The transmissions of some 2005-2010 Nissan vehicles are under attack … from radiators. Cracked radiators are leaking coolant into the transmission, and when it mixes with the transmission fluid it creates a toxic hell stew that irreversibly damages everything around it.
This is a well known issue that is often trending on CarComplaints.com.
Nissan sorta, kinda helped out owners with an extended warranty but in October 2016 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said there’s not much more that can be done. Let’s take a quick look at how we got here.
It All Starts with Cracked Radiators Tanks
These vehicles contain a defective radiator cooler tank that ruptures and forces coolant into the transmission through the cooler lines. When the coolant mixes with transmission fluid it creates a frothy liquid that eats valves, erodes seals and causes corrosion.
What Owners are Saying
“Like so many others my Xterra had a leak from the radiator that ruined the transmission. I initially had the radiator replaced and the transmission fluid flushed. This was only a bandaid however, and did not fix the problem. I am now about 2 years post radiator replacement and my vehicle is having serious transmission problems. I have been recommended to have a transmission rebuilt but don’t want to spend the money.” – 2005 Xterra owner
“After finding this huge amount of other Pathfinder owners who have had the same thing happen to them, I am furious! $3,500+ to repair? Seriously? My car is 9 years old with over 134,000 miles! Ridiculous, greedy, lying, cheating, dishonest corporations are just plain disgusting! They will stoop to any low for a dollar!” – 2005 Pathfinder Owner
October 2012 Class Action Settlement
In October 2012 a class-action lawsuit was settled in court, providing a bit of relief to some owners who have had this problem.
As part of the settlement, Nissan agreed to extend the warranty to:
- 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.
Why The Settlement was Nothing to Get Excited About
According to data on CarComplaints.com the average mileage at which this problem occurs is 95,000 miles. So the “extended” warranty is basically useless.
With no warranty coverage the average repair bill is $3,800.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have your transmission fail within the warranty period, Nissan will pay $800 for your trouble. The other $3,000? That’s on you.
And anyway, if you somehow managed to keep your car under 80,000 miles all this time you’re out of luck anyway. The deadline to file a claim has passed.
“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
All in all, this is a raw deal for consumers. Chris Jensen covered this story in an in-depth “Wheels” New York Times article on August 24, 2011.
Any Hope for a Recall Dashed
In June 2012, NHTSA was petitioned by the North Carolina Consumers Council (NCCC) to investigate the issue. NHTSA only forces automakers to issue recalls when there’s a safety risk, so the key was proving that one existed.
It took over four years, but the agency found the majority of complaints were not a safety risk. That means the investigation is closed and no recall is coming. Cue the sad trombone.
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean the radiators aren’t defective, in fact though testing NHTSA found plenty of reasons for concern. From CarComplaints.com:
“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.”
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.
Avoid At All Costs
As these cars get a bit older, more radiators are failing and taking transmissions down with them. If you see a used one for sale, you’re better off moving along to something else.