Recall For Nissan Transmission Failures Due To Internal Cracks In The Radiator's Oil Cooler Tube?

Complaints of Nissan Transmission failure Continue For certain 2005-2010 Model Year Vehicles Equipped with automatic transmissions

Recall For Nissan Transmission Failures Due To Internal Cracks In The Radiator's Oil Cooler Tube?
Image: Nissan

We have received hundreds of complaints from consumers in regards to transmission failures from defective radiators in 2005-2010 Nissan Pathfinder, Nissan Frontier and Nissan Xterra vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions. Many more complaints come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website itself. The failure symptoms are all similar and most people comment on the same lack of warning signs. Some complaints mention repeat radiator and subsequent transmission failures from coolant contamination.

The Start of the Investigation

Because of the number of complaints and the fact that they all centered around a specific component, we requested in February 2012 that the NHTSA conduct a defect investigation and force Nissan to conduct a safety recall of these vehicles. This investigation proceeded slowly, lasting more than four years. Updated information regarding the results of the investigation are at the end of this article.

Vehicle Symptoms

Drivers report a complete loss power and needing to be towed to a Nissan dealership or transmission shop, which all diagnose the problem as a failed transmission fluid cooler integrated in the radiator that allowed engine coolant to mix with and contaminate the automatic transmission fluid. They report no warning signs leading up to or just prior to the failures other than a sudden loss of ability to move the vehicles.

Transmission Damage from defective Nissan OEM radiator

Contamination of automatic transmission fluid causes it to lose its special anti-friction properties quickly, which means the clutch plates and other internal components are not properly protected from wear. Without this protection, the components undergo very rapid wear. Rapid wear can lead to the vehicle being underivable very quickly. The contamination of the transmission fluid causes rapid and often non-repairable transmission damage.

What Is Causing The Problem with these Nissan Vehicles?

The problem stems from an acknowledged defect inside the radiator assembly. The metal tubes that separate engine coolant from transmission fluid crack over time. Coolant and transmission fluid mixes through these cracks and subsequently cause transmission failure.

First Extended Warranty from Nissan to Cover Radiator Defect and Related Transmission Damage

In 2007, Nissan issued a warranty extension for the transmission oil cooler / radiator assembly for these vehicles to 8 years, 80000 miles – up from the standard 3 year, 36000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Nissan had not been and is not conducting any preventative inspections of these vehicles to prevent transmission failure. The extended warranty was supposed to include any damage relating from the defective part, but drivers have reported to us that Nissan is denying their extended warranty claims for the transmission failures and as a 'courtesy measure' will offer to conduct transmission replacement at a discount.

Class Action Nissan Transmission Lawsuit

A class action lawsuit was filed in 2010 by Mendelsohn and Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman on behalf of clients relating Nissan transmission failures. Nissan asserted that no defect existed that causes transmission failure. A settlement was reached in 2013 and qualified consumers for discounted repairs and reimbursements. NCCC did not participate the class action lawsuit. Please contact the settlement administrator directly for any questions regarding the settlement.

Another Extended Warranty for these transmission failures

Another extended warranty for transmission failures caused by the failed radiator was made in October 2012 covering these vehicles up to ten years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, with up to a $3000 deductible for transmission damage caused by a defective transmission cooler. Consumers are still reporting to us that Nissan is denying extended warranty claims for transmissions affected by this condition.

Consumers must still spend large sums of money to repair a known defect in their vehicles causing transmission damage. Nissan has been aware of this problem since 2007 and has undertaken no preventive measures to protect consumers from failure.

Nissan Transmission Failures Seem to Happen After Extended Warranty Expires

Through our investigation, most vehicles experiencing transmission failures are within the time period specified by the extended warranty for this condition but are often beyond the mileage limit. It also appears that the number of reported defects is increasing. Owners need an extended warranty that can adequately cover their costs for this defect for the normal life of the vehicle.

Statement from Brian Reitter, NCCC Vice-President

Simply extending the warranty coverage for the radiator without warning consumers of the consequences to the transmission only makes sense if Nissan is looking to cut their losses. Why didn't Nissan warn consumers that the transmission could fail quickly as a result of a cracked cooler tube? How many consumers must suffer transmission failures in busy intersections and on busy, congested highways before Nissan does the ethical thing and issues a safety recall?

How Can You Help?

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.

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

Statement from Sandra Bullock, NCCC President

We need everyone to spread the word regarding this unfortunate issue. The chances are very good that you've reached this page because you are currently experiencing a similar issue with your vehicle. You can help others by sharing this article through social media, online message boards, and the like. If you have experienced a problem, report it to the NHTSA immediately.

Get The Word Out About the Transmission Failures

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 to prevent transmission failure

Some 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 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.

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 caps when the engine is hot or you can be 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 Due to Transmission Failures

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.

Updated Information Regarding the safety recall investigation

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