By John Goreham
The Nissan Pathfinder was an SUV favorite back when it was a rugged off-roader built on a ladder frame. That all changed in 2013 when the Pathfinder morphed into a crossover intended as an economical family vehicle. Both designs have their merits, and both can make good used vehicles. However, some years are much better than others based on our analysis of customer feedback on CarComplaints.com. Here are the good and bad years if you are shopping for a used Pathfinder.
Let’s start with the years to avoid. Back in 2005, the Pathfinder had a spike in customer complaints related mostly to coolant leaking into the transmission fluid. It was a new design year (you may slap your forehead with an open palm at this juncture in our narrative). Customers report that the average cost to deal with that little mixing of car liquids is a whopping $3,882. Given its depreciation, that repair will would effectively total a used 2005 Pathfinder. Most of the customers that suffered this problem replaced both the transmission and radiator.
Rachel J. from Linn Creek, MO,, bought her 2005 Pathfinder used and noticed the smell of coolant right away. A local Nissan dealer quoted her $7965.78 in repair cost. Even just the cost of the diagnosis was a shocker at $695.00. Rachel is now stuck, and she tells us, “I am currently trying to find a used transmission to put in the vehicle, which is difficult considering that all 2005 transmissions are most likely soaking in coolant. If I purchase a new one it will be more expensive than the price I paid, which I make monthly payments on!”
Peter C. from Louisville, KY, loved his first Pathfinder, but his second one, a 2005, gave him fits. Peter wrote back in March of this year, “Transmission started stuttering. Checked fluid, milky white. Took to trans shop. Charge was estimated at $4k. Car was only worth $4k.” Peter concluded his complaint with “DON"T BUY A USED PATHFINDER.” We won’t go that far, but the 2005 Pathfinder is to be avoided. Looking at our graph of problems by year we’d skip the 2006 and 2007 Pathfinders as well. The good news is that there are many great years with very low rates of complaints.
So what years might work out best when shopping for a used Pathfinder? The 2002-2004 Pathfinder is relatively complaint-free. The retro-cool ‘04 Nissan Pathfinder was the last year before the 2005 redesign. Our pals over at BestRide have these vintage ’04 models listed in the $3K-$8K range.
The Pathfinder also seems to have settled down from 2009-2012 model years, which are almost complaint-free. That range of years may be the sweet spot if you are looking for a newish body-on-frame SUV-style Pathfinder. Prices of the 2009 and newer Pathfinders worth considering start at around $9K and top out at over $20k for a low-mileage 2012.
The current-generation of Pathfinder is a roomy and comfortable crossover on the larger side of midsize. Able to seat seven passengers, and fully modernized, it is a competitor to the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The all-new 2013 Pathfinder was Nissan’s first year of the constantly variable (CVT) transmission in the Pathfinder. It was not well received, and there were recalls and TSBs for slipping CVTs and other problems. What most people disliked was the unfamiliar feel of the CVT. In modern Nissan and Infiniti models, the CVT is more refined and has a different feel. Be forewarned, though: If you drive a used Pathfinder and don’t like the transmission feel, you are not alone.
The CVT and Nissan’s 3.5-liter engine dramatically improved fuel economy in the Pathfinder compared to the old 4.0-liter and geared transmission. It was a night and day change, and for most, the new drivetrain is perfectly fine. Many of the current-generation Pathfinders for sale are still covered under the manufacturer’s drivetrain warranty, which ends at 60,000 miles, or five years whichever comes first.