Nissan is a company in deep financial trouble, not least with scandals surrounding a particular fellow named, Ghosn. The last thing they need then, is people wondering if their cars, all fitted with a Nissan CVT transmission, is going to fail from underneath them. But indeed, these are the very problems that have haunted the owners of Nissans for very nearly two decades!
Although not an early pioneer, Nissan popularised the mass adoption of the humble CVT transmission, as a new way forward. Other carmakers, like Subaru, have also since followed suit. But this path seems far murkier now, with issues after issues cropping up over cars fitted with Nissan CVT transmissions.
Transmission failure for a Nissan, then, isn’t a new thing. There have been lawsuits, expensive recalls, and even entire websites created around them. So, if you have a Nissan, you might be curious over whether you’ve been impacted, or how it could get fixed. So, read along to find out more about Nissan CVT transmissions, and maybe figure out what to do next.
- Symptoms to look out for
- What is a CVT?
- History of the CVT
- Overview of the problem
- Fix, and costs
Bad Symptoms On Your Nissan CVT Transmission
There are a lot of questions to look at as we discuss the Nissan CVT transmission. But before we can dive straight into what it is, or how you can fix it, it might be prudent to know if you’re suffering from these issues. We’ve written a wealth of articles on transmission failures before.
There are some very clear tell-tale signs then your car’s transmission is about to fail. Owing to the difference in design of a CVT, compared to regular automatics or manuals, there are some unique symptoms to be on the look out for. So, first and foremost, let’s take a quick look at the signs of CVT failure.
1) Difficulty in acceleration, or sluggish response
While driving, notice how the car responds to your inputs while accelerating. Is the car pulling away nice and steadily, or does it hesitate? If it’s struggling to get up to speed, then it could be a sign that your CVT transmission is failing.
This can be dangerous when you’re driving along. For example, you won’t be able to quickly get up to speed while overtaking, merging, or going around a junction. The disconnect between your car’s speed, and the relative speed of the traffic around you can cause accidents.
Shaking, vibrations, of stuttering while accelerating
One fault with Nissan’s CVT transmissions is their cooling solution. Experts have said that their cooling design is inadequate, thus potentially causing overheating. This overheating will cause certain mounts and bearings to wear out quicker, thus causing the vibrations, or shaking you feel while driving.
2) Transmission running hot
Again, this relates to the poor cooling system of the Nissan CVT transmission. You can easily notice this by an excess of heat from within the interior cabin footwell, or burning smells.
Normally, when parts of the car, such as the engine or transmission, are overheating, it will trigger its fail safe mode. This is otherwise known as the ‘limp home’ mode, where the car will limit the speed and operations of those components. This is done to prevent it from further damage.
This links back once more to the tendency of Nissan’s CVT transmission to run hot. By its excess heat, the transmission wears out parts of the surrounding cooling system, such as the cooling lines or hose. If you notice a puddle underneath your car, it could be coolant.
4) Transmission being loud
CVTs, by their design, are ordinarily louder than regular transmissions. You can hear them while in operation, although it’s usually very faint. If your CVT is failing however, the noise becomes far more noticeable. If you hear a whining or rattling sound, then you car’s CVT transmission might need a check-up.
5) Transmission shutting down without warning
Another clear sign of a failing transmission, is the car stalling or shutting down while driving. Alternatively, it might enter its ‘limp home’ mode. This, again, is another hazard while driving. Imagine if the car shuts off while you’re driving at speed on the highway.
What Is A CVT?
Right, so now we have a better idea of what to look out for if your Nissan CVT transmission is failing. If you notice any of the symptoms above, then it may need a trip down to the dealership or workshop, and it will certainly necessitate a replacement. We highly recommend that you do not drive your car if its transmission is failing.
Drive it only as a last resort, and only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you should call a tow-truck to pick it up. Now, we can try to learn more about what a CVT transmission is, how it works, and its respective pros and cons relative to ‘traditional’ transmissions.
CVT stands for ‘continuously variable transmission‘. It functions similarly to a regular automatic transmission, in that it changes gears automatically. It doesn’t necessitate you, the driver, to undertake manual input. However, the key difference is that regular automatic transmissions – like manuals – have gears.
These gears, in their varying gear ratios, is what regulates the power from your engine, and then translating it into usable and controllable torque to the wheels. Vehicles today can have anywhere from 1, all the way up to 10 gears being placed in their transmissions.
But in a CVT, instead of using fixed gears, it uses a system of two pulleys, joined by a belt or a chain. There are many different types and forms of CVT transmissions, but the pulley with a belt or chain is the one most used in cars. One side of the pulley is attached to the engine. While the other end is attached to the transmission, thus connecting with the rest of the drivetrain.
Depending on your input to the engine, the coned pulleys will move in, and out accordingly. By the movements of the cones, this will determine what “gear” you’re in. Thus, a CVT can theoretically have an infinite number of gear ratios. This is familiar to what you might find on a snowmobile, or farm machinery.
The Advantages of a CVT
Here are some of the advantages with continuously variable transmissions, and what makes them special.
1) Smooth, and ‘step-less’ driving
Traditional automatic transmissions need to change up or down, otherwise known as ‘hunting’ for gears. It does so depending on the input it receives from you, and the car. But a CVT is technically a single-speed transmission. With its infinite gear ratios, it ensures that gear changes are velvety smooth.
2) Lack of ‘shift shock’
Normal transmissions have what is known as, ‘shift shock’. This is essentially the momentarily loss of power in between gear changes. Owing to a CVT’s design, it merely needs to move its coned pulley inwards or out. This maintains a smooth power delivery, and seamless gear changes.
4) Simple, and efficient design
A CVT can be configured to a much simpler construction, and have less moving parts compared to a regular automatic transmission. This should then be able to (theoretically) extend the lifespan of a CVT. This is due to there being less friction between moving parts, and thus emitting less heat. This also has the benefit of bringing more space to the interior.
5) Better fuel efficiency
CVTs can also be more fuel efficient. Firstly, it is able to maintain the engine’s smooth power delivery more effectively, especially under acceleration or changes in speed. Secondly, the simple and relatively compact nature of a CVT means that its more lightweight.
Disadvantages of a CVT
For all its benefits, there naturally are some inherent flaws with CVT transmissions.
1) They’re noisy
The way a CVT is designed, it will naturally make more noise than most traditional transmissions. You’ll be able to notice a slight whirring, or humming. This is also due to the fact that a CVT’s variable ratio often prefers to hold the ‘gears’ in higher RPMs.
Granted, this doesn’t cause as much wear and tear, or increase in fuel consumption as automatics normally would. The added noise might also be caused by some manufacturers intentionally programming in a ‘step’ functionality into their CVTs. This is to make it feel and sound like the CVT is changing gears, like a normal gearbox would.
2) Lack of interaction
Even objectively, CVTs might be devoid of the interaction that some people might want in a car. Their smoothness in gear changes might be an advantage, but some might find it a bit boring.
3) Expensive maintenance
As we’ll learn later on, CVTs can be expensive to maintain. This is dependent highly on the make and model of your car. It’s simple design makes CVTs easier to manufacture. This would then allow carmakers to sell cars at a lower price point. However, it may cost far more than a regular transmission down the line in the car’s lifecycle.
This is owing to the lack of experts and technicians that know how to service CVT transmissions. Moreover, there aren’t as many parts for CVTs, by comparison. The way it’s been designed is another variable as well. For example, CVTs might require a changing of its transmission fluid every 60,000 miles, instead of 70,000 miles or more for automatics.
History Of The Nissan CVT Transmissions
Nissan has been credited, for better or worse, as the bringer of CVTs to mass appeal in its cars. However, they are certainly not the first to have created it, or have even adopted the idea. The first conception of a step-less method for transmitting power was in fact developed by Renaissance do-it-all man, Leonardo da Vinci.
This was first invented in 1490, which is 531 years ago! Early automotive pioneer, Milton Reeves, adopted a CVT transmission in an automobile, back in 1879. This was before Karl Benz created the famous Benz-Patent Motorwagen, which became the template for the modern car. Other early cars and motorcycles have used CVTs since the early 1900s and 1910s.
CVTs began gaining traction in mass-produced cars since the 1958 DAF 600. It even made its way into the world of motorsport. The Formula 500 series in the US started using CVTs in their open-wheeler race cars since the 1970s. Formula 1 even banned CVT use in 1994, for potentially negating driving engagement, and possibly even giving an unfair advantage.
The first Nissans with CVT Transmissions
The first Nissan CVT transmission-equipped car was the Nissan March, or Micra in some markets, back in 1992. Nissan was initially hesitant of increasing the use of CVTs in their other models. But eventually, they saw its potential. The first Nissan introduced in the United States with a CVT transmission was the Murano SUV, in 2002.
Since the Murano, Nissan has been continually improving and updating their ‘XTRONIC’ CVT. It has since been fitted to most of Nissan’s staple cars. This includes the Altima, Juke, Maxima, Pathfinder, the aforementioned Murano, Qashqai, Rogue, Sentra, X-Trail, and more. Infiniti, the upmarket brand for Nissan (much like Toyota‘s Lexus) has also adopted Nissan’s CVT transmissions.
Some of the only models that are not equipped with CVTs include high-performance cars such as the GT-R, and the Fairlady 370Z. Recently, Nissan has been stepping back from further use of a CVT transmission. The new 2022 Nissan Pathfinder has already switched to a regular automatic transmission.
Overview Of Nissan CVT Transmission Problems
Right, so now you know what to look out for, and have learned a bit on how the CVT works. Now, it’s time to look in-depth into the problems facing Nissan’s CVT transmissions. Since Nissan first introduced its CVT into the US-bound Murano in 2002, it didn’t take long for problems to arise. Customers have increasingly reported cases of transmission failures over the years.
So, this issue has in fact been going around for a very, very long time. It has even resulted in a wide number of class-action lawsuits filed against the company. This is not to mentioned significant financial losses for Nissan to cover for the cost of replacing customers’ broken CVT transmissions.
Nissan had originally offered a ‘5 years or 60,000 miles’ warranty to cover for their CVTs. This covers the cost of towing, repairs, and replacements for issues related to a faulty transmission. But even going back to 2009, Nissan has extended that warranty offer by doubling it. It now stands at ’10 years or 120,000 miles’.
However, this varies by the car, as some could only get 7 year’s worth of warranty coverage should their CVT fail. If you live in the US, you can refer to their website for a more comprehensive look into how long your warranty would last. You could also contact your Nissan dealership to find out if your car qualifies for the extended ’10 years or 120,000 miles’ warranty.
How Do You Get Your CVT Fixed, And How Much Will It Cost?
Now, we get to the painful part of this guide on Nissan CVT transmissions – discussing how to get your CVT fixed, and how much it will cost. If you are unlucky enough to be among those that are not covered under Nissan’s warranty, then this might apply to you.
As we discussed earlier, unlike a normal automatic or manual transmission, CVTs are more expensive to repair. This boils down to the fact that parts, and qualified technicians are more scarce. Moreover, unlike needing to fix your transmission slipping, or replacing a car’s clutch, CVTs are far more complex. Usually, the entire CVT itself needs to be completely replaced, not merely fixed.
Sometimes, depending on the model of the car, it might even necessitate having to remove the entire engine to get to the transmission. The labor costs alone will be hefty. We would highly recommend that you call a Nissan dealer to acquire a more accurate estimate as to how much it will cost for your car to have its CVT replaced.
You might even want to consider buying an extended warranty service from them, if they have one available. The best source we’ve found where you can roughly get an average cost for a Nissan CVT transmission repair or replacement, is through CarComplaints.com. We can browse through the entire line up of Nissan, across a varying number of model years for each of their cars.
Here, they’ve compiled complaints from customers, filed either on the website directly, or through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Quickly, we can see that CVT problems are the most common for a lot of Nissan models. To give you an idea of how much it’ll cost, we’ve summarised a short list below.
The Altima has among the highest number of complaints on CarComplaints.com, and leads the pack for Nissan. At the time of writing, the overall lifespan of the Altima (since 1993) has accumulated a total of 4,814 individual complaints. It consequently wins the “Avoid Like The Plague” badge on their website.
The 2013 Altima, in particular, has suffered a lot of transmission problems. It notes there that the average cost for repairs are around $3,000. More worryingly, the average mileage before transmission failure starts is only around 53,000 miles.
The Frontier suffers just as much from a myriad of CVT failures. This is more specifically directed towards overheating. It happens mostly for Frontiers of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 model years. This problem can cost around $3,800 to fix, and could start showing signs of problems at around 110,000 miles.
Just like the Frontier, the Pathfinder faces the same overheating problems. This causes coolant to leak into the transmission case, and then causing the entire CVT to fail entirely. Pathfinders of the same model years – 2005, 2006, and 2007 – are most impacted by this. It costs on average $3,900 to fix, and can start happening at right around 100,000 miles.
Being the first to introduce CVTs in the US, the Murano naturally has been affected by CVT problems since the very beginning. Throughout its lifespan, the worst impacted model, according to CarComplaints.com, is the 2011 Murano. CVT failure can start from just an average of 73,000 miles, and costing $4,000 on average to have it fixed.
What started as jerking while shifting the car, could eventually lead to full transmission failure down the line. The 2004 Maxima had the worst of its history of CVT failures, but the 2005 and 2006 model year cars are badly affected too. It costs an average of $3,000 to have it fixed, and can start happening around 106,000 miles.
Even the very recent Nissan Rogue have had their share of problems, and the CVT is no doubt among the most major ones. The 2008, 2011, and 2013 model years Rogues had their worst with CVT issues. It can start happening from just as few as 77,000 miles, with an average $3,500 repair bill.
Although a fairly innocent, mass-market car, the Sentra is among the most expensive when it comes to CVT failures. The most heavily impacted are the 7th-generation Sentras that ran from 2013 to 2017. Taking a 2015 Sentra as an example, CVT failures can start from a very low 49,000 miles on average, and needing an eye-watering $4,700 to fix!
The Versa is among the more common cars you’d see on sale. But just like its siblings, its not immune from CVT transmission failures. Every Versa from 2012 to 2017 can suffer from it. It could bill you an average $3,600 for repairs, and could see symptoms from just 81,000 miles.
Nissan CVT Transmission Conclusion
To answer the question we post in the title of this Nissan CVT transmission guide article, the answer would be, ‘not entirely’. A CVT has its benefits, and its downsides. Although in Nissan’s case, it has been more of the latter. We’ve seen carmakers either make the switch back to regular automatics, or have put more money into developing their CVTs.
Even Nissan themselves may be scaling back on their XTRONIC CVT gearboxes in the future. The newly announced 2022 Nissan Pathfinder has moved away from its CVTs, to a more ‘standard’ 9-speed ZF automatic gearbox. This, of course, is seeing how expensive and a hassle it can be to solve problems with Nissan’s CVT transmissions.
The best tip that we can give you is to be vigilant. Don’t just be attentive to how the car drives and behaves, but keep on top of your car’s warranty. Try to maintain a close contact with your local or preferred Nissan dealer, and maybe try to sort out an extended warranty. If you have a Nissan right now, consider having it checked, just in case. It’s either that, or filing for another lawsuit.
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