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Nissan has been using continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) in most of its vehicles since the early 2000s. In theory, CVTs are great because they provide a continuous, smooth transition of power for increased fuel economy.

But Nissan’s CVTs are also known for failing early on, which is why they’re the subject of many lawsuits. The transmissions are notorious for shuddering, making strange noises, overheating—and forcing the vehicle into a “limp” mode.

Some would argue that Nissan’s CVTs are the worst transmissions ever built.

continuous variable transmission diagram
Unlike a traditional automatic transmission, which relies on planetary gearsets to get the job done, Nissan’s CVT uses a steel belt and a set of adjustable pulleys.

What Makes the Nissan CVT transmission Different From a Traditional Automatic?

All internal combustion-powered cars need a transmission to manipulate rotational force from the engine and transfer that force to the drive wheels. Unlike a traditional automatic transmission, which relies on planetary gearsets to get the job done, Nissan’s CVT uses a steel belt and a set of adjustable pulleys.

Each of the pulleys changes its groove width to vary the transmission’s “gear” ratio. The secondary pulley turns a collection of final drive gears that connect to the axle shafts, which, in turn, connect to the drive wheels.

The video below demonstrates how the belt and pulley system works in a typical CVT:

Besides the belt and pulleys, Nissan’s CVT is similar to a traditional automatic transmission in many ways. For example, like a regular automatic, the unit has a torque converter that acts as a fluid coupling device between the engine and transmission. There’s also a planetary gearset that allows the driver to switch between forward and reverse.

Common Nissan CVT Transmission Problems

Nissan’s CVT transmissions can suffer from a variety of problems. The most common issues, however, are overheating, abnormal noises, and the infamous “judder”.

The “Judder”

As the belt and pulleys inside a CVT begin to wear—a problem that happens early on with Nissan transmissions—the belt may begin to slip, causing a “judder” sensation. In a technical service bulletin (TSB), Nissan describes the phenomenon as being a “shake, shudder, single or multiple bumps or vibration”.

To address the concern, Nissan issued a software update for the transmission control module (TCM). The update allows the module to recognize the judder and set a corresponding diagnostic trouble code (DTC) in its memory.

There are two judder codes that can be set: P17F0 and P17F1. Nissan has issued a TSB that tells dealership technicians how to approach each of the two codes when there’s a judder. According to the document:

  • P17F0: Technicians should replace the CVT assembly.
  • P17F1: Technicians should inspect the CVT belt for wear to determine whether the valve body or the entire transmission requires replacement.
nissan cvt transmission belt
As the belt and pulleys inside a CVT begin to wear, the belt may begin to slip, causing a “judder” sensation, which Nissan describes as being a “shake, shudder, single or multiple bumps or vibration.”

Abnormal Noises

Many drivers also complain of abnormal noises coming from their Nissan’s CVT. The most common is a whining or grinding sound that coincides with vehicle speed. In most cases, either worn bearings or issues with the transmission’s belt system are to blame.

Overheating Resulting in “Limp” Mode

Nissan CVTs are known to overheat, especially after traveling at highway speeds for a long time or driving up a steep grade. When the transmission overheats, the vehicle often goes into a fail-safe or “limp” mode, resulting in a loss of power. Obviously, this is a potentially dangerous scenario that can put occupants at risk.

The belt and pulley system inside the transmission creates more heat than Nissan engineers anticipated—and the cooling system cannot keep up.

To address the overheating concern, Nissan released a TSB recommending the installation of an external transmission cooler. Dealership technicians often diagnose the overheat condition by using a scan tool to look at the CVT fluid temperature “counts” registered by the TCM.

But adding an external cooler doesn’t always fix the overheating problem. In many cases, the entire CVT assembly must be replaced to address the concern.

Did Nissan Extend the Warranty on Its CVT Transmission?

In 2010—after several class action lawsuits and countless customer complaints—Nissan agreed to extend the warranty on its CVTs found in select models built between 2003 and 2010. The extended warranty covered the units for up to 10-years/120,000-miles. Of course, all of those transmissions are now out of warranty.

A few years later, Nissan extended the warranty on select vehicles built between 2012 and 2017. The extension bumped the warranty up from 60 months/60,000 miles to 84 months/84,000 miles.

Also, there are plenty of class-action lawsuits in the works regarding Nissan CVT transmissions that are no longer under warranty. Owners hope to get some form of compensation through these proceedings.

nissan logo
Nissan agreed to extend the warranty on its CVTs found in select models built between 2003 and 2010, and vehicles built between 2012 and 2017.

Nissan Isn’t the Only Automaker to Use These Troublesome CVTs

It’s worth noting that Nissan’s CVTs are made by the brand’s spinoff company, Jatco. Over the years, Jatco has supplied transmissions to a wide variety of different automakers. As a result, the troublesome CVTs found in Nissan vehicles also appear in some other applications, such as the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass.

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Comments

  1. Jay N says

    I have a 2014 Chevy Spark that also uses a JATCO CVT transmission. And the “Limp Mode” thing just kicked in a few months ago. As soon as it heats up (after 10 minutes of regular driving) it goes into Limp Mode and check engine light comes on. The code was for the TCM which is a generic transmission code but mechanic suggested to change the TCM. $650 for parts, labor, taxes plus programming and the problem is still there. Was told to do a full transmission flush with both filters changed. Did that for another $400. Did not fix anything. Then was told about a couple of sensors that might be bad. Spent another $300 or so and it was still the same. This time I was told that the valve body needs to be replaced and TCM reprogrammed. Did that too for around a $1000. $2350 in and still the same limp mode problem kicks in after 10 minutes of driving. Chevy says there’s no warranty or recall to cover this problem. Since it’s a JATCO transmission, do you think, it could be covered by Nissan? Any other advise that would help? Let me know. I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

    • says

      Hi Jay,

      Unfortunately, your CVT would not be covered by Nissan. It’s not uncommon for suppliers (in this case, JATCO) to make transmissions for multiple automakers. Nissan tried installing external coolers on some of its CVTs to address the overheat/limp mode concern. But in my experience, that rarely fixes the problem. Replacing the CVT is usually the permanent fix.

      I suggest taking the car to the Chevy dealer (if you haven’t already) for a thorough, in-person diagnosis. They’ll let you know if the CVT does indeed need to be replaced.

      -Mia, Chief Mechanic @ CarParts.com

  2. 2jehz says

    It’s actually the alternator or the AC compressor that’s causing the issues….Nissan won’t tell you that because they’d rather have you pay for a new transmission than the cheaper actual problems…..

    • says

      Hello,

      Unfortunately, the problem with Nissan’s CVTs is very real. I have personally confirmed CVT failures on more vehicles than I can count.

      While a faulty alternator or A/C compressor bearing can cause a whining or grinding sound, it’s pretty easy to differentiate between that and a noisy CVT. A bad alternator or A/C compressor bearing will cause a noise that coincides with engine speed, whereas an internal CVT noise will coincide with vehicle speed.

      -Mia, Chief Mechanic @ CarParts.com

  3. Catherine S says

    I’ve just dropped my Nissan Versa Note 2014 in again to the dealership with a failing CVT, after having had it replaced for the 3rd time one month ago, and it has only 223miles driven. First time approx 56,000miles, second time 19,000mile, today 223miles. I literally could get it to drive over 5mph. Thankfully I was not on the freeway or too far away from my dealership, Universal City Nissan.

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