In this article, I am showing how to change CVT fluid on the example of my 4-cylinder Nissan Altima with 2.5L engine. I followed the precise instructions from the official Nissan repair manual and added my own pictures and videos to complement this tutorial. The same approach will also work for many other Nissan and some Infinity models with a CVT transmission. It is a simple and easy process that is very similar to changing the engine oil. I will show you how to save a significant amount of money by doing it yourself and by shopping online for the best prices on the required parts. You can also watch my CVT fluid change video on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/lWnsM21vteI.
Change vs. Flush
Flushing the CVT system is required after CVT fluid contamination or transmission repair or at regular maintenance intervals. It is a little more difficult and requires a greater amount of CVT fluid to complete. All of the used old CVT fluid is removed from the system, and new fluid or cleaning solution is ran through the system until all sludge, grime or contaminants are pushed out. This is usually performed using specialized professional equipment. Close to 100% of the old CVT fluid is removed during the flush process. This job also costs double if you were to take your car to someone to do it.
Changing the CVT fluid is required at regular intervals to prolong the life of your transmission. During the changing process, only up to 85% of CVT fluid is drained from the drain pan on the bottom of the transmission and then the same amount of fresh new fluid is added to the system. In this article, we are only focusing on changing the CVT fluid. It is a pretty easy and simple process and I hope to inspire you to do it yourself.
CVT fluid service intervals
Consult your vehicle service and maintenance guide for proper CVT fluid change intervals. For most cars, including my 2007 Nissan Altima, CVT fluid must be changed every 60 000 miles or 48 months under normal driving conditions. If towing trailer, camper or car-top carrier, or driving on rough muddy roads – the fluid should be replaced every 30 000 miles or every 24 months.
Required tools and parts
It’s always good to have all the required equipment prepared and at hand before starting any car repair. Otherwise, you may not be able to finish working on the car or drive it the following day if you forgot to order one of the replacement parts or don’t have the tools required for the job. Here is the list of tools and parts I used for this job along with Amazon affiliate links where you can buy these items if necessary:
- Nissan CVT fluid: amzn.to/2L5ojLK
- Funnel: amzn.to/2MJUXo7
- Drain pan: amzn.to/2L2YDzq
- Wrench and sockets set: amzn.to/2ZBpaYu
- Drain plug gasket: amzn.to/2ZtmksN
- Torque wrench: amzn.to/2MGN1nT
- Car ramps: amzn.to/2Plnrqx
Checking CVT fluid level
First, let’s take a look at how to properly check the CVT fluid level. It is important to regularly check the fluid around once a month and it only takes about 10 minutes. Always maintain the proper fluid level and check for leaks if it is low.
In addition, it might be helpful to verify that the CVT fluid is at the proper level before you change it. Then you can simply add the same amount of the new fresh CVT fluid as you drain out of the transmission. Check the CVT fluid level once again after you are finished changing it.
- CVT fluid level should be checked when the fluid is warmed up to 50-80°C (122-176°F). Drive your car for about 10 minutes to reach that temperature
- Park your car on a flat level surface
- Fully engage the parking brake and let the engine idle
- Depress the brake pedal and then move the shifter through the entire sifting range and then place it back in Park or Neutral position
- Open the hood and pull out the dipstick for the CVT fluid. You will need to push the locking tab to be able to do that
- Use a lint-free paper and wipe the fluid off of the dipstick
- Rotate the dipstick 180 degrees to avoid locking it and then insert it all the way back into the CVT fluid pipe
- Pull out the dipstick
- Verify that the fluid level is within the specified range
- When finished, rotate the dipstick 180 degrees back to its original position and lock it in place securely
Checking the condition of the CVT fluid
You can inspect the CVT fluid at the end of the dipstick or else you can drain a small amount of fluid from the drain hole on the bottom of the transmission. Place a drop of CVT fluid on a napkin or paper towel to check its color. Good Nissan NS-2 CVT fluid should be a bright green color and it should have a sweet smell. Here is the list of bad symptoms to look for when checking the CVT fluid:
- CVT fluid is very dark or has a burnt smell. Have your CVT checked for proper operation. Flush the CVT cooling system after repair.
- CVT fluid is contaminated with frictional debris. Replace the radiator, clean and flush the cooler line.
- Varnished CVT fluid. This is usually caused by degraded CVT fluid due to high temperatures. Replace CVT fluid. Check the transmission for malfunctions.
- Milky white or cloudy CVT fluid. Caused by water or coolant present in the fluid. Find and replace the source of the leak. Replace CVT fluid.
- Metal powder or particles mixed in the CVT fluid. Caused by excessive friction and wear of the moving parts. Inspect and if necessary repair the CVT. Flush the system and replace the CVT fluid.
What type of CVT fluid should I use?
Consult the owners manual for correct CVT fluid for your vehicle. You may also find the required CVT fluid type listed on the transmission dipstick when checking the fluid level. For example, my 2007 Nissan Altima 2.5S requires Nissan NS-2 CVT Fluid. Other newer Nissan and Infinity cars may also use NS-3 CVT fluid. Do not mix or use any other fluids other than what is specified in your owners manual. Failing to do so may result in transmission damage, deteriorated longevity or performance issues.
How much CVT fluid should you get?
CVT transmission uses a large amount of fluid. On my car, for example, the fluid capacity is approx. 8.3L (7-1/4 lap quarts). When changing CVT fluid, we are gonna be able to drain only up to 85% of the full fluid capacity. Therefore I will need to buy about 6 quarts of CVT fluid. If your CVT fluid is still a bit dark after the first change and you want to change CVT fluid one more time, then get double of that amount – 12 quarts.
Where to buy new CVT fluid.
Shop around for the best CVT fluid price. For example, my local Nissan dealer was selling 1qt of CVT fluid for $25 plus tax. That’s about $160 with tax for 6qts. I was able to find a better deal on Amazon here. The prices were around $16-20 (and no tax) per quart of fluid or $96-120 for 6qts. Which is $40-60 in savings when compared to my local dealer’s prices.
Draining old CVT fluid.
Since we are not doing a complete system flush, not all of the fluid will come out of the transmission. It is hard to tell for sure how much fluid will be drained, but it probably won’t be more than 85% of the full capacity. If the fluid level is proper, you can later just add the same amount of CVT fluid as you take out.
- Warm up the CVT fluid to its normal operating temperature of 50-80°C (122-176°F) by driving the car for about 10 minutes.
- Use car ramps to get better access to the bottom of the CVT transmission
- Remove the 19mm (or 3/4 inch) drain plug. Don’t get it confused with the engine oil drain plug – they look very similar! Drain as much CVT fluid as possible.
- You may use a clean cup to collect a sample of the CVT fluid and check it for contamination. I filled the cup with fluid from the bottom of the drain pan as soon as I removed the plug because heavier particles tend to sink to and collect at the bottom.
- As you can see here, my CVT fluid is very dark because it was long overdue for replacement. This is definitely something you want to avoid doing with your car.
- Run collected used fluid through a paper coffee filter to see if there are any contaminants. I found a small number of black particles in my old fluid, but it wasn’t something to worry about.
- Collect and measure the amount of CVT fluid that came out of the cooling system. I ended up draining roughly 5.5-6 quarts of fluid. I used an empty 5-quart engine oil bottle and one empty CVT fluid bottle to measure it.
- Use a brand new drain plug copper gasket. Install the drain plug and torque it to 34Nm (3.5 kg-m 25 ft-lb).
- Shake CVT fluid bottles before using them.
- Refill the same amount of compatible fluid from the CVT fluid pipe. Make sure to use a clean narrow funnel that can fit into the fluid charging pipe. I ended up adding full 6 quarts of new fluid to my car.
- Check and verify the proper cold CVT fluid level before starting the car. The fluid level might be a little higher than before because it hasn’t filled all of the spaces inside the transmission yet. And it is ok, as long as fluid level is not too low. It will go down after you drive the car.
- Start the car and slowly go through the entire sifting range a few times allowing each gear to fully engage.
- Drive for about 10 minutes and warm up the CVT fluid to 50-80C (122-176F).
- Check the hot CVT fluid level. Add more or drain excessive fluid if necessary.
- Check the CVT fluid condition. Repeat the above steps if CVT fluid still looks contaminated.
This CVT fluid change procedure may also apply to the following models. Nissan Sentra, Versa, Versa Note, Altima, Maxima, Juke, Rogue, Rogue Sport, Murano. Infiniti JX60, QX50, QX60. Consult the repair manual for your specific car year, make and model for more details.
You are done! Take pride in the great job you just did and think of some good use for the money you just saved. I hope this article was helpful, thanks for checking out my website. Have a nice day!
P.S. watch my CVT fluid change video on YouTube if you missed it: