Reader Question: Nissan Frontiers?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Bryan asks: I’m thinking of buying a 2020 Nissan Frontier manual, 4-cylinder. I believe you have two, yes? Have they been reliable little trucks, please? I think the 2020 is last year before they go to a new model, so wish to stick w/ old tech / manual if I can. Just wanted your opinion please and history of reliability regarding your two trucks?

My reply: I have owned two of the previous generation (1998-2004) Frontiers. I still have my ’02 (2WD, four cylinder/manual transmission). Both trucks have been exceptional – with one exception.

Well, two.

My ’98 rusted out – radiator support, bed; some frame rot. In its defense, I was not its first owner and I am fairly sure it was used as a plow truck in a snow state before I got it. Even so, it was still running great when I sold it back in 2015 with 178,000 miles on it. The only trouble it ever gave me was  . . .  rust-related. A fuel pump line rusted out that was part of the fuel pump “assembly” (mounted on top of the tank, underneath the bed). This “assembly” includes the fuel pump and sender unit for the gas gauge. Nissan wanted (IIRC) $500 for the “assembly.” I found a good used one for $50.

The other exception was gas mileage – which was terrible.

And still is.

My ’02 – a compact truck with a small four cylinder engine and manual transmission (and 2WD) averages bout 23 MPG. This is about what you’d get out of a half-ton truck with a V8.

But this is more than made up for by the truck’s almost maintenance-free nature. The four cylinder hasn’t got a timing belt and shouldn’t need anything more than the usual basic things (oil and filter, belts, plugs and wires every 100k or so).

This one – my ’02 – has also not rusted out. I think if you avoid using it as a snow plow and bathing it in road salt during winters, it’ll last 25-30 years or even longer. Mine is almost 20 now and runs and looks like a 4-5 year-old truck.

I can’t give you anything as detailed about the current Frontier – which is a larger (mid-sized) truck except that  it’s an older design and so lacks a lot of the crap that you and I and other weirdos dislike and seek to avoid. I think, also, the four in the current model is pretty much the same four as the one in my Frontier.

If so, it has the same admirable attributes… except, of course, for its appetite!

. . .

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  1. On a second note, in the updated frontier/xterra drive train you can get a safe 21-23 mpg on highway driving if you keep it under 2k rpms and get a bonus 1.5+ mpg if you drive with the AC off. Some guys have reported even getting 25 mpg on long trips driving the speed limit.

  2. Buy it! VQ40’s are very durable and at least have known issues that can be easily fixed.
    I believe 2011 onward they corrected the SMOD/transmission coolant leak defect and have upgraded the timing chain guides to last longer than 80k. I put 150k on my wife’s before anything other than oil/tires had to be changed. It was the camshaft position sensor and it took 1 hour to pop out old and put in new one. The VQ40’s have a slight tendency to clog their CATS after a while but to lengthen that time frame you can cut off the secondary cats and sell for scrap and a muffler guy can put in straight pipe. IT is a bland truck but if you aren’t into fancy gadgets and crap then it is the truck for you. Plus the price isn’t jacked up like for TRD Tacomas that have a bunch of issues or expensive Rangers/Colorados.


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