Acura MDX Problems: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

by Conner Mckay

The Acura MDX was introduced in 2000 with the 2001 model year. Since it was the first model for the MDX, it should not come as a big shock that there were some Acura MDX problems with the vehicle. Transmission problems were the most prominent, and sometimes they remained an issue even in the later models.

Misfiring cylinders, failure in the electrical system, excessive oil consumption, and engine failure are some of the Acura MDX problems seen over the years.

Most of the transmission issues in the Acura MDX were resolved by 2008, but a few bumps kept resurfacing in the later models. But the Acura MDX is still a highly sought-after SUV among car owners. So they must be doing something right.

Now, let’s dig deeper into Acura MDX problems so you have a better idea of how to handle them. A little self-diagnosing shouldn’t hurt.

Acura MDX Transmission Problems

Acura MDX Problems

The transmission problem in older Acura MDX models could turn out to be severe. Let’s find out which models suffer this most.

How Does A Car Transmission Work

Before discussing the transmission on Acura MDX models, let’s have a little session on how a transmission works in a car. The transmission is also referred to as the gearbox. It basically turns the power from the engine into controlled torque that can be applied to move a vehicle. A car cannot run without a transmission.

There are typically two general types of car transmissions:

1. Automatic Transmission

With the automatic transmission in a vehicle, there is no need to shift gears by hand (through a gear stick). As the car runs, the transmission helps the gear shift as needed.

2. Manual Transmission

Manual transmission requires the drivers to shift the gears in the car by using a gear stick. While at the same time, modulating the clutch pedal.

The Acura MDX comes with automatic transmissions.

Which MDX Had Transmission Problems

Honda might be reliable when it comes to their vehicles. However, the Acura MDX problems are quite severe in their older models. They had quite some setbacks, especially with the transmission problems. Many owners complained about facing transmission woes with their Acura MDX. The issue was the most prominent in the 2003-2007 models.

The owners had to either repair or rebuild their entire transmission system to save their beloved SUV. This sort of repair costs around $3,000-$5000. So yes, the owners were not happy about it.

Signs Of Transmission Problems

How to know if your car is having transmission issues? Look out for these signs. Acura MDX problems extend to transmission issues that the owners also had to suffer.

Some minor transmission issues can be solved pretty quickly. Changing the transmission fluid is something you can do yourself. But it’s better to get your car checked at the workshop hence there are other problems lingering beneath the hood.

Acura MDX Transmission Problems

Acura MDX Problems

Keeping the car transmission in good working order is the best way to avoid transmission issues. Monitor the fluid levels on a regular basis and look out for any changes that might occur as you drive.

Identifying the nature of your vehicle’s transmission problem may look like a challenging task, particularly for someone with untrained eyes.

When you notice that something isn’t quite right with the car’s performance, it’s time to start thinking about the issue and figuring out how to solve it.

1. Lack Of Response

Have you ever noticed your car spluttering or refusing to shift gears while driving? If yes, then it might be a sign of trouble. When a driver switches from park to drive, the vehicle should quickly shift into the appropriate gear.  When changing gears in an automatic transmission, you may notice a lag before feeling the gear shift.

2. Unusual Sounds

It’s hard to tell just what your car would sound like if the transmission fails. But the sound(s) would be nothing that your gearbox makes all the time that is for sure.

The noises emitted vary a lot across different makes and models of cars, but the simplest way to explain them is that you will most likely hear a whirring, crackling, or screeching noise.

3. Fluid Leaks

A fluid leak is the most obvious sign of transmission issues. Automatic transmission fluid is the transmission’s oil. Without the fluid, or when it becomes too low, the engine will stall and stop operating altogether.

To see whether your car is low on transmission fluid, take it out for a brief drive to warm the engine. Then open the hood and inspect the dipstick. Transmission fluid, unlike engine oil, is not burnt up. So if the fluid level is indeed low, there is a leak somewhere that must be repaired.

Even with a leak, you should still keep the fluid-filled up to make sure the transmission remains as operational as possible. Do not keep the fluid empty or too low until the leak is fixed.

4. Something Is Burning

Any burning odor emitting from your vehicle is a good reason to be alarmed. One of the reasons for a burning smell is overheating transmission fluid.

Transmission fluid keeps the parts greased and chilled so they don’t wear out and break down. If the fluid fails, the system becomes excessively hot, resulting in increased friction and corrosive behavior, along with the accumulation of more muck and debris.

If it is not addressed, the transmission will ultimately sustain enough wear to fail altogether. As a result, a costly replacement will be in your future.

Watch this video to learn more about identifying a bad transmission.

5. Rough Gear Changes

Rough or jerky gear changes can be quite unnerving for any driver. It’s crucial to understand that a smooth transmission shift is vital for the vehicle’s performance. If you notice sudden jolts or hard shifts when the car changes gears, it’s a red flag. Not only does it indicate possible transmission trouble, but it also diminishes the driving experience.

6. Slipping Gears

Imagine driving smoothly and suddenly feeling as if your car has changed gears on its own. That’s gear slipping in action. It’s not just frustrating; it’s dangerous, especially on highways. If your Acura MDX starts showing this sign, it’s time to get it inspected. This issue can stem from low fluid levels, worn-out gears, or software issues.

7. Warning Lights on Dashboard

One of the straightforward signs that something’s wrong is the transmission warning light on your dashboard. If it comes on, don’t ignore it. Modern vehicles, like the Acura MDX, have sensors that monitor the health of various components. When these sensors detect issues, they trigger the warning lights.

8. Car Refuses to Go Into Gear

At times, you might find it challenging to get your car into gear. It’s a serious issue and can indicate problems with the clutch, low fluid levels, or more severe transmission malfunctions. If your vehicle resists getting into gear, especially after multiple attempts, seek professional assistance.

9. Grinding or Shaking

A vehicle should run smoothly. But if you sense grinding or shaking when changing gears, especially in a car with an automatic transmission, it’s not a good sign. While manual transmissions might grind when the clutch isn’t engaged correctly, automatics should shift seamlessly. Any grinding or shaking points towards internal transmission issues.

10. The Vehicle Stays in Neutral

Another alarming sign is if your Acura MDX stays in neutral. It means the car isn’t engaging any gear. This issue might be due to a myriad of problems, from a simple software glitch to a severe internal transmission failure.

11. Delay in Movement

A delay in movement post engaging a gear can be frustrating and dangerous. If there’s a noticeable lag between shifting into “Drive” or “Reverse” and the car’s movement, it’s an indication of transmission trouble. Immediate professional attention is vital.

Your vehicle’s transmission is its heartbeat. Any issues with it can affect your car’s overall performance and safety. Regular maintenance checks and timely interventions can save you from expensive repairs in the future. If you notice any of these signs in your Acura MDX, especially the ones highlighted above, don’t delay. Get it checked to ensure your vehicle’s longevity and your safety on the road.

Acura MDX Seat Problems

Designing a universally comfortable seat for car owners might be an impossible feat. But they shouldn’t be a complete failure as well. With proper reclining options, almost everyone can find their perfect seat settings to enjoy a long drive without straining their back or tumbling out of the car with aching legs.

Honda always had pretty solid complaints regarding their seats. Tons of complaints have been filed over the years regarding the extremely uncomfortable seats of Honda vehicles. Honda Accord probably had the worst burn for having uncomfortable seats, but the Acura MDX is not that far behind.

Many Honda owners have complained that their legs get tired, their hips feel stiff, and their lower backs begin to ache after only 30-40 minutes of driving. Alas, many users only discovered this issue after purchasing the vehicle, claiming that the test drive was not long enough for them to detect the issue.

Most current automobiles include head restraints to avoid whiplash in the case of a car crash, but not all restraints are treated equally. Honda has utilized a head restraint layout that is too far forward. A lot of users claim that they cannot possibly have a comfortable headrest position for long trips. Having your chin almost touching the chest cannot be comfortable, right?

You are bound to experience discomfort in your neck and back. This would reduce your desire to hitch long rides in the Acura MDX. Many users have also complained about the rock-hard seats which made them feel like they were sitting on cement blocks.

Many owners have actually opted to change their cars to avoid uncomfortable trips in their Honda SUVs.

Acura MDX Oil Consumption Problems

Acura MDX owners have a difficult time keeping their engines up to an appropriate service level. The biggest Acura engine problem to the surface of the car consuming excessive oil. While you may believe that changing the oil at the standard 3,000 to 5,000 intervals will suffice for the vehicle, Acura MDX models require constant monitoring of the oil tank at all times.

The Acura engine, also known as the J-Series V6 engine, is notorious for using enormous quantities of oil. There have been instances of the engine consuming far more oil than Honda claimed.

The manufacturers state that the oil consumption is within normal norms, ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 miles, although it is not ideal when you look at other similar vehicles on the road.

Excessive oil consumption is very common in Acura vehicles equipped with a J37 engine, resulting in very extreme Acura engine maintenance costs. This engine is found in the 2008-2014 Acura MDX models.

The Blame Game

Acura went so far as to criticize users for their driving behaviors, stating that dangerous driving practices like rapid acceleration and braking had led the cars’ oil consumption to rise. Users, on the other hand, noticed that something else must be amiss with the engine system to induce heavy oil consumption.

Acura resolved a lawsuit in 2020 without accepting responsibility, and perhaps by providing owners with payment alternatives.

In general, the manufacturer has been quick to denounce concerns about excessive oil use and instead blamed the consequences on poor maintenance and reckless drivers.

If an owner objects, service centers are recommended to undertake an oil consumption test, since a low oil level combined with a blockage in the system might pose a major risk to the engine.

Acura agreed to come to a settlement for an oil consumption lawsuit for their J37 engine owners in May 2020.

Acura MDX Takata Airbag Problems

As time passes, the inflators in your car airbags can become unstable and can burst during airbag deployment. This can result in spraying metal shards into the cabin and cause serious injuries to the passengers.

Takata’s inflators contain ammonium nitrate to inflate their airbag during an accident. When subjected to temperature changes or excessive humidity, the ammonium nitrate can become unreliable. This can lead to inflators bursting with unexpected ferocity.

How much power can you expect? Enough force can cause the metal canister to shatter upon deployment and to shoot cutting metal pieces into the cabin after a collision.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reports of around 15 deaths from Takata airbag accidents.

Certain Honda and Acura automobiles from 2001 to 2003 have been identified as having a “high risk” of airbag inflator blasts. The NHTSA issued a warning to owners of these vehicles in late June 2016 to cease driving their cars immediately.

Biggest Safety Recall

Over 1.5 million earlier Honda, Acura, and Isuzu cars have been recalled since their Takata airbags might injure or kill vehicle passengers.

Recalls for these airbags are because of inadequately sealed inflators, according to the NHTSA. So, such airbags might allow excessive moisture to invade.

This can cause the airbags to release with insufficient force to shield passengers in case of a crash. Or the airbags can burst and spew pointy metal shards directly at the individuals seated in front of them. Both situations have the potential to cause significant injury or death.

According to Honda and the NHTSA, one person was injured as a result of these defective airbags in a 2012 collision driving a 1997 Honda Civic in Houston.

NHTSA has dubbed the continuing recall of Takata airbags “the biggest and most complicated safety recall in U.S. history.” Because of the defective airbags, almost 41.6 million cars have been recalled.

Acura MDX Paint Problems

When you buy a luxury SUV, you are paying for a nice appearance inside and out; not just for comfort. Luxury vehicles are more likely to use more expensive paints than normal vehicles. As a result, repairing paint concerns on a car like the Acura MDX might be quite pricey.

The paintwork on the 2014 Acura MDX model was the source of several complaints. Customers claimed that when the car became damp, the paint would bubble. The most prevalent location for bubbling paint was between the roof and the windscreen. Some people also mentioned witnessing paint peeling from around the car’s chrome grille.

Several 2014 Acura MDX owners reported that the bubbling paint appeared only after the car was already washed just following a rainfall. The issue apparently went away by itself after the car was dry again. As a result, it was difficult for workshops to imitate the problem and find a suitable solution.

Some dealerships were also unable to resolve the issue due to an outdated warranty. Some buyers had extended warranties, but the paint job on the MDX was not protected. In most instances, drivers had to pay for fresh clear coatings and paint jobs out of their own wallets.

Acura MDX Electrical Problems

The 2018 Acura MDX faced some major complaints regarding the car’s electrical system.

The battery does not just start the engine, but it also powers the vehicle’s entire amenity functions, including air conditioning, parking sensors, and the radio.

The battery delivers the whole electrical current to the car prior to starting the engine. It also ignites fuel and ignition circuits that are required for starting the car.

Once the engine starts, the alternator takes over and keeps the electrical system running. A car with a defective alternator may start, but it will not run for long.

Why Does The Electrical System Fail

Battery: If the car does not even splutter, the battery is most likely the source of the problem. Most cars feature a battery warning light that glows if there is a problem with the battery or another part of the electrical system. In many situations, a low battery is caused by leaving the lights on. Batteries degrade with time and must be changed.

Alternator: The alternator transforms the power generated by the crankshaft into electric power, which is then used to charge a battery. The battery can die if the alternator does not produce enough voltage.

Battery Cables: The battery cables are responsible for carrying current from the battery to the car’s electronic systems. If the car does not start, produces a cracking noise, or the radio and other electrical components malfunction, it might be due to damaged battery cables.

Fuse: If any specific function keeps failing, (i.e. radio, power window), then it’s most likely a fuse is blown.

How Long Do Acura MDX Last

Acura MDX Problems

Potential customers should not be surprised that the Acura MDX is designed to survive a very long time.

Honda has a well-deserved reputation for producing long-lasting vehicles, and the MDX is no exception. With a predicted lifespan of 250,000 – 300,000 miles, an MDX can easily cover some good years.

Several owners have claimed their MDX to run well over 250,000 miles in their lifetime. A few were recorded more than 300,000 miles.

While such high mileages is undoubtedly feasible, you should not assume to receive the exact numbers from your vehicle.

Finally, making the most out of your Acura MDX will be determined by a few vital factors, such as:

  • Monitoring of factory-scheduled services
  • Driving cautiously, with smooth, regulated acceleration and braking
  • Standard routine maintenance, like inspecting fluid levels
  • Changing transmission fluids
  • Checking for tire pressures

Acura MDX Years To Avoid

Take a quick look at the most problematic Acura MDX models:

  • 2001 Acura MDX
  • 2002 Acura MDX
  • 2003 Acura MDX
  • 2004 Acura MDX
  • 2005 Acura MDX
  • 2010 Acura MDX
  • 2014 Acura MDX
  • 2016 Acura MDX

Transmission failure is the most common issue with the Acura MDX, alongside other minor and major issues. The 2004 model suffers earlier and more expensive breakdowns than most other MDX vehicles.

Total transmission failure affected the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005 MDX models, even though they arrived a little late. The 2010 model has a very expensive excessive oil consumption issue. And with the 2014 and 2016 models, there has been a slew of engine problems noticed quite early.

Furthermore, the 2014 model of the MDX has received the most complaints of any model year. The transmission in the 2017 model year may not collapse entirely from the start, but it causes problems for its owners pretty early on. If you wish to avoid problematic gearboxes and engines with Acura MDX vehicles, then refrain from buying these models.

The worst model year to buy is the 2010 model year, with transmission difficulties being the most serious concern. That isn’t surprising given that numerous Honda and Acura cars from the same era, equipped with the same transmission, had the same breakdowns and problems. These cars ended up costing their owners around $4,000 for the initial repair.

The MDX has had a few ups and downs throughout its history, and not all of them will meet your requirements. Certain versions should be avoided if you want to appreciate the luxury of the Acura MDX while eliminating the problems that several of them are susceptible to.

Some Are Better Than Others

The Acura MDX’s initial five-year versions from 2001 to 2005 had severe difficulties with total transmission breakdown at some time in their lifespan. They generally happen between 100,000 and 120,000-mile marks, so it isn’t too early on.

But owners are not happy about spending $4,000-5,000 on repairs so soon into their ownership. The 2004 model is probably the worst performing in this scenario since it faced breakdowns under the 90,000-mile mark.

Most of the issues regarding the 2010 MDX are about its high oil consumption, which occurs around 90,000 miles. This may not be a turnoff in other vehicles, but it is quite expensive to repair and can cost as much as $7,000.

But if we are counting the most complaints filed against the Acura MDX models, the 2014 MDX takes the crown. This model features the most complaints overall, including a slew of engine problems that appear pretty early. You would probably notice unusual sounds coming from the engine and experience some staling or jerking while accelerating.

Even the 2016 and 2017 MDX models have faced similar issues. The transmission problem seems to be a constant in most MDX vehicles.

So before buying a new or used Acura MDX, make sure you check their reliability. Also, it would be a good idea to check some of the best Acura MDX cars before actually investing in one.

Acura MDX Year Models to Avoid – Facts

  1. Acura MDX’s biggest problem is transmission failure, and the 2004 model has earlier and more expensive failures than most other MDXs.
  2. It is recommended to avoid the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2017 Acura MDX year models due to their transmission and engine issues.
  3. The 2001-2005 MDX models have total transmission failure problems at 100,000-130,000 miles, and repairs cost over $4,000.
  4. The 2004 model is the worst, with transmission failures at 84,000 miles, jerking, and rumble strip noise.
  5. The 2010 MDX model has excessive oil consumption, occurring at an average of 92,000 miles, costing around $6,700 to fix.
  6. The 2014 model has the highest number of complaints and many early engine problems, including stalling or lurching on acceleration and ticking noises from the engine.
  7. The 2016 and 2017 models also have transmission issues, including jerking, lurching, and hesitation on acceleration.
  8. Acura MDX’s common problems include acceleration issues, excessive oil consumption, malfunctioning climate systems, and stalling or lurching.
  9. The 2019 and 2020 Acura MDX models have no complaints, and the models from 2006 to 2015 have minor complaints and are considered safe to purchase.

Acura MDX Problems: In Conclusion…

Buying a car means a long-term investment. No matter how much you care for your automobile, it is impossible to avoid certain costs (oil changes, paint jobs, transmission fluid changes, new seat covers, taillights, and so on). So, before investing in the car, make sure you are prepared to handle the Acura MDX problems.

Acura MDX Problems: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re still unsure about Acura MDX problems, our FAQs here might help…

What Problems Do Acura MDX Have

Among the common problems plaguing the Acura MDX is its transmission. Owners have noticed a lack of response, odd sounds, burning smells, and fluid leaks coming from the transmission. This could mostly be solved with rigorous transmission fluid changes. However, the MDX had other problems that can’t be easily solved, such as misfiring or excessive oil consumption. In addition, the MDX suffered from a myriad of electrical issues, paintwork troubles, and seating problems, and was also involved in the Takata airbag recall.

Acura Reliability

Despite the many Acura MDX problems that have been reported over the years, it hasn’t been enough to completely tarnish Acura’s reliability record. In general, Acuras are pretty reliable cars. According to a RepairPal survey, Acura scores 4 out of 5 stars for overall reliability. This puts it in 2nd place (among 32 other car brands), and is measured across an average of 345 unique Acura models. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile being more cautious about particularly problematic models in their lineup such as the MDX.

Are Acuras Expensive To Maintain

Based on several surveys conducted by RepairPal and others, Acuras’s maintenance and other running costs are generally above average. In other words, Acura vehicles are slightly more expensive to maintain. The average annual repair costs for an Acura are around $501, but this should be expected for a luxury brand. On the bright side, Acura vehicles are not as likely to require a visit to a workshop. Plus, most of the issues noted aren’t severe repairs.

Best Year For Acura MDX

As we’ve already looked at the particular model years of the Acura MDX that you should avoid, what are its best years? In short, the best model years with the least number of Acura MDX problems are 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2020. We, unfortunately, don’t have enough data to validate whether the 2021 and 2022 MDXs are as reliable, but they’ve had minimal complaints thus far. In general, these model years of the MDX are the least problematic. Plus, most of the documented Acura MDX problems in these model years are relatively simple and cheap to repair.

Is Acura A Good Car

Since its inception, Acura has generally been known as a brand that makes upscale Hondas. For the most part, this is true. Acura is well regarded for its reliability (despite stumbling every once in a while, in the case of Acura MDX problems). Moreover, their cars are pretty well-built, quiet, refined, and efficient. They handle decently well and feel luxurious. If you’re worried about running costs, Acuras are cheaper to maintain compared to other luxury brands, as well. The downside with Acura is their lack of wow-factor over these past few years. They’re running behind on tech, and their cars are also losing the enthusiast appeal of once being a sporty brand. Although, with recent models such as the NSX mid-engine sports car, and their performance-oriented Type S sub-brand, Acura could be primed for a revival.

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