some universal brands.
Red Line's CVT transmission fluid is for metal belt-type CVTs, included in vehicles such as Nissan, Subaru, and Daihatsu. The formula has anti-wear additives for better metal-to-metal protection and is designed to perform efficiently in a broad temperature range. It extends drain intervals and improves thermal stability as well as shear characteristics.
Red Line's Non-Slip Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid maintains viscosity levels, reduces oxidation, and has low volatility at high temperatures to prevent valves and clutches from varnishing. It's a good product to use if you want to eliminate the whining noise that can indicate your transmission is overheating.
However, this fluid is not recommended for use in Honda vehicles that have wet-start clutches or Audis with clutch-type continuously variable transmissions. It's also not for use in toroidal or dry units.
If you drive a Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, or Ram vehicle with a CVT, then the best way to guarantee that you're putting the correct fluid into your vehicle is by purchasing genuine Mopar CVTF+4 transmission fluid. Mopar CVT transmission fluid is formulated specifically for vehicles with continuously variable transmissions so they perform as efficiently as possible.
Mopar’s CVTF+4 transmission fluid is a high-quality product that does exactly what it advertises. The main advantages to purchasing this fluid over aftermarket brands are that you know what you're getting and you know it will work with your vehicle, which provides peace of mind. It's also reasonably-priced considering it's an OEM application.
Like many of the products on this list, the downside is that this fluid is designed for certain vehicles. In this case, only vehicles under the Chrysler umbrella are compatible.
- You probably need to replace your transmission fluid if your vehicle suddenly shifts up and down, you hear grinding sounds, your vehicle shifts erratically, or you see a spike in RPMs before shifting.
- It's critical that your CVT fluid is compatible with your vehicle's make, model, and year. Check the manufacturer's specifications to ensure that it is designed for your particular vehicle.
- If you put regular automatic transmission fluid into your CVT transmission, it will be extremely damaging and will eventually cause your transmission to die.
Q: What is the purpose of CVT fluid?
A: Transmission fluid lubricates the transmission so it can dissipate heat. It also protects against wear and corrosion and helps maintain viscosity and lower-temperature fluidity.
Q: Is it better to use a vehicle-make specific fluid or one that is universal?
A: That is a personal preference. Universal CVT fluids tend to be a good alternative to vehicle-make specific brands, and they may also be a little less expensive.
Q: How often do I need to change my CVT fluid?
A: That depends on your vehicle. It can be as often as every 30,000 miles to as little as every 100,000 miles. Consult your owner's manual to find out.
Our pick for the best CVT transmission fluid is the Valvoline Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid. It’s compatible with most makes and models, is less expensive than OEM brands, and does its job well.
For a more budget-friendly option, consider the Castrol Transmax ATF Black CVT Transmission Fluid.