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Troubleshooting Nissan Transmission Problems

Nissan makes reliable engines, but their automatic transmission and especially the Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) have been a weak point for years.

Nissan transmission problems range from delayed shifting, jerking when changing gears to no Drive or Reverse. In a few cases, the vehicle goes in what is known as the fail-safe mode. 

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

In this article, we go over common problems that affect both Nissan's automatic and CVT transmissions. 


Common symptoms of Nissan transmission problems. Typically you will experience a couple of these symptoms: 

  • Loss of power¬†
  • Jerking, shaking, vibration, shudder¬†
  • Transmission¬†slipping
  • ¬†Transmission fluid overheating
  • The vehicle suddenly slows¬†down
  • Vehicle shuttering and shaking¬†while getting up to speed
  • Downshift problems
  • Limited engine RPMs and power output
  • Transmission whining
  • Engine revving high
  • Vehicle losing power
  • Burning smell

This list covers symptoms that you may experience in both 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. Don't panic!

Just because you own a Nissan, it doesn't mean that the transmission will fail. 

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.

Shift 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 Transmission 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. 

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.

Software Issue

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.

What to do? 

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. 

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. 

Check Transmission Fluid Level

Nissan transmission fluid level low

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

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

Read Transmission 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. 

While a generic OBD-II scanner is almost useless to retrieve transmission fault codes, a good multi-system scanner will be able to read and clear codes from the Transmission Control Unit (TCU). 

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. 

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. 

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.


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, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs fine, I‚Äôll just drive it until I can get it fixed.‚ÄĚ 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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By YOUCANIC on Oct 25, 2019


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