UTV Transmission Types – Belt vs Shaft & Non-Belt Options

The Continuously Variable Transmission (or Belt option)

The most common type of UTV transmission is the Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT. The continuously variable transmission is a system of pulleys and a belt that has been around for a very long time. The CVT has a few different nicknames such as the shiftless transmission, single-speed transmission, stepless transmission, pulley transmission, or the ‘twist-and-go’ transmission.

When I think of CVTs and centrifugal clutches I think of snowmobiles. They are one of those rides you can hop on and just twist the throttle and go with no real worry of shifting. The same is true for UTVs with CVTs. As you start to apply the gas pedal, the engine RPMs get higher; meaning that everything starts spinning faster. There are two pulleys inside the CVT and each pulley can essentially pinch or release a belt using a system of weights and/or springs.

When you start a UTV with a CVT and have it just sitting at idle, the drive pulley is not pinching the belt so no power is distributed down to the ground. As you give the UTV some gas the drive pulley is spun fast enough to start pinching the belt and the power is transferred to the driven pulley. Both pulleys have an inner valley that the belt can ride up and down in to effectively change the gear ratio.

This can be thought of like changing the gears on a mountain bike. You have different size sprockets on the front and back that you can switch between as you drive to create different gear ratios to achieve higher speeds.


What Side by Sides/UTVs are Belt Driven?

Here is a list of UTVs that come with a Continuously Variable Transmission that utilizes a belt system:

  • Polaris RZR series (Polaris calls theirs a PVT)
  • Polaris RANGER series
  • Polaris GENERAL series
  • Can-am Defender series
  • Can-am Maverick series
  • Can-am Commander series
  • Yamaha Wolverine series (Yamaha calls theirs an Utramatic CVT)
  • Yamaha Viking series
  • Kawasaki TERYX4 series
  • Kawasaki MULE series
  • HISUN STRIKE
  • Arctic Cat WILDCAT series
  • Arctic Cat HAVOC series
  • Arctic Cat PROWLER series
  • Intimidator (all models & series)
  • Massimo 
  • KYMCO UXV series
  • ODES RAVAGER LT ZEUSi
  • ODES DOMINATOR X2
  • Bobcat 3400 & 3400XL
  • John Deere Gators
  • Mahindra mPact series
  • Mahindra Retriever series
  • Kioti Mechron series

What Side by Sides/UTVs are NOT belt driven?

The CVT is not the only transmission option for UTVs, just the most popular. Some UTVs are electric models that are more of a direct drive system and some have a more automotive type automatic or manual transmission. Some of the newer performance UTVs have a steering wheel paddle shift option that works in conjunction with an onboard computer to let you shift up and down the gears without the need of a clutch pedal. Some utility UTVs come with a Hydrostatic transmission that utilizes shafts, plates, and hydraulic oil. 

Here is a list of UTV models that are going outside of the CVT mold:

  • Yamaha YXZ1000R (manual foot clutch, 5-speed)
  • Yamaha YXZ1000R SS (Sport Shift, paddle shift with auto clutch, 5-speed)
  • Honda Talon Series (DCT [dual-clutch transmission], six-speed, AT/MT modes, paddle shifting)
  • Honda Pioneer 1000 (six-speed, fully automatic, DCT [dual-clutch transmission])
  • Honda Pioneer 700 (three-speed automatic with hydraulic torque converter)
  • Honda Pioneer 500 (five-speed automatic with AT/MT modes with paddle shifting)
  • Mahindra Ruxor (five-speed manual or 6-speed hydraulic-actuated automatic)
  • Polaris Ranger EV (electric vehicle with direct drive low noise gears)
  • Polaris Brutus (Hydrostatic transmission)
  • Bobcat 3600 and 3650  (Hydrostatic transmission, single 2-speed hydraulic motor)
  • Kubota RTV-500, X900, X1120D, X1100C, X1140 (Hydrostatic transmission)

The Hydrostatic Transmission (a Non-Belt Option)

The hydrostatic transmission is a fluid power system with infinitely variable control independent of engine speed. In this scenario, the UTV engine powers a hydraulic pump called an axial piston pump that has a handful of pistons in a circular array sitting on a plate. When the operator uses the drive pedal the plate is rotated in one direction and creates a flow of hydraulic fluid to the drivetrain. This control of fluid pressure is what gives you control of powering the vehicle forwards. When you let off the pedal the machine comes to a stop much like a tractor does. When the rider wants to reverse direction that plate is rotated in the opposite direction creating an opposite flow of hydraulic fluid effectively backing up the vehicle. The hydraulic oil is commonly in a closed loop oil circuit so it creates a very low maintenance driveline solution.

Belt driven CVT vs Hydrostatic

If you’re planning on hauling a lot of heavy loads, then hydrostatic is the way to go as it is sturdier than the belt.

If horsepower and speed is your thing, then the belt is the way to go.


What Side by Sides/UTVs are Shaft Driven?

We see this question being asked and feel like we need to clarify what shaft driven means. Shaft drive is usually referring to the drivetrain more so than the inner workings of the transmission itself.

For instance, when comparing a Polaris Ranger XP 900 to a Honda Pioneer 1000 they are both listed as shaft driven but the Polaris has a CVT transmission and the Honda has a six-speed automatic.

So shaft driven is usually referring to a drive shaft or axels coming off the transmission giving power to the front and/or back wheels.


Best UTV Drive Belt

Which UTV comes with the best belt? 

Yamaha offers a standard Factory 10-year belt warranty on its 2019 Side by Side models with the exclusive Ultramatic Automatic Transmission covering CVT Belt that is defective due to faulty workmanship or material from the factory. Click this link for more specifics

Which aftermarket belt is the best?

Here are some non-OEM options to check out:

  • Gates G-Force Belts (800+ four star+ reviews on Amazon $35 – $75)
  • The EPI Severe Duty Belt ($100 range on Amazon )
  • Evolution Powersports (claims to be 4x stronger $140 – $180)

UTV CVT Maintenance & Tips

Using Low Range

Always shift into low gear for any of the following conditions:

  • Driving in heavy terrain or over obstacles
  • Loading the UTV onto/off of a trailer
  • Towing heavy loads
  • Driving frequently at low RPMs

Break-In Strategies: (0-50 Miles)

Allowing a proper CVT Belt break-in is what can really extend the life of the belt. During Break-In time (varies per manufacturer) it’s suggested to be as smooth as possible when operating the throttle. 

  • Don’t mash the gas pedal at low speeds or hold an open throttle for at least the first 10 minutes of driving.
  • Don’t run at the same throttle for more than 10 seconds. Instead, vary your speeds consistently for the 1st 30-50 miles. 
  • Stop often and let the engine cool off (heat cycle) some suggest every 15 minutes.
  • Avoid hauling heavy loads during these essential first miles. 

CVT belts break or wear in extreme use or driving too slow in high-range.

Extreme heat is one of the top contributors to breakage so always keep belt-cooling in mind, meaning keep your filter clean and let your ride cool off every now and again.

On average, most UTV owners don’t have to worry about replacing their CVT Belt for 3,000 – 10,000 miles as long as they follow their Owner’s Manual Guidelines and follow proper “Break-In” Strategies.

Belt Problems

 For recurring belt problems when the CVT belt life is less than 1000 miles:

  • Verify clutch is working properly and clear any debris
  • Replace belt with an extreme-duty belt
  • Avoid using high RPM/gears when tires are stuck in mud/sand or when loading/ unloading your vehicle.
  • Too much mud and water can be harmful.
  • Make sure you stay within the manufacturer’s specifications. 
  • Replacement CVT Belt is too long.
  • Verify factory vents are not blocked. 
  • Adding extra weight to the vehicle without changing how the clutch operates can make extra wear and tear on your CVT Belt.
  • Oversized tires (3” more than stock), adding a lift kit, gear reduction or other added performance features without adjusting your clutch.

Tips

Tune, calibrate and adjust your clutch with different springs and weights to adapt to the different types of driving conditions. 

Generally speaking, the more horsepower you have the more clutch weight you’ll want to increase or go steeper on the helix angle depending on your particular set-up.


CVT Upgrades & Solutions

Duraclutch is a company that offers a product by the same name that is essentially a pair of upgraded pulleys and a belt for your CVT. The Duraclutch kit comes with a Drive/Primary Clutch, a Driven/Secondary Clutch, and a new and improved belt designed specifically for their system that comes with a 5,000 mile one year warranty.

The Duraclutch helps eliminate jerky transitions, provides engine braking for downhill control, and can last as long as 10,000 miles or more. The kits are available for select models of Polaris RZR, Ranger, and General UTVs and cost between $1200 – $1900.

If you are into rock climbing or slow technical riding, Duraclutch boasts that this is one place you will really fall in love with their product.

EPI offers a range of clutch upgrade kits to adapt from high-performance to trail riding, to hauling heavy loads, or even oversized tires and muddy/sandy conditions. They range from about $180-$350 per clutch kit.

They also offer an EPI Severe Duty Belt if you’re needing one of the Best CVT Belts on the market, and most EPI products come with a 1-year warranty.

Dirty Dog Performance offers individual springs for $25 all the way up to a DDP Ultimate package for $1060. Their clutch kit comes as a well-calculated bolt-on system that can be adjusted and sheaves are included.

Keeping a spare belt on board

If you are concerned about burning through belts far away from home or camp then keeping an extra one on-board might be an answer for you.

Hardline offers belt mount clips that let you mount a spare belt to a bar on your UTV for $40. (Picture Above) Click here to view on Amazon.


How to change your CVT Belt

Here is a great 3-minute YouTube video demonstrating how to change the CVT belt on a UTV.


In Summary

The majority of UVT’s on the market have a CVT Belt and will hold up for many years. Yes, some people ride their side by sides hard and they break them right away, but for most UVT owners it isn’t a constant issue and they get thousands of miles out of them.

Even if you do break one they usually cost under a $100 and can switch out in a matter of minutes. Being equipped with a CVT really doesn’t have to steer you away from the experience of owning one of these off-road vehicles. Learning how to properly operate a UTV ahead of time can give you the advantage of a longer-lasting belt.

The real reason to not consider a UTV with a CVT is if you were wanting a sport shifting or a manual shifting option. That or you are shopping for a utility UTV and could benefit from hydraulics… not because you are afraid of burning up belts.

Levi Bath

I'm the co-creator of OffRoad Lifestyles. I live in Loveland, Colorado with my wife and 3 kids. My wife and I have spent a lot of time out on the sand dunes near Walden, CO and we both love offroading and camping.

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