1997 Nissan hardbody starts for a minute and dies

I just bought a 1997 Nissan frontier off a buddy. He said it died while driving. Thought it was the fuel pump but didn’t have time to mess with it. Its got a 4cylinder gas motor fuel injected. So I start it up and it will idle for 30-60 seconds and suddenly die. The idle is a little rough right at first but within a couple seconds smooths out to what I would consider normal. If I try to give it gas while idling it will rev up a little and die faster. This is what I have done so far. Made sure it actually has gas in the tank. Pulled on of the plugs made sure it had spark. The fuel filter is close to the fuel rail so I took the hose off the outlet side and attached one going into a gas can. The pump sends gas when the key is turned to the on position and stops after a few seconds. Just for kicks I removed the fuel pump relay and put a paper clip across it to keep the pump on. It runs and runs with the key on.I did this for a few minutes. Plenty of fuel flow. So I know it pumps. I hooked the fuel line back up with the fuel pump relay removed and pump running constantly. Truck starts and does the same thing. Dies after 30 to 60 seconds.
So I figured I would post here before I go out tomorrow and get a fuel pressure gauge. Pump seems to be working but the truck just dies like it ran outta gas. Other weird thing I tried a little starting fluid to see if I could keep it running or fire up quicker. It dies with the starting fluid. Every car ive ever shot that stuff into it revs up.
Thanks for the help

Hook up a code reader and tell us what the codes are. BTW, there is no 97 Nissan Frontier, it didn’t come out until MY 98. The 97 is usually called the Hardbody.

When my 97 Nissan Hardbody did this, it was the MAF sensor, but that doesn’t mean that is what is wrong with yours. We need the codes.


Keith’s right. Find out the correct model and find out the code. This isn’t going to be difficult. Your work with the paper clip probably eliminates a fuel problem.

I like keith’s thinking with the maf

If you want to try something . . . with the ignition off, unplug the maf

Now try to start the truck

If it starts and stays running normally, then the maf sensor may very well be defective. Don’t bother cleaning it, as this is not the kind of failure that is fixed with cleaning. If it seems to do okay without the maf, that’s because the pcm is now using default values

But I agree one of the first steps should be retrieving any codes, if there are any

it may be a wild idea, but do you have a red “lock” icon flashing on the dash by any chance? That might indicate that Nissan’s NATS does not like key transponder, I’ve read people complaint taht after a while of flashing it goes into “motror kill” mode

No red lock. Truck is a 1997. Ill give the maf unplug a try. If that doesn’t get me anywhere I’m going to rent a code reader at autozone tomorrow.

Does your truck even have a fuel pressure test port, or will you have to tee in?

2400 motor. I didn’t see a test port. I picked up a fuel pressure gauge at Oriely this evening. Its not hard to tee in by the fuel filter. Didn’t want to spend 65 on a scanner so ill rent or borrow one tomorrow

Maybe O’Reilly will read your codes?

Cant drive the truck. Otherwise I would have them read it.


get “OBD Auto Doctor” software: works for both Windows and Mac, free edition will get you a long way

any Android phone things like “Torque Lite” will also work

Good ideas above. Another thing to consider is that when you first start a cold engine, the computer increases the idle rpm to maybe 1200 instead of 800 for a warm engine, and enriches the fuel mixture a lot compared to a warm engine. Then in a minute or two as the coolant warms, the computer begins to drop the idle rpm and lean out the mixture. Since it stalls then, you may have too low of an idle rpm or too lean of a mixture to begin with. What is the idle rpm when you first start it? And what does it measure at the 30 second, 1 minute, 2 minute mark? If the idle rpm seems ok (1200 or more when you first start it) , then you may have something allowing extra air into the engine. Or what air is coming in, isn’t being measured correctly (that’s the maf problem above). If you are lucky, it might be something simple like a leak in the brake booster’s diaphragm. That would create a major vacuum leak into the intake manifold, and might cause this symptom.

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got it figured out. After multiple starts and stalls it finally threw up the check engine light. Code was cylinder 1 misfire. I went to pull that plug and the spark plug wire came apart. So I grabbed some wires and some plugs. Figuring I would replace them and still have an issue. Nope. New plugs and wires and it runs like a new truck. Cant keep a Nissan down!

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Good diagnoses there OP! Reminds me of a poor idle quality problem on my truck last summer, which I traced to one plug wire arc’ing plum-through the insulation to the engine metal. Re-routing the plug wires and wrapping that portion of the wire with some electrical tape fixed the problem straight away. I wouldn’t have guessed one cylinder misfiring would cause a Frontier to completely stall out. I suspect the other wires were marginal too.

Did you replace that ignition wire set later on . . . ? :confused:

I’m asking, because if you see a wire that has been arcing, the insulation is obviously shot, and the correct thing to do would be replace it

I’m thinking maybe you were on the road, and what you described was a temporary fix, just to get you back home . . . ?

No, not replaced. It’s performing fine now. But I do intend to replace the entire wire set when it get warmer.

This would have been my next step too. It’s possible that the pump is pressurizing the line to get the engine started, but is unable to maintain sufficient pressure. With the line open and no resistance to flow, it may seem to have good flow, but with the fuel system resistance it may be struggling. I admit, based on everything you’ve done this is a longshot.

Assuming these early engines had IAC valves/motors, that would be my next place to look (after checking for fault codes). This could be eliminated as a possibility by simply keeping the throttle opened a bit manually and seeing of it still stalls. If it does, the IAC can safely be eliminated as a possibility.

You could clamp off al unnecessary vacuum lines, like to the booster and to the EGR system (if yours uses a vacuum solenoid) and see if one of them being clamped off eliminates the symptom.

The ideas given are all good ones too.
Let us know how you make out. We do care.

Problem solved.

That’s truly good to see. I admittedly missed the solution post among the others. Mea Culpa.

I forgot to do a update. LOL. So a couple weeks after replacing the plugs and wires it started doing the same mess. Rough running, stalling, not wanting to start. Eventually it wouldn’t restart and I had no spark. I replaced the distributor as it has a built in ignition coil and that was the end of it. Been fine all summer long, aside from some old coolant hoses in absolutely damn near impossible places rotting and needing replaced.