Towing Failure... CEL and Flashing 4WD... Wall of Text - Second Generation Nissan Xterra Forums (2005+)
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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 05:58 PM Thread Starter
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Towing Failure... CEL and Flashing 4WD... Wall of Text

Previous Xterra owner. Now a 2011 Pathfinder owner, but because the powertrain is essentially the same, I know this is the place to go for info as the Pathfinder sites are subpar.

2011 Pathy...56 K miles owned for about 9 months...zero issues...towed on flat land several times...no issues.

Trailer is a 18 foot wolf pup. 3000 lbs dry. 300 lbs packed. Truck has 200lbs of gear and 350 pounds of humans. Myself, wife and 2 kids.

360 mile trip to the mountains. Flatland was easy. Average speed 60 mph and getting over 12 mpg. Stayed out of OD the whole trip.

Got 5 miles from destination. 3000 ft elevation...super steep, switchback. Using manual bumping between 1st and 2nd gear. Temp gauge was normal, oil pressure normal, no warning lights.

Then I noticed that the gear was in 4 and wouldn't let me bump down although I could hear it downshifting. Still no warning lights, temp normal.

Suddenly, I round a steep hairpin and all goes to hell. Truck goes into limp mode. ZERO power. CEL on and 4WD flashing. Wtf? No ATF or transmission warning lights

Stuck on this blind hairpin...but I'll spare the rest.

Leave the truck and trailer. Come back an hour later. Have a good (great) Samaritan tow camper to campsite. Turn on truck. No flashing 4wd but still check engine light. I drive the truck to campsite. Zero problems. Engine smooth, shifting fine, no weird smells.

Get to site. Check ATF..level good, fluid doesn't smell burnt. Check coolant later when cool. Good. Stock ATF cooler was bypassed with additional ATF cooler installed by previous owner. Not sure why as the later models were out of the SMOD range.

CEL still on so I reset the ECU..(disconnected neg. battery terminal) to see if the CEL would stay on. Light has stayed off after the car driven around 10 miles. Will drive more tomorrow to see.

So...what the heck happened? My guess is the ATF overheated due to the steep road and very slow speed not allowing the cooler to keep up? But why no trans. light or ATF temp light?

I'm planning to change ATF when I get home and put in a high quality aftermarket radiator so I can use the internal ATF cooler. Maybe add an ATF temp gauge?

I'm at a loss.

Thanks in advance!
--Brock
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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 06:07 PM
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Overheated the tranny from the sound of it. As you noted there was no reason to bypass an '11. Isn't it a 5 minute job to plumb it correctly? A Bully Dog can be used to monitor tranny temps on a X, probably a Pathy too. If you use a smartphone a $20 bluetooth code scanner and the free Torque app would take the mystery out of the CEL.
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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 06:41 PM
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Probably overheated the transmission. I would suggest restoring the correct ATF plumbing and getting a code reader. When mine went into limp mode (long slog through sand on the beach when I was bypassed and didn't know any better) the ATF appearance and level was fine, though the truck did smell a bit hot.

A cheap code reader is good, even better would be a Scangauge. It has saved my butt on more than one road trip by being able to read / clear CEL codes on the fly, and now they also can show you real time ATF temperatures. I would guess it'd work on your Pathy since the ATF reading works well on '08+ Xterras but cannot guarantee it.

Last edited by outback97; 04-15-2019 at 06:47 PM.
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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 08:00 PM
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3rd - sounds like you overheated the transmission. Several here have reported the same under similar conditions.

Might want to consider adding a fan to the transmission cooler later to keep the temps down.

+1 for the temp monitoring solutions (there are other options too, just not as plug and play).


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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 08:01 PM
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I agree with the prior comments. It temporarily overheated the trans went into limp-mode( to prevent actual damage) and then once it cooled it was back to normal.

i had a very similar experience on one of my first trips off road.

certainly i would undo the rad bypass( assuming its the same as the X and fixed after 2010 ish).

I installed a analog trans temp sensor so i can monitor it and pull over before it overheats(06 bypassed-new rad going in this summer)
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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 08:34 PM
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^Agreed with all of these, it probably was able to stop you from destroying it in time but I'd get the trans cooler routing back how it's supposed to be asap. Liquid to liquid cooling is way more efficient than liquid to air


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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 09:00 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by General_Tarfun View Post
^Agreed with all of these, it Liquid to liquid cooling is way more efficient than liquid to air
This is exactly what I was thinking..

Also...THANK YOU all for your quick responses!

We're still in the mountains heading home on Wednesday. Will be taking the Pathy down the mountain to visit family tomorrow, Not towing, but this will be a test to see how things go.

Towing will take place on Wednesday. Planning an alternative route with less steep grades. Fingers crossed.

Going to order 10 quarts of Matic S on Amazon to have waiting for me when I get home.

Still considering the aftermarket radiator since I don't know why the previous owner bypassed. Chances are, it's fine, but I'd like to have peace of mind.

Any suggestions on the radiator?
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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 09:50 PM
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I’ve had a problem free 70k + miles on my koyorad a2807 replacement radiator.


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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-15-2019, 11:05 PM
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Likewise on the Koyo, it's probably the most popular aftermarket radiator choice around here. I think I have close to 50k on mine with no problems.


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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 04-16-2019, 02:31 AM
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I did the exact thing OP did except I didn't even have to be towing a trailer! Very long steep grade with heavily loaded Xterra at slow speeds with bypassed radiator. A member here did an incredible amount of detailed study on this and posted all his info, but the short version of it is if you don't have a fan forcing air through a cooler, or better yet have the radiator fan pulling air through the liquid to liquid cooler built into the rad then driving at slow speeds with a high load (towing, going up hill, etc) will raise trans fluid temps dramatically.

Even with trailer brakes, keep the speed down and use engine braking when coming back down out of the mountains on those steep grades with sharp turns or you will overheat your trucks brakes. Warped rotors and chunked brake pads....

BTW, isn't this site incredible OP? I've never seen so many gear heads with such a robust knowledge base on any other car/truck forum. A huge asset and one of the reasons we have kept our Xterra so long (221,000 miles). Also, so cool to hear about the stranger coming along and helping you get your trailer to the campground. Enjoy the time with your family!
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