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Old 01-07-2012, 08:24 PM
XLXR XLXR is offline
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How to drive your CVT instead of it driving you

It has taken about 6,000 miles on my 2012 Altima 3.5 SR for me to figure out how to operate the CVT transmission. Due to the general confusion and criticism of the CVT, I decided to share my experiences by writing down some driving techniques I have learned. Some of this I learned by reading what other people have written on various forums. Although I have a strong mechanical background, I have never taken apart a CVT, nor do I have any training from Nissan. I can only assume the way I use the Sport or Manual modes does not cause any long term damage to the transmission. Some of this won’t be new information, but hopefully, it will help guys new to CVTs.

The owners’ manual states three specific things about the CVT. Do not tow any distance with the wheels on the ground, and do not coast with the transmission in neutral. It also says if you overheat the trany fluid, the computer will go into a limp mode.

Idle in neutral
I always shift to neutral after stopped. In my opinion, this takes the stress off engine and trany parts and lets the fluid in both cool down a bit. Other people say don’t do it, but offer no explanation of why.

Torque Converter
Lock up occurs at about 5 mph when in Drive or Sport mode. If you are very light on the throttle, and keep the tach at 1,000 rpm as the car accelerates, you will see a dip in the rpm when the TC locks up at about 5 mph. I found this out after stopping on a steep hill. By chance, I started to accelerate slowly. Then I felt the car do a big jerk which I assume was caused by the TC locking up, but then immediately unlocking, in attempt to slowly accelerate up the hill. In order to avoid excessive or harsh lock ups, I will drive in Manual mode in stop and go traffic like parking lots under 5 mph, and when starting from a stop up a steep hill.

In Manual mode, the TC lock up occurs differently. It does not lock up at 5 mph like in D or S modes. I think it locks up at higher speeds. I did find an article that mentions the TC has a soft lock up mechanism where the lock up can change depending on conditions.

Gas Peddle Control of CVT
Nissan says a minor vibration and rumble at about 1,200 rpm is normal and doesn’t hurt anything. However, it can get pretty bad and annoy some drivers. If it becomes bad or annoying to you, see if the Nissan dealer will update your CVT under warranty.

A lot of guys don’t like it when the CVT pulls the engine rpm down too low, causing the vibration and rumble at about 1,200 rpm which also bogs the engine down and the car won’t accelerate. This is frequently referred to as the “rubber band” effect of the CVT. I think they are describing the main feature of the CVT which is meant to improve gas mileage.

If you accelerate lightly from a stop, the engine rpm will go up initially, but as the car speeds up, the computer starts to increase the CVT gear ratio which pulls the engine rpm back down. I look at this as one feature of the CVT which I can choose to use or not. I will use it if I want to drive for best fuel economy, but I will not use it if I want to drive more aggressively.

Try this little experiment. From a stop on flat ground, use just enough throttle to keep the rpm at 1,000 while you accelerate. Then practice using a bit more gas to keep the rpm at 2,000 while you accelerate from a stop. (These rpm numbers work on my 3.5 engine; I don’t know what they would be on a 2.5 engine.)

In both cases, the car will accelerate without the 1200 rpm vibration and rumble. Accelerating at 1,000 rpm is very slow, slower than normal traffic. Accelerating at 2,000 rpm tends to be a bit faster than normal traffic, which frequently ends up with me getting too close to the car ahead of me. When starting from a stop, I avoid this by letting the car in front of me get a few car lengths ahead, and then I let off the brakes and start to accelerate. This extra space allows me to accelerate from a stop at 2,000 engine rpm to avoid the 1,200 rpm vibration, rumble and rubber band effect. Once my car has enough speed and momentum, I will let off the gas and let the CVT shift to a higher ratio which lowers engine rpm and improves fuel economy.

The key point here is I am using the gas peddle to control when the CVT pulls into a higher gear ratio and avoiding the 1,200 rpm vibration, rumble and rubber band effect, rather than letting it happen automatically.

Going up a hill is another good example of how I use the throttle to control the CVT. To maximize fuel economy while on the flat road before the hill, I will be coasting along with just enough throttle to keep the car moving with the CVT in a high ratio and low engine rpm. Before the car starts to slow as it starts to go up hill, I will push in more throttle to get the CVT to down shift to a lower ratio, get the rpms up and climb the hill. As I go over the top, I will let off the gas, let the CVT pull into a higher ratio, drop the engine rpms to maximize fuel economy, and then stay off the gas as I coast down hill. The idea is to push the throttle down and down shift the CVT before it bogs down the engine. If you wait too long before pushing in more throttle, the engine bogs, the car slows, and it takes longer for the CVT to downshift and accelerate up the hill. That is not so different that down shifting a normal automatic or manual trany,

3 More Hints
1. Stay on the throttle when you up shift the CVT. I think this keeps higher hydraulic pressure needed to control the pulleys. This is opposite older style automatic transmissions where you let off the throttle to cause an up shift.

2. Constantly adjust the gas pedal. Back in the good old days of carburetors, being steady on the throttle provided the best fuel economy. With the CVT, I have to constantly change the position of the gas peddle to get the CVT to do what I want. For example, if I want to keep the engine rpm’s at 2,000 while I accelerate from a stop as the car speeds up, I have to keep adding a bit more throttle as the car speeds up to keep the rpms at 2,000 and prevent the CVT from shifting to a higher ratio and bogging down the engine rpm too soon. If the revs go over 2000 rpms, I let off the gas pedal a bit.

3. Watch the mile per gallon bar graph to get an idea how to be soft on the gas peddle. My old car did not have the mpg bar graph, but did have a normal automatic transmission. Without realizing it, I had developed a habit of just mashing on the gas to go as fast as I wanted. However, by watching the mpg bar graph, I was able to see how sensitive the throttle was to small movements. This helped me learn to constantly adjust the throttle to control the CVT.

4. The operation of the CVT will change at different throttle positions.
Here’s one example. Put the tranny in Sport mode. Sport mode tells the computer to insert artificial shift points in the rpm curve to mimic normal automatic transmissions. However, if you are light on the throttle, the shift points will be low in the rpm curve, or you may not feel them at all. If you are heavy on the throttle, the shift points will be higher in the rpm curve.

The Fun Stuff with Different Shift Modes
I rarely use Drive mode. In my opinion, it is there just to provide the best fuel economy. In this mode, the CVT is always trying to pull the engine rpm down. There are no actual shift points like a normal automatic transmission.

There are two exceptions. If you are cruising in Drive mode and want to accelerate quickly, you can hit the gas and push the shift lever left, into Sport mode. This forces the CVT to do a quick down shift, get the engine rpms up, and is very effective as a passing gear.

The gas peddle has a mechanical detent and click built into it about of the way to full throttle. With the engine off, push the throttle past , you can feel the click. If you are cruising in Drive mode, assume 6th gear and low engine rpm, and do not push the throttle past the click, the CVT will stay in 6th gear and accelerate slowly. However, if you push the gas peddle past the click, the CVT will downsift, increase engine rpms, and accelerate much more quickly.

I normally drive in Sport mode which is where the CVT computer inserts artificial shift points. The harder I push the throttle, the higher in the rpm curve the shift points are. I cannot feel the shift points at all if I am very light on the throttle. When I feel like driving heavy on the throttle, this mode feels like a close ratio transmission. The other advantage of Sport mode, is I can downshift whenever needed to get the rpms up and prevent the CVT from lugging the engine down too much. The disadvantage is that gas mileage drops dramatically if I am really hard on the throttle.

I did the following tests under full throttle acceleration from a slow speed, such as entering a freeway.

In Drive mode, the engine rpm would stay at red line and did not pull down the rpm. I left off the gas at 80 mph, so maybe you have to go faster than that before the CVT starts to pull into a higher ratio to reduce engine rpm.

In Sport mode at full throttle, the artificial shift points were very close to the red line. When shifting, the rpms would drop a bit just like a normal transmission, but just enough to allow the engine torque to continue pulling hard.

In Manual mode, the rpms would go to red line. However, like a normal transmission, you should shift up a gear before the engine rpms hit the red line. If you didn’t, the car would not accelerate any further. If you actually hit the red line in manual mode, the CVT would up shift automatically. If you let off the gas after that, you will find the gear indicator on the dash in a lower gear.

When in Manual mode, and staying under the red line, the CVT holds a constant ratio, so the rpms will correspond directly with the throttle position. To me, Manual mode is just like a manual transmission without a foot clutch. I can go anywhere in the rpm curve I want, at any speed, in any CVT gear ratio I select.

One other aspect of Manual mode is that the CVT will automatically down shift as you slow down and let off the gas. If you are in Manual mode in 6th gear and slow to a stop, the CVT will automatically shift down to first.

I know this all sounds complicated the first time you read it. If you practice a bit to understand how to make the CVT do what you want, it will become second nature over time. The CVT does give you the choice of driving for economy or pushing it as hard as you want.

Feel free to add any comments or correct any oversights I have made.

Last edited by XLXR; 01-08-2012 at 02:04 AM.
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Old 01-07-2012, 10:00 PM
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Question: still not much into car lingo. When u say throttle you mean to push pedal hard or just push the pedal normally?



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Old 01-08-2012, 01:46 AM
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Throttle and gas pedal means the same thing. The trick is learning how to vary it to do what you want. Go light on the throttle/gas pedal to let the rpms go as low as practical to maximize fuel economy, or hard as needed on the throttle/gas pedal to prevent the CVT from pulling the rpms lower than you want. As far as I can understand, the guys who complain about the rubber band effect of the CVT, are not using the throttle/gas pedal in this manner.
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Old 01-08-2012, 09:28 AM
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That is way too much work just to drive an automatic. Defeats the purpose if having an auto


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Originally Posted by RIZAMAN View Post

People who defend CVT are like people with ugly kids - they have no choice but to love them.
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Old 01-08-2012, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by tooslow_4_u View Post
That is way too much work just to drive an automatic. Defeats the purpose if having an auto


I am going to have to agree with this young fellow here...^

However, excellent post with a lot if information about a transmission I hate. I did read it and learned quite a few things. Thank you.

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Old 01-08-2012, 03:31 PM
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That is way too much work just to drive an automatic. Defeats the purpose if having an auto
__________________
I read a lot of stuff on the internet and took a note book with me when I drove so I could stop and write down my impressions as soon as I could. It took me awhile to figure it out and change my driving technique. The more I practiced, the easier it became to control the CVT as I wanted. Now I am wondering if "Adaptive Learning" of the computer has changed the control program over time. I can't find much information on that.

Too me, the CVT is less work than a manual, more fun than an auto.

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I did read it and learned quite a few things. Thank you.
You're welcome.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:41 PM
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See......I'm not a total ass.. I recognized that you put a lot of tiime and effort into that post......And....well..it is a great CVT in his new Altima....Maybe when I am 70...i will like it too.....

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Old 01-08-2012, 03:55 PM
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what most people aren't used to yet is that the CVT responds to the gas pedal in different ways than a normal automatic. if you need more acceleration, you just give it more gas. less, give it less gas. it's the simplest concept, but when you are used to how normal automatics or standard transmissions work, it doesn't always translate well. many people will find they have to apply more throttle to get the desired results. this is completely normal for a CVT. a properly designed and setup CVT will hold it's lowest ratio when you give it full throttle off the line. the rpm's will jump fast up to peak power and hold there until the CVT achieves the highest gear ratio, at which point the rpm's slowly increase further to the rev limit. when you are cruising along and need to accelerate, if you give it full throttle the CVT should then react and drop to the lowest ratio while keeping the rpm's at peak power. CVT's are designed to be run at high rpm's when accelerating heavily and low rpm's when cruising. that's how they can achieve great acceleration without sacrificing fuel economy. the problem is that the nissan CVT is not programmed for peak performance, just fuel economy. they should have a sport mode that does not shift twice before the motor reaches peak power rpm. that would make them way more fun to drive. plus if they could achieve the same or lower starting ratio as a manual transmission, the CVT would accelerate faster since off the line the "gearing" would be lower and the motor would be held at peak power, instead of revving past it, dropping back down when changing gear, then revving past it, etc. CVT's are wonderful creations, when designed and programmed properly. the biggest problem with the nissan CVT is its programming. it is not responsive enough and it doesn't hold the lowest ratio long enough. fix those two things and it'll be a totally different animal.

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Old 01-08-2012, 09:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by XLXR View Post
It has taken about 6,000 miles on my 2012 Altima 3.5 SR for me to figure out how to operate the CVT transmission. The owners’ manual states three specific things about the CVT. Do not tow any distance with the wheels on the ground, and do not coast with the transmission in neutral. It also says if you overheat the trany fluid, the computer will go into a limp mode.



The Fun Stuff with Different Shift Modes
I rarely use Drive mode. In my opinion, it is there just to provide the best fuel economy. In this mode, the CVT is always trying to pull the engine rpm down. There are no actual shift points like a normal automatic transmission.

Some of this is Ok- but much is completely wrong. The lines I made bold is a big example. The CVT chooses OPTIMUM gear ratio. What is it you don't understand about OPTIMUM? You are NOT going to pick a better ratio on you own, and you are NOT quicker and smarter than the computer that controls the shift ratio. Under full throttle, the engine quickly goes to the rpm which provides MAXIMUM acceleratioon- using the "manual" mode will assure that you rarely have that rpm, and will result in less acceleration than Drive. The owners manual, which was intially quoted, is quite specific as to when Manual mode is useful. What the OP has found is the way he likes to use the CVT- it is not the best way, nor the way the engineers intended.

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Old 01-08-2012, 10:31 PM
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um, no, the engine does NOT go to the rpm that provides maximum acceleration, unless you are under 25 mph. it is not programmed to, which is quite sad, since they have effectively removed one of the best features of a CVT, the ability to drop to the lowest ratio possible without revving the motor past peak power nearly instantly. the CVT only provides optimum gear ratio for fuel economy, not performance. holding the lowest ratio until peak power rpm would actually reduce the strain on the CVT, so i can't see that nissan programmed it for longevity purposes. the only reasonable reason i see is for fuel economy, but who really cares about fuel economy at 100% throttle? another possible reason is because having a motor that revs so high so fast might scare people who aren't used to it.

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Old 01-08-2012, 11:17 PM
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Old 01-09-2012, 06:07 AM
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Quote:
.Maybe when I am 70..
I'm not 70 yet, but my ricky racer days are long over.

Quote:
the problem is that the nissan CVT is not programmed for peak performance, just fuel economy
Could that be because the Altima is a family sedan, not an all out sports car? While the 4 cylinder does not have enough performance for me, the V6 does. The only time I have hit the red line was in the experiment above. I didn't want to pay for anymore performance for a daily driver.

Quote:
You are NOT going to pick a better ratio on you own,
Contrary to popular opinion, I believe the whole purpose of Manual mode is to allow the driver to pick whatever engine rpm and tranny gear ratio he wants to drive in. It works for me.

Quote:
The owners manual, which was intially quoted, is quite specific as to when Manual mode is useful. What the OP has found is the way he likes to use the CVT- it is not the best way, nor the way the engineers intended.
I re-read my 2012 owners manual. In reference to using the Manual mode it describes how to move the shifter, and then says "Follow these procedures for maximum vehicle performance and driving enjoyment." I did not find any limitations in using the Manual mode, except in extreme situations such as getting stuck, or not slamming the tranny into gear at high engine rpms.

If you can describe the BEST way to use a CVT, and provide support for your description, I would like to hear it. Sometimes I have no idea what the engineers were thinking.

Quote:
using the "manual" mode will assure that you rarely have that rpm
You and I must be driving different cars. I can hit red line in any mode simply by pushing the gas pedal beyond the 3/4 indent/click. I really don't care if I drive in the fastest mode possible. It's my daily driver, not a race car.

Last edited by XLXR; 01-09-2012 at 06:09 AM.
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Old 01-09-2012, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by got wake? View Post
um, no, the engine does NOT go to the rpm that provides maximum acceleration, unless you are under 25 mph. it is not programmed to, which is quite sad, since they have effectively removed one of the best features of a CVT, the ability to drop to the lowest ratio possible without revving the motor past peak power nearly instantly. the CVT only provides optimum gear ratio for fuel economy, not performance. holding the lowest ratio until peak power rpm would actually reduce the strain on the CVT, so i can't see that nissan programmed it for longevity purposes. the only reasonable reason i see is for fuel economy, but who really cares about fuel economy at 100% throttle? another possible reason is because having a motor that revs so high so fast might scare people who aren't used to it.
Yes- the engine DOES go to the rpm that provides maximum acceleration. You really should try to aquire some knowledge before you start to express opinions. I've been driving my CVT for about five years now, but it's in V6- so things are probably a little different with small engine. My judgements and observations are also based on two engineering degrees and many years of experience in engineering design and analysis. Nissan and others have published a number of engineering papers describing the operation of this particular CVT- it's not the same as those on snowmobiles or ATVs, for example. With the V6, when you floor the accelerator, the CVT shifts to get the rpm to 6000- that's peak HP for this engine and that's where you will get maximum acceleration- NOT near redline. The CVT has hundreds of shift modes, and it choosed the best for the situation, whether that is grandma driving to get best economy, or spirited driving to get performance.

The owners manual for 2007-2009 says to use Drive mode for "all normal forward driving"- it then lists conditions when the Manual mode might be useful. And, to XLXR- the CVT won't LET you hit red line- it protects the engine while it's optimizing performance. There is no need to rev that high with the CVT- it would be stupid abuse of the engine. And yes, we are driving different cars- I'm driving mine, and you're driving yours.

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Old 01-09-2012, 03:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ormand View Post
Yes- the engine DOES go to the rpm that provides maximum acceleration. You really should try to aquire some knowledge before you start to express opinions. I've been driving my CVT for about five years now, but it's in V6- so things are probably a little different with small engine. My judgements and observations are also based on two engineering degrees and many years of experience in engineering design and analysis. Nissan and others have published a number of engineering papers describing the operation of this particular CVT- it's not the same as those on snowmobiles or ATVs, for example. With the V6, when you floor the accelerator, the CVT shifts to get the rpm to 6000- that's peak HP for this engine and that's where you will get maximum acceleration- NOT near redline. The CVT has hundreds of shift modes, and it choosed the best for the situation, whether that is grandma driving to get best economy, or spirited driving to get performance.

The owners manual for 2007-2009 says to use Drive mode for "all normal forward driving"- it then lists conditions when the Manual mode might be useful. And, to XLXR- the CVT won't LET you hit red line- it protects the engine while it's optimizing performance. There is no need to rev that high with the CVT- it would be stupid abuse of the engine. And yes, we are driving different cars- I'm driving mine, and you're driving yours.

no it doesn't. i guess them degrees are weighing you down so you can't FEEL what the car is doing? maybe if you've ever experienced how a CVT should responds you would understand?

the CVT CANNOT provide the lowest possible ratio unless you are under 25 mph. page 259 in the transmission service manual. it shifts at 25 mph and 37 mph on both the 6 cylinder and 4 cylinder at 100% throttle. it happens around mid 3k rpm and again at around 5k rpm. i've felt that lag in both those spots every single time i've used full throttle off the line. try it and pay attention to the hesitation in the rpm's climbing at both those points. it is in BOTH engines sizes, but it may be felt less in a 6 cylinder since it has more power to make the increased ratio less noticeable. BUT it is there. nissan even says so. maybe you should try to acquire some knowledge before stating your opinion that is not backed up with facts like mine?

100% throttle is 100% throttle. there is only one shift pattern for 100% throttle. hold the lowest ratio until peak power rpm is achieved then shift at a rate that allows the motor to stay at that rpm. that's the basics of how any CVT works. it doesn't matter if it is a computer controlled CVT that uses hydraulic pressure or a purely mechanical setup that uses weights, springs, and a torque feedback ramp. the function of a CVT is the same. you guys keep wanting to say that it's different in ATV's and sleds, but it's not. they use the same mechanical CVT's in many car racing circuits. do you really honestly think that what a transmission should do is different based on vehicle weight, size, function, etc? nope, they all do the same thing, just in different ways. trying to say that the CVT's for ATV's and sleds have a different function than ones for cars is pure ignorance.

2011 altima. silver. totally stock, and that makes me sad....
  #15  
Old 01-09-2012, 04:55 PM
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Originally Posted by wild willy View Post
I am going to have to agree with this young fellow here...^
+2.

While I still hate CVTs, I admire XLXR's and got wake's dedication to getting this info out there. Might serve to clean up a lot of nonsense and information out there in the 4th gen forums.

How about doing that for the other frequently discussed 4th gen stuff.


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