Transmission Cooler Defect Prompts Do Not Buy Advisory of Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier & Xterra
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Transmission Cooler Defect Prompts Do Not Buy Advisory of Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier & Xterra

In 2012, there were originally 512 owner complaints made regarding transmission issues with these vehicles — that number has more than quadrupled

October 26, 2016

The North Carolina Consumers Council (NCCC) is urging consumers nationwide to avoid purchasing model year 2005-2010 Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier and Xterra vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission due to concerns of a potential defect that could cost thousands of dollars to repair and put the vehicle occupants' safety at risk.

The Start of the Investigation

After receiving numerous complaints from concerned vehicle owners alleging total transmission failures in Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier and Xterra vehicles caused by a cracked radiator that allows engine coolant to mix with transmission fluid, NCCC filed a defect petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in February of 2012 requesting that the agency investigate the issue.

On June 11, 2012, NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) opened its investigation into the matter. In its opening resume, ODI listed the cause of the alleged transmission damage as a cracked ATF line that runs through an engine coolant chamber in the radiator. At that time, ODI referenced 512 owner complaints made to the agency regarding transmission issues with the Nissan vehicles in question—though that number has since quadrupled.

Initial Warranty Extension

In 2007, Nissan Motor Corporation issued a complementary warranty extension for the transmission oil cooler/radiator assembly for the subject vehicles to 8 years, 80,000 miles—up from the standard 3 year, 36000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Second Warranty Extension and Class Action Lawsuit

A settlement stemming from a class action lawsuit filed in 2010, which alleged that Nissan deliberately concealed from consumers that model year 2005-2010 Pathfinder, Xterra and Frontier vehicles have defective radiators, also provided extended coverage that would cover a portion of the repair costs related to this issue for up to 10 years or 100,000 miles—though vehicle owners still have to pay a deductible as high as $3,000.

Problems Seem to Manifest After Warranty Expires

The problem for a large number of vehicle owners is that transmission failure is occurring just outside the extended warranty period. NCCC continues to field calls from frustrated Nissan owners every week who only learned about this alleged defect after their transmissions failed suddenly and without any warning.

"Many of the vehicle owners dealing with a failed transmission bought their vehicles used and had no clue about the potential problem," Bullock continued. "Now, they're essentially left high and dry with an inoperable vehicle and a repair bill they can't afford. For this reason, NCCC is taking the highly unusual step of advising against the purchase of these vehicles altogether…until something more is done."

Do Not Purchase Advisory

NCCC is recommending that consumers avoid the purchase of all 2005-2010 Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier and Xterra models equipped with an automatic transmission until these vehicles are recalled for repair or Nissan agrees to offer a warranty program that goes beyond the current 10 year or 100,000 mile limit.

Get The Word Out

Getting the word out may not help you with your particular issue, but you may be able to help others before they experience the same problems. Share this article with your family, friends and colleagues. You may help them learn about the defect and keep them from becoming another statistic.

What Can NCCC Do For Me?

We regret that we are not able to offer any specific guidance for consumers experiencing this issue. The investigation is now closed (see updated information below) and the time limits for participation in all known class action lawsuits and reimbursement programs has expired. Some consumers are having success with filing small claims actions through their local courts or by hiring private attorneys.

Fixing the Problem Yourself

We recommend that owners of these vehicles consider making repairs to the vehicles now before they fail, potentially causing many thousands of dollars in damage. We have heard complaints from consumers that replacement parts from Nissan have had the same problem as the original parts, so you may wish to consider using an aftermarket (non-Nissan) part. A better idea might be bypassing the affected part altogether and installing a separate transmission cooler. We recommend that you do NOT install a used part, reconditioned part, salvaged part, or anything other than a brand new part. You do not know the part's history and whether it is part of the population that is prone to failure.

If your vehicle is still covered by warranty, you may decide not to make these repairs at your own cost, instead waiting to see if the part fails while you are still eligible for free or discounted repairs. However, it is important that you inspect the system regularly for any signs of failure. And while some vehicles are still covered by a warranty, we still hear complaints from consumers alleging this particular failure and being denied warranty repairs.

Consumers tell us that they've made repairs for total costs ranging from $80 all the way to $700 depending upon whether they used an aftermarket or genuine Nissan radiator and whether they performed the work themselves, used an independent shop, or used a Nissan dealership.

Check Your Transmission Fluid Regularly

If you own one of these vehicles, you should get in the habit of checking your engine coolant and transmission fluid often, possibly every day you drive.

Depending upon your vehicle, your transmission fluid should be red, though production changes or previous service may mean you have a different fluid color. As the transmission fluid ages, it will turn darker and may look more brown than the original color. This condition is normal and may be a sign that it's getting close to the time to change your transmission fluid. The fluid should be consistent in coloring.

The transmission fluid should NOT be white, streaked with white, or look like a strawberry milkshake or custard. If you notice this condition, stop driving the vehicle immediately and have your vehicle towed for service as operating the vehicle can cause further and sudden damage.

Check Your Engine Coolant Regularly

In addition to checking the transmission fluid, you should also check the condition of your engine coolant as cross contamination may present itself in the coolant before it shows in the transmission.

These vehicles all differ. If your vehicle has a radiator cap or reservoir cap, you can remove it when the engine is cold and inspect it. Do not remove any coolant system caps when the engine is hot or you can be severely burned. You can also inspect the coolant reservoir. If there is any slimy substance or the coolant appears milky or brown, you may have contamination and should have your vehicle serviced immediately.

Updated Information

The safety recall investigation has been closed by NHTSA. You can read updated information regarding the investigation.

What Can NCCC Do For Me?

We regret that we are not able to offer any specific guidance for consumers experiencing this issue. The investigation is now closed (see updated information below) and the time limits for participation in all known class action lawsuits and reimbursement programs has expired. Some consumers are having success with filing small claims actions through their local courts or by hiring private attorneys.