For a while, cracked radiators were the arch nemesis of Nissan transmissions. But these days, the continuously variable transmissions (CVT) are their own worst enemy.
Nissan proudly introduced “the first CVT for passenger cars”1 back in 2002. As is the case with most first generation products, it received mixed reviews. Complaints ranged from difficulty accelerating, shaking, stuttering, and in some cases sudden shut downs. Surely, Nissan would iron those issues out in future versions…
Here we are 15 years later and those same problems plague Nissan owners. Apparently the automaker has been too busy ironing out its cash stacks to worry about those CVT kinks.
First off, What is a CVT?
A CVT doesn’t use the traditional fixed gear ratios you might be used to when driving. Instead, a steel belt or pulley system to moves the gear ratio in a continuous (ahhh) 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.”
It’s important to note that a CVT both feels different and sounds different than a traditional transmission.
The Most Common Complaints about Nissan’s CVT
Nissan’s marketing brochure will tell you that this is an “innovative transmission that offers smooth, seamless shifting, while tailoring the vehicle’s output to your driving style,” but the reality is a lot less rosy.
First, let’s take a look at vehicles with CVT complaints on CarComplaints.com.
|Nissan||Altima||2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2013 / 2014|
|Pathfinder||2015 / 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2010|
|Rogue||2011 / 2008 / 2009|
And now, let’s look at the most common types of complaints.
1. A Slow, Shuttering Acceleration
Low speed acceleration is a particular trouble-spot for this CVT. According to owners, their vehicles will shutter and shake while getting up to speed.
“Run away from this car! My 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”
A Technical Service Bulletin (NTB05-084A) regarding hesitations while accelerating was released to Nissan service departments in November 2006. The TSB, which was written for the 2003-2007 Murano, tells mechanics to check for these conditions if an owner complains about hesitations:
- The Service Engine Soon (SES) light is not illuminated on your gauge cluster.
- Code P0868 is stored in the Transmission Control Module (TCM).
2. A Horribly Slow Response Time
The shaky acceleration only happens after what feels like a dangerously long time waiting for the CVT to respond to driver input on the accelerator pedal.
CVTs are, by design, going to feel different when you cram the accelerator to the floor. While a geared transmission will typically burst off the line, a CVT has a much smoother (and slower) increase to maximum power.
But some say the CVT’s sluggishness goes too far and even consider it a safety hazard when trying to merge onto a busy road.
“The car has had the same problem for several years. After driving 30+ minutes, it won’t accelerate and makes a loud whining noise.”
3. It’s Loud (Like Really Loud)
Another common complaint is that Nissan’s CVT is as loud as a toddler before snack time. And while CVT whine is not unique to Nissan vehicles, what’s most concerning is how loud the whine is combined with all the clanging and rattling.
“The car would whine 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
In the case of Kobe Falco, et. al., v. Nissan North America, Inc., and Nissan Motor Company, LTD, Nissan’s defense team admitted the CVT was loud but that didn’t indicate a defect. More on that case in a bit.
4. It Fails At Low Mileage
Beyond hesitations, slow response, and loud noises, the most concerning issue is the short lifespan of a Nissan CVT.
In fact the problem appears to be getting worse, because if you look at older model years with complaints about CVT failure they typically have a longer lifespan – like the 2008 Altima which has a much more reasonable (albeit still frustrating) average failure over 120,000 miles.
Nissan Has Extended Their CVT Warranty Before
Citing complaints from a “small percentage of owners of early models equipped with CVTs,” Nissan extended their CVT warranty for certain vehicles. The extension essentially doubled previous coverage, bumping the powertrain warranty from 5 years/60,000 miles to 10 years/120,000 miles, whichever comes first.
- 2007-2010 Altima (Plus Altima Coupe and Altima Hybrid)
- 2007-2010 Maxima
- 2003-2007; 2009-2010 Murano
- 2008-2010 Rogue
- 2007-2010 Sentra
- 2007-2010 Versa (1.8SL)
Nissan also offered reimbursements on repairs, but that program ended on July 31, 2010.
For Everyone Else, There’s Lawsuits
The extended warranty helps some, but leaves others seeking help. For those people, there’s hope in the form of lawsuits.
2013-14 Pathfinder and Infiniti QX60 lawsuit
- Nissan installed CVT transmissions with known defects, such as how the CVT belt slips and the CVT violently shakes when accelerating between 15–30mph.
- Nissan knew about the problem and began developing “software counter-measures” but failed to warn consumers and continued to sell vehicles anyway.
- Owners have been left with no choice but to pay for expensive repairs after the automaker refused reimbursements.
In October 2016, Nissan agreed to settle this CVT lawsuit which had grown to include the Infiniti QX60 and JX35 equipped with the FK-*k2 CVT. The automaker said they settled because they didn’t want to spend years in court, not because they were admitting to any defect.
The settlement gave 2013-14 Nissan Pathfinder and Infiniti QX60/JX35 owners a transmission software update plus it extended the transmission warranty to 24 months or 24,000 miles (conditions apply, of course).
2014 Sentra lawsuit
In April 2017, a lawsuit was filed in New Jersey for 2014 Sentra owners who were tired of the shaking, jerking, and sudden downshift problems. The lawsuit was filed by a garbage collection company which is so appropriate considering how trashy these transmissions have become.
The lawsuit states the company had to replace their transmission four times:
- The 2007-2010 Sentras were subject to a customer service warranty program, however other Sentras also have the same problem.
- Despite knowing the defects, Nissan continued to sell and tout their CVTs as superior to the competition. Specifically, how they have “fewer moving part to reduce friction and heat” which make the transmission last longer.
This case is pending.
To CVT or Not to CVT? That is A Question.
While some manufacturers, like Nissan and Subaru, have embraced CVT technology, others (Chrysler and Ford) have tried and dropped CVTs from their lineup. Let’s take a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of a CVT
- Super smooth to drive — a traditional automatic can hunt for gears and sometimes jerk or hesitate. CVTs are supposed to avoid this issue.
- No more shift-shock — the momentary loss of power you get 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. Once again, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
- 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.
I’ll give Nissan the MPG boost, but you’ll notice that the most common complaints seem to indicate that Nissan’s CVT doesn’t offer the traditional advantages. In addition, they come with all of the traditional disadvantages.
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.
On the Record
“My [CVT] would jerk while sitting at a light. Slow to take off from a stop and always seemed like it was about to cut off. A few times it did with no lights on and no leaks of any fluids. I contacted the dealer and was directed to take the car to Nissan. Took it in and they reset the computer saying it should be ok. Well about two weeks later I started having the same vibration and the car cut off a couple times again.”
“My 2012 Nissan Rogue only has 24,000 miles on it and I keep it in pristine condition. I was driving on the interstate and I heard a strange noise and then it felt like my car slipped gears. I came to a stop and wasn't able to accelerate ... When I got out, my car was leaking a TON of fluid. I had to have it towed to the dealership where they informed me I needed a new transmission. WHAT?”
“When I stop for a red light, and then press the accelerator and it wont even go over 10 mph. I pull over for a second and put the car in park. I try again and same thing occurs.So I pull over and cut off the car. The car seems to have a gear/transmission problem. I can't believe a 2 years old car is having these types of issues.”
OK, Now What?
Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, you can help make sure it gets the attention it deserves.
Below are a handful of steps you can take to make sure this problem gets the attention it needs.
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.
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.
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.
Spread the Word
Social media is all the rage these days. And for good reason – it can help spread a message quickly. So get out there and start spreading this page.