In this article, we go over common problems that affect Nissan vehicles with automatic transmsion such as Rogue, Altima, Maxima, Sentra, Murano, Frontier, Pathfinder, Cube, etc.  

Nissan makes very reliable engines, but transmissions are a different story. We see a lot of Nissan vehicles that have automatic transmission problems. Especially the early Nissan cars and SUVs equipped with Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) had a lot of problems. 

Nissan transmission problems range from delayed shifting, jerking between gears, no Drive or Reverse, or getting stuck in fail-safe mode.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of Nissan transmission problems:

  • Loss of power
  • Jerking, shaking, vibration, shudder
  • Transmission slipping
  • Transmission fluid overheating
  • The vehicle suddenly slows down
  • Vehicle shuttering and shaking during acceleration
  • Harsh downshifts
  • Limited engine RPMs and power output
  • Transmission whines
  • Engine revs high, won't change gears
  • The vehicle has no power or accelerate
  • Burning smell

This list covers symptoms that affect both the Nissan CVT and automatic transmissions.

In addition to transmission not shifting, another common symptom that Nissan owners experience is the vehicle going into fail safe mode, also known as the limp mode.

In limp mode, vehicle power is reduced, and maximum speed is limited to approximately 40 mph.

Common Problems

Here is a list of the most common problems with Nissan transmissions.  While we have seen a few Nissan vehicles where transmissions fail as early as 60,000 miles, it is not unusual to see a Nissan with over 200,000 miles on the original transmission.

Solenoid

transmission shift solenoid

Shift solenoids are mounted on the valve body, which is located inside the transmission. Faulty shift solenoids can affect the 4-speed and 5-speed Nissan automatic transmission. Nissan Valve Body

Symptoms of a faulty shift solenoid include:

  • Delay in shifting gears
  • Failure to downshift or banging into gear
  • Erratic shifting
  • No gears or stuck in neutral
  • No reverse

The common problem with Nissan shifter solenoid is that the plunger either gets stuck due to debris in the fluid or the solenoid coil wires get damaged.

Symptoms of a bad shift solenoid include the transmission banging into gear, or the engine RPMs going too high. The vehicle can't accelerate past 40 mph.

Low Fluid Level

Nissan check transmission fluid level

If your Nissan or Infiniti is jolting when the transmission changes gears, there is a good chance the transmission fluid level is low.

Delayed shifting is also another common symptom caused by low transmission fluid level.

Move the shifter from Park to Drive. If it takes over four seconds for the transmission to engage, check the transmission fluid level first.

Another sign that your transmission is low on the fluid is that your Nissan goes into limp mode or gets stuck in gear under hard acceleration.

Instructions on how to check Nissan transmission fluid level can be found in your owner's manual.

CVT Speed Sensor

Nissan CVT Speed Sensor
Photo: Nissan Quest CVT Speed Sensor - Front of vehicle, Driver Side

The transmission speed sensor on Nissan CVT transmission may fail.

It can cause problems such as no shifting, check engine light on, or a bang when you move the shifter from Park to Drive or Reverse gears.

This transmission is installed on multiple cars, including Nissan Altima, Cube, Juke, Maxima, Murano, NV Cargo, Pathfinder, and Quest.

Failed Radiator / Transmission Cooler

Transmission cooler

A failed transmission fluid cooler integrated into the radiator can allow the engine coolant to mix with the automatic transmission fluid.

Engine coolant, therefore, enters the transmission and eventually damages the bands.

You can remove a small sample of the transmission fluid and send it for testing to any lab that tests vehicle fluids.

Limp-home mode

Older Nissans that use a conventional 4-speed automatic transmission designated as RE4F04B can have issues that will send them into limp-home mode. In a scenario like this, the transmission will remain in a single gear and gear changes will not be possible. Depending on the problem, this will happen just after starting the car or after driving it for a while. In both cases, this will trigger a check engine light.

Possible causes and solutions: 

  • Input or output speed sensor fault, which is giving implausible data. When the TCU detects such irregularities, it will shift the transmission to the limp-home mode as a preventive measure. There will be a P0720 code stored. 
  • Incorrectly connected speed sensors, which are located one next to another at the side of the gearbox. As the connectors are identical, it is not unusual for mechanics to  misconnect them after doing other repairs in that area. 

Shift flares or harsh downshifts

Nissan Altima and Maxima that use Aisin AW55 5-speed automatic transmission have a common gear shift problem. It manifests itself as intermittent shift flares when going from 2nd to 3th gear or harsh downshifts from 3th to 2nd. In initial phases, this problem will only be present when cold but usually gets worse with time. This will trigger a check engine light, so there will be a corresponding trouble code stored. 

Possible causes and solutions:

  • Excessive wear inside the valve body bores, which happens because the solenoid valve material is harder than the valve body itself. Depending on the valve and the position of wear, this will either cause fluid leaks that result in loss of pressure or obstructions in valve movement. If there are any wear marks, the valve body needs to be replaced. 
  • Mismatched control valve, as different variants, either have or don’t have a control spring. This is a fairly common mistake that happens during transmission repairs and can result in sporadic 2-3 gear shift issues.

Shudder while engaging higher gears 

Bigger Nissan SUVs and pick-up trucks that use a RE5R05A 5-speed automatic transmission in rear-wheel-drive configuration can suffer from a strong shudder and harsh gear shifts that happen during engagement of 4th or 5th gear. In most cases, this issue will be more noticeable when the vehicle reaches running temperatures. The problem will not affect gear shift from 1st through 3rd gear and will not trigger a check engine light. 

Possible causes and solutions:

  • Excessive wear within the Torque Converter Clutch control sleeve, causing pressure losses inside the valve body. This affects the TCC engagement and makes gearchanges harsh. In more severe cases, there might even cause failed gear changes or TCC. There are upgraded control valve kits available on the market.  

Rattle or judder during accelerations

Many newer Nissans use one of Jatco Continuously Variable Transmissions, which have several typical issues in common. One of the most frequent is the whining or rattling noise that comes from the transmission only while accelerating. In some cases, this will be accompanied by a mild judder. There will be no other symptoms or warning lights. 

Possible causes and solutions:

  • Bearing failure, which is a widespread problem among these transmissions. To pinpoint the source of the noise, drive at the speed that produces the strongest noise and then shift to a lower ratio. In case the primary pulley bearing is bad, the noise will go up. Otherwise, the problem is most likely within the secondary pulley bearing. There are aftermarket upgraded bearings available on the market. 
  • Faulty solenoid regulator valve, which causes low transmission fluid pressure. In addition to rattle and noise on acceleration, this can also cause slippage and poor acceleration.

No Reverse

Models such as Xterra and Pathfinder may experience a problem where the transmission won't go in reverse.

You may ultimately lose the reverse gear, or it can take several seconds for the reverse gear to engage.

  • Nissan's reverse problems tend to get worse as the vehicle is warmed up. Sometimes upgrading the transmission cooler will fix the issue.
  • One possible cause is a faulty range sensor on the side of the transmission.
  • Another problem can be a broken snap ring for the reverse clutches, or a broken reverse solenoid can also be the culprit.

If a complete transmission rebuild is needed, it can range between $2,700 to $5,500.

Poor acceleration and excessive engine speed

Nissans that have a Jatco Continuously Variable Transmissions can suffer from a very specific issue in which the car seems like it struggles to speed up. When this happens, the engine will be reaching higher-than-usual speeds and the acceleration will be slower. In some cases, engagement will be harsh and might even cause the engine to stall. Usually, this will not trigger a check engine light or cause other symptoms. 

Possible causes and solutions:

  • Worn or leaking Torque Converter Clutch switch valve, causing transmission fluid pressure loss. As a result of insufficient force, the TCC will fail to engage. Replacing the switch valve with an upgraded item solves the issue. 
  • Faulty Torque Converter regulator valve, resulting in harsh TCC engagement or delayed-release. This causes juddering and stalling. Like above, replacing the valve with an upgraded item solves the issue. 

Troubleshooting Steps

Nissan CVT Transmission Problems
Photo: Nissan Quest CVT Transmission - Front of Vehicle

The following steps can help you troubleshoot and diagnose your Nissan transmission problem.

Read every section carefully and determine if it applies to your particular problem.

1. Check Transmission Fluid Level

Low transmission fluid level is often the cause of some transmission problems. 

  1. Drive vehicle for 15 minutes to warm up the transmission fluid.
  2. Park vehicle on level ground. 
  3. Set the parking brakes and shifter in Park. 
  4. Pull the hood release and open the hood. 
  5. Locate the transmission dipstick. 
  6. Remove the dipstick and clean it with a clean cloth. 
  7. Reinsert the dipstick in the transmission. Ensure the transmission is fully inserted then remove it. 
  8. Look carefully at the dipstick to determine the current transmission fluid level. The level should be between MIN and MAX marks. 
  9. If the level is low add transmission fluid level. 

If your Nissan won't move when put it in Drive or slips, your transmission may have no fluid at all or very little. If that is the case, do not drive the car to warm up the fluid or you will burn the transmission. 

Follow the instructions on how to check the transmission fluid level that can be found in your owner's manual.

2. Read Fault Codes

Nissan transmission fault codes get stored in the Transmission Control Module (TCM | TCU). That is the reason why transmission problems are unlikely to trigger the check engine light.

Use a Nissan All System Scanner to read and clear codes from the Transmission Control Unit (TCU).

  1. Park vehicle and turn off the ignition. Set parking brakes. 
  2. Locate diagnostic port under the dashboard, driver's side. 
  3. Plugin your OBD-II scanner then turn on ignition without starting the engine. 
  4. The scanner will turn on. Allow it to communicate with the vehicle. Select Nissan then your model. 
  5. Select the Transmission Control Unit. 
  6. Select Read Fault Codes from the main menu.  

3. Upgrade Transmission Fluid Cooler

If you are experiencing transmission problems only when the vehicle is warmed up, the problem could be transmission fluid overheating.

Typically this is a problem on long trips, or when towing, you may notice shaking, vibration, shuddering, and lack of acceleration.

Nissan transmissions tend to run hot due to a lack of adequate transmission fluid cooling. Overheating can cause premature transmission failure.

If the transmission overheats, the transmission module detects this condition and puts the vehicle in fail-safe mode. Fail-safe mode limits engine RPMs and speed to prevent further transmission damage. Allowing the car to cool down typically enables the car to operate normally until the transmission fluid overheats again.

A possible solution is to install a larger transmission cooler.

Do not continue to drive your Nissan if you experience these symptoms as it can permanently damage the transmission.

4. Extended Transmission Warranty

Typical Nissan's warranty is five years or 60k miles. Nissan has previously extended the warranty on their vehicle due to problems with the automatic transmission.

According to Nissan USA " 2003-2010 Vehicles equipped with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) also have a 10-year /120,000 mile CVT limited warranty extension."

Affected models included:

  • 2007-2010 Altima (Plus Altima Coupe and Altima Hybrid)
  • 2007-2010 Maxima
  • 2003-2007; 2009-2010 Murano
  • 2008-2010 Rogue
  • 2007-2010 Sentra
  • 2007-2010 Versa (1.8SL)

If you are experience problems with your Nissan or Infiniti transmission, call your dealer to verify if the extended warranty covers the vehicle.

In 2019 Nissan extended warranties to 7 years on CVTs used in specific U.S. models. The campaign covers over 3 million vehicles sold between 2012 to 2017, including the Sentra, Versa, and Altima sedans, Karube said.

If you have additional questions, contact Nissan Customer Assistance Center at 888-388-0318.

5. Check Recalls

How to check Nissan transmission recalls

Write down your VIN located on the lower-left corner of the windshield.

Next, visit the National Highway Safety Administration website and enter your VIN. This will allow you to look up if a transmission recall is present.

If a transmission recall is open for your car, take the vehicle to your closest Nissan dealer. Otherwise, continue to the next step.

Software glitches in the Nissan transmission module can affect the shifting. Your local Nissan dealer may have a software update for your vehicle that can improve the shifting points.

A software update can fix specific issues. It does so by programming the transmission control module to alter the shift points.

Class Action Lawsuits

Over the years, several class-action lawsuits have been brought against Nissan.

  • Waldo Leyva, et al. vs. Nissan North America, Inc. -  Lawsuit: Sentra Xtronic CVT transmission overheating Vehicles: 2012 to 2017 Nissan Sentra

  • Batista vs. Nissan North America, Inc. - Lawsuit: Nissan installed CVT transmissions with known defects without warning consumers.  Vehicles: 2013 and 2014 Nissan Pathfinder, Infiniti QX60/JX35  Outcome: Nissan extended the warranty on the vehicle 24 months or 24,000 miles, whichever came first and gave affected owners a transmission software update.

FAQ

Are Nissan CVT transmissions reliable?

The early Nissan vehicles with CVT transmissions had a high failure rate. Nissan has dramatically improved the reliability of the CVT transmission.

How much does it cost to replace a Nissan/Infinity CVT transmission?

To replace a Nissan transmission at the dealer, it costs anywhere from $4500 to $6000. A cheaper alternative is to find a transmission repair shop that will overhaul your existing transmission or will install a rebuilt transmission.

How do I know if my Nissan has a CVT transmission?

You can use a VIN decoder that will tell you the exact transmission installed in your car. You can also call the dealer to provide them the VIN, and they will tell you if you have CVT transmission. Or, if you know what a Nissan CVT transmission looks like, you can open the engine and identify the transfer that way.

Can I drive with a transmission problem?

If your Nissan can still drive you might say, “It’s fine, I’ll just drive it until I can get it fixed.” This is not a good idea. Get your Nissan transmission diagnosed as soon as possible.

Why does my Nissan stop accelerating on long trips?

It is not uncommon for Nissan with CVT to go into limp mode after about one hour of driving. For example, a 2015 Nissan Rouge we test drove went into limp mode after one and a half hours of freeway driving.

This is because Nissan's transmission cooling is inadequate. Once the trans fluid overheats, the transmission overheats. This is detected by the transmission control unit (TCU), which puts the vehicle into safe mode by reducing engine power and RPMs. If you are experiencing this problem with your Nissan, allow the car to cool down before resuming your trip. Also, consider installing an aftermarket transmission cooling system, especially if you take long trips or tow.

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