Feds Deny Petition To Recall 850,000 Nissans Over Transmission Issue

Image courtesy of Andy Jones

Four years after a consumer group asked federal safety regulators to recall more than 850,000 Nissan vehicles based on hundreds of owner complaints that the cars would unexpectedly lose speed or stall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to pursue the issue, despite finding there was a mechanical problem with the vehicle transmissions. 

After conducting a comprehensive investigation of data related to the issue, NHTSA announced [PDF] that it would not force a recall of model year 2005 to 2010 Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier, and Xterra vehicles.

The agency began reviewing the issue after receiving a letter from the North Carolina Consumers Council petitioning the agency to conduct a defect investigation into the vehicles following reports that an automatic transmission failure had led to vehicles unexpectedly stalling or losing speed.

As part its initial investigation, NHTSA looked at 2,505 owner complaints, including 638 that related to a potential hazard, such as being unable to maintain speed, engine stalls, or losing power. The remaining 1,867 complaints involved concerned customer satisfaction issues including repair cost, vehicles shuddering and shaking, and engine overheating.

“I noticed a leak of transmission fluid from the front passenger side of the vehicle,” one complaint states. “This was followed by a loss of power/drivability.”

In an attempt to resolve some consumers complaints, Nissan extended warranty coverage of the vehicles’ radiator/transmission fluid coolers. However, many owners say this didn’t help, as their vehicles were already phased out of the extended coverage.

“In April 2016, while driving on the highway the vehicle began to lose power,” another owner tells NHTSA. “The SUV managed to make another 10 miles or so until the slipping was too bad to continue driving. I stopped the car and allowed it to cool. I opened the radiator cap and discovered that the transmission fluid and radiator fluid had mixed. The repair will not be covered due to being over the extended warranty mileage.”

NHTSA ultimately determined that the issues customers faced were related to transmission failures caused by a defective cooling tank that allowed engine coolant to get into the transmission.

Despite this, the agency tells the consumer group that the issues do not constitute a recall. In the past, when a similar issue was present a safety recall was only initiated if there was a complete loss of power, accompanied by loss of power-assist to steering and brake systems. NHTSA notes that the latter conditions are not present in the Nissan vehicles.

“Based on our analysis, it is unlikely that NHTSA would issue an order requiring the notification and remedy of a defect related to motor vehicle safety at the conclusion of the requested investigation,” the agency wrote in a letter [PDF] to the North Carolina Consumers Council. “Therefore, in view of the need to allocate and prioritize NHTSA’s limited resources to best accomplish our safety mission, we are denying your petition.”

North Carolina Consumers Council executive director Matthew Oliver tells Forbes that the group believes NHTSA’s decision is irresponsible.

[via Forbes]

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