Every internal combustion engine has a timing chain or belt. It’s 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 chain is critical to maintaining the timing between the pistons and the valves. When timing chains loosen it leads to engine rattles, issues with misfiring, problems accelerating and – eventually – bent valves or rods and catastrophic engine failure.
Timing chains generally have a good lifespan, but like anything it’s not unusual for them to stretch and eventually need to be replaced (hopefully before they do too much damage).
Nissan Timing Chain Problems
Certain Nissan vehicles are gaining a reputation for early problems in the timing chain system, including issues with the chain tensioners, guides, and shoes.
Some have suggested that a manufacturing defect created timing chains with sharper edges that rapidly saw through their guides. Others say the chains are weak and prone to stretching.
Early Warning Signs in a JUKE Service Campaign
In May 2014, 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.
As part of the campaign every 2011-2013 owner affected got a new chain guide, crank sprocket, and timing chain.
Owners without JUKES have taken their issues to the courts. Multiple lawsuits have pointed to previous Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) as evidence that Nissan knows about the defect, but refuses to notify owners or issue a recall.
Class-Action Leads to Reimbursements for Residents of CA and WA
In Kobe Falco v. Nissan North America, the plaintiff claimed that Nissan violated the law by concealing a known safety defect in the timing chain system. The lawsuit sought damages for owners in California and Washington state.
Nissan admitted their timing chains are loud, but not unsafe. They argued that there’s no concealed defect or evidence that such a defect would make the vehicle unsafe to drive. What they fail to mention is how those loose timing chains can suddenly become engine-killing busted timing chains.
Despite Nissan’s defense, 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.
Settlement offers reimbursements for previous repairs
A settlement was reached in December 2017, with Nissan providing reimbursement options to certain owners.
Under the settlement, affected owners and lessees are entitled to partial reimbursement for money spent in connection with the diagnosis of, repair to, or replacement of the primary or secondary timing chain systems or components. Alternatively, those owners and lessees may receive a voucher to be used toward the purchase of a new Nissan vehicle.
The settlement covers:
- 2004-2008 Nissan Maxima
- 2004-2009 Nissan Quest
- 2004-2006 Nissan Altima (VQ35 engine)
- 2005-2007 Nissan Pathfinder
- 2005-2007 Nissan Xterra
- 2005-2007 Nissan Frontier (VQ40 engine)
Reimbursement percentages are based on the mileage of the vehicle at the time of repair, up to 120,000 miles (see how it breaks down).
Why 120,000 miles? An interesting nugget found in the court documents shows Nissan arguing that 120,000 miles is the “full life expectancy” of their vehicles.
Class-Action for Residents of NY, FL, MD, and NJ
The first timing chain lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of New York. The class-action is 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 and 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 offer “goodwill adjustments” to owners, but only those that specifically asked for it. And while TSBs are generally just intended as instructions for mechanics, it feels slimy to hear that Nissan wants to make sure any complaints are dealt with quietly.
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.