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Overhead view of a busted timing chain
It's not a stretch to call this a disaster

Timing Chain Tensioning System Defects

Every internal combustion engine has a timing chain or belt. You can find it in the front of the engine attached to a set of gears and pulleys that power components like the crankshaft and camshaft. A properly tensioned timing chain is critical to maintain the timing between the pistons moving and the valves opening and shutting.

So when a timing chain is loose, it can lead to engine rattles, misfiring, or problems accelerating. And that’s if you’re lucky! It can also bend valves or rods, and lead to catastrophic engine failure.

Timing chains themselves have a pretty good lifespan, but like anything it’s not unusual for them to stretch or eventually need to be replaced.

The Timing Chain Lawsuits

Nissan Timing Chain Noise Problem from The Auto Rules on YouTube

Nissan owners, however, are experiencing a number of early timing chain system problems. This includes problems with the chain tensioners, guides, and shoes. All signs point to a manufacturing defect, one that some owners claim Nissan is covering up until the vehicle falls out of warranty.

Class-Action for Residents of NY, FL, MD, and NJ

Tired of problems with timing chains, a group of owners filed a timing chain class-action lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York. Titled Vincent Chiarelli, Philip Dragonetti, Michele Maszon, Todd Maszon and Chris Santimauro vs. Nissan North America Inc. and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (doesn’t really roll off the tongue, eh?) the lawsuit claims that Nissan has known about the defects since 2004.

The suit references a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) that Nissan sent to its dealers regarding “buzzing and whining noises” from the timing chain. As part of the TSB, dealers were told to only offer “goodwill adjustments” to owners that specifically asked for it. And that’s key – Nissan didn’t inform customers of the potential problems, but seemingly told its dealers to quietly make the repairs for those with complaints.

The vehicles mentioned in the lawsuit include some of Nissan’s most popular models:

  • 2004–2006 Nissan Altima (with VQ35 engine)
  • 2004–2009 Nissan Quest
  • 2004–2008 Nissan Maxima
  • 2005–2010 Nissan Frontier (with VQ40 engine)
  • 2005–2010 Nissan Xterra
  • 2005–2010 Nissan Pathfinder

The lawsuit covers all current and former Nissan owners and lessees in New York, Florida, Maryland and New Jersey. It could later be expanded and it’s seeking a permanent fix for all affected owners.

Class-Action for Residents of CA, and WA

The case of Kobe Falco v. Nissan North America claims Nissan violated the law by concealing a known safety defect in the timing chain system. The plaintiffs seek damages for Nissan owners in California and Washington state. The vehicles mentioned include:

  • 2004-2008 Nissan Maxima
  • 2004-2009 Nissan Quest
  • 2004-2006 Nissan Altima (with VQ35 engine)
  • 2005-2007 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 2004-2007 Nissan Xterra
  • 2005-2007 Nissan Frontier (with VQ49 engine)

When fighting the bid for class-action certification, Nissan argued there’s no concealed defect and there’s no evidence that such a defect would make the vehicle unsafe to drive.

However, a California judge certified the suit anyway.

“Here, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged common damages formulas for the three classes. The class vehicles are alleged to have a common defect that the California Statutory and Washington classes all had repaired, thus spending money that they would not have needed to spend had Nissan either disclosed the defect or repaired itself. Thus, return of the average cost of repair would provide restitution to these class members because they have already spent that money to repair or diagnose their vehicles.

Certification is the often referred to as “the most important step” because a judge can use their discretion to dismiss a case, even if all the legal T’s are crossed and I’s dotted. It basically means the judge thinks the case holds merit, and can continue in court.

The trial is set to start on October 10, 2017, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Nissan continues to defend their case saying the timing chains may be loud, but they’re not a safety defect.

Did Nissan JUKE Around a Previous Recall?

Just a month after the lawsuit, Nissan issued a timing chain service campaign for 104,000 JUKE subcompacts. The automaker wouldn’t call it a recall, however, because they said they “caught it” before it became a safety concern.

Alrighty then.

As part of the campaign every 2011-2013 owner affected got a new chain guide, crank sprocket, and timing chain.

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Timing Chain Tensioning System Defects in the news

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