The reliability story of the Nissan Frontier is one of those good news, bad news tales. It has a series of ups and downs in terms of complaints and recalls, and, frankly, it’s one of the oldest trucks on the market. So, as we head into a next-gen truck, anticipated for 2021, now is a pretty good time to ask if it’s reliable.
The last major redesign for Frontier occurred in the 2005 model year, and the largest number of complaints about the truck occurred in that year. It experienced a bit of a peak in 2013-2014 before it started to decline.
So, looking at CarComplaints.com, Consumer Reports and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration recalls, we try to get a better idea of what’s going on with Nissan Frontier reliability.
The single biggest complaint for 2005 to 2007 on the Nissan Frontier includes the transmission. According to CarComplaints.com, the culprit is a ruptured radiator that leaks coolant into the transmission and kills it.
Consumer Reports also lists this as a “minor” issue for these model years, along with a few other minor and major issues, giving this span of trucks the lowest possible predicted reliability ratings.
Curiously, however, NHTSA has not issued any kind of a recall on the transmission – though it did launch an investigation in 2012. Why? Well, it acknowledges there is a problem, but Nissan extended the warranty from 3 years/36,00 to 8 years/80,000 miles, and at the time of the ruling, the truck was still under warranty.
So, long story short, if you’re looking at the 2005 to 2007 model year, verify the warranty work was completed before buying the truck.
By all accounts, if you’re buying a used Nissan Frontier, you should probably look at the 2013 to 2014 model years. These are the only two years Consumer Reports gives it top marks in terms of reliability ratings, and CarComplaints.com logs minimal complaints for those years – and it’s 7 to 8 years after the fact.
Sure, 2017 to 2019 log even more minimal complaints, but those trucks are also still relatively new.
The bigger thing to note: Those two model years only incurred two recalls. One, for 2014, involved a rear seatbelt weld nut that could become detached, but that only covered 1,319 trucks. The more prominent recall for 2013 and 2014 involves the circuit breaker which could cause a short and result in a fire. This recall affects 13,535 vehicles from 2012 to 2014.
From 2008 to 2015, Consumer Reports is fairly kind in terms of predicted reliability, as those years either get 4/5 or 5/5 on the score card. But the more recent years don’t score as well, and a lot of that has to do with quality issues – not to mention the fact owner satisfaction tanks.
Our theory? This truck is old. When you look at other newer trucks in the midsize truck segment, the Frontier hasn’t fared well. What was pretty great in 2005 is quaint in 2020.
I mean, why else would the 2019 Honda Ridgeline be the only truck Consumer Reports recommends in this segment?
The other thing to keep in mind, Consumer Reports operates off of subscriber input, and you have no idea how many people who subscribe are owners. It could be 1, it could be 1,001.
Overall, the Nissan Frontier looks fine from a reliability standpoint – as long as you steer clear of the 2005 – 2007 model years. The 2012 model year gets a bit of a bump for paint complaints and only 2011 and 2015 have no recalls.
As with any used car purchase, you have to take all reliability ratings with a grain of salt. There will always be lemons. And if there are issues – as long as they were fixed and don’t persist into current model years, we don’t see that as a deal breaker.
Just make sure you get a CarFax report for any used vehicle you plan to buy and take it to an independent mechanic for a quick check-up before you sign on the dotted line.
Speaking from my own ownership experience I have found my 2018 Frontier to be quite reliable. There is something to be said for simplicity in a truck. It’s nice knowing that not everything is computerized on the truck and you can do much of the basic maintenance yourself. With the Frontier having so many less features than competitors, it has much less that can be unreliable. The 4.0 V6 and 5 speed auto combination have developed a great reputation for reliability in the later model years. Reliability was a major factor in my purchasing decision as the truck I was replacing (a 2006 Chevy Colorado) was plagued with many reliability issues.
I’m not really surprised that Consumer Reports owner satisfaction tanks in the later model years. The Frontier simply lacks many of the features customers have come to expect in modern mid size trucks. And just overall fit and finish is not good but in 2005 I’m sure it was on par with the class.