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Nissan Steering Wheel

What you need to know about Nissan CVT transmissions

Tolima’s Auto Center is a shop located by Astoria, and a lot of our customers drive cars made by Nissan. They tend to be good on gas and good city cars. Are also fairly reliable and fun to drive cars in our experience. The most common problem we see is customers having problems with their CVT transmissions. We have seen many failures with Nissan’s Continuously Variable Transmissions.

What is the difference between a CVT transmission and Automatic transmission?

From the perspective of a driver the CVT and Automatic Transmission work exactly the same. You start your car, hold the brake, and move the center shifter from “Park” to “D” step on the gas pedal and go. The difference is in how the transmissions work internally. A traditional automatic transmission uses gears to shift your engine’s power band down or up depending on your acceleration needs. A CVT uses two large drums and a steel belt to move your engine’s power band. Since CVT transmissions have less components they are cheaper to produce and are most popular with Asian car manufacturers.

Continuously Variable Transaxle CVT cutaway
The internals of a Continuously Variable Transmission CVT

Nissan CVT transmission pattern failure

Toyota, Honda, and Subaru use CVT transmissions in many of their cars, but don’t experience the same failure rate as what we have seen from Nissan. They last between 40,000 to 80,000 miles before they have issues and need to be replaced or rebuilt. It is theorized that overheating is what causes the Nissan CVT transmissions to fail prematurely. The factory cooling system is insufficient and they run hot which breaks down the CVT fluid. The life of the transmission can be extended by doing a CVT fluid service as explained in this blog post.

Since driving a Nissan with a CVT transmission is the same as one with an automatic, many motorists are unaware that they have one these problematic transmissions. If you own a Nissan with a CVT, stay on top of transmission fluid changes. If you are going to buy a used Nissan with one of these transmissions then make sure it is covered by a good warranty. You should keep these things in mind as replacing the CVT on an older Nissan can cost as much as the value of the car.

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