The Nissan Frontier You Should Never Buy

If you’re in the market for a used truck, you may have run across an older Nissan Frontier or two. Since they remain popular trucks today, you may even be considering buying one. Not so fast.

Nissan had some problems with the Frontier in the early 2000s and there’s one model year in particular that you’ll want to avoid. Here’s why.

2005 Nissan Frontier redesign

Nissan redesigned the Frontier in 2005. The truck really hasn’t seen a complete redesign since that year, although there’s one reportedly coming in 2020. The midsize pickup was built on a scaled-down version of the F-Alpha chassis, the same platform used for Nissan’s full-size Titan.

In terms of updates, the Tennessee-made 2005 Frontier was larger than its compact forerunner. The King Cab had rear-hinged back mini-doors and the Crew Cab models were available in 2WD and 4WD. The wheelbase increased by 9.8 inches to 125.9 inches and the truck could tow up to 6,500 pounds.

There were several trim levels available like SE, LE, and an off-road package called Nismo that had distinctive suspension tuning, skid plates, Bilstein gas shocks, and more. There was also the XE, which you could only get with the 2WD King Cab configuration. The XE offered a 2.5-liter I-4 engine while the rest came equipped with a 4.0-liter V6.

The worst Nissan Frontier model years

The worst problems affected Nissan Frontier model years 2005-10 while the 2005-07 model years had the bulk of the problems. Consumers complained the most about the 2005 Nissan Frontier due to the severity of the problems and the number of repairs required.

The main problem with the 2005 Nissan Frontier was transmission failure caused by the radiator that led to cross contamination of engine oil and coolant, which is a major problem.

The engine oil needs to be cooled because if it gets too hot it will thin out and won’t be able to properly lubricate key parts of the vehicle’s engine and transmission. The cooling process occurs without the engine oil ever coming into physical contact with the coolant.

The transmission oil is typically cooled with an integrated transmission oil cooler that’s found at the bottom of the radiator. The transmission fluid travels through a transmission line to the oil cooler for cooling and then back through a return line.

In the 2005 Nissan Frontier, there was a faulty seal inside the radiators. When the seal failed, cross-contamination of coolant and transmission oil occurred allowing transmission oil to get into the cooling system. There it weakened and ultimately destroyed the clutch packs. This resulted in debris in the automatic transmission, ultimately requiring both the transmission and radiator be replaced on the vehicle.

How Nissan responded to consumer complaints

According to Car Complaints, the 2005 Nissan Frontier received a whopping 283 complaints. The majority of complaints centered around the radiator problem. How did Nissan respond? In 2010, Nissan extended the radiator’s factory warranty to eight years or 80,000 miles from three years or 36,000.

In 2012, Nissan settled a class-action lawsuit over the faulty factory radiators. If you have an affected Nissan Frontier that’s less than 8 years old or has less than 80,000 miles, whichever comes first, there’s no copay allowance to put towards fixing your transmission. If your Frontier is 8 years old and or has 80,000 miles, you can get a customer copay allowance of $2,500 to fix the transmission. If your Frontier is 9 years old with 90,000 miles you can get a customer copay allowance of $3,000 to have Nissan fix the transmission.

If your Frontier is more than 10 years old with less than 100,000 miles, the deadline for getting compensation has already come and gone. The radiator problems affected the 2005 to 2010 Frontiers with the 4.0-liter V6 engines. 

2005 was the worst affected model year and the problems were substantially less by 2009 and 2010 though there were still instances of it happening. By 2010, the number of complaints had dropped to a much more civil 16. If you happen to own a 2005 Nissan Frontier, and if you haven’t already, it’s recommended that you replace the radiator. If the chain tensioner and guides are in decent shape, you may have dodged the bullet and an enormous repair bill.