By on December 12, 2011

Eric writes:

I have a 2000 Maxima with about 155k on the clock.  I purchased this car in Los Angeles and since 2005, it’s lived in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The main issue is that I can tell the transmission is starting to get a bit soft on the 1-2 upshift, specifically once it starts getting cold out.  I presume the primary reason for this is the abuse it’s suffered at my hands.  As it was a California car, it has no traction control and though I love it nine months of the year, it is utterly helpless in the snow—snow tires didn’t seem to help tremendously.  I’ve had to rock myself out a number of times and I presume the trans has gotten overheated at least once.  I’ve been good about changing the fluid (drain and fill 3x, filter too) about once a year but I think I’m near the end on this trans.

So the question is should I seek out a used AT and have it swapped, send out for a quality rebuild or just replace the Max outright?  It’s been quite good to me with only minor repairs such as a cat, MAF and coils.  I can happily say that it’s a car that I’ve enjoyed quite a lot and wouldn’t mind keeping—the 3.0 VQ is still strong despite the miles.  The main complicating factor is that my wife’s car is not yet paid off and I don’t think I’ll be able to take on a 2nd auto loan; we still have about 3 years left on the current loan.

I’ve toyed with the notion of adding an older Miata to the stable for summer fun and occasional project; though affordable enough to buy outright and I wouldn’t mind it as a daily driver, I’m sure that it wouldn’t be much fun in the winter.  If I dump the Maxima, what would you think might be a suitable replacement?

Sajeev Answers:

Keep it, because you can’t afford a second loan. And why would you? This is far from a death sentence to your automotive needs, its just giving an old friend a helping hand when they need it the most.

You mentioned regular fluid changes. Good for you!  There’s a slim chance that adding a transmission additive (some recommend Lucas, I will not go that far) will fix the problem and this will be the end of the story for months…or maybe longer.  If so…perfection!

But if not, buying a remanufactured transmission is your best bet.  The moment someone cracks open your autobox for a visual inspection is the time when your hard earned dollars are wasted, misused. At this age and mileage, and transmission should be rebuilt/replaced, not somewhat disassembled, inspected, and a couple of parts fixed.

Who rebuilds a Nissan transaxle decently?  Not entirely sure. I’ve been bitten by local shops that never knew the specifics of a certain manufacturer’s design, so I tend to err on the cautious side: either get one from Nissan with a factory warranty or ring up the folks at Jasper.  As their website says, the 3 year warranty and quality control procedures gives “Peace of Mind” that isn’t available by a local shop.  And they usually drop ship to your trusty mechanic, for a quick install.  I am usually hesitant to outright recommend a particular vendor, but Jasper seems to give people on many forums just what their website promises, no matter the make and model.

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52 Comments on “Piston Slap: Peace of Mind or Shameless Shill?...”

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    D’accord, mon ami.

    • 0 avatar

      Your only mistake was buying a Miata with an automatic transmission. This car requires a manual. My 1998 did great in Colorado winters with four real winter tires. Just about any car does better in snow with a manual transmission. Being in the proper gear and having a clutch helps control wheel spin and keeps you moving. Sell it, buy one with a clutch, and add four real winter tires.

  • avatar

    5 speed swap!

    • 0 avatar

      this was my first and only thought as well. Come on. If you’re going to the trouble of fixing transmission trouble, you might as well fix the root problem, not the symptoms.

  • avatar

    I have no comment on the transmission advice, but will add my share of daily Miata love. According to a number of people who run theirs in the winter, due to near-perfect 50% weight distrubution, the Miata handles very well in snow, as long as the accumulation isn’t high enough to cause ground clearance issues. Winter tires are a must, though. I can say this: I was once in a freshly-snow-tired and traction-controlled Chrysler Concorde after a fresh 3″ snowfall, and there was a late-model MX-5 in front of me. I couldn’t keep up with him pulling away from the lights, and it looked like he was having a ball (intentionally) kicking the tail out around corners.

    I store my ’99 in the winter not due to fears of not handling snow, but because I don’t need a car in the winter, and the combination of street parking and what my heavily salted city would do to the body make it not worth my while. It’s a viable daily driver, though, costing very little in upkeep and gas, except for all the go-fast parts the little roadster tempts you to buy. It’s a robust little car, and truly more fun to drive than the numbers would suggest.

    • 0 avatar

      Seconded. If you don’t need to haul people and/or stuff, get the Miata and a good set of snow tires – the narrowest possible. The B&B around here have convinced me that the ’99 and ’00 models are the very best, both to own and maintain, and they can be had pretty reasonably. A coworker of mine had an older one that he drove year-round, and it was fine in the snow, so long as it didn’t get too deep.

      ‘Course, if you’ve got the parking room, do both. Replace the autobox on the Max, and keep an eye out for a good MX5 in the winter. Try to nab one in January or February, which it’s still cold and nobody’s shopping for one. If you make it to late March, you’ll be doomed by supply/demand and pay a couple grand more.

    • 0 avatar

      I third this! My Miata was brilliant in the snow, with proper shoes. I had absolutely no problems getting it around when people in their AWD SUVs were slipping and sliding around.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll add some personal experience with the Miata as a Winter car.

      It’s great.

      Actually, with proper snow tires it’s the best Winter car I’ve ever driven. And I live on a ski slope.

      As long as you don’t run out of ground clearance, it’s very capable and a barrel of monkeys. The car’s designed to allow you to finely manage traction and control slides, which is really what Winter driving is all about.

      Unlike a FWD car, a Miata’s weight shifts to the drive wheels on uphills which helps dramatically with slippery climbs. The biggest Winter hazard I experienced was FWD cars and trucklets sliding backwards down the mountain in my travel lane as I was heading up.

      The little engine warms up quickly, and the cab is so small that even with the ragtop it quickly comes up to temperature in cold weather. On a below-freezing day the heater on Max can make it uncomfortably warm in the car.

      They’re tough little cars – capable of big miles, easy to work on, and parts are cheap.

      If a two-seater will work for you, dump the Datsun and get a Miata. Just make sure that the one you get has a limited-slip rear.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll throw in mine, too. Bought Michelin X Ice 2 and never, ever had an unintentional hairy moment. I live in Minneapolis and that Miata was a bit small, but I love warm cocoons!

    • 0 avatar

      This is good to know, as the FR-S & BRZ weigh heavy on my mind, but seeds of doubt grow from my living in the snow belt. I like to hear positive things about well-balanced rear-drive cars in the snow.

  • avatar

    Automatic transmission repair and rebuilds are an area where specialization and expertise are critical, and Sajeev is right on the money when he says go with a Nissan or national brand reman. Every autobox has its own quirks, failure points, tolerances, and assembly requirements; you don’t want somebody trying to learn what they are on your transmission.

    I have seen friends try to save money by having a local shop repair their transmission, and their car ends up on a merry go round trip back to the shop for repeated failures. Do it once and do it right with a good reman.

    Until then, you really don’t have much to lose by trying an additive to see it that puts off your day of reckoning.

  • avatar

    +1 on the re-man. If it’s anything like a Honda (and yes, I know, apples to oranges), rebuilding is usually a waste of time and more importantly money.

    I’ve seen these traded into the dealership I work at with upwards of 200k, and they usually seem to run like a top.

    Replace the trans, run her ’til she dies.

  • avatar

    Transmission additive fluid treatments are a pointless waste of money and in some cases can actually be the cause of premature failure of seals, clutches or both. Don’t do it.
    Also, fluid and filter changes once per year is a bit overkill. 30,000-50,000 miles is a more reasonable rate. The OEM’s that recommend “lifetime fluids” do so for MARKETING REASONS ONLY!!! The engineers in the trenches change their fluids every 30,000 or so miles…

    To your question, the car is in good shape and when the trans goes kaput replace with a Nissan/Jatco rebuilt unit. Unless you know a trusted auto trans mechanic don’t let just anyone operate on the transmission.

  • avatar

    Jasper has done this since the dawn of automatic transmissions, there are none better. OEM uses them too.I would toss a box in for 3 or 4 grand since that’s a manageable expense and this car probably has 50K left in her.

  • avatar

    That generation Maxima is IMHO one of the most durable cars ever made. I have a friend who drove two of them to 200k+ well worn miles and one of them is still running, the other never died mechanically but was wrecked.

    I’d go with the stop-slip for awhile, that stuff can work pretty good, and you’ve got nothing to lose here.

    I did have the transmission rebuilt in my Mountaineer (Explorer) a couple years ago at a Cottman franchise and 30k+ miles later it’s in good shape, having just had the fluid changed recently and told everything looks good/pan is clean. So I’m not totally against a rebuild, especially considering this car is 10+ years old and before transmissions got really complex

  • avatar

    Eric here, one thing I had toyed with but neglected to mention was the notion of adding in a shift kit. I presume that the clutches are fading and that a faster shift may buy some time but would it be worth the presumably $900 for parts and labor for a transmission that may soon be replaced?
    Of course the shift kit would likely be more for fun than anything else as this soft tranny is totally killing my mojo at the 315N to 270E interchange.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      At that price, I’d rather add a hi-po shift kit to a remanufactured replacement unit with many miles ahead of it than to one which may need to have a lot or all of its internals replaced or upgraded soon.

      And from what I have read over the past few decades, softer shifts tend to degrade auto trans performance more rapidly, so some faster acting banding and valving for upshifts you can feel are a good thing. The last time I had my former van’s transmission rebuilt, the shop added heavier duty truck servos and clutches per my request and it was especially appreciated on those occasions when I was hauling a trailer over the mountain passes in this region.

  • avatar

    If the car struggles in winter and may need a tranny rebuild or replacement, why not sell it and buy a used Subaru Legacy at the same price? What worked for you in CA doesn’t work as well now, and may become a hole into which you pour money.

  • avatar

    Nissan does not recommend transmission fluid changes for your car. Your driving style coupled with your “once a year” fluid changes is likely why your transmission is failing. Maybe you or your mechanic damaged the transmission during one of the 10 times you dropped the pan. Still, 150K isn’t too bad.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m ok with the trans in terms of longevity, but I can guarantee you I’ve done more damage with the gas pedal than I have with the sockets. It’s a pretty simple job, plug out, bolts out pan down. Clean the magnets and pan, new gasket and filter, pan up.

    • 0 avatar

      The old “don’t change the fluid because it will disturb the ‘crud’ seals” line is a myth. Nissan may not recommend changing fluid because it helps them sell more transmissions. The fact that you can change it, as well as find filters for them, is testimony to this.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 1977 Chevelle that I bought from some guy who bought it from a little old lady. As far as upkeep went, it was serviced regularly, except for the transmission (a TH-350) It had never been changed, and was as black as the night. It also had no reverse and no 3rd gear.

      Two changes of the ancient nasty fluid and two filter changes and it started hitting all the gears. Worked well for 5,000 miles, till I burned it up thanks to a sticking govenor and shredded 35 year old plastic gears.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 1977 Chevelle that I bought from some guy who bought it from a little old lady. As far as upkeep went, it was serviced regularly, except for the transmission (a TH-350) It had never been changed, and was as black as the night. It also had no reverse and no 3rd gear.

      Two changes of the ancient nasty fluid and two filter changes and it started hitting all the gears. Worked well for 5,000 miles, till I burned it up thanks to a sticking govenor and shredded 35 year old plastic gears.

      I don’t believe for a second that the new fluid hastened its demise, I knew it was on borrowed time due to a persistent trans leak and a clueless previous owner (a real Bubba), and did an experiment to see if it would die shortly or not. I had another TH-350 that had as many miles on the rebuild as this car had on the whole chassis (140,000) and its been treated to changes every 50,000 miles.

  • avatar

    I’d be in the camp that recommends installing a rebuilt/reman tranny from Jasper.

    But, I have to laugh when I read stuff like this: ” It’s been quite good to me with only minor repairs such as a cat, MAF and coils. ”

    I guess it depends on what your definition of minor repairs are. But if I said the same thing about one of my GM cars doing that, there’d be all kinds of comments about them being junk…

    • 0 avatar

      I say he should swap in a Powerglide and call it a day, Geo. He’ll never have another tranny problem!

      Actually, drive the car gently and it will last a very long time with no further issues.

      I second your feeling if the car in question were a GM product. Can you imagine the “love” I would experience if this were about my Impala?

      Gotta get the rest of the “Midwest Gang” to chime in.

      • 0 avatar

        Speaking of Impala love…my brother just got an 08 with 71k and I was wondering if you have any good resources that I can suggest to him so that he can troubleshoot problems that may arise.

        I know this is very off-topic, but was wondering. Thanks for any help. :)

      • 0 avatar

        @tankinbeans: Try Or, too.

        The cars have been in production forever, they’re relatively simple by today’s standards and the Oshawa boys assembled them rather well. I can’t think of a weak link on a newer one, the last chink in the armor being the 3.4 V6’s in the older cars. But the 2008’s won’t have those.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m in glorious Columbus Ohio, formerly of even more glorious Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

    • 0 avatar

      I have owned several Volvos in the past. My standards are pretty low.

      • 0 avatar

        @Zackman, well you know me by now… We should really be talking about a LSx and 6 speed swap! :) As for W-body/Impy love, I’m starting to see a change… It’s taking time… I have to admit I’m more of an Epsilon guy. But there’s a W-body Grand Prix GTP for sale locally that’s just calling my name… Why do these things always show up for sale right at Christmas??!

        @zamoti: You say you’re in Ohio and Pennsylvania? Whereabouts? Those are my old stomping grounds. I really didn’t mean that comment as a dig against you, more so the prevailing attitudes about Japanese cars. After working at a Toyota dealership, I changed my mind. Not favorably, I might add.

        It sounds like you generally like the car, I’d be in favor of keeping it. Do the Jasper trans swap thing when the trans truly pukes. It’s probably the simplest/cheapest/easiest way to do it.

    • 0 avatar

      @Zamoti: My wife is from Pittsburgh. I grew up near Youngstown.

      Columbus is nice too, but between the two, I’d rather be in Pittsburgh. And I say that as a Browns fan…

  • avatar

    You could just drive the car until the tranny fails, if your intent is to install a rebuilt one anyway. That failure might not come for a very long time.

    The old Maximas are excellent cars – keep it, particularly if yours has been good to you.

    • 0 avatar

      gslippy beat me to the punch, I’d do nothing. A “problem” like this could continue for a very long time without ever becoming a real problem.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        …..I’ll 3rd rpol there, drive it till it drops…….when it gets real bad, swap it cheaply for another 12 year old of your choice. As much fun as the MX5 might be to drive, it’s still a questionable proposition in mid-winter. Almost all the commenters have added disclaimers about deep snow capabilities. For the price of the proposed repair you can probably find a beater Miata for summer fun, assuming you have space for it. By sharing the mileage amongst all three cars, that old Maxima may last longer than you think. Check out a different set of “winter” tires, though……..even without limited slip, you shouldn’t be getting stuck so often……make sure you’re not carrying excess weight around in the trunk.

    • 0 avatar

      Oops…I forgot to mention timing along with OEM+Jasper. Good point.

    • 0 avatar

      Here is a little anecdotal story. Many moons ago I bought my mom a ’97 camry with the infamous leaking valve seals and to boot it had a slightly slipping tranny from 3rd to 4th. The interior was minty fresh and the price was crazy good because the previous owner was nervous about the puff of smoke every morning hahaha!

      One of the great things about living in Houston is the junk yard mecca of N. Shepard Dr. so I bought it with the intention that I can get this engine/transmission combo from said mecca for a good value practically whenever the time comes.

      More than 5 years on the car still only loses about 1/4 quart every oil change and the transmission still slightly slips from 3rd to 4th but no more than when I bought it!

      Whether it’s luck or stupidity I’ll take it.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about it until it fails. It’s not like you can do some simple, inexpensive repair to improve anything. Just keep doing regular fluid changes and see what happens.

      A full fluid and filter change every year seems excessive to me though. I’d do that every 60k miles. If it has a drain plug, a single annual drain and fill is enough for me.

      Is it possible that fluid type could contribute to the change in shift quality? Do you use the same fluid every time?

  • avatar

    To Vbofw and others..

    I am a surface chemist with specialization in lubrication technology. If “Lifetime” means 100K miles and 10 years (which it usually does), then fine. But if “lifetime” means 250K miles sand 25 years, forget it. If only you knew the molecular shearing that goes on when gears collide, you would be horrified. Change the oils EVERYWHERE, and then you should have no concerns. We’re talking 50 years and 500K miles here.

    • 0 avatar

      Usually Lifetime is a word used with the transmissions that are also known as “sealed for life”. Can anyone tell us if these SFL transmission are easily unsealed by anyone with a socket set?

      • 0 avatar

        With my mother’s ’99 Sunfire, it’s just a matter of dropping the pan and using the check plug to get the proper level. Nothing difficult, but a drain plug would be far more convenient for doing frequent drain-and-fills.

      • 0 avatar


        one might disconnect upper cooling line (to prevent leaks) from the rad and hook up exchange machine that fills from the top and old fluid goes into a separate tank. Then start the vehicle, torque converter pump will do all the pumping. When top tank where you put new transmission fluid is empty, same amount of fluid was pumped out.

  • avatar

    I shuddered when I read “Maxima” and “transmission” in the same post. My 2002 SE left me when the transmission failed absolutely at 220k kilometers. The car had a liberal amount of salty-Ontario-road-Canadian rust in all the unseen places, which is why I didn’t opt to replace the tranny and just traded it it for what I could get.

    Nice car while it lasted…if I lived in a different place I’d have kept it running.

    edit: I see my dead car is still my avatar…need to replace that.

  • avatar

    If the existing winter tires are unsatisfactory, the OP probably bought the “performance winter” category instead of the winter tire category. IMO there’s hardly any difference between a decent all season and a performance winter tire.

    The difference in grip between my Michelin Pilot Alpin PA2 and X-Ice Xi2 when it gets ugly outside is about the same as 500lb of ballast/passengers. But for areas with mild winters, performance winter tires should work fine.

  • avatar

    A year ago the autobox in my 2002 Protege 5 started going sour. While I was visiting family in San Diego. Oh and I live in Toronto. It would not shift smoothly from 2nd to 3rd. So I followed some advice from a local and took it to Certified Transmissions. They whip mine out and bring in a remanufactured unit from Nebraska. New one works great. I recommend them if you are going to replace the gearbox.

  • avatar

    I have a friend that had a ’01 Maxima where the tranny crapped out seemingly early at 140k miles. He never did fluid changes (per Nissan’s suggestion) so I don’t think your regular mainenance is causing the problem, but not stopping it either.

    Personally I know a lot of people that have had auto transmissions fail with relatively high powered V6’s, i.e. 200+ HP. My hunch is that the transmissions are too weak. I’ve run Honda auto’s with 4cyl way way waaaaay past 200,000 miles with hardly anything but a fluid drain and fill every 50-70,000 miles. I’ve also beat the tar out of those cars. Then again, we all know Honda has had problems with autoboxes on the V6 models with “easy” driving.

    My against the grain advise, ditch the Maxi before it becomes an expensive fix. Replace with anything that has a 3rd pedal and V6….or just get an underpowered car…they are cheap to buy and own.

  • avatar

    If that were mine I’d put a used transmission in it, or if there’s a kit I’d rebuild it myself. A used transmission doesn’t cost very much at all. Around a hundred bucks around here.

  • avatar

    On Jasper … they built us a better 350 Chevy V8 for our 1999 Suburban in 2004 than GM did in 1999. Stronger, sounded better, and lasted longer than the original engine. No experience on transmissions to report, but I’d give them a try if again if I needed an engine or transmission.

  • avatar

    Well, I think that given everyone’s input I’m going to back down on the ATF changes (maybe just one drain and fill a year) and just see how long she goes.
    The tough part is that I do like this car, but it is nearly 12 years old and more things will eventually break. The exhaust is coming due, and if the AC gives out, I think that would be the final nail in the coffin. Presuming $4000 for a Jasper AT installed, maybe $300 for the exhaust and if the AC goes maybe $1000, that’s a lot to spend on a car with 150k+ miles.
    Oh and for all those cheering on the Miata choice, I will keep sniffing around as I want one anyway. I had one years ago until it was totaled by a Camry attempting a boneheaded left turn in front of me:

    Thanks everyone!

  • avatar

    Unless you really want to get another car keep it. Do the maintenance and the car should last you another 100k miles. Sure it’s getting a bit old but the quality of newer cars if maintained well will last a very long time.

    If everything else is in good shape, you’re good to go. You know what your costs are coming up and you can plan accordingly. A newer used car as people say is just buying someone else’s problems.

    As for Jasper, I’ve yet to hear anything bad about them. Pretty good considering the market they are in.

    Fix up the car, and keep driving it until the panels rust off.

  • avatar

    We owned a 1993 Maxima from 1993 to 2003 and during that time logged just over 250,000 miles. Due to prior transmission problems in several Toyotas and an Audi 80 we changed the fluid in the Maxima every 30,000 miles during the 10 years we owned it. I can assure you that the car shifted just as well on the day we traded it in as it did when we drove it new off the dealer’s lot. Also, the engine ran just as well as it did when new and it really, really ran! That Maxima could easily be the first car away from a light change without any unnecessary roaring or noise under any circumstances. Without a doubt, it was the unchallenged, unassumingly quickest car I have ever driven. It was replaced with a 2003 Chevy Malibu due to price considerations. We kept the Malibu 8 long years and finally got rid of it last summer in swap for a 2007 Volvo V70 wagon which we already love due to its comfort, performance and conveniences. I do recommend your keeping the Maxima and also recommend continuing to change transmission fluid if you do go for a rebuilt package. I am a little puzzled with your problems in snow as the first 7 years of our Maxima ownership we lived in Northeast Ohio with regular travel into the mountains of western Pennsylvania. We never had any issues with driving in the snow and I do not recall the car being equipped with traction control.

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