By on January 12, 2016


cvt. shutterstock user Pixel B

TTAC commentator Patrickj writes:

Sajeev, an update:

My 2006 Ford Freestyle that started this series has been traded in after 184,000 miles. It’s replacement is a 2015 Subaru Legacy, so I guess I wasn’t scared off by the CVT.

The reason for getting the Subaru is mostly because of the second A/C failure of the summer in the Freestyle, though it also needed four struts, assorted bushings, and a steering shaft (u-joints doing a weird stick-slip thing). CVT and engine have been been fine to the end, with only two transmission fluid changes.

Sajeev answers:

Patrick’s Freestyle was three years old in the first Piston Slap, starting the “Justy-fied” CVT postings. Are we getting old?

And keep in mind his Freestyle had 75,000 miles back then. With 184,000 miles now, this CVT lived the relaxed life of a more-highway-than-city cruiser. So what does this update mean?

Here are some takeaways:

  1. Transmission/transaxle fluid changes every 90,000-ish miles are a very good thing (or sooner, better RTFM on that).
  2. Just because the Internet makes a blanket statement about something (like CVT durability) doesn’t make it true.**
  3. If you need a cheap set of wheels for a couple of years, higher mileage vehicles might be a better value! Don’t shy away from one — go kick the tires.
  4. CVTs may be slow to react, but modern 6+ speed autoboxes are rather slow on a factory tune.  Considering their fuel efficiency and the ability to keep the engine in its powerband during hard acceleration, are CVTs really that bad?

** Except for Panther Love.  That’s totally true.

[Photo courtesy: 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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

35 Comments on “Piston Slap: Justy-fied Freestylin’ over CVTs (PART VI)...”

  • avatar

    Glad to see some updates on what happened to start this series, 184,000 is a good amount of miles for a unloved Ford badge.

  • avatar

    “are CVTs really that bad?”

    That drone though.

  • avatar

    Seems to me that CVTs might just be more sensitive to their operating environment, although the same can be said of automatics, and transmissions in general. Mostly level highway use is always going to lead to a longer, happier life for the transmission than heavy stop and go city or mountain driving.

    I’ve heard of some people having trouble with the CVT in the first gen Rogue, but my brother’s wife’s ’07 has racked up 150k miles now totally trouble free on factory fluid. My mechanic brother was suspicious initially and wanted to change it back when the car had 75k miles, but simply checking both the car’s onboard diagnostics and physically sampling the fluid showed it to still have plenty of life left in it at 150k. Computer says it has 50% left, and the fluid smells/looks perfectly fine. This car is mostly used to long distance highway/rural commuting in Central PA. It’s actually a perfect car for this role. Impressive ground clearance for a crossover and a decent AWD setup with a 50/50 lockup mode at low speeds. With snow tires on, it’s a tank. No reliability issues to speak of from what I recall, and it gets 30 mpg as it is driven. Surprisingly cushy ride too, might be that French influence?

    • 0 avatar

      On the other hand the CVT in my wife’s 2010 Nissan Cube was replaced under warranty at roughly 65k miles. Fortunately that model year Nissan had upped the OEM warranty on the transmission to 10 years/120,000 miles which was one of the reasons we purchased the Cube.

      According to Nissan the original transmission had a design flaw and the new transmission has redesigned components that eliminate the defect. We will see…

      It the failure had happened with the normal 60k mile warranty the OEM replacement would have been just north of $4k. Ouch.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I know a lot of people also had issues with the CVT in the first-generation Murano. Ours was one of the pre-refresh models, but it was one of the very last produced (August 2005), and gave us no trouble.

      As far as the first-gen Rogue (aka Rogue Select), it may be styled like a bar of soap, but I don’t understand why people enjoy making fun of it so much. It’s not a bad car.

    • 0 avatar

      The first gen Rogue was so ugly and cheapo inside and out, dunno that I could deal with it for so many years.

      I don’t feel like Nissan had their CVT tuning together yet, either. The 2012 Murano I drove was awful.

      • 0 avatar

        Corey it’s definitely pretty low rent interior wise, and rearward visibility is crap. Pretty poor cargo room too. But it happily lives in the bottom-feeder AWD-CUV niche occupied by the Patriot/Compass/Outlander Sport. For the price, you get a decently put together, well riding car with a high seating position. Nissan knew what they were doing when they kept making and selling these as the “Rogue Select” and letting the new Rogue duke it out with the big boys (CRV et al).

        The CVT/2.5L combo is definitely not the most pleasing sounding thing when driven hard, but just putt-putting around like many owners of these things are apt to do you really don’t notice anything particularly offensive. I find the CVT+ sub 2.0L 4 cylinder Nissans to be much more unpleasant. The 2.5L has enough torque that the CVT keeps RPMs low and out of that “droning” zone.

        • 0 avatar

          That makes sense for the class, I’m putting it with the Murano incorrectly in my mind. It’s nowhere near the (overpriced) Murano.

          The ’12 I drove with the 3.5 + CVT left me thinking “Where is the g-d horsepower?!” the whole time.

  • avatar

    I think Ford really did their homework on the CVT for that platform it was just that the outcry from customers killed it. Personally with the proliferation of 8 plus speed automatics, might as well CVT and be done with it.

    • 0 avatar

      What prompted customers to complain though? People accepted Nissan and Subaru’s CVT transition. What was different about Ford’s?

      • 0 avatar

        The market for a Five Hundred or a Montego is much different than the market for a Nissan or a Subaru. The Five Hundred/Montego were supposed to be Panther platform replacements. When your core buyer remembers Ford transmissions called “Ford-o-matic” and “Cruise-o-matic” they aren’t exactly going to embrace a CVT with open arms.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford killed the CVT because they were developing a 6 speed transmission with GM and the existing CVT couldn’t handle the torque of the 3.5L engine.

        It was also a very expensive transmission that broke often.

  • avatar

    Maybe if you hammer the bejeezus out of the driveline, CVTs are less durable than a 3 speed Turbo Hydramatic? But if you drive sanely (you drive as if you are the person who will have to pay for repairs), maybe the CVT lasts as long as anything else on the car?

    I don’t know anything about CVTs specifically, but I know that when I ride with someone whose cars are always breaking down and having weird problems, they usually drive like a bat out of hell or/and like they have only digital controls, whereas all the smooth easy drivers I know also seem to have their cars last a very long time.

    • 0 avatar

      1,000,000 times this. How you treat your car is likely the largest determining factor in its reliability. Obviously, the lesson generalizes. There are financial rewards for temperate behavior and financial penalties for immoderate behavior.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes how you drive is important but not the only cause.

        “1,000,000 times this. How you treat your car is likely the largest determining factor in its reliability. Obviously, the lesson generalizes. There are financial rewards for temperate behavior and financial penalties for immoderate behavior.”

        Often true. There are some transmissions that break more than others regardless of the driver, like my Honda. Buyers who do not want to pay or be without a car for expensive repairs do want to know which break early and avoid. Some CVT’s break more often than geared auto transmissions. But saying all CVT’s are bad is not very useful for the breakdown averse buyer who wants to choose durability. Prius CVT is outstandingly reliable and quite different in how it works compared to Nissan, Honda, Jatco or even other Toyota CVT’s.

        It seems to come to fine detail. Which exact makes and models have problems. I wish I knew before buying a Honda (bad trans). Also, living in a crowded city or in a hill can make breakdowns come earlier. Some Honda forum rats suggested moving away from the hill or crowded city so that the Honda would be stressed less and not break so soon rather than admit the fault for their fanboi brand. Such nonsense. Tail wags the dog for some fanbois.

  • avatar

    Do we actually know that most of this car’s miles are on the highway, or is this an inference? 109,000 miles over seven years is a little over 15,000 per year, I do a little more than 13,000 per year, and only about 1500 of those are on the highway. These could be mostly city miles.

    I’m driving a PHEV with a CVT, my wife has a car with a conventional six speed automatic. I prefer the CVT. In town, it’s smoother, on the highway it’s quicker to respond to the accelerator. The only negative I can think of, is that when you press the accelerator on the CVT, it will spin the engine more quickly than does the conventional automatic, so you hear the engine a little more. On the plus side, you don’t have to wait as long for the engine to get up to speed, the additional torque is delivered more quickly.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget he bought it with 75,000 miles and it was only 3 years old. So that’s some decent highway miles to start.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      My Outback’s CVT whines a little like a motor boat engine. That was the only thing I had to get used to. Otherwise it’s great.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m the former owner, and the car was used since about 30K miles in an 80 mile a day highway commute with one or two people in the car. It rarely carried more that three adults, and was babied for any heavy hauling (trash from small-scale demolition) it did.

      Except for a little too much gas over speed bumps, the Freestyle didn’t lead a hard life.

  • avatar

    Bball will be here shortly to shout about Batavia CVTs and Montegos!

    • 0 avatar

      Like I’ve said before, if someone wants to take a gamble on a Freestyle or AWD Five Hundred/Montego, go ahead. The OP won his gamble. Others (many) do not. If someone wants a Freestyle, factor in the price of a replacement CVT. Chances are, it’s close to the price difference between the Freestyle and Taurus X. The Taurus X also has the 3.5L Duratec.

      • 0 avatar

        Ah but the 3.5 introduces the risk of a very serious (10 hr book time) water pump replacement. As with any used vehicle, pick your poison!

        • 0 avatar

          It costs way less than the CVT replacement and it is way less common than CVT failure. The water pump failure rate of the Cyclone based Ford V6s is actually very low.

          • 0 avatar

            Fair enough, and certainly the driving experience of 50+ extra horsepower with no real fuel economy penalty is appreciated.

            I just hate when things are so tightly packaged on an engine that it’s a huge operation to work on/replace components, rubs me in the wrong way. Of course, when you only need plugs and a serpantine belt every 100k it doesn’t matter as much. I worship at the altar of Golden Age Toyota ™ so I’m used to very easy and straightforward maintenance and access to various components. A 10,12, and 14mm socket and you’ve taken apart just about the whole truck!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I change ATF religiously every 25k miles, and can’t imagine going 90k.

    I have no experience with CVTs, but they don’t worry me any more than a conventional automatic.

  • avatar

    Since I’m part of the Freestyle/Taurus X community, I can tell you stories like this are an anomaly. For every one like this, there are three gems that go like this…

    “On my third transmission at 110k miles. I think this is the last one for me.”


    “Changed the fluid religiously. It made it to 110k though, so I guess that’s not too bad.”

    My Trex is still going strong with it’s 6spd at 175k btw.

    • 0 avatar

      ’08 Trex, 180k miles, LOFs, tires, brakes, spark plugs, a left rear wheel bearing and one pair of front struts. Trans fluid is as pink as new and never been changed. I know, anecdotal evidence and all, but it is the most durable vehicle I’ve ever owned.

    • 0 avatar

      I have spent enough time lurking on the forums to know that this car made it to the winning end of the bell curve.

      Like most FWD vehicles with a lot of interior space (mainly minivans), it doesn’t really have the power or robustness to cover a lot of miles with anything heavy in that space.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I remember renting both the Freestyle and the Rogue in 2006/2007. I had each one for two weeks. I now have a 14 Accord with the CVT. As I recall, both the Rogue and Freestyle displayed a lot of “rubber banding” when accelerating. It was quite noticeable, and I could see why many would find it annoying. Honda seems to have eliminated that on the Accord. In fact, the only way I now that it’s a CVT is by the lack of shifting.

  • avatar

    I have a question that I am too lazy to look up. What is the difference between the CVT in the Freestyle and the Escape Hybrid? We have 2 older ones in our work fleet, and both are over 300K with zero maintenance on the transmission, since it is supposedly a sealed system. I heard at one time that the Freestyle uses belts, and the Escape uses planetary gear sets. Which is the preferred style? Which is better?

    • 0 avatar

      The Escape has an eCVT and is integral to the hybrid system just like on Toyota Hybrids. They do use a planetary gear set. This page as a good description along with an interactive animation that shows how the speeds of the range MG and Ice make for a CVT. Other CVTs use a belt of sorts with variable diameter pulleys.

      The eCVT is the most elegant and simplest solution to the CVT problem if you ignore the fact that it needs the hybrid controller and battery pack to make it all work. Because it is a simple planetary gear set there are no belts, pulleys and actuators to wear which does mean that they can really rack up the miles. Unlike conventional automatics there are no clutches, or bands to wear either.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • ToolGuy: Now that GM can guarantee Zero Crashes, I welcome the return to the U.S. market of cabover light-duty...
  • Funky D: I had been jonesing for a Gladiator since they first came out, but wasn’t sure if I could live with it...
  • Funky D: “Powerful turbo engines with direct injection and high levels of boost are one more reason why big...
  • la834: Was gonna say “but it’s got a tail!”, but I think you’re right…
  • FreedMike: Looks like an old towel to me.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber