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Dear Tom and Ray: What is CVT, or continuously variable transmission? I am thinking about getting a new car, and I am looking at the Mini Cooper. But I only know how to drive an automatic (and I can't find anyone who will teach me how to drive a manual on his or her own car). !

-- Kari

Ray: The CVT is an automatic transmission; it's just a different, more efficient kind of automatic transmission.

Tom: Here's a simplified explanation of how it works: Imagine that you strung a rubber band around an ice-cream cone (no ice cream -- that would lead to a messy transmission rebuild). Anyway, as the cone turns, it turns the rubber band, which moves the wheels. Now, when the rubber band is at the top, the widest part of the cone, that would give you your highest gear ratio, for starting and climbing hills. And as the ice-cream cone turns, the rubber band moves smoothly to the thinner part of the cone. That's where you'd get the lowest ratios -- for cruising on the highway, for instance.

Ray: And since, theoretically, it can always adjust itself to the perfect gear ratio at any time, it's more efficient than a standard automatic transmission, and gives you better gas mileage. And no jerky shifting.

Tom: But most importantly to you, Kari, it operates just like an automatic transmission, from the driver's point of view. That is, you put it in Drive, step on the gas and fuggedaboutit. Enjoy your new Mini.

The "Car Talk" radio show can be heard locally on WBFO-FM 88.7 on Saturday mornings at 6 and 10 a.m.

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