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Manual or Automatic

Hey folks, i am looking to get into a mid-size SUV (probably Nissan Xterra) that would pull my small tent-trailer (around 2000 pounds), as well as my family of 5. would you suggest an Xterra with automatic or manual transmission…and why? Thanks.

The 5-speed should be fine for pulling this much weight…but the Automatic is better. The 5-speed in this vehicle is rated to tow 3500ls…the Automatic is rated at 5000lbs. The weakest link in the MT is the clutch.

Besides the auto being able to tow more…it’s a lot easier maneuvering (i.e. backing up into the camp site) with an automatic. Just make sure it comes with a tranny cooler. If not have one installed.

An automatic. My only suggestion is buy used but only a few years old. These cars are getting firesaled.

Nissan Xterra is a nice offroading vehicle but cruddy on road vehicle. Its a real old school design using a truck based chassis. Take it for a longer test drive and notice the ride.

An automatic will dampen the forces applied to the power-train by the trailer, not saying the 5-speed cannot handle the job,just thinking about the extra strain put on a vehicle wnen it is used to tow,(primaimly thinking of forces that end up pushing on the crankshaft)

oh yes…with the economy the way it is, i don’t plan on spending more than $10K, and one can find an 03 or 04 xterra with less than 50K miles for that price. so far automatic 3, manual 0. lets see what it looks like in 24 hours. Thanks for your suggestion andrew.

If you go with an automatic I would strongly suggest spending a few bucks on an external transmission fluid cooler and change the fluid roughly every 30k miles.

Transmission coolers are cheap (75 bucks give or take) and they’re worth their weight in gold. In the future if one goes to sell or trade the vehicle it can be put back like it was originally and the cooler can be removed and used on the next automatic transmission car you buy.

MT is always better to tow, if you know what you are doing. The autos are rated higher because rare is the tower that knows what he is doing and the auto is much safer for the rest of us.

It largely depends on your preference instead of ours. Personally, I prefer the manual because I hate the throttle lag magnified by the torque converter. Also, if and when gas goes up to $4/gal again, the manual eases the pain.

With either one, you’d be wise to do some modification. As stated in many posts already, an automatic would do well with an extra cooler. With a manual, you simply wear out the original clutch towing the trailer then throw in an aftermarket heavy duty clutch and flywheel.

Aside from manual/AT, are you sure your family of 5 will fit (with camping gear) in an Xterra? They aren’t very big inside!

That’s not strictly true. The torque converter also acts as a torque multiplier, which means that a truck equipped with an automatic can get heavier loads rolling better than even the most skilled driver of a manual. The reason why manuals have traditionally been preferred is that the older automatics used to be very prone to overheating and damage from towing, but they’re much better these days especially with the addition of a transmission cooler.

However, I’ll agree that with what the OP is talking about towing, it doesn’t really matter that much and it’s up to his personal preference. I also think some of the earlier Xterras had some automatic transmission troubles, so I might want a manual just based on that. Though, really, an older Xterra wouldn’t really be my first choice anyways.

The automatic is the better option with the Xterra. With the 5 speed manual the gearing is very short. at 75 MPH on the highway you’ll be turning 3500 RPM in top gear. The automatic has a much taller overdrive gear. The difference in fuel mileage is noticably better with the slushbox. Also the clutch in the Xterra/Frontier of that vintage is quite weak. Keep in mind the V6 used in the first-gen Xterras has a timing belt. The 4 cylinder has a timing chain, but it woefully overmatched in powering a two tonne vehicle around.

If you can swing it, get a 05-up Xterra. They are much better vehicles. VQ V6, 5 speed automatic, beefier frame, musch more robust four wheel drive system, bigger interior, etc.

I would go with the automatic because backing up a trailer can be difficult, and I would not want to have to ride the clutch in the friction zone while backing it up. I agree with the advice to get a transmission fluid cooler. Keeping your transmission fluid cool will prevent a lot of wear on your automatic transmission.

I would not want to fit a family of five into an Exterra. I would get a Honda Odyssey or a Toyota Sienna, both of which have 3,500 pounds of towing capacity.

When I bought my 4-runner 3 years ago I looked at the X-Terra. Since I owned a Pathfinder I thought I’d give the X-Terra a try. The difference in ride between the Pathfinder and X-Terra is almost night and day. My youngest was with me and he hated the ride in the back. Said he felt every bump. I do think the drive will be smoother when hauling.

The Nissan towing package includes the external tranny cooler. As andrew it’s a MUST have. If the one you buy doesn’t have it…then have it put in.

Also the clutch in the Xterra/Frontier of that vintage is quite weak. Keep in mind the V6 used in the first-gen Xterras has a timing belt.

And the newer engines 3.5 and 4.0 have a chain…but are still interference engines. So if you keep your vehicle 200k miles ore more…expect to change the chain because a slipped chain will destroy the engine just as easily as a broken timing belt. Changing the belt on the 3.0 and 3.3 engines is NOT a difficult job. The hardest job is removing the radiator. A decent back-yard mechainc can easily do this job in a afternoon. The chain on the 3.5 and 4.0 is much more involved. The oil pan will have to be dropped…which means a few cross members and several other parts need to be removed. This is NOT a job for the novice. If you have to take it to a mechanic…expect to pay 3-4 times what it costs to replace a timing belt.

MT is always better to tow, if you know what you are doing. The autos are rated higher because rare is the tower that knows what he is doing and the auto is much safer for the rest of us.

UM…NO…The MT’s clutch is the weak link. It will slip if you try to tow 5000lbs. The automatic can handle 5000lbs…the MT can NOT.

Does Nissan even mention changing the timing chain in their maintence protocols? I have never seen or heard of any company recommending changing a timing chain. I’ve always thought of them as generally outlasting the useful life of the rest of the vehicle.

No they don’t mention it…But then again there is NO maintenance schedule on ANY vehicle I’ve ever owned past 100k-150k mark. They all pretty much stop at 100k miles. Most people (last I heard something like 80%) don’t keep a vehicle past 100k miles. If you’re like most everyone else who only keeps their vehicles 100k miles or less…then this isn’t an issue. If you keep them like I do (well past 200k miles) then it’s an issue. In my situation where I keep my vehicles usually past the 300k mark…then a timing belt on a interference engine is the way to go. In the long run it’ll save me money.

The old 22R Toyota engines were in the same boat of having a timing chain and being an interference engine. The consensus among 'yota heads is that you don’t have to change the chain at a set interval because the chains stretch and slip instead of breaking and so you get bad noise and drivability issues (eventually to the point that the engine won’t run) long before the chain slips enough that there’s interference issues. A typical chain for one of those usually lasted 200k, but if the truck hadn’t been abused and had very regular oil changes, plenty of them last far past that even into the 300k range.

I don’t know how much of this applies to the Nissan engine, though.

Get an SUV with 3 rows if you must have an SUV. If your kids are/t large enough to be in each others way now, they soon will be. Consider the 3rd row an investment in your sanity. Explorer is the smallest Ford has and I believe that the Pilot started offering 3 rows.