12 Common Nissan Frontier Problems (Explained)

The Nissan Frontier is a small pickup truck that debuted in the US in 1998 and offers a lot of value for your money.

Despite its smaller size, it’s built to handle lots of abuse whether you’re using it to carry heavy loads or having fun off-road.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the more common issues Frontier owners have reported.

1. Radiator and Transmission Failures

One of the most common problems of the early second generation Nissan Frontier is transmission failure caused by cracks and leaks in the radiator.

Since the transmission fluid lines go through the radiator, coolant and transmission fluid can mix together when it starts to develop leaks.

This mixture of coolant and transmission fluid, also known as the “strawberry milkshake of death” or SMOD, eventually causes transmission failures due to poor lubrication.

The 2005 to 2007 model years of the second gen Frontier suffer from this issue the most, but it can also affect newer models up to 2010.

It’s also a common problem on a lot of other Nissan trucks and SUVs like the Pathfinder, Xterra, Titan and Armada from the same era.

Here’s how a few Frontier owners on ClubFrontier.org forum described their experience:

“A few weeks ago I noticed my transmission on my 05 Nismo 4×2 started slipping and heavy vibration when accelerating uphill at 35 mph and 55 mph. After suspecting cross contamination I removed my radiator cap and flipped it over and sure enough, there was what looked like a strawberry milkshake type residue on it.” 

“Last week my 2008 Frontier LE v6 crew cab (5 speed auto transmission) started acting funky. At first it was just an intermittent slight jerk as the truck was downshifting – when I came to a stop or slowed speed in traffic. Took it for a spin with the technician – downshifting problem reemerged. They pulled the fault codes, did some diagnostics and came back to me a few hours later with the problem – your radiator is leaking coolant fluid into the transmission fluid thus contaminating it.”

To avoid future overheating and transmission issues, most Frontier owners replace the factory radiator with an all aluminum unit for around $200 to $300.

Another cheap way to avoid transmission failures is to bypass the transmission fluid lines in the radiator and just rely on the external transmission cooler.

This helps you avoid having to get a new rebuilt transmission which costs around $3,000 to $4,000.

To check if your truck’s automatic transmission fluid is mixing with coolant, check the coolant reservoir and see if there’s any pink milkshake liquid or residue inside.

2. Timing Chain Issues

The 4.0-liter V6 engine in early second gen Nissan Frontiers can suffer from premature timing chain guide and tensioner failures.

This issue typically affects the 2005 to 2010 model years of the Nissan Frontier. Nissan Pathfinders and Xterras can also have similar problems.

The timing chain guide keeps the timing chain properly stretched so it doesn’t rattle around.

Since the guide is made of plastic, it can easily wear out and eventually break. If it’s worn out, you’ll usually hear a whining sound that gets louder at higher RPMs.

Some owners have also reported a ticking or rattling noise, which could mean that there’s a lot of play in the timing chain. 

However, the Frontier is also known for making a ticking noise at startup which can be easily mistaken for timing chain or engine knock problems   

Here’s how a few owners on ClubFrontier.org described their issues:

“Just picked up a 2005 4.0 and I love it. Unfortunately when I was on site looking it over before purchase, the whine it was making I thought was nothing more than a serpentine belt related accessory but now after more research I’m pretty certain it’s the infamous timing chain whine.”

“My guides on my 08 started whining around 30k miles. My guides on my 05 were loud and clunky at 100k miles and I’m at 165k now with no issues and I’ve only done oil changes and put my foot on the skinny pedal.”

“The timing chain premature wear bug has got my ‘05 Frontier – finally. My truck is 13 yrs old now. It’s only got 65K miles on it.“

Nissan released a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) to address the timing chain issues and would replace the guides and timing chains in affected vehicles.

The excessive wear on the guides was actually caused by the timing chain itself, which Nissan eventually updated, so newer models and trucks that have already had their timing chain replaced shouldn’t have any problems.

Getting the timing chain fixed can cost over $1,000 at the dealer, but any experienced mechanic should be able to easily do the job at a lower price.

3. Stalling and Starting Issues

Owners of early second-generation Frontiers have encountered random engine stalling problems that usually don’t produce any codes.

This problem is usually caused by faulty camshaft and/or crankshaft position sensors.

These monitor the rotation of the camshaft and crankshaft to keep the timing of the combustion process in sync.

When the ECU loses the signal from either sensor, it won’t know when to add spark or fuel, which leads to an engine shut down.

Common symptoms of a faulty camshaft or crankshaft position sensor include:

  • Random intermittent engine stalls
  • Hard starting 
  • Rough running
  • No check engine light or error codes
  • P0355 error code

Most Frontier owners only start encountering problems well after the 100,000-mile mark, when the sensors just become faulty due to age.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on ClubFrontier.org:

“I bought my Frontier brand new in 2008. It has given me very little trouble over the years. Starting today, my engine wants to die randomly. I was driving and suddenly it bucked but it didn’t die and so I kept driving. Then on my way home from work it did actually die while driving. The truck starts up fine but sometimes there is a slight… very slight hesitation.”

“I just went through this issue myself with my 2005 LE (111K miles), very similar to what you described. When cold started, truck would start right away and run well, then with engine at normal temperature it would take a couple of more engine turns to start it back up, no check engine light, no codes. Then for a day it would run perfectly and start up normal, others it would die at a stop light, but it would start after a couple of engine turns, again longer than normal.”

New OEM sensors cost around $100 a piece and you can even easily install them yourself if you’re mechanically inclined.

Aside from sticking to more reliable OEM parts, it’s also best to replace both the camshaft and crankshaft sensors at the same time so you won’t have to deal with similar issues in the near future.

4. Rear Axle Leak

The rear axles of the second generation Nissan Frontier have a tendency to develop leaks which can lead to rear differential failures.

This problem affects all model years of the second gen Frontier from 2005 to 2021.

It’s also a common issue on the Nissan Xterra and the full-size Nissan Titan.

When the axle seals start failing, differential fluid will end up all over the wheel assembly. 

If the leak goes unnoticed and the fluid gets too low, you can end up with a broken rear differential. 

Common symptoms include: 

  • Grinding noises
  • Fluids on the wheel well and tire
  • Faulty parking brake

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on ClubFrontier.org:

“My ’08 had seals go out 2 times under the factory warranty and once with the extended warranty I had on it.” 

“My rear axle seal is leaking on my 2010 Nissan Frontier Pro-4x. When I talked to the dealership, they quoted $1,700 for the genuine parts to do complete sides.”

Leaking axle seals are caused by a clogged up vent/breather valve which causes excess pressure to build up and blow out the seals.

The breather valve usually gets clogged and corroded if the truck spends a lot of time driving on salted roads and off-road.

Replacing the seals and bearings shouldn’t be too expensive if you have it done outside the dealer. You can also just replace the entire axle which costs around $500 per side.

Many owners also remove the stock vent and attach a long hose with a filter at the end to prevent problems in the future. This is often referred to as the “rear axle vent mod” and there are lots of instruction online on how to do it correctly.

5. Fuel Fill Issues

Many second generation Nissan Frontier owners have had issues when filling up with gas.

In some cases, the pump will shut off even if the tank isn’t close to being full, while others have problems with fuel spilling out of the fuel filler neck.

It’s more common in the early model years, but even newer trucks up to the 2021 model can still suffer from the same problems.

Here’s how a few Nissan Frontier owners described their experience:

“06 Nismo King Cab, gas has started coming out of filler neck when filling, even at moderate filling rate. Have to fill REAL slow, which is a pain. Have used different gas stations, so it’s not the pumps at the station.” 

 “I bought a 2019 Frontier last fall. With every single fill up since I bought it, it has overfilled.” 

“I have a ’17 Pro 4X and soon after I bought it I was having a similar problem in that the auto shut off of a gas pump would activate and shut off the pump numerous times long before the tank was full.” 

“My 2010 does this as well. Not only does the pump shut off, but it pukes fuel out of the filler neck as well. I have to fuel up very slowly, and keep the nozzle pulled out part way to keep it from happening. I bought the truck with 3100 miles on it and it has done it from the start.”

Nissan has a TSB that addresses this problem which affects pretty much every model they’ve released since the early 2000s.

Dealers will usually replace the EVAP system’s vent lines or the fuel tank, but the most common fix is to replace the vent control valve which usually costs around $50 at most parts stores.

6. Inaccurate Fuel Gauge

Early second generation Nissan Frontiers have a tendency to show incorrect gas tank readings.

This problem is more common on the 2005 to 2008 models, but can also affect other model years.

It’s also common on lots of other Nissan vehicles from the same era.

When the Pathfinder’s fuel gauge acts up, you’ll encounter issues such as:

  • Fuel gauge shows empty but tank has lots of gas
  • Tank is empty but gauge shows there’s more gas
  • Fuel level doesn’t change after filling up with gas
  • Check engine light

Here’s how a few owners described their experience:

“I have a 05′ 4X4 LE with 42k on it. I had the same issue. The problem started with my trip computer that would not display the DTE (Distance To Empty). Then the MIL light came on and the trouble code said emissions error?? I was still under my extended warranty so took it in and the dealer replaced the sending unit.”

“Just replaced my sensor last friday. ’05 @73k miles. Erratic DTE readings for a few weeks then check engine light came on and fuel gauge died.” 

“My truck had this problem as well. I have around 32,000 miles on it. I went to the gas station and filled the tank, and when i started the engine the gas guage still was on empty and the service engine light came on. The gauge stayed on empty for about 50 miles, then out of nowhere shot up to full.”

“2016 Pro4X Fuel Gauge/Sending Unit Issues. I first noticed that the fuel gauge on the dash would read 3/4 full after only about 20 km (12 miles) from being filled to full.” 

“I have a 2017 Nissan Frontier Pro4x and I have been complaining about the fuel gauge since purchase. Essentially, my fuel gauge is reading about 3-4 gallons off. When the needle is exactly at E (and the fuel light is on), I fill up 17 gallons. IF the needle is at half tank, it fills approximately 7.5-8 gallons or roughly 120 miles.”

The Frontier’s fuel gauge isn’t entirely accurate even if it’s working properly. If it shows that you have a quarter or half tank of fuel left, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have exactly a quarter or half tank of gas.

However, if your fuel gauge is not responding properly after you’ve just filled up with gas, you likely have a faulty fuel sending unit. This part of the fuel pump measures the amount of gas in the tank.

Replacing the fuel pump and fuel sending unit can cost around $500 at the dealer, but any experienced mechanic will be able to do it for a lower price.

7. Front Seat Problems

Many third generation Nissan Frontier owners have had issues with their front seat moving on its own after they get out of the truck and, in some cases, while they’re driving.

This problem only affects the 2022 and newer model years of the Nissan Frontier.

Most of the time, it’s just the seat back that changes position, but some owners also report that the seat height can also change. 

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on ClubFrontier.org:

“I have a 2022 Frontier Pro 4X. I continually find that the back of the driver seat has reclined back. So I must toggle it back forward upon starting out.”

“My 2022 pro 4x has this same issue. Now with mine it’s only been happening while I’m driving the back of the seat will recline and the seat height adjustment also lowers to its lowest position.” 

“My seat reclining was definitely from my leg dragging across the lever while exiting the truck. I paid very close attention to what I was doing getting in and out of the truck. I popped the lever off and it hasn’t done it again in 9,000 miles since.”

The problem usually occurs when drivers hit their legs on the power seat levers/buttons when getting out of the truck.

To remedy this, some owners have taken of the levers to the electronic controls or even unplugged the electrical connectors.

Some dealers have also installed on/off switches so that power to the seats can be cut off on demand.

8. Parking Brake Problems

Some late model second generation and early third generation Frontiers have had issues with their parking brake not working properly causing a rollaway risk.

This problem only affects the 2020 to 2022 model years of the Frontier.

Although reports of actual rollaway concerns are not very common, Nissan announced a recall for the aforementioned model years to eliminate the safety issues it presents.

Here’s how one owner on ClubFrontier.org described their experience:

“I have a 2020 Frontier. About 5-6 times in the past 2000 miles I have shifted into park and when I go to get out the truck it rolls away. It will roll maybe 10 feet before park finally engages.”

To eliminate the rollaway risks, Nissan redesigned the parking prowl and updated the software for the TCM (Transmission Control Module).

Both these fixes are part of the recall so dealers will do it free of charge even if you’re already out of warranty. 

9. Door Lock Issues

Several third generation Nissan Frontier owners have had issues with their doors locking on their own.

It’s usually only the driver’s side door that locks unexpectedly and the key fob can still unlock it when this happens.

In some cases where the key fob doesn’t unlock the driver door, owners have to get in using the other doors.

This problem only affects the 2022 and newer model years of the Nissan Frontier. 

Here’s how a few owners described their experience:

“I’ve had my truck for only a week and the driver’s door will randomly lock and I can’t get in using the fob. The only way to unlock the door’s door is from the inside or use the physical key to unlock the door from the outside. Only the driver’s side door locks on its own.” 

“I continue to have the issue of my ’22 locking whenever it feels like it, as well as the driver’s door getting caught between closed and open. Fortunately, the key has worked every time. I can add that one time, the front passenger door locked on its own and the only way I could open it was to go in through the driver’s side and open it from inside.”

“My Frontier has been in the shop 3 times for the locking problem alone. The regional technician looked at both problems (driver’s door locking by itself & seat back reclining). They made a band-aid fix for the seat problem, but keep telling me a new, redesigned lock part is ‘coming soon’ and still no fix.”

There’s no official fix for the door lock problem at the time of writing, but it’s likely that the door lock switch on the inside panel of the driver door is causing the locks to trigger on their own.

10. Electronic Shift Control Warning

The 9-speed transmission used in the late model second gen Frontier and the third generation model will sometimes display an error on the dash.

Owners report an exclamation mark with a gear surrounding it will suddenly light up on the dash.

This problem only affects the 2020 and newer model years of the Nissan Frontier.

The error will usually go away after restarting the truck and no other drivability problems have been reported.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience:

“I bought a new Nissan Frontier 2020 few months ago. It has about 1,200miles so far now. Today I saw the Electric shift control system warning light come one and then it turned into that engine warning light.”

“Just wanted to add, this came on for me this morning. A cog wheel with an exclamation point. 2020 SV Midnight, 4,755 miles. Pulled over, turned truck off then back on. It went away but still calling dealership.”

“2021 Frontier 6 months old. Electric shift control system warning light. Came on and stayed on until I shut off the truck.”

“22 SV had electrical issues during first month of getting it. Electric shift control warning, AT check light and engine light would come on when shifting from park. Sometimes the errors would stall it out completely.” 

Nissan released a TSB to address an issue where the “AT Check” light would sometimes light up.

The TSB recommends updating the TCM (Transmission Control Module) software, which will likely fix the transmission error that pops up on the dash.

In some cases, dealers also replaced the shifter to get rid of the transmission error.

11. Cracked Exhaust Manifold

First generation Nissan Frontiers equipped with the 3.3-liter V6 engine can suffer from cracked exhaust manifolds.

This issue is more common in the 1998 to 2002 model years, but can also affect newer models up to 2004.

Although it’s not unusual for manifolds to crack in any vehicle that’s around 20 years old, they did occur quite frequently early in the first gen Frontier’s lifespan.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Excessive exhaust noise
  • Rattling/knocking noise
  • Noticeable exhaust smell
  • Check engine light

Here’s how a few owners described their experience:

“I have the dreaded cracked manifolds on my 2003 frontier SC and am looking for a replacement. I have heard that OEM replacements from Nissan will just crack again.” 

“Mine was cracked all the way around and came off in two pieces, and about 4 other hairline cracks as well. Sounded like a diesel truck.”

The cheapest fix would be to just weld the manifold but this can easily break again after just a couple of months.

The best option would be a set of OEM manifolds, but if you don’t want to deal with the problem again and you don’t have strict emissions laws in your state, you can also just replace the manifolds with aftermarket headers.

12. Faulty Knock Sensor

Another common problem for the first generation Nissan Frontiers equipped with the V6 is a faulty knock sensor.

The knock sensor adjusts the timing to protect the engine from misfires or engine knock which usually leads to severe engine damage.

When the knock sensor goes, you’ll usually experience symptoms like:

  • Poor gas mileage
  • Rough running
  • Lack of power
  • Misfires
  • Check engine light

Here’s how one owner described their issues:

“I have a 2002 sc 4×4 fronty. automatic. Knock sensor is without a doubt bad, all signs that people are saying are 100 percent happening to me. Car is a dog on the highway. no power. service engine soon light is up, 88 thousand miles.”

A new knock sensor isn’t too expensive and can be installed by any experienced mechanic. 

However, it can still take a few hours to do, so most owners relocate it to the top of the engine to avoid expensive repairs in the future.

Related: Best & Worst Years For The Nissan Frontier? (With Facts & Statistics)

Nissan Frontier Pros & Cons


  • Good ride quality
  • Towing capacity 
  • Off-road capabilities
  • Reliable drivetrain
  • Value for money
  • Decent handling for a pickup truck


  • Rear seat space and comfort
  • Poor resale
  • Fuel economy

What Do The Reviews Say?

“The Frontier isn’t the quickest midsize truck. Our Frontier Pro-4X test truck accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, which is an average time for the class. But the engine really shines in day-to-day driving. There’s ample midrange grunt and the transmission doles out smooth shifts even under full-throttle acceleration.”

“The highlight here is the Frontier’s comfortable ride quality. Big dips and bumps are simply shrugged off at high speeds, and the Frontier remains similarly composed around town. Other aspects of the Frontier aren’t as polished. The front seat’s padding is a bit too firm and flat, and a lack of seat adjustments means you might find it hard to settle into an optimal seating position.”

“The Frontier has a standard 8-inch touchscreen or optional 9-inch touchscreen. Those are good sizes, and the displays are bright. Unfortunately, Nissan’s native menu interface is amateurish, oftentimes looking like an old website design instead of a modern interface.”

“The Frontier’s maximum payload stands at 1,610 pounds, and max trailering is 6,720 pounds. These figures are slightly below average for the class, but for real-world use they’re certainly enough to allow you to pull a small or midsize trailer without too much difficulty. Optional add-ons include adjustable tie-down cleats, a spray-in bedliner, under-rail lighting and a 120-volt power outlet.”

“The EPA estimates that a Frontier with four-wheel drive will get 19 mpg combined in city/highway driving, which is average for a 4WD midsize truck with a V6. We had no problem confirming that number on our real-world evaluation route, where our Frontier test truck returned 19.9 mpg.”

“While the Frontier lacks some of the trick off-road hardware of its competition, it does offer a better-built and higher-quality interior than many in the class.” 

2023 Nissan Frontier | Edmunds

What’s the Resale Value of a Nissan Frontier?

Here’s a quick look at the Nissan Frontier SV’s used pricing on Edmunds at the time of writing.


Related: Nissan Frontier Alarm Going Off? (11 Common Causes)


  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...