By on January 14, 2015

cvt. Shutterstock user Pixel B

Mark writes:


I enjoy reading the piston slap series.

I have a 2009 Altima with the 2.5 4 banger and the CVT transmission. I’m not a big fan of the CVT, but it works ok and gets decent mileage. I bought this car as it was the cheapest car I could find that fits 4 adults and qualified me for the cash-for-clunkers handout. I didn’t expect to keep it long or pile the miles on it this quickly but now it has 90k on it. I mostly drive it without any passengers as we now have 3 kids and the minivan gets used for family duty (just had one kid when we bought the Altima). I’m trying to decide if I should hold onto it or sell it – it’s kind of at that point where if I keep much longer, I’ll probably end up driving it into the ground.

The transmission is the wildcard to me – is there a consensus whether these trannys can be expected to last for 150k or more miles? The trans warranty goes through 120k but by that point the vehicle probably won’t be worth a whole lot.

Sajeev answers:

That body style Altima was my favorite rental in its class for a while, its CVT was surprisingly on point. Compared to other manufacturer’s downright slothy 6-speed automatic transaxles, Nissan’s CVT (from 2007 and up?) was no slouch in any metric.

Even if the transmission fails right after the warranty expires, this isn’t an unobtainium gearbox like the Subaru Justy.  Nissan’s been in the CVT game for years now, odds are they’ve spent millions investing in this future (including warranties). There’s a learning curve in rebuilding/diagnosing them, but (in theory) CVTs are fairly straightforward.  This webinar brings a ton of valuable pros and cons of CVTs from the perspective of a local transmission rebuilder.

I know, I know…it’s a long video. But what we think is a black box full of magic and devilish thoughts, others have dug in there and know how to fix them. The more I watch, the more comfortable I feel in owning a CVT car to run cost effectively for 200,000+ miles.

If you need a new CVT and a rebuild is not ideal, finding a low mile replacement from the junkyard should be simple and somewhat affordable. But the best thing you can do is RTFM and change the fluid as needed.  And ONLY use fluid recommended by Nissan, or a fully compatible counterpart. Use regular ATF and you’ll probably grenade the gearbox in a few months.

More to the point: NS1-FTW SON!

[Image: Shutterstock user Pixel B]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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34 Comments on “Piston Slap: Justy-fied Freestylin’ over CVTs, Part IV...”

  • avatar

    Interesting .

    Have annual tranny oil & filter changes become passe’ ? .


  • avatar

    If it suits your needs, run er into the ground. The Jatco CVTs aren’t great for longevity, but by the time that matters, it won’t matter.

    Great video BTW, not many shops will open a CVT for service.

  • avatar

    The automakers must love family men, because every time they have a kids, it’s time for a new car. Besides, I think a lot of family guys forget to change oil and transmission fluid, they are too busy changing Pampers!

  • avatar

    The fluid recommendation is a big one.

    I’ve said this before, but it was not uncommon to see Freestyles ruined by Ford dealers and independent shops that treated the CVT like a AXOD. You _have_ to use the right fluid, and in the right amount: overfill or underfill (overfilling was a common error) and it will fail.

    CVTs don’t have to be problematic, and Nissan’s have been pretty good if you look at CR or TrueDelta. They’re no better than average, and certain a better bet than some of Honda’s more challenging implementations. I can’t see why one wouldn’t go the distance.

    • 0 avatar

      The Freestyle that began this series hit 173,000 miles last week. No transmission work, two drain and fill fluid changes (at 60K and 160K miles).

      Expect to own it another year or so.

  • avatar

    Automakers must love family men, every time a kid comes along, its time for a new van. As for changing transmission fluid, many fathers are too busy to do that, they are busy changing their kids’ Pampers.

    • 0 avatar
      John R

      Too busy to go to the dealer and service it? I am certain that faced with the prospect of spending $200-ish dollars now versus spending $2500 later many a father will “find the time”.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s nothing like bonding with your son/daughter over fluid changes.

        Personally, I find it helpful to have someone with a) little fingers, and b) less abused spinal discs to do the things that I really struggle to do. Like retrieve the wrench from the toolbox when I’m on a creeper.

        And in all seriousness, it’s a good bonding experience with your kids.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Drain and re-fill is now a thing of the past.

      The local dealer for one of our vehicles will not change transmission fluid without using their power flush equipment. Sure this works better on new, well maintained cars but I have reservations about flushing older vehicles or those whose history is unknown. Also they charge about triple the old drain and re-fill rate.

      How do others view this?

      • 0 avatar

        I have heard such logic for well over a decade.

      • 0 avatar
        Gardiner Westbound

        Transmission flushing may drive tiny bits of clutch friction material into lines and channels, block them, and result in transmission failure shortly after the flush. Verify the need, time and mileage interval to your owner’s manual. It’s probably your wallet that is being flushed!

      • 0 avatar

        At the supplier I worked at previous to retirement, the service engrs referred to these as a “customer wallet flush”.

        On any transmission that has a serviceable filter, changing the filter and swabbing out the pan is always preferable, when done properly.

        The dealers love the flusher because they don’t have to do much wrenching and deal with comebacks due to pan leaks, stripped drain plugs etc.

      • 0 avatar

        “How do others view this?”

        Most manufacturers have published service bulletins advising against the use of fluid exchange machines to flush transmissions because it doesn’t clean out debris in the system and can actually cause harm by stirring it up. Most shops don’t care and sell them because it’s gravy.

        The proper procedure is to drain the pan, clean it, change the filter, and refill.

      • 0 avatar

        There are different types of machines, some have an internal pump, but it’s better to use a machine that relies on the transmission’s own pump not to flush but to exchange the fluid. Of course on a high mileage vehicle with questionable fluid the varnish build up may be all that’s allowing clutch pistons and band servos to apply full pressure. The high detergent nature of new transmission fluid can wash that away and advance the demise of an unmaintained transmission. Exchange every 30k to 50k miles is my personal rule of thumb.

        • 0 avatar

          Common myth about ATF detergency. It’s motor oils that have a lot of detergent additives because of carbon and other products of combustion getting past the rings.

      • 0 avatar

        You ask good questions. I have always viewed flushes with suspicion and thought drain and fill was the better answer. I am coming up on 60k with my CVT Cube and will do whatever they say. I am somewhat paranoid with the CVT and would have a normal automatic if I could. I lost faith in their PM program when they wanted to flush and fill my brake system after 30k miles of two lane blacktop. Going to let them have their way with the CVT anyway.

        One thing that gives me a lot of hope is the availability of CVTs in junkyards. Think they will get lots cheaper. Your Altima will get very little on a tradein and probably not very much in a sale. I would just drive it.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’m a more than a little rusty with my katakana, but am I reading that right? CVT “FU-RUUU-DO”? Is that how they’re writing fluid now?

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      My thoughts exactly; I couldn’t make sense of their kana use with those particular phonemes. Perhaps they just couldn’t bring themselves to use an ‘i’ for that 3rd character position.

      Oh yeah, from the OT files, I recall you asking some questions about E85 in an earlier thread. These articles are from the straight line rough idle crowd, but their science and engineering chops are spot-on and will apply to any engine build regardless of how the cams and cranks are situated. I was especially amused by how savagely they modified a gasoline carb in order to flow enough ethanol to make power in the first link.

  • avatar

    To be fair , some OEM state lifetime fluids for their tranny’s so unless you jump into the forums you would not know differently, I know many Volvo xc wagons tranny’s blew up bc of lifetime tranny fluids, as far the atlma I say sell it if you want a newer car and the payment that comes w it, but if your happy w it, service it and run it to the ground.

  • avatar

    I was happy to ditch my 2010 Altima after the lease ended. It served its purpose also as an inexpensive new car, was a decent car on the highway and with the giant fuel tank, you had quite a bit of range. Comfort wise it was OK.

    I hated the CVT on the hills in Pittsburgh, but it was great on the highway for passing or cruising in general because it kept revs low. Which was great because the old 2.5 wasn’t exactly smooth or quiet, especially above 3,000 rpm.

    But it wasn’t an inspired nor fun car, it was an appliance car. People bag on the Accord for being boring, but our 2006 Accord LX SE 4 cyl could be fun. You could beat on it a bit and it seemed happy. Not so much the Altima, not in base form.

    To the original question if it’s not costing you a bunch to keep going, I’d just keep it. Let 120k come and go, if it’s not showing signs of failing by then, keep it until it does. I mean, it depends on how you want to define “running it into the ground”. Running it until the transmission fails could be considered running it into the ground.

  • avatar

    Anther vote for keeping the car and changing the fluid with the factory Nissan stuff. Or read up on BITOG to find out what cheaper substitute is acceptable. I’ve found the different transmissions have different tolerances for non-OEM fluid. Take for example, the Aisin A340F automatic in my 4Runner. It’s perfectly happy on Valvoline Dex-III/Merc generic ATF, shifts as good as ever after a drain and fill. I know that gen 3 Mitsubishi Monteros (the fullsize ones) with the 5spd automatics are constantly plagued with torque converter chatter, every single used one I test drove had this issue. The problem is not using Mitsubishi’s fancy pants ATF. Change the fluid before its too late and you’re golden. Much has been written about the Chrysler Ultradrives and how many met an untimely death due largely in part to ignorant dealership servicing (using wrong fluid).

    My brother’s wife has a 2008ish Rogue with the same engine/transmission but with the addition of AWD, as I recall he’s changed the fluid now and everything is just fine. Last year they had the same debate of keeping it vs selling it before the miles got into the 100k+ range for fear of the CVT.

    • 0 avatar

      When I’m doing vital fluids in my car, I won’t use a fluid unless the bottle specifically lists the spec the manufacturer calls for. I never trust fluids labeled as good for “all cars” or “Asian vehicles”. The “official” fluids aren’t cheap, but they are always cheaper than finding out the hard way that “all” didn’t really mean “all”.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep that’s how I look at it, better safe than sorry. I hang out on make specific forums for cars that I own to get a good feel for what aftermarket or non-OEM items can be substituted for the pricey factory stuff. Sometimes OEM is the only way to go. And absolutely at the very least matching what the factory manual calls for (Dexron III etc) is a must.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed, as always, x 10.

          I will go with an OEM substitute but not as a function of price point or availability, moreso, of a performance perspective. Mass ownership experience, when deviating from the OEM, is key. Forums are your friend.

          I will only drain, wipe down, and refill. No “machines” are used. My pet peeve is to measure every last drop that I have drained and cross reference that measurement with manufacturer’s literature as to not over / underfill.

  • avatar

    Thanx ! .

    I am aware of the ” BG ” ATF flush & fill machine , many Mechanics I know swear by it , I can’t see any point in flushing because you need to physically wipe clean the thin layer of crud on everything…

    My old Mercedes’ have torque converter drain plus , that’s nice although it add quite a bit of co$to the tranny servicing .


  • avatar

    The failure rate of the CVT in the Nissan Pathfinder and Infiniti JX is very high. For Nissan’s sake, I hope all these hundreds of thousands of vehicles they have been selling lately do not have the same failure rate as those two, it would be the kiss of death.

  • avatar

    Those in the know, know… The BG machine would not be used in a CVT application; it’s loaded with the wrong fluid, and the trans pump provides the pressure which is not a certainty in most CVTs I’ve seen. Drain, refill, and cross your fingers.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you .

      I didn’t know but I *do* know to ask here as Forums are my friend….

      Sooner or later I’ll be faced with a CVT and this is the first time I’ve heard anything but derision and hate on them @ TTAC .

      One of my old Mercedes W123’s has the hydro-pneumatic rear suspension and it can either be a royal PIA or a wonderful thing , as I routinely carry 7 people in it , I prefer the wonderful thing route and use Mercedes fluids in it because all problems always seem to begin with leaks and experience has taught me that hydraulic leaks are caused my lack of service and wrong fluids , in that order .

      Damage and wear comes long after .

      I hope the California Tree Hugging Thought Police don’t arrest me for doing Routine Maintenance properly ! (sarcasm font is broken) =8-) .


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