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 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).
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.