Advice about a troubled 96' Nissan Pathfinder

I love my Pathfinder! It has about 290k on it, and has been a champ since I bought it. However, it does have some issues and I think I need some guidance on how to proceed. First, some of the dash lights, namely the bulbs behind the fuel gauge and temp knobs, are burnt out and its my understanding there is no way to replace those.

That said, the real problem is that reverse all of a sudden stopped working yesterday. The transmission has been solid until now. There has been no slipping or anything like that. Yesterday, I parked while running a quick errand and upon my return a couple of minutes later, no reverse. I am not crazy, I know that my beloved truck isn’t going to run forever, but I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye. It is in very good condition otherwise, outside and in. The only potential other repair on the horizon is the timing belt in another 20k or so. Is this transmission issue something I should consider serious? I don’t have a ton of money, but I would think a repair would be much less than a new car in this instance?

If someone has some advice, I’d definitely appreciate it!

Is the transmission fluid at the correct level?

If so, my suggestion is to bring it to a good local transmission shop for a diagnosis. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and they’ll find something cheap. However, if you need a replacement transmission, I’d be hesitant about doing that with that age and mileage.

+1 to lion9car’s post.
don’t assume it’s beyond saving until you at least have it looked at. Post what the tranny shops says. We do care.

Re: the gage lights, I’m not familiar with that specific vehicle, but a lot of cars now use LEDs to light the gages. They last a very long time, but if they do burn out replacing them requires removing the instrument cluster, desoldering and removing the old LEDs, and soldering in new ones. Desoldering and soldering chips onto PC boards is not something the average mechanic is trained to do. It requires a different set of skills. It may, however, be possible to find a boneyard instrument cluster and swap it out.

If you noticed when you tried to pull away from a stop sign the engine would race but the car did’t move for a few seconds, or when you shift from neutral to drive it stays is neutral for a while before it decides to move, then I’d be more concerned that you need a transmission rebuild. Not going into reverse, you could just get lucky and it is something simple, even just a linkage problem. Agree with the comments above, take it to a transmission specialty shop for an assessment. Don’t know which shop to use? Ask your regular mechanic which is the best transmission shop in town. The one he’d take his own car to. Then tell the transmission shop owner who it was that recommended you to them.

I had a 98 Pathfinder. They are both 3rd generation Pathfinders. And you certainly can replace those bulbs. The front glass face comes off and then you have access to the instrument panel and lights.

I had the 5-speed manual. But I know the auto was a very solid tranny. Did you keep up with regular fluid changes? Find a good transmission shop to have it diagnosed. It could be something simple.

When we finally sold the pathfinder it had over 400k miles. And last I knew it was approaching 500k miles. So if you kept up with the maintenance as I did…then hopefully it’ll give you many more years of service. That 3.3l V6 is a very very very durable engine. Just make sure you do the timing belt. It is an interference engine. And it’s not very difficult to replace if you’re so inclined.

The first thing would be to check the transmission fluid level. The second thing would be check the manual linkage to make sure the manual valve is centered in the Reverse detent. You might try manual Low and see if you get engine braking or free wheeling. This is a test of the Low/Reverse brake (clutch pack). The third thing would be to run the truck by an independent transmission technician to read the pressure from the reverse tap.

This transmission does not use a Reverse band but a Reverse brake i.e. clutch pack. When the manual valve is switched to the Reverse position, oil pressure goes to the Low/Reverse brake piston, the Reverse input clutch piston, and an accumulator – pretty basic and simple. There is a passage ball that should switch postions in the valve body. If this were to hang up the presssure could bleed through the low passage causing massive slip. Also, there are two slip ring seals where the fluid pressure is transfered from the case to the input shaft.

What you might do after the transmission technician has checked the pressures is have him/her drop the pan, remove the valve body, air check the two apply pistons; service the valve body check ball, and gaskets, check the accumulator seals, reinstall the valve body with new gaskets, install a new filter, clean and install the pan, refill, and check the results. You might get lucky.

So if something is leaking or clutch pack slipping it looks like a transmission overhaul is in the offing.

Thank you so much for all of your advice. I have been out of town on business, but have now returned and reverse is working again out of nowhere. I am going to take all of your sage advice and take it to a transmission repair shop to have it looked at. I have kept the truck maintained quite well (fluid changes regularly, timing belts, brakes, tires…) so hopefully this isn’t going to be a “nail in the coffin” situation. I would really be heartbroken to part with this vehicle!