Piston Slap: Justy-fied Freestylin' Over CVTs, Part V

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC commentator Anomaly149 writes:

Sajeev, here’s one for you:

I have a CVT-equipped 2004 Saturn Ion Quad Coupe with ~140,000 miles. While you can write a book on the things that are weird with the car (key won’t release from cylinder sometimes unless you push this button inside the steering column, sometimes the neutral safety switch actuator machine-guns when stopped at a stoplight, it eats front sway links like it’s a contest, etc.), so far it’s been reliable and efficient.

The thing I’m worried about is the longevity of that CVT. I’ve read a lot of bad things, and recently the transmission has started “shifting” hard from a stop. Sometimes the vehicle starts moving from a stop with a fairly violent jolt, even if the gas pedal is barely pressed. The problem is very intermittent, but has been getting a little more frequent. The dealer says they find nothing wrong. Is this worth investigating? Do they even make repair parts for these CVTs anymore?

I’d love to keep the car running a bit longer, but the last thing I need is a dead transmission on an hour-long commute.

Sajeev answers:

Wow. You got 140,000 miles out of a VTi transaxle: the centerpiece of terrible ideas leading up to GM’s decision to burn 2 billion to NOT buy Fiat.

No surprise TTAC did the Death Watch thang, but Farago himself couldn’t imagine a world where Fiat dusts off a classic move, hostile takeover style.

Does anyone remember the VTi and the lawsuit? Repair or rebuilding is out of the question: consider yourself lucky and shop for a new vehicle. Or perform a gearbox swap with a Delta-bodied GM product with a more conventional auto or manual transmission, if you are the “save and restomod” type. I did quite like the Cobalt XFE I tested way back — it was super-cheap fun!

And don’t laugh, an ION Quad Coupe is the AMC Pacer of the last decade: the restomod route isn’t totally stupid, especially if you can cram LS4-FTW into the Delta’s engine bay. A more believable 5-speed automatic swap sounds pretty sweet.

I’d do this in a heartbeat. Parts will be dirt cheap, especially if you buy a complete car on Craigslist. Take out the gearbox, spend a weekend swap, scrap the rest and lose less than a grand on the deal.

Or just sell it now while it runs, telling the new owner about the swap and it’s future as the next AMC Pacer.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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2 of 22 comments
  • NeilM NeilM on Sep 01, 2015

    The dealer says they can find nothing wrong in what, the sense that they all do that right before they die?

  • Joe K Joe K on Sep 01, 2015

    Don't look at me, I own a Justy with a CVT. Well alright. Justy is a far different animal then this, but does it have any sort of switch on the accelerator pedal? I would have to dig into a FSM to see how this beast works, and it's amazing it still works without you cracking one open for this long.

  • Lichtronamo Watch as the non-us based automakers shift more production to Mexico in the future.
  • 28-Cars-Later " Electrek recently dug around in Tesla’s online parts catalog and found that the windshield costs a whopping $1,900 to replace.To be fair, that’s around what a Mercedes S-Class or Rivian windshield costs, but the Tesla’s glass is unique because of its shape. It’s also worth noting that most insurance plans have glass replacement options that can make the repair a low- or zero-cost issue. "Now I understand why my insurance is so high despite no claims for years and about 7,500 annual miles between three cars.
  • AMcA My theory is that that when the Big 3 gave away the store to the UAW in the last contract, there was a side deal in which the UAW promised to go after the non-organized transplant plants. Even the UAW understands that if the wage differential gets too high it's gonna kill the golden goose.
  • MKizzy Why else does range matter? Because in the EV advocate's dream scenario of a post-ICE future, the average multi-car household will find itself with more EVs in their garages and driveways than places to plug them in or the capacity to charge then all at once without significant electrical upgrades. Unless each vehicle has enough range to allow for multiple days without plugging in, fighting over charging access in multi-EV households will be right up there with finances for causes of domestic strife.
  • 28-Cars-Later WSJ blurb in Think or Swim:Workers at Volkswagen's Tennessee factory voted to join the United Auto Workers, marking a historic win for the 89- year-old union that is seeking to expand where it has struggled before, with foreign-owned factories in the South.The vote is a breakthrough for the UAW, whose membership has shrunk by about three-quarters since the 1970s, to less than 400,000 workers last year.UAW leaders have hitched their growth ambitions to organizing nonunion auto factories, many of which are in southern states where the Detroit-based labor group has failed several times and antiunion sentiment abounds."People are ready for change," said Kelcey Smith, 48, who has worked in the VW plant's paint shop for about a year, after leaving his job at an Amazon.com warehouse in town. "We look forward to making history and bringing change throughout the entire South."   ...Start the clock on a Chattanooga shutdown.