Transmission Failure Recall Investigation into Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier, and Xterra Closed
Image: Nissan

Transmission Failure Recall Investigation into Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier, and Xterra Closed

With NHTSA's inquiry into the alleged defect closed—no safety recall of the Nissan vehicles in question will be mandated

October 27, 2016

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has closed an investigation into reports of sudden total transmission failure in model year 2005-2010 Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier, and Xterra vehicles.

Investigation Not Warranted Despite Thousands of Complaints

Despite the fact that more than 2,500 concerned Nissan owners have come forward and filed an official complaint with NHTSA related to this issue—the agency has concluded that "further investigation is not warranted."

NCCC Calls for Investigation

NHTSA began its investigation in June of 2012 after it received and accepted a defect petition submitted by the North Carolina Consumers Council (NCCC). NCCC filed the petition after hearing from dozens of concerned vehicle owners who reported total transmission failures in Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier and Xterra vehicles caused by a cracked radiator that allowed engine coolant to mix with transmission fluid.

Warranty Extension and Class Action Lawsuit

In 2007, Nissan 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, 36,000-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.

Warranty Extension Doesn't Help Many Consumers

For a large number of vehicle owners, however, the failure of their transmission occurred 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," said NCCC President Sandra Bullock. "Now, they're essentially left high and dry with an inoperable vehicle and a repair bill they can't afford."

No Help From Dealers or Nissan

"The stories we have heard from people about the abysmal customer service they have received and the terrible financial predicament their decision to purchase one of these Nissan vehicles has gotten them into are simply heartbreaking," Bullock added.

Because of the poor customer service and inaction on Nissan's part—paired with a NHTSA investigation that seemingly had no end in sight—in April of this year NCCC publicly advised all consumers to avoid purchasing model year 2005-2010 Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier, and Xterra vehicles—a recommendation that we maintain today.

NHTSA Reasoning for Closing Investigation

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.

No Recall Is Disappointing for Thousands of Affected Owners

With NHTSA's inquiry into the alleged defect closed—no safety recall of the Nissan vehicles in question will be mandated. Needless to say, NCCC is disappointed with the agency's decision.

"It is disappointing to learn that about fifty-six months after filing this petition—and fifty-six months of increasing owner complaints—that NHTSA has decided to close the investigation without a recall," NCCC Executive Director Matthew Oliver said in a statement. "Apparently, NHTSA does not feel that nearly 640 documented consumer complaints directly related to a potential vehicle safety hazard should be a priority or are worth an investment of agency resources. We find that notion to be incredibly misguided and irresponsible."

"Even more disappointing is the stance that Nissan has taken since realizing in 2007 that the radiators were faulty," Oliver continued. "Instead of doing the right thing and either replacing them or giving a generous extended warranty that protected consumers, Nissan issued a paltry extended warranty that left many consumers footing a repair bill running upwards of $8,000 or more, all for a part costing a few hundred dollars. It took a class action lawsuit to force Nissan to help consumers more, but it did little to fix the problem."

A Defect Still Exists

NCCC stands by our position that a critical safety defect does exist in this case—and that all the affected vehicles should be recalled immediately. At the very least, Nissan should be standing behind these vehicles with more than a simple extended warranty that doesn't seem to be helping many owners.

What You Should Do

NCCC encourages consumers to continue reporting this defect and other safety defects so that their vehicle information can help identify defects. Please include your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in your complaint, if possible.

File a complaint with NHTSA online or call (888) 327-4236. File a complaint with Nissan online or call (800) 647-7261.

NCCC believes in accountability for all consumer products, even when accountability means a loss of money for the manufacturer. Companies should stand by the products they sell, not abandon them to the consumer's pocketbook.

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

A number of vehicle owners have replaced the problem radiators at their own cost. We've heard total prices ranging anywhere from $80 all the way to $700 depending upon whether they chose to use an aftermarket or genuine Nissan radiator and whether they chose to do the work themselves, hire an independent shop, or use a Nissan dealership.

Some owners have even taken the unusual preemptive step of bypassing the transmission cooler itself and installing a separate transmission cooler apart from the radiator.

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 very regularly.

Depending upon your specific vehicle, your transmission fluid should be red, though production changes or previous service may mean you have a different color fluid. 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 Transmission Fluid 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.

Do Not Buy Advisory

NCCC took the unusual step of issuing a 'Do Not Buy' advisory for these vehicles owing to the presence of this defect. It has been acknowledged by both Nissan and the NHTSA. While the NHTSA findings don't support their criteria for a safety recall, the defect can set consumers back $10,000 or more depending upon which vehicle they own.