Piston Slap: Peace of Mind or Shameless Shill?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap peace of mind or shameless shill

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.

Best and Brightest: approve or disapprove of this particular shameless shill?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 52 comments
  • Daveainchina Daveainchina on Dec 12, 2011

    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.

  • Ivanho Ivanho on Dec 12, 2011

    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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