Nissan sued over faulty radiators

Leak destroys car transmission

ORLANDO, Fla. - Nissan Motors is facing a lawsuit after hundreds of consumers complained about faulty radiators. The lawsuit, filed in New York, is seeking class-action status that would include Nissan owners in Florida.

"I always heard good things about Nissan and their customer satisfaction, but I'm not happy with them now," said Jim Gelardi, who lives in Florida.

He's not happy because the radiator on his Nissan Xterra ruptured, causing coolant to leak into transmission fluid. The mixture of fluids destroyed his transmission.

"The parts alone were $2,430," he said.

Local 6 reached out to transmission experts and discovered that the total cost for the repair runs from $3,500 to $8,000. That was a nasty surprise for Tony Coy and Nelly Padilla, whose Xterra had the same problem.

"They told us we would need a whole new radiator and a whole new transmission," Coy said. "And it would cost $8,000."

Hundreds of consumers have complained about the radiator ruptures to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Most of the transmission experts contacted for the story were not surprised. Mechanics from various shops told Local 6 that the problem is common among certain Nissan Xterras, Pathfinders, and Frontiers.

"Once you have coolant or water in a transmission, there's no flushing it out," said Tanner Bennett of All Transmission World. "The transmission is going to fail."

The water, he explained, will destroy the clutches.

"Once (the clutches) get contaminated with coolant, water, whatever, they come apart," he said.

Bennett said the valve body, which houses the transmission computer, is also destroyed because of the mix of fluids. The valve body, itself, costs $1,500.

"There are no after-market components, no rebuilt components," he said.

Local 6 contacted Nissan and was told the automaker acknowledged the problem in 2010 and sent notices to customers offering extended warranties. That was a surprise to Gelardi.

"I questioned them and asked them why I wasn't notified, and they told me they were updating their records," he said.

The following is a statement provided to Local 6 by Nissan North America:

"While the majority of vehicles will not experience this issue, Nissan voluntarily extended the New Vehicle Limited Warranty as it applies to the radiator assembly and its component parts from 36 months/36,000 miles to 96 months/80,000 miles, including damage, repairs, replacement, and related towing resulting from this issue. That took place in October 2010 to demonstrate our commitment to stand behind our products and our customers. Even beyond that, customers who had previously paid to have their radiator assembly or other affected components repaired or replaced prior to the warranty extension, were reimbursed through a customer reimbursement program."

Nissan insists that this action is not a safety recall and that there are no safety issues related to the radiator assembly.

The lawsuit filed against Nissan claims the company knew about the problem before 2010 and concealed it from consumers. It also accuses the Nissan of warranty fraud, and demands Nissan recall, repair or replace the SUVs affected. Nissan has denied the accusations. 

Owners of the vehicles affected are unlikely to notice the problem until it's too late, Bennett said. However, regular transmission servicing might help detect a leak and mix of fluids before the vehicle completely fails.

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