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Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Valvoline CVT Fluid
Valvoline
CVT Fluid
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Premium Quality
Bottom Line

A CVT fluid that is specifically formulated for today's state-of-the-art variable transmissions.

Pros

Formulated with premium synthetic base stocks, long-life friction modifiers, special anti-wear additives, and shear stable viscosity modifiers. Delivers superior wet clutch and anti-wear performance. Works great in most belt and chain-driven CV transmissions.

Cons

Not recommended for use in Toyota and Ford hybrid transmissions.

Best Bang for the Buck
Castrol CVT Fluid
Castrol
CVT Fluid
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Wide-range Compatibility
Bottom Line

A premium CVT fluid that can be used in a wide range of vehicles.

Pros

Offers enhanced friction durability for a smoother drive for longer transmission life. Provides superior high-temperature protection to resist oxidation. Delivers excellent variator torque capacity to prevent belt or chain slippage. Suitable for use in most passenger cars fitted with push belt transmissions.

Cons

May void the warranty of some vehicles.

Pentosin CVT Fluid
Pentosin
CVT Fluid
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For FWD Transmissions
Bottom Line

A budget-friendly CVT fluid that offers high levels of thermal and oxidative stability.

Pros

Delivers high-wear resistance and ideal friction performance for a CVT belt and CVT chain. Ideal for use in continuously variable automatic gear boxes. Fully miscible and compatible with other high-quality CVT fluids. Features modern additive technology and provides high-shear stability.

Cons

Intended for front wheel drive CV transmissions only.

Nissan CVT Fluid
Nissan
CVT Fluid
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For Nissan and Infiniti
Bottom Line

A masterfully formulated and proven CVT fluid for Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.

Pros

Consists of a unique formulation of advanced friction modifiers and additives to ensure stable, precise operation. Provides superb low-temperature fluidity for smooth shifting. Maintains proper pressure in hot weather. Simple to use.

Cons

Tends to be more expensive than other CVT fluids.

Honda CVT Fluid
Honda
CVT Fluid
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For Honda
Bottom Line

A first-rate CVT fluid that performs beautifully in all CV transmission Honda models.

Pros

Provides long-lasting oxidation resistance, minimal deposits and extended drain intervals. Delivers better fluidity at cold temperatures for easier starting. Specially formulated for Honda vehicles equipped with CV transmissions.

Cons

Intended for use in Honda vehicles with first-generation CV transmissions only.

HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

36
Models
Considered
71
Consumers
Consulted
18
Hours
Researched
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Buying guide for Best CVT fluids

The continuously variable transmission (CVT), or shiftless transmission, is becoming increasingly popular. They’re fitted in everything from Audis to Volvos and are particularly common in hybrids.

CVTs are a reliable, durable option with numerous benefits (which we’ll look at below), but you need to take care when choosing a lubricant, the CVT fluid. While you’ll find lots of generic “universal” lubricants for normal automatic transmissions, CVT fluid needs to be more model-specific.

There are plenty of choices, though, and we’ve been investigating what’s available and what CVT fluid does. Our top recommendations offer solutions for the majority of CVT vehicle owners, and in the following buyer’s guide we explain the technical aspects in more detail.

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In 1490, Leonardo Da Vinci had the first recorded idea for a continuously variable transmission.

Key considerations

What is a CVT?

The continuously variable transmission is not a new idea. It was first used in a sawmill engine in the 1870s, and it appeared in cars soon after. Though it’s easier to make than a traditional geared transmission, CVT uses a belt drive. At first, when production methods weren’t what they are today, the belt was the weak point. Despite a minor resurgence in the late 1950s (when Dutch truck maker DAF produced a range of small 500 cc and 600 cc cars), it wasn’t until the early 2000s that CVTs started to reappear in greater numbers.

Why choose a CVT?

By our estimation, there are over 200 cars and light trucks using CVT today, and industry sources suggest that the number is likely to increase. Why? There are two main reasons: ease (and therefore cost) of manufacture and the efficient way a CVT delivers power.

A CVT has no gears (though a few models include a first, or “launch,” gear). Instead, a belt runs on cone-shaped pulleys (some manufacturers use chains), thus providing “continuous variation.” A CVT always delivers exactly the power demanded of it, so the engine runs at peak efficiency. Fuel consumption and emissions are both reduced. There’s no question of the auto box hunting for the right gear, so the ride is usually very smooth. The belt, a weakness in the past, is now made of steel and composites. Looked after properly, a CVT will last as long as any other transmission.

Why aren’t there more CVTs?

Eventually, all cars might have CVTs, but currently there’s some customer resistance (as there often is with new technology). There are fears — however unfounded — that the belts are fragile. And while they aren’t fragile, they aren’t perfect. Belt slipping (hence loss of power), shuddering (where the belt slips, then grips, slips, then grips), and overheating can be problems. Though rare, some transmissions have failed completely. This can be a result of not changing the CVT fluid at the correct intervals or using incorrect fluid.

What does CVT fluid do?

CVT fluid lubricates the transmission, which helps to dissipate heat, but it does more than that. CVT fluid is designed to do the following:

  • Provide consistent belt friction (to reduce shuddering)

  • Protect surfaces from excessive wear and corrosion

  • Maintain viscosity and low-temperature fluidity (so the CVT always works efficiently)

  • Resist buildup of sludge

Choosing the right CVT fluid

When modern CVTs were being designed, it was soon realized that existing automatic transmission fluids wouldn’t provide sufficient protection. Initially, each manufacturer introduced its own formulation, and as a result, Jeep CVT fluid couldn’t be used in a Honda, for example. That led to a whole range of very specific CVT fluids.

  • Vehicle make-specific: However, when you buy CVT fluid today, you’ll notice that manufacturers claim it to be fine for several manufacturers (typically two or three), but not for others. This is because each vehicle manufacturer doesn’t necessarily build its own transmissions. The Japanese Transmission Company (JATCO) is a major supplier currently making CVT transmissions for Infinity, Jeep, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki. As a result, there can be some overlap between CVT fluids.

  • Universal: More “universal” CVT fluids have begun to appear that are compatible with a greater range of vehicles. They should be perfectly acceptable alternatives, and they may save you money. As these transmissions become more popular, there’s no doubt a greater range of lubricants will become available to service them.
     

When choosing a CVT fluid, it’s absolutely vital that it’s designed for your particular vehicle — model and year as well as make. It’s easy enough to check. Not doing so could result in thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle.

CVT fluid prices

Whenever possible, we like to give low, medium, and high price points for the products we investigate, but that’s not really appropriate here. Although in some cases you may pay a little extra for a manufacturer’s “genuine” CVT fluid, prices across all brands are fairly competitive. Differences are generally around 20% at most.

You invariably save money if you buy CVT fluid in greater quantities. A quart might cost you between $15 and $20, but six quarts would be $50 to $70. What you need to be careful of when comparing larger amounts is the actual quantity offered — sometimes it’s a gallon, sometimes five quarts, sometimes six. We’ve also seen European sizes (five liters, for example). You might need to do a little math to work out the best deal.

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The term “universal” CVT fluid can be misleading. A product may be used in a wider range of vehicles, but there will still be limitations. Always check if it’s compatible with your make and model.

FAQ

Q. How often does CVT fluid need to be changed?

A. There’s considerable variation, anywhere from every 30,000 miles to more than 100,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual and follow it consistently. CVT fluid is the lifeblood of the system, and it’s much cheaper to change it than to replace your transmission!

Q. Is it difficult to change CVT fluid?

A. It depends on the vehicle. If you’re comfortable with a wrench, it’s not technically a difficult job, but it is time-consuming. It will probably take you a couple of hours. There are a few videos online that might help (although your vehicle may not be covered). It’s not something to take risks with, so get a pro to do it if you’re unsure.

Q. Can I use automatic transmission fluid (ATF) instead of CVT fluid?

A. We spent a long time researching this question with no definitive answer — even transmission experts disagree! The most common answer we got was “it depends on the type of ATF fluid.” It’s safest to say no. Only use CVT fluid recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. It’s not worth risking thousands of dollars of damage to save a few bucks.

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