Best CVT Fluids

Updated November 2019
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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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. 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 
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Why trust BestReviews?
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. 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 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

18 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
109 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best CVT fluids

Last Updated November 2019

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.

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.

EXPERT TIP

CVT fluid can be red, green, amber, and almost clear, so never trust the color! If it’s not in the original, unopened container, we’d recommend you steer clear.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Used CVT fluid is dangerous to the environment. Depending where you live, improper disposal may be illegal. Some parts stores have a drop-off for recycling. If they don’t, find a local waste-handling center.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If your vehicle is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, be careful. Changing the CVT fluid yourself might invalidate the guarantee.


Staff  | BestReviews

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.

Other products we considered

Whether you buy “genuine” manufacturer-recommended CVT fluid or one of the aftermarket alternatives is a personal choice. This selection covers both options and highlights several popular lubricants. Red Line 30804 CVT Fluid is designed for metal-belt transmissions used in Daihatsu, Nissan, and Subaru. It offers good thermal stability, which should make for long service intervals. What’s interesting about the Honda Genuine CVT-1 Fluid, apart from it’s obvious suitability for the marque, is the competitive price. Often “genuine” lubricants come at a premium, but that’s not the case here. Idemitsu CVT Type N Fluid is marketed as primarily for Nissan transmissions, but it works with JATCO CVTs that require NS-2 fluid, which includes some Infinity models and older Isuzus and Suzukis. Finally, we have Genuine Chrysler Accessories CVTF+4 Fluid for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and SRT models.

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.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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