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Towing With A CVT Transmission: What To Know

In a world where gas prices are as high as the heat that surrounds the climate change debate, more and more car buyers are being steered towards more fuel-efficient vehicles.

While a CVT-equipped car offers great fuel economy, the real question remains … can it tow?

Why is Towing With A CVT Transmission Different?

subaru cvt towing

CVT stands for Continuously Variable Transmission.

It is an automatic transmission that uses a belt or chain to vary the number of gear ratios within a single planetary gear set.

Unlike most traditional automatics, CVT transmissions don’t have fixed steps in their gear ratios, so they give your car more flexibility and smoother acceleration… without the car losing power.

If you’re towing a trailer with a vehicle equipped with a continuously variable transmission or CVT, it’s essential to know how CVT technology works and how it affects your car’s performance versus an automobile with a traditional transmission such as a manual transmission or an automatic.

Talking the Torque

The answers all come down to torque.

As torque is the dominant force in the towing process of any car, meaning that the more torque that a car can output, the greater the load it can carry.

In a traditional transmission, such as a manual transmission or automatic, the gears are directly connected to the engine.

As you press down on the gas pedal, your car’s speed increases and its power output increases accordingly.

However, staying in a lower gear would increase the torque, making it great for towing.

Both front wheels and back wheels are in for the journey, tow mode or not.

Still, CVT-equipped cars make use of a pulley system in their engines that directly triggers the rotational energy required to move the vehicle.

Saving on fuel results in torque reduction for vehicles with CVT transmission.

Thankfully, though, it does not completely cut out all torque being produced by the CVT-equipped car.

This means that it is possible to tow with a CVT, even though it is slightly unfit for towing.

How to Tow with CVT-Equipped Vehicles

cvt transmission

Know Your Towing Capacity

If the user manual states that your CVT vehicle can tow about 2000 pounds, you also need to consider the weight of the passengers and cargo, not just the trailer.

Therefore, always take this recommendation with a pinch of salt.

You’d rather be towing less weight than overburdening your trusty steed.

Release the Parking Brake! We’re Going Tow to Tow…

CVT transmissions require you to follow certain steps that may differ from a traditional automatic transmission when the vehicle in question is being hauled.

  1. Start the engine of the car being towed.
  2. Switch the car into towing mode (many CVTs have this feature).
  3. Keep the towing distance as short as possible, and stick to low speeds.

The automotive world is known for being expensive when something breaks.

This includes CVT transmissions, so it’s advised to stay on the side of caution when towing with a CVT!

Safeguards for Towing with CVT Cars

The towing capacity is based on the ideal, within a closed system, whereas real life usually doles out an infinite number of tricky situations such as muddy roads and steep hills.

In these situations, it would be more reliable to have a regular automatic with high torque.

If a CVT-equipped car was to pull a trailer in such conditions, the engine risks being exposed to some significant damage along with the transmission of the car.

Keep the vehicle speed low when towing with CVT transmissions, just like you would with manual or automatic transmissions.

Towing a CVT with Another Car

If your or someone’s CVT-equipped car needs to be towed, there is one important thing to keep in mind: the drive wheels of the automobile being towed should never touch the ground if it has a CVT transmission.

  • Front-wheel drives must be towed with the front wheels off the ground; the reverse is true for rear-wheel drives.
  • All-wheel drives must have all wheels off the ground while being towed. That means you’ll need to invest in a flatbed trailer to safely tow this type of vehicle without damaging the transmission.

CVT for Towing FAQs

How much can you tow with a CVT transmission?

While it would be hard to give a figure for all vehicles, a good rule of thumb would be to never tow a trailer that exceeds 75% of your car’s trailing capacity.

What transmission is best for towing?

Automatic transmissions currently take the prize as they generate significantly larger amounts of torque when you compare them to CVT transmissions.

They also don’t run the risk of damaging the clutch as you would when constantly shifting through the gears of a manual.

Can a Subaru CVT tow?

Yes. Subarus that have a CVT transmission will still be able to tow other cars and tow trailers.

Just be sure to consult the vehicle owner’s manual for your specific model’s tow limits and follow our tips above when using your CVT for towing.

To Tow or Not to Tow?

While it’s impossible to turn your beloved car into a tow truck, if you are towing with CVT transmissions, it would be best to keep the overall load on the automobile below its towing limits and avoid wet and muddy roads.

As you venture off-road, the need for torque increases and the CTV-equipped car will find itself crumbling under the pressure, becoming a danger for the driver.

CVT transmissions were designed with fuel efficiency in mind and, as a result, towing took a backseat.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that towing with a CVT car is more of a last resort.

Definitely doable but not highly recommended.