By on October 26, 2016

Nissan owners hoping for relief on a coolant issue that has been causing transmission failures on 2005-2010 Frontier, Pathfinder, and Xterra trucks will be disappointed to find out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed a petition to issue a recall. The petition filed by the North Carolina Consumers Council claimed that failures were possible in over 857,000 vehicles.

The Associated Press (via CNBC) reports that the NHTSA declined to investigate further, stating that the majority of the complaints didn’t describe a safety hazard and that further investigation is not warranted, given its “limited resources.”

That means over three-quarters of a million vehicles have ticking transmission time bombs, and the manufacturer’s half-hearted solution seems designed to help very few owners.

Most of the 2,505 submitted complaints referred to the cost of the repair and did not mention any type of safety issue. Nissan was forced to acknowledge the problem when a class action lawsuit was settled in 2012 and offered some relief to owners, but it came with many strings attached.

The transmission cooler on these trucks is a common design used in many vehicles with automatic transmissions. It circulates coolant around the transmission cooler in order to keep transmission temperatures down. The tanks of the transmission cooler are sealed but bathe in the coolant. The issue with the affected vehicles is that the tank will crack, allowing the coolant and transmission fluid to mix and sending coolant into the transmission, which then destroys the clutches.

While this usually doesn’t cause an immediate failure, it will cause the transmission to start slipping before failing altogether. The NHTSA may have noticed this failure path in its investigation and decided not to classify it as a safety defect for that reason.

Nissan worked out an agreement with some owners via the settlement, offering a limited reimbursement period for consumers who had previously repaired the issue. There were many strings attached, including a deadline of June 7, 2013 to submit the claims and a deductible of $2,500 to $3,000 depending on vehicle mileage.

The automaker also offered an extended warranty for trucks that could see the failure in the future. Full coverage under the extended warranty is set for eight years or 80,000 miles, though most of the trucks are out of that range and even the newest ones with the issue will be past it in a couple of years. Once that mark passes, owners will be covered until nine years or 90,000 miles but will have to pay $2,500 out of pocket before the warranty coverage kicks in. The last part of the coverage goes to ten years or 100,000 miles, covering everything after the owners pays $3,000 out of pocket.

This leaves many owners in the dark, as most owners won’t experience the issue during the extended warranty period. According to owner reports to CarComplaints.com, the average failure occurs at around 106,000 miles and costs $3,592.

The only solution right now is for owners to do some preemptive maintenance or to modify the cooling system, either by replacing the radiator before it fails or re-routing the coolant and adding another transmission cooler.

Independent transmission re-builders are well aware of the problem and many have gone as far as designing their own custom radiators in order to ensure the transmission they install doesn’t fail. Since the issue has not caused any injuries, Nissan has stated that it is not a safety problem, so we’re unlikely to see any further assistance from the manufacturer.

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10 Comments on “Nissan Owners Are on Their Own after NHTSA Kills Transmission Failure Petition...”


  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Similar thing happens (much less frequently I guess) with 3rd gen 4Runners. $60 external trans cooler from B&M to bypass the radiator, and a few hours time and you’re all set. If I had one of these affected Nissans I’d do that modification stat, rather than all the legal hand wringing.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      ^^ This right here.

      However, it’s interesting what falls into the ‘safety’ category, and what doesn’t. I can easily imagine a transmission failure being a safety issue in high-speed rush-hour traffic, but only as a secondary result of the initial fault. Similarly, the repeated failure of the sliding doors on my former 05 Odyssey was not deemed to be a safety issue by American Honda.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        …Similarly, the repeated failure of the sliding doors on my former 05 Odyssey was not deemed to be a safety issue by American Honda…

        Ditto for GM, which I understand shared the design they developed with Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Agree totally. This looks like a pretty simple fix for those capable of their own wrenchwork. You can buy a new radiator assy (with cooler) on Rockauto for 100 bucks.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Seems like Nissan offered more than they really had to with the limited extended warranty.

    I’m surprised that a successful class action lawsuit can be pursued for non-safety-critical failures that occur after the warranty period.

    If my transmission failed after the warranty period I’d see if the OEM would offer any goodwill repairs and if not probably avoid them in the future, but I wouldn’t think to sue them. What would I sue for? I knew the warranty limits when I bought the car.

  • avatar
    tubacity

    Honda Acura vehicles such as Ridgeline, MDX, Pilot, Odyssey have same issue. Once water gets into trans fluid, transmission likely to die. Sometimes this is caused by corrosion in the connectors that screw into the radiator. Rust pushes the connector and causes a leak so that antifreeze can to to transmission and ATF to radiator, whichever

    Solution is new radiator or separate trans cooler and remove any connection between bottom of radiator trans cooler and transmission.
    No, cannot replace connectors to solve problem. No practical way to put connectors back properly and not leak.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    I would never buy a Nissan that wasn’t a manual. My Altima is at 152,000 miles on its original clutch. I shudder to think how many of the CVT’s have failed in the same 10 years since my car was built.

    • 0 avatar
      soberD

      I would pass on that too, at least for RWD. Look into G35/37/Z-car clutch slave cylinder failures.
      A integral component to the driveline that is somehow not covered under the powertrain warranty.

      My two Nissans were the most unreliable vehicles I have owned and I will never own another.

    • 0 avatar
      Wacko

      i own a 2014 pathfinder as my DD
      and have nothing bad to say about the CVT. Mine just works great.
      I have 50000kms(something like 35000 miles)on mine
      only problems i have so far was window regulators and some plastic trim.

  • avatar
    DenverInfidel

    Are only 05 to 2010 models affected by this? I’m looking at a used Xterra and obviously want to avoid it. Sounds like a reasonably easy fix though.

    Had a rwd manual pickup and manual pathfinder and they were both dead reliable. My Monteros’ transmission is about to give up the ghost. Once is enough…

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