Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a continuos pain in the butt. While the modern transmission is supposed to provide seamless shifting and constant power, owners complain that it hesitates, shutters, and runs roughly.
First Off, What is a CVT?
Traditional automatic transmissions typically have 5–9 gears. When you accelerate you can feel the transmission shifting between those gears. A CVT doesn’t have traditional fixed gear ratios. It uses a steel belt or pulley system to move up and down the gear ratio in a continuous (ahh, I get it) smooth motion. The Washington Post sums it up nicely:
“The idea behind CVTs is easy to understand: a heavy-duty drive belt (or chain) runs within a grooved pulley system with hydraulic actuators allowing the affective ratio to be infinitely varied within a range of ratios, seamlessly.”
Advantages of a CVT
- Super smooth to drive — a traditional automatic can hunt for gears and sometimes jerk or hesitate.
- No more shift-shock — that’s the little bump you feel, a momentary loss of power, while accelerating with traditional gears.
- Constant power — because there’s no more more gear hunting or shift-stock, the driver is given consistent power while accelerating
- Simpler design, fewer moving parts — this reduces friction and heat, which are a deadly combo for mechanical parts. Reduced exposure should help the transmission last longer.
- Better miles per gallon — A CVT provides better fuel efficiency in two ways. First, it keeps the engine in the sweet spot while accelerating (more efficient) and second it’s lighter than a traditional transmission (less weight).
This day and age, the MPG advantage might be why your next car will probably have a CVT. CVTs offer the same fuel-efficiency gains as 8 and 9-speed automatics, but cost much less.
Disadvantages of a CVT
- It’s boring — no doubt, if you grew up driving a manual transmission a CVT is going to put you to sleep. The steady acceleration and lack of revs can be seen as a negative depending on how you look at it.
- It’s noisy — CVTs can sound weird to owners who often complain about the whirring or humming noise it makes. There’s also complaints about how the engine no longer “feels connected” to the sensation of speed.
- They can feel sluggish — Once again, depending on how you look at it, a CVT can feel as if its “slipping” when compared against a traditional automatic.
- It’s more expensive to replace — CVTs offer an up-front cost advantage to automakers which should, in turn, reduce the sticker price of new vehicles. However, they’re usually more expensive in upkeep and to replace. CVTs aren’t sealed and might require costly fluid changes.
While some manufacturers, like Nissan and Subaru, have embraced CVT technology, others (Chrysler and Ford) have tried and dropped CVTs from their lineup.
Nissan’s CVT Problems
Nissan claims in 2002 it “refreshed and modernized” the CVT, becoming the world’s first automotive manufacturer to include CVTs on passenger cars1. Like most first-generation products, Nissan’s CVT has a lot of problems. Unfortunately complaint data shows that they haven’t learned from their mistakes in recent model years.
Here are some of the top complaints about Nissan’s CVT:
1. It Shutters, Vibrates, and Shuts Down
This seems to be the most common Nissan CVT complaint. There is an aggressive vibration, particularly when accelerating at low speeds, and in some cases the car will shut down when stopped at a red light.
“Run away from this car! transmission was reprogrammed at 12k miles. Drove well, no issues and all scheduled maintenance done regularly at the dealer. At 65k transmission started shuddering and then vehicle would stall and die in traffic, very dangerous. Vehicle was sent into dealership three separate times, for engine pulley, reprogramming, completely new ECM. Each time the car ran worse. The vehicle is the worst I have ever owned, and would never buy another Nissan due to this. — 2013 Altima Owner”
Nissans With This Problem
2. It Has a Poor Response
Many drivers liken the sound, and the feeling, to that of a slipping clutch. And in some really bad cases, owners have complained the car stops responding while driving:
“The car has had the same problem for several years. After driving 30+ minutes, it won’t accelerate and makes a loud whining noise.”
Nissans With This Problem
3. It’s Loud
This could just be a case of consumers not knowing how a CVT works, but it’s worth noting that this is a common complaint.
“The car would wine at high speeds / long trips and high temps in the summer. It got worse every summer and even would suddenly stop accelerating. I took the car into the dealer for 3 summers in a row. The first two summers they basically told me I was crazy because they could not reproduce the issue.” — 2009 Altima owner
Nissans With This Problem
4. It Fails At Low Mileage
CVT Extended Warranty
Nissan did extend the warranty on its CVTs after receiving numerous complaints:
“While Nissan is proud to offer this technology on many of our models, a small percentage of owners of early models equipped with CVTs have expressed concerns about the cost of repair of their transmissions after the warranty expires. We take these comments about the cost of vehicle ownership seriously. We strive to provide an exceptional ownership experience and are implementing a thorough Customer Satisfaction Program to address this topic.”
The extended warranty essentially doubled previous coverage, bumping the powertrain warranty from 5 years/60,000 miles to 10 years/120,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Pathfinder Transmission Class-Action Lawsuit
In January 2015, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 2013-2014 Pathfinder owners. The lawsuit says Nissan failed to warn consumers about the CVT transmissions that can violently shake when accelerating between 15–30mph.
The lawsuit alleges Nissan concealed the defective transmissions and continued to sell the vehicles through dealerships, even as the complaints kept pouring in.
Finding That Lost Connection
A number of automakers have found ways to calibrate their CVTs in order to restore a feeling of “connectedness” for the driver. Recent CVTs in Subaru vehicles, for example, will ‘catch’ at particular rations during accelerating in order to maintain a more traditional feel.
Other automakers, like Honda, have also made slight sacrifices in performance to create a more satisfying transmission sound via those fake ratios.
Nissan’s CVTs don’t do this which can be annoying to some. Others prefer it.
Actions You Can Take
This step is crucial, don't just complain on forums! The sites below will actively manage your complaints and turn them into useful statistics. Both CarComplaints.com and the CAS will report dangerous trends to the authorities and are often called upon by law firms for help with Class Action lawsuits. Make sure to file your complaint on all three sites, we can't stress that enough.
Step 1: File Your Complaint at CarComplaints.com
CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases. Add a Complaint
Step 2: Notify the Center for Auto Safety
The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits. Notify the CAS
Step 3: Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues. Report to NHTSA