How to avoid CVT gearbox failures in Honda City, Fit and Jazz (Sri Lankan perspective)

I recently was looking to buy a small honda city vehicle (called the Honda Fit, see for details!) and paid a visit to my local agent to get some advise on the car.  The very first response was “don’t buy it Sir, the gearbox is not reliable”.  Now this coming from the local Honda agent, when the Honda CVT gearbox has a solid reputation worldwide was rather disturbing since my research on the web with regard to the car and the gearbox had a very positive view!

Probing further I inquired from the technician why he said it was not “reliable”, and he gave some very useful insights,

  • The gearbox he felt was not suitable for local city conditions as the wear and tire on the belt was on the lower gears as driving conditions were 90% urban, and 10% semi-urban, with zero highway conditions in Sri Lanka.  This was very valid for driving within the Colombo city and suburbs, where bumper to bumper traffic conditions were the norm and due to close proximity of traffic lights and congestion, there was a very high percentage of stop-wait-go scenarios.
  • The gearbox could not be repaired and a total replacement had to be done in the event of a belt failure
  • Vehicles wore mostly reconditioned (used in Japan or Singapore), and hence already had a lot of miles, and the belt based transmission had a shorter lifespan compared to the traditional auto boxes resulting in failures.
  • Many users were not aware of CVT gearboxes and treated them as normal auto boxes, and hence the oil changes were done in intervals of 40-60K

The responses were quite startling, since these were not the type of facts i saw in any blog related to Honda fit, Jazz CVT gearbox failures!

The fact is that the CVT gearboxes do require more attention than the standard auto gearboxes, and the reasons i could identify were,

  • Honda now recommends changing of the CVT gearbox oil every 20-40K periods for normal driving conditions, and 20K intervals for extreme driving conditions.  However based on the information, the extreme levels mentioned by Honda, the pure city driving scenarios as faced in Sri Lanka are far more extreme!, and hence the transmission oil should be replaced every 10K (15K at most) in order to ensure the gearbox does not fail.
  • Initially the transmission oil used for CVT was the same as the standard auto boxes, but now Honda recommends that a special CVT oil be used which has better lubrication.  Based on research it seems even the Honda CVT is not the best and there are third parties making oils that are even more suited for CVT gearboxes.  The point being CVT gearboxes require special transmission oils (standard auto gearbox oils are NOT suitable)

If the owners do take care of the oil changes I am positively sure the failures will be minimal, though the question if the gearbox is as durable as the standard auto is questionable, as many sites have indicated that a well cared CVT gearbox has a lifespan of 120-160K km, while an standard box will last far longer with minimal maintenance!

The question of if the CVT gearbox failure requires a full gearbox change of course is uncertain, as it seems the belt can be replaced (along with some other parts) for a fraction of the cost of the gearbox.  Would be great if somebody can confirm on this.