Nissan Pathfinder 1996-2004 review
2003 Nissan Pathfinder (photo: Nissan Canada)
The Pathfinder is a mid-size truck-based SUV with a nicely finished interior, strong V6 engine ( from 2001) and an advanced 4WD system with shift-on-the-fly transfer case. The list of available features includes antilock brakes (ABS), navigation system, steering wheel audio controls, leather seats, compass and Bose audio system. Infinity QX4 is essentially the same truck with more luxury options. The Pathfinder is based on a rear-wheel drive truck-like platform but has no separate frame. It has a longitudinally-mounted engine, rack-and-pinion steering, McPherson struts in the front and solid axle with coil springs in the rear suspension. The interior is nicely finished with user-friendly controls and easy to read instruments. The split rear seat folds down for extra cargo room.
2003 Nissan Pathfinder
2003 Nissan Pathfinder
Engine: The 1996-2000 Pathfinder comes with the 3.3L 12-valve SOHC V6 with cast iron block and aluminum heads. It is a simple and fairly reliable engine, although with only 168 horsepower it feels somewhat underpowered. This engine has a timing belt that needs to be replaced at recommended intervals. Replacing a timing belt in a repair shop costs in the $350-$500 range. Starting from 2001, the Pathfinder received a better 3.5-liter 24-valve DOHC V6 engine (model VQ35DE). This is a pretty good engine and is widely used in many Nissan vehicles, including Maxima and Murano. This engine does not have a timing belt; a silent timing chain is used instead. Platinum spark plugs provide longer service intervals. If properly maintained, this engine could last for over 200,000 miles without major problems.
Pros: Styling, strong 3.5L engine (2001 +), handling, towing capacity, interior quality, comfortable ride, advanced 4WD system.
Cons: No rear disc brakes available, front suspension is not very strong, limited interior space.
Overall: Look for models from 2001 and up; they have a better 3.5L VQ-model engine. Overall, the Pathfinder is reliable, but repair and maintenance could be quite expensive at this age. Fuel economy is below average; the 2003 4WD Pathfinder is rated at 15/18 mpg. For comparison, the 2003 4WD Honda CR-V gets 19/24 mpg. If you don't need extra towing capacity, consider Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot as an alternative. We would not recommend buying a used Pathfinder that came from the area where salt is regularly used in winter months.
What to look for when buying a used Nissan Pathfinder: Check used car history records for previous accidents and other problems. Watch out for leaking front struts; if one of them is leaking, usually both will need to be replaced. There was a recall for excessive corrosion inside the front strut towers. Usually the left inner front fender rusts badly behind the strut in vehicles driven in the Rust Belt. Make sure to have this particular area thoroughly checked during a pre-purchase inspection. Avoid the truck if there is too much rust. Check front CV joint boots. If the spare tire is located under the trunk floor, check if the mechanism lowering the tire is still working. Check the parking brake operation; if not used regularly, the brake cable mechanism could be seized. Check the rear wiper operation; it's another trouble spot. Broken rear rubber bump stops located inside the rear springs are also common. During the test drive, watch out for noise from the suspension. If the "Service Engine Soon" light stays on after the engine is started, there is a problem. Read more what to look for when buying a used car. Have the truck inspected by a mechanic of your choice. It's also a good idea to verify with a local Nissan dealer if all recalls have been performed.
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Maintenance: Change engine oil regularly; by doing so you can prevent many problems and expensive repairs; a stretched timing chain is a common example.
Don't forget, there is also transmission fluid, rear and front differential oil and transfer case oil that need to be changed regularly. If your day running lights don't work, have the DRL module checked, it was a common problem. At least once a month check your tire pressure. The difference in pressure between tires will add stress on the 4WD system. Keep engine coolant and other fluids clean and topped up. Low coolant level can lead to overheating. If you live in the are where the salt use is common in winter months, check for corrosion inside the front strut towers, there was a recall for this problem. Check with your Nissan dealer or check for a recalls here: Safety Recalls - NHTSA. Use Nissan original parts even if you service your car at an independent garage. Rear drum brakes may need servicing and adjustment once in a while. To keep your truck safe, have it checked out in a garage at least once a year. With your truck lifted on the hoist, your mechanic will be able to check brakes, suspension and other components; these parts cannot be properly inspected by visual inspection at fast lube places.
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Where to check for recalls: Safety Recalls - NHTSA or Transport Canada - Road Safety Recalls
2001-2007 Toyota Highlander review »
2003-2008 Honda Pilot review »
2003-2007 Nissan Murano review »
2003 Nissan Pathfinder 3.5L AWD Specifications (as tested)
| Overall length:
|182.7 in (4,640 mm)
69.7 in (1,770 mm)
68.1 in (1,730 mm)
106.3 in (2,700 mm)
||5,000 lb (2,268 kg)
|3.5-liter V6 model VQ35DE
240 hp - with automatic transmission
250 hp - with manual transmission
246 @ 4400 RPM
|EPA Fuel Economy (US mpg, L/100 km):|
| 3.5L V6 Manual:
3.5L V6 Automatic:
| city: 15 mpg (15.7 L/100 km)
hwy: 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km)
city: 14 mpg (16.8 L/100 km)
hwy: 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km)
|Fuel Tank Capacity:
|| 21.1 US gallons (79 liters)
|Engine oil capacity:|
|Engine Oil with Filter:
|| 5.3 US qt. (5.0 liters)