By on June 22, 2009

Joe from Boston writes:

Here’s what happened to my 2003 Murano with 145k on the clock: the “service engine” light came on. So I took the car to dealer. They said the oil was low, and they put car on computer and said it needs a new engine, for a mere $7,000. I thought they were joking: they claim the computer says the engine is failing internally and there is nothing they can do about it. I had the oil changed and by my calculations, the car is consuming about a quart of oil every 1,400 miles.

This is shocking: at idle, the car runs as quiet as a church mouse and at highway speeds, it seems to run fine. There is no knocking in the engine, no oil leaking on my garage floor. This indicates the oil is being consumed inside the engine: there is no smoke coming out of the exhaust. Thus far, I have just been checking the oil every 500 miles and adding it as I go along.

The question is: keep the car and add oil, or trade it now? My overall feeling is that this is poor quality, I have a Dodge truck engine with over 200,000 miles and it does not burn one drop of oil.

Sajeev answers:

Oh no, not again!

Since my obligation is to our readers, sell this heap to a faceless corporation, not an unsuspecting buyer on Craigslist. Until TTAC gets word of a redesigned part/recall from the Nissan Mothership, put these 3.5L Nissans on your Shit List. TTAC commentator ponchoman49 said it well:

“I know a 2005 Nissan Quest owner with the same 3.5 engine with the same issue. The oil changes were done around 4-5K intervals, the van now has 81K miles and the engine uses a quart of oil every thousand miles or so, which is excessive. The engine was diagnosed as have scored cylinder walls due to catalytic converter failure and would soon need a rebuild.”

But it might not be a V6 only problem, Shane Rimmer noted that the four-banger versions are prone to killing engines:

“Nissan has had a few issues with pre-cats going bad. This has mostly plagued the 2.5L 4 cylinder, but it is not unheard of on the 3.5L engines. When it happens, catalytic material gets sucked back into the cylinders where it scores the cylinder walls.”

If you are lucky, the problem stops at the piston’s oil control rings, and the compression rings remain intact: which is why this Murano burns oil like mad but still runs fine. This is a design flaw that goes back to the location (and size?) of the small catalytic converters that mount close to the engine.  While these “pup” or “pre” cats do a great job lowering emissions on a cold motor, Nissan obviously screwed the pooch. More importantly, they are NOT alone.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

I have more than a tangential connection to this problem. Channeling my inner Michael Karesh, I recently inherited a 2002 Mercury Cougar (Duratec V6, 70k miles) with this problem. The Coog was a friend’s car, until we heard a pop under light throttle and it started running on five cylinders. After that, it was mine.

I found the solution to these engine-killing Pup Cats: exhaust headers. The aftermarket makes headers for the Ford Contour (yes, really) that delete pup cats. So I will bring the Cougar back to life, with an extra 60 ponies from a Taurus engine swap to boot. (That bit of hot-rodding is certainly besides the point, but why not have some fun at the same time?)

Sorry Murano fans, a quick Google search says that Altima headers will not work on your CUV.

[Send your technical queries to mehta@ttac.com]

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38 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Nissan Murano Must Die!...”


  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    It’s a wonder how or why anyone trusts dealerships. I can’t think of a single other business class that is more deserving of skepticism and assumptions of scam than dealerships. They attempt to screw the consumer every change they get, without any acknowledgment that they have a systemic ethical problem.

    Honestly, I can’t think of another service provider with a worse reputation for honesty, integrity and fair pricing than auto dealerships.

    Maybe they feel they have no choice to rob from Peter in the service bay to pay for the no or lost revenue in the sales booth. Regardless, whatever they feel compelled to do, what they seem compelled to do is repulsive.

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of denial from those who work for car dealerships here. Some things are fairly predictable.

  • avatar
    Bocatrip

    I do not believe that all the 3.5 Nissan engines have these issues. I own an 04 Infiniti G35 with the 3.5 engine that does not consume a drop between oil changes(7,000 miles). I have heard of many oil consuming engine problems with the 6MT Infiniti G35s but not with the earlier 03-04 models. There is a problem, no doubt, but not with all the 3.5 engines.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    You can thank the EPA once again for this one. Obviously it’s not worth a 7000 dollar engine. The trick is trading in in without getting caught with the code. Try to clear it from the computer then quickly flip it. It might involve a power disconnect of the fuse for the computer or a reset command to clear it. Best done a block from the trade in dealer.

    Does this sound wrong? Not as wrong as what happened to the engine. Nissan either needed better cats or some other method of cleaning the exhaust on a cold engine, other companies do it so should they.

    A smart dealer may even assume you have a problem with it and dick you on the trade, like they did my 93 Sable which were famous for head gaskets and transmission failures. I had the latter coming on.

    But realistically you got 140K out of it so it’s probably time to die anyway. Someone else pays a lot less for it than you did new so they can front a new engine for it. Maybe.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I can’t think of a single other business class that is more deserving of skepticism and assumptions of scam than dealerships.

    Why would a dealership be any different that a private shop?

    If you go to Dave at Dave’s Auto Care he’s going to personally profit from all the extra work he does. Mike at the dealership doesn’t personally have the same incentives to f*ck you over.

  • avatar
    Jim Brennan

    I know there will be a few lemons made, even by reliable car companies. However, I have both an Altima (with the 2.5L 4 Cyl) and a Quest Van (with the Nissan V-6) and neither one uses excess oil, and I sometimes forget to change it every 4,000 miles on both cars.

    My only problem with both of these vehicles is tire wear (especially the Altima Rears), and Brake Pad wear. They both seem excessive, and I drive them mostly on the highway, and (somewhat) legal speed.

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    Chalk this one up with the Toyota (?.?L)and Chrysler (2.7L) V6 sludge issues.

    Known problems that they are unwilling to stand behind (except Chrysler recently with its Life-time powertrain warranty).

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    I think the bad service may be spilling over to Infiniti.

    I had a 2007 G35X and got rid of it less than one year after I bought it new.

    The damn thing would run rough at low speeds. My wife, who knows very little about cars, even noticed it from the passenger seat.

    About $4000 worth of camshaft sprockets and springs later, the dealership declared victory and said the problem was fixed. It wasn’t. The night I picked up the car, it ran rough around 30 MPH and my next call was to Nissan NA.

    Essentially, Nissan sided with the dealer declaring the problem resolved. They offered to extend my warranty on the engine, but did not offer any additional assistance.

    And I thought VW was bad…..

    -ted

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I think I’d throw oil at it for a while and wait to see what develops. A quart of oil every 1400 miles is well under an extra cent per mile in operating cost. This works out to maybe twenty bucks per year?

    And, really, the computer said, “Change Engine?” I would hav expected “compression loss” or another list of symptoms. “Change engine” sounds like an awfully bold recommendation from a mere computer.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    I found the solution to these engine-killing Pup Cats: exhaust headers. The aftermarket makes headers for the Ford Contour (yes, really) that delete pup cats.

    This was one of the improvements made to my ’98 SVT Contour, thankfully. I drove it for nearly 120K miles before selling and never put oil in unless at oil changes.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Autojunkie,

    FYI: I have a Toyota. And a letter from Toyota that says they’ll cover engine repairs to 100K miles, as long as I can show I took reasonable care of it. And it runs like a Swiss watch.

    Chrysler’s lifetime warranty includes plenty of weasel words. I hope you’re not relying on it.

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    KixStart Said:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 12:13 pm
    “And, really, the computer said, “Change Engine?” I would have expected “compression loss” or another list of symptoms. “Change engine” sounds like an awfully bold recommendation from a mere computer.”

    The ECU not only said ‘Change Engine,’ but ‘Customer Is Lucky to Have Such Amazing Dealership,’ and also ‘Please Remember Gratuity. Dealership Staff Could Use Tips During Economic Downturn. Thank You.’ It also reminded Service Manager that ‘Boat Payment Due in 9 Days.’

  • avatar
    twotone

    I would run the following tests:

    1. Emissions
    2. Compression
    3. Leak down

    If they are all within specs, keep driving it and add oil. If not, sell it or trade it in.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Interesting

    Sajeev, since the Mazda 6 and Mercury Cougar share Ford’s Duratec V6 (to vary degrees) do you see this problem occurring in Mazda 6 V6 engines? I have a 2006 model with just over 30k on the odo and I’m wondering if prevention is indeed better than the cure.

  • avatar

    Re: Dealer scams…sure, this could be the case. But modern engine computers can run cylinder balance tests (via turning off one fuel injector at a time) to see if one cylinder is (for lack of a better phrase) more dead than others. Normally a quick test that’s part of a normal diagnostic.

    Plus, its stupid easy to pull a plug and drop a scope in there.

    ————
    SupaMan : I haven’t heard of Mazda 6 or Taurus having these problems. Its more of a function of the manifold/cat specific to one platform and its long term durability.

    Dig around the forums. And ask questions.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Hmmm…thanks for the input.

    I think I’ll change the entire system to aftermarket (K&N filter, larger headers, larger exhaust) just to get more power. Hopefully what’s left of my warranty doesn’t suddenly decide to walk out.

  • avatar
    SWA737

    Does anyone know if the Infiniti M35 has the same pre cat problems?

  • avatar
    mocktard

    Pre-cats causing engine failures seems to be a recurring theme.

    I recently bought a 2001 MR-2 Spyder, where these kinds of failures seem to be frequent. I drove the car into my garage and did nothing with it until I had removed the pre-cats.

    From my reading, it appears the following sequence of events occurs:

    1) The piston rings come out of round (“go oval”) and the engine begins to consume oil.
    2a) Excess oil ends up on the pre-cats, causing them to weaken and crumble. Pieces are sucked back into the engine, or
    2b) Oil deposit inside the combustion chamber lead to detonation/pre-ignition, or
    2c) Negligent owners forget to check the oil and the motor seizes.

    A little oil consumption seems to be a minor issue, in and of itself. What “a little” means is a judgment call.

    I have noticed no oil consumption, but I run a higher octane just in case.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I think the owner needs to consider the eligibilty of this beast for “cash for clunkers”.

  • avatar
    commando1

    See? Japanese cars can be s-boxes, too!!

    I had a friend who was an Audi fanatic because “German engineering was best”

    He always told me this everytime I gave him a lift back and forth to the dealer…

  • avatar
    mocktard

    @commando1

    See? Japanese cars can be s-boxes, too!!

    Definitely.

    The flip-side is also true… a properly motivated owner and a spot of luck can keep any car in good condition.

    Some for over 500k miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Early Nissan Murano examples seem like they are nothing so much as rolling-2002-era prototypes. They seem to have gotten the most-pressing issues–like the faulty alternator and the pitiful transfer-case–worked out by June 2005, but that doesn’t save cars produced after that date from displaying austere issues. Our Murano was made in August 2005 (meaning that it was one of the last units manufactured before the MY2006 facelift), and it does some odd stuff some of the time.

      Of course, at least the first-gen Murano isn’t as much of a prototype as the E65 BMW 7-Series…

  • avatar

    I must say we do see many manufacturers claiming that the consumption of oil is “normal”. Some of their manuals are so ambiguous that it doesn’t say exactly what is considered a normal amount of consumption for that particular engine. There are many unscrupulous dealerships that will try to blame the consumer, thereby voiding their warranty and any possible future lemon law claim. Fortunately there are many consumer advocates who may assist in these types of situations. You can read more about dealers blaming the consumer here: http://media.normantaylor.com/news.php?include=138878

  • avatar
    davejay

    I recently bought a 2001 MR-2 Spyder, where these kinds of failures seem to be frequent.

    Tell me about it. I almost bought a 2005 MR-2 Spyder, but after hearing about the pre-cat problems, bought a 2005 Sentra SE-R Spec V instead. Needed a new engine at 8,000 miles (it was knocking lightly, and when they pulled the pre-cat off, pieces came out — which according to the dealer meant free warranty engine ASAP.) When I got it back with the new engine, it still had knocking; eventually decided it meant the engine was too big for the small engine bay and even a huge radiator and two cooling fans (from the factory) couldn’t keep it cool enough to avoid detonation at cruise. Sold it shortly thereafter.

    Of course, I could have opted for the header solution for either car, but that would have meant swapping the header every time I had to have the car registered or inspected (I’m in CA) so decided to go the less-powerful, more-reliable route instead.

    I chalk it up to the same issues we used to see in the 70s when emissions equipment was new; the manufacturers didn’t know how to do it correctly yet, and so we got crap running/crap reliability cars for a while. These small precats really do help emissions, but at a cost that’s becoming apparent now.

  • avatar
    barely.working

    My 05 Nissan has the 2.5L 4-banger. At about 113,000 km (Canada, eh?), the check engine light came on. Went to the mechanic I usually deal with and turns out the error code is for the three-way Cat. According to my mechanic, there have been several problems with the Nissan three way catylitic converters from about 2005/06. Appearently, it has to do with some of the winter gas additives used in Canada to keep it from freezing. They can gum up inside the cat and restrict exhaust flow out. He did a compression test and confirmed that there’s nothing wrong with the cylinder liners or o-rings.

    The plus in my court was that Nissan has a separate warranty just for the engine computer and cat up to 130,000 km. Took it to the Nissan dealer and they didn’t squabble at all. If it wasn’t covered, I’d be out about $2,200. Actually the dealer was apologetic because the cat had to come from Japan and was going to take 2 weeks to be delivered.

    The fact that the Nissan bucked up and paid without question for a very expensive part is a bonus in my books.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Run it until the wheels fall off

    or the pistons fall out.

  • avatar
    Mark

    Sajeev, make the forums at contour.org your best friend, specifically the 3L Forum where you’ll find plenty of people willing to help you with your swap. Make sure you get a set of SVT heads to top your 3L block for maximum breathing and aural enjoyment. Add a BAT suspension, some Focus SVT brakes, 17″ wheels and hit the road to surprise a few people with your “new” Cougar.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    @davejay

    Funny. I had an ’02 Spec V that gave me 15k trouble-free miles before I traded it. I sometimes wish I had kept it… a very fun car.

    I will run the Spyder until the pistons fall out. Then I will upgrade to a 2zz, or build a turbo 1zz. Not that it will make you feel any better, but by 2005 Toyota had revised the piston rings to reduce the number of engine failures.

  • avatar
    skor

    Oil consumption of 1 quart per 1K miles is considered acceptable for new cars by most auto makers today. I don’t see consumption of 1 quart per 1,700k miles with 145K miles on the clock as a big issue. That’s actually pretty low consumption, and I doubt that level of oil use could harm anything else in the engine. Your solution: Keep driving it and check the oil level once in a while.

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    My wife has a VW passat 2.0T (2006). The dealer claims it’s perfectly normal for it to drink a quart of oil every 800 to 1,000 miles, and the thing sounds like a diesel at idle, I kid you not.

    No more VW/Audi products for us. Between the problems she’s had with this car, and the problems every single person we know has had with their VW or Audi (the great coil pack failure), domestic cars seem to be a superior choice over almost any German one.

  • avatar
    eamiller

    This may seem like a silly question, but WHAT WERE THE DAMN DTCs that their computer was “telling them”. AFAIK, there is no P666 “code of doom”. Without independent verification of the DTCs in the engine computer, I don’t believe a word from the dealership.

    Pull a spark plug or 6. Are they covered in grey ashy deposits? If not, your oil consumption is fine (barring external leaks). The spark plugs are always the canary in the coal mine.

    This is why I own my on OBD scan tool, so I’m not a the mercy of the dealership telling me the sky is falling.

    Since this vehicle is out of warranty, find a nice independent shop that isn’t looking to subsidize its crappy vehicle sales by bending you over repeatedly.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    AeroShell Oil W120: add a litre. if you can find W120, get the W100.

  • avatar
    paul_y

    @Autojunkie:

    The Chrysler 2.7 from 2004 onwards was significantly redesigned to avoid the sludge issue. About all it has in common with the 98-03 2.7 is the bore centers and overall dimensions.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    So, what’s the code? And what’s the actual problem that calls for an engine replacement?

    If your car consumes oil, try using the thickest oil your climate allows. 20W-50 (-20C limit), 15W-40 (-25C), and even 10W-30 (-30C) will usually reduce consumption compared to 5W-20 and 5W-30. 1 quart every 1400 miles isn’t bad at all. A thicker oil might reduce that to almost nothing.

    If the cats are causing problems, get rid of as many of them as you can get away with.

  • avatar

    Mark : Sajeev, make the forums at contour.org your best friend, specifically the 3L Forum where you’ll find plenty of people willing to help you with your swap. Make sure you get a set of SVT heads to top your 3L block for maximum breathing and aural enjoyment. Add a BAT suspension, some Focus SVT brakes, 17″ wheels and hit the road to surprise a few people with your “new” Cougar.

    Already there, dude. But thanks. This is gonna be fun. And making lemonade from lemons aspect makes this swap even more worth it.

  • avatar
    Mr. B

    Wow my girlfriend and I thought this only happened to her. She had the exact same problem with her 2005 Nissan Murano. We had taken her Murano to the Nissan Dealership and we were told that she needed a new engine. Then we took it to Firestone and was told a new engine was needed again. The ASE Mechanic told her to keep a quart of oil in the car. There was no smoke anywhere that indicated the need for a new engine. After a few weeks she got frustrated and wanted to trade in her Murano. We decided to get it checked one more time before trading it in. We took it to another mechanic and he told us it was a PCV valve that was causing the problem. It cost 85 to fix it and there have been zero problems since. I hope this info will help someone.

  • avatar
    MikBu

    Mr.B – I am very curious as to what might have happened to your girlfriend’s Mirano since March 2010. Any update will be appreciated.

    My 2005 Murano started making a rattling noise. Nissan dealership said that I need a new engine and it’ll be $11,000!!! We couldn’t believe a 5 year-old car needs a new engine only after ~90K miles!

    We took it to our regular mechanic who we have been going for 19 yrs. He could not find anything wrong. It is runnng great now, and told us to keep checkng engine oil every other day for 1 week, then if it seems okay, every week for the next 3,000 miles. Then bring it in to him for the next oil change. Two different places gave us completely different story. We trust our regular mechanic; this place has a great reputation and very honest: saved us $$ in the last 19 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Our 2005 Nissan Murano SL (with 105K miles) is making that same noise. I thought it was a set of bearings, but every time I go to look at it, the issue stops. It also has trouble shifting from park (and not just after a cold-start). We can’t figure out why the air-conditioning barely suffices. It can’t seem to get past 300 miles of range without fuel additives, no matter the time of year. The smart-key constantly acts up. And the navigation system has been incorrect an alarming number of times (despite having a current map DVD). But despite all of that, I’m downright irritated with how the interior is holding up, especially the “leather” upholstery.


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