Good morning. I’m Saul Reisman here at Saul’s Automotive and today we are going to talk a little bit about Nissan products and most specifically their transmissions. Nissan motor vehicles have been pretty crossbred engineered for the past 20 years. Whether it be a Sentra, an Altima, a Maxima, a Rogue, a Moreno. They all share the same frame, motor, transmission options and are essentially the same vehicle wearing a different face. Recently Nissan changed their design. In an effort to get higher efficiency, fuel economy, out of these vehicles. They went to what we call a CVT or constantly variable transmission. What this means is rather than an “old school” automatic transmission like you and I are used to that has four, five, six actual gears where you feel the vehicle accelerate into gear and then shift down, accelerate and then shift accordingly.
A CVT operates on a very different principle. Rather than having mechanical gears and hydraulic actuators, known as solenoids, to move them back and forth inside the transmission essentially making an automatic literally a computerized manual transmission Nissan said they are going to produce a constantly variable transmission. So, that it allows the engine to operate at its peak efficiency so that, that horsepower and torque curve is right at the peak the whole time when its making the most power and at the same time allow that to be transferred to the ground at exactly that speed. To do this they took two variators. A variator is essentially an hourglass turned on its side.
Instead of having a curved shape, lay that onto its side and we would have two of them side by side. Now a belt is placed between them and these two variators actually move side to side to adjust this belt. We are looking for one aspect and we have these two variators in front of us. If the belt is right between them it’s at the skinniest point to the skinniest point. The motor is providing direct one to one power. At the same time if the variator nearest to the motor moves that belt to the large end of it, now the motor is spinning significantly more than the small end of the other side of it. This is essentially an overdrive for freeway speed.
At the same time, it can shift the rear variator leaving the front one on the smallest gear set and moving the rear to the largest. Essentially giving it a low gear making the engine spin many times faster than the tires would accordingly. Now, this is efficient. This does get better fuel economy. This also is a very poor engineering design and is something that fails every day. Nissan started implementing this in 2008. Prior to 2008 model years we here at Sal’s Automotive have never had to replace a Nissan transmission. Since 2008 and up model years we have replaced 245 of them here in the past five years. The issue being these CVT or constantly variable transmissions. The detriment of them is they build heat.
Now the definition of power coming in, power going out, and friction in between means heat will of course be generated. We think of a rubber belt and fluid inside as common replacement or serviceable parts, Nissan does not. Nissan produces these as a non-serviceable, non-repairable unit. The housings are made out of magnesium. Meaning that if there is damage done to the actual shell by internal components moving around or failing the shell is no longer reusable or rebuildable. Additionally, Nissan produced these with all proprietary parts. There is literally no way to rebuild this transmission. You can not go down to your local AMCO or the like and say take it and rebuild it like you would for any other vehicle in the past 30 years.
Instead you have one option to go to the dealership and buy a brand new one and write a check. They are more than happy to sell you one because they know the expense and the cost associated with the repair. From our end, a mechanical job on these repairs is anywhere from a 10-15-hour labor job depending on the vehicle. However, that CVT unit itself can cost between $3 and $5,000 depending on the application it’s in. Many Nissan vehicles don’t hold their value very well over the five-ten-year mark. By the time they come in with these failed CVT transmissions are not worth putting in the money and the financial investment to repair.
Often times many of these owners are still making payments on these vehicles as these are relatively new vehicles in the model segment. This leaves the owner with a very hard predicament. They are stuck with making a payment on a vehicle that does not run and/or making a major reinvestment into a vehicle that needs some serious repairs. Here at Sal’s Automotive we take a pretty active stance against Nissan CVTs. We make sure that we check them in every aspect and every condition when they come in. We actually take deck readings of the fluid density each time so that we can ensure longevity and predictability of the service in years because these are a wear item they are designed to wear out and they will wear and fail.
We try to make sure that we keep you entirely aware through the entire process so that you can accurately predict when that prepare will be and know for years to come so that you can best be prepared and stay on the road for as long as possible. In the case of this Nissan product we are simply looking at one of the many CVT issues that Nissan presented with it today. If you have a Nissan product, specifically one of a newer model year, please feel free to stop by Sal’s Automotive at any point. We offer this as a free inspection service because we hate to see the look on people’s faces when they find out that the transmission can’t be repaired. We’d rather know years ahead of time.