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, 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.

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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.

  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).
  • Master Baiter New slogan in the age of Ford EVs:FoundOnRoadDischarged