In 2012, ODI referenced 512 owner complaints made to the agency regarding transmission issues with the Nissan vehicles in question—though that number has since more than quadrupled

Nissan transmission failures Pathfinder, Frontier and Xterra Vehicles
Image: Pixabay
Updated: 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.

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.

As of April 28, 2016, this investigation is still unresolved. Meanwhile, Nissan vehicle owners from across the country have continued to experience complete transmission failure cause by engine coolant contamination.

"The fact that this investigation has gone on for four years with no resolution for consumers is completely unacceptable," said NCCC President Sandra Bullock. "Meanwhile, unsuspecting vehicle owners have been left to make the difficult decision of whether to sell a vehicle they still owe money on or pay for a new transmission…which can add up to thousands of dollars in many cases."

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. 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.

The problem—for a large number of vehicle owners, transmission failure is occurring just outside of 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."

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, 100,000 mile limit.

NCCC also encourages consumers who currently own one of these vehicles that has exceeded or is near the end of warranty coverage and still contains the original radiator to have it replaced now as a safety precaution—before any contamination can take place.

NCCC is calling on NHTSA to offer an immediate update on the status of its investigation into this matter, and to conclude the investigation as quickly as possible.

"There's no reason to just leave consumers hanging for such a long period of time," Bullock added. "This matter needs to be resolved immediately and it's up to both NHTSA and Nissan to step up to the plate and ensure that happens."

Any Nissan owner impacted by this issue is urged to file a complaint with NHTSA.

See NHTSA's opening resume for its investigation here.

UPDATE 5/18/16: NHTSA has reached out to NCCC to confirm that this investigation is still very much on the agency's radar, and they hope to have it resolved as soon as possible.

UPDATE 10/26/16: NHTSA has closed its investigation into this issue. No further investigation will be conducted and no recall will be issued.

NHTSA's explanation of its decision is as follows:

NHTSA conducted a comprehensive review of data related to this subject.  Our report, documenting this review, is available in the document file for this defect petition. It will also be published in the Federal Register.

Of the 2,505 referenced complaints, 638 relate to a potential hazard (unable to maintain speed, no motive power, engine stall) and 1,867 concern customer satisfaction issues including, but not limited to, repair cost, vehicle shudder and shake, and engine overheating.

Taking into account the allocation of agency resources and priorities and the likelihood that additional investigation would result in a finding that an unreasonable risk to highway safety exists, we conclude that further investigation is not warranted and deny the petition.

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