Coolant Leaks are Destroying Nissan Transmissions

Automatic transmissions in certain 2005-2010 Nissan SUVs and Trucks are under attack from their radiators. Leaking coolant is mixing with transmission fluid through the cooler lines to create a toxic hell stew that irreversibly damages everything around it.

Automatic transmissions in certain 2005-2010 Nissan SUVs and Trucks are under attack from their radiators. Leaking coolant is mixing with transmission fluid through the cooler lines to create a toxic hell stew that irreversibly damages everything around it.

The widespread issue has prompted the North Carolina Consumers Council (NCCC), a consumer protection group, to plead that everyone avoid the 2005-2010 Frontier, Pathfinder, and Xterra at all costs.

The Strawberry Milkshake of Death

Ruptured radiator cooler tanks are forcing coolant into the five-speed automatic transmission through the cooler lines. Not only does the radiator stop cooling the transmission, but the resulting slurry of coolant and transmission fluid eats valves, erodes seals and speeds up corrosion.

The liquid is known as the strawberry milkshake of death (SMOD) and it’s not because it tastes good (please don’t taste it).

Great, now Nissan has ruined strawberry milkshakes for me

Once you’ve got SMOD you’re SOL, FWIW.

Reports of this problem happen as early as 60,000 miles, but the sweet spot appears to be around 110,000 miles. Which is important for reasons we’ll cover in a moment.

The Useless Radiator Assembly Warranty Extension

In October 2010, Nissan extended their radiator assembly warranty from 3 years / 36,000 miles to 8 years / 80,000 miles after reports from a “small percentage” of owners with internal cracks on the oil cooler tube.

There was confusion about whether the radiator warranty extension covered resulting damage to the transmission.

The warranty extension also meant Nissan could avoid a recall. Not only did the extension typically expire before the problem would occur, but Nissan wasn’t held to the legal obligation of notifying owners that a recall would bring.

It is one of the bigger transmission problems that we see. It is costly and it can cause an immediate failure,” –Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety

The Lawsuit Settlement That Was Also a Major Disappointment

Two years after the warranty extension, Nissan settled a class-action lawsuit regarding the coolant leak epidemic. As part of the settlement, Nissan extended their warranty again. And, just like last time, they managed to not cover the vast majority of complaints.

The warranty breakdown:

  • Up to 8 years/80,000 miles, whichever comes first, extended warranty coverage applies with no customer co-pay.
  • After 8 years/80,000 miles, whichever comes first, up to 9 years/90,000 miles, whichever comes first, extended warranty coverage applies with customer co-pay in the amount of $2,500.
  • After 9 years/90,000 miles, whichever comes first, up to 10 years/100,000 miles, whichever comes first, extended warranty coverage applies with customer co-pay in the amount of $3,000.

And if you’re reading this and your car is still under 100,000 miles, first off – wow, congratulations. Second, don’t get too excited because the deadline to file a claim has passed.

It’s the final gut-punch in a raw deal for consumers.

“I always liked Nissan, and love my 2005 Pathfinder. Until coolant leaked into the transmission. I looked up online and saw all of the complaints on carcomplaints… Saw there was a class action suit which I do not qualify for since the time has passed. Called Nissan, they said since I’m over 100,000 miles I’m SOL. Cannot believe Nissan would treat loyal customers this way. Even with the warranty it only covers 800 dollars…and the other 3-4 thousand is on you. My family and I have bought 5 Nissans from the same dealer. Never again will we purchase a Nissan!!!” – 2005 Pathfinder owner

Any Hope for a Recall Dashed

In June 2012, NHTSA was petitioned by the NCCC to investigate the issue. The key to the petition was proving a safety defect existed, something Nissan has continually denied. NHTSA only forces automakers to issue recalls when there’s a safety risk involved.

NHTSA found that the radiators are defective without a doubt.

When examined under a microscope, cracks and fractures were observed at the lead points. The other three non-leaking transmission fluid cylinders were inspected under the microscope and five of the six transmission fluid port areas were cracked.

However, they didn’t find that the majority of complaints represented a safety risk and closed their investigation. That means the only hope for a recall is up to Nissan. Cue the sad trombone.

The Warning Signs of Transmission Failure

Some articles online claim that being aware of the proper warning signs may help prevent your Nissan from needing a rebuilt transmission. These warning signs are:

  • Heavy Vibration While Shifting
  • Heavy Vibration While Accelerating
  • Abrupt Stalling
  • Shuddering Noises
  • Car Doesn’t Warm Up When Sitting

Owners who have had their radiator crack are claiming that even if you catch it early, your transmission is still doomed trouble due to this engineering / manufacturing defect. You can read their stories over at CarComplaints.com for the three Nissan models that are showing the defect:

Perhaps even more troubling is owners who have already had their transmissions “repaired” by an authorized Nissan dealer are still reporting catastrophic transmission failure. Through no fault of their own, Nissan owners who are out of warranty are left to cover the hefty repair bill, which can be over $4,500 when all is said and done.

Vehicles That Might Have This Problem

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What Owners Are Saying

“August 31 2017 my family and I were on our way to the state fair when transmission suddenly gave out in the middle of traffic. We tried to nurse back into town but got stuck in the middle of the road with a semi truck barreling down us. Had to get out and push car to the side of the road to avoid getting struck. NHTSA says the is no safety risk with the this type of problem for this model of car. They are dead wrong my family was almost killed because the radiator leaked coolant into the transmission causing it to fail.”

2007 Xterra Owner in MN

“When I purchased the car it was well under mileage where most were failing. There was also a fix that could be applied that would keep the problem from happening. I was neither told about the potential for the problem, or the fix available. When the transmission started to slip I had it flushed which at that point did nothing for it. I had to have the radiator and the transmission replaced. Nissan wanted me to go to the dealership, pay additional money for them to diagnose the problem the transmission shop and everyone else in the world apparently knows this is an issue with this vehicle.”

2005 Pathfinder Owner in AZ

“Nissan has known of this poor engineering design since the beginning. This is a dirty little company secret. I have owned two of these trucks and will never own another Nissan product or recommend one. If you own a 2005-2010 Nissan with the automatic transmission watch out it is only a matter of time before every one of these transmissions fail.”

2006 Frontier Owner in MO

“Owned this 2007 Nissan Pathfinder for 3 years. Transmission just went out because radiator leaked coolant into the transmission and ruined it. Online, I found out that this is a common problem with this vehicle and that Nissan was aware of and did nothing about. Since it was out of warranty I had to pay the entire cost of the repair which was very expensive. I know that there was a class action suit but I do not qualify because mileage was over what they allowed for any reimbursement. I will never purchase another Nissan made vehicle again.”

2007 Pathfinder Owner in AL

“This is my fathers truck. He is 85 and went to the dealer for an inspection. On the way there he incurred a bad vibration and eventually the dealer told him of the problem. He was presented with a 8100.00 estimate for the failed transmission, radiator, timing chain, etc. my father always keeps his truck serviced by the dealer, always garage kept, and is always getting compliments on how good it looks. How Nissan didn't provide a recall for this problem is beyond me ... the repair cost is more than the book value of the truck.”

2005 Frontier Owner in NY

“Radiator failed and allowed transmission fluid to to mix with coolant and circulate through the transmission, destroying both the radiator and transmission. Cost of repair is at least $6,000, dealer price is more like $7,000. This happened when my Xterra only had 110,970 miles and with no warning at all. This is total loss of the vehicle since it doesn't make any sense to repair at this price a vehicle with less resale value than the cost of the repair. It is so common it has it's own acronym SMOD (Strawberry Milkshake of Death).”

2006 Xterra Owner in TN

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, you can help make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint

  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify the CAS

  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA

  4. Contact Nissan

    Nissan Support

    P.O. Box 191 Gardena CA 90248 USA

    This site is not affiliated with Nissan.