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Clifton B.
Clifton B., ASE Master Auto Tech
Category: Nissan
Satisfied Customers: 3905
Experience:  ASE Master Certified Tech, Nissan Master Certified Tech, 12 yrs. experience in auto repair.
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Nissan XTerra: I have a 2002 Nissan XTerra. I'm seeing VERY

Customer Question

I have a 2002 Nissan XTerra. I'm seeing VERY bizzare, complex behavior.
Most of the time I'm driving it it drives and idles fine. But periodically (Say, every 5 to 10 minutes), while idling it just shuts off. If I feel the stall is about to happen I can rev to keep it alive, but while revving it runs VERY rough, chugs (no pops), and spits black smoke out of the exhaust. USUALLY once I get the revving up to 2500-3000 rpm it "catches" and starts smoothing out and running smooth. I've never had it start running rough while the car is moving, but it has stalled when I was cruising with my foot off the gas, and I had to tap it into neutral and re-start the motor. Very rarely, it seems to continue to run rough (feels almost like a miss) even though the rev cycle. Usually after 5 to 10 seconds of this it wakes back up and is fine.
Most of the time when it cuts off, I can start it right back and it runs fine, but sometimes I start it back up, and it does the rough-running, and won't hold an idle.
When it is running fine the at-temp idle is about 600RPM. Sometimes it'll shutter and fall down to around 400 and then recover. Sometimes it doesn't recover and unless I goose the accelerator, it will die.
There is no SES/CEL light on. that only comes on when the motor dies and the car is still in the "ON" position. But as soon as it starts back the light goes back off (as expected.) I still hooked a scan-tool up to the car, and it reported no diagnostic issues.
I hunted for a vacuum leak using the old fashioned "spray brake cleaner" method...noticed nothing. I don't think vacuum is indicated, since the car runs fine most of the time.
My initial gut was to just crank the idle up a couple hundred RPM (as this seems to only start happening once I let the car return to idle.) but the fact that MOST of the time it holds the 600RPM idle just fine, and the fact that it sometimes exhibits the problem outside the idle range made me finally think adjusting the idle up wouldn't fix anything, so I opted not to do that.
I have visually inspected the MAF sensor and the leads on it look light-grey and clean. No black, no fur. I also visually inspected the cap and rotor button, and all the pickups and the rotor itself looked very clean.
I've had the car over 2 years. I *BELIEVE* that the previous owner said he had a tuneup done recently, but cannot swear it. The plug wires look fairly new, but who knows, right?
This behaivor started yesterday morning. Before this the car ran like a top.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Nissan
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
hi ,base on your symptoms this is a problem with the distributor unit. seen this allot when we use to see this year car at the dealer, what happen is the cam sensor is going bad but the sensor is built inside the distributor and they do not sale just the sensor so you will have to replace the distributor with cam sensor as a unit . this should fix your problem . the sensor most of the time do not set a code but if you run the car with the Nissan consult 2 connect to it the tool will pick up the problem and a cam sensor code will be set then, so just replace the distributor .if you have anymore questions please ask and please rate the service before you go thanks.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Is there a way to diagnose the cam-sensor/distributor at home? I've replaced distributors on older American V8 cars before and have the instructions to do this distributor and have no fear on it. But before I invest in a new unit I'd love to diagnose. If the only way to diagnose is at a Nissan Dealership I will, but obviously they won't do that for free :)Thanks so much for the info. I feel this is a great lead you've given me.
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
there is no way to do it at this point without the nissaan consult 2
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
nissan will charge you about $120 to do this but i am pretty sure the problem is the distributor
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
if you have any more questions please ask and PLEASE rate the service before you go thanks.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I have not rated because I don't have the new distributor yet. While I appreciate your expert opinion, I don't feel right marking the answer as correct until I have confirmation that the cam-sensor is the issue. If this is not "how JustAnswer is supposed to work." Please let me know. I promise I have not forgotten this, and am just waiting for the shipment from Rock Auto.Thanks. Again if I'm not understanding how JustAnswer is supposed to work, let me know This is my fist time using it.
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
it is fine for you to wait till you get the parts and fix the car to rate just remember the distributor is timed and if and install correctly the car will not start
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Yep I have a timing light and plan to mark everything to help the disty be mostly timed right after drop-in. I've installed distributors in American V8 cars before and the process looks very similar for the 3.3. Thanks again Clifton. Hoping to have the new part on Tuesday.
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
no prob
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Well. Replaced the distributor. Set the timing per instructions cribbed from a service manual. Car drove great, and I think was probably timed poorly before because it runs smoother and faster now than before.As I drove on a main road, the car drove cleanly, lots of red-light stops, and no problemsHOWEVER, after about 3 miles I had it up to 50 or so, and as I decelerated to a red-light, the idle dipped from it's usual 600-800 down to 400. I continued braking into the stop and the car died. I restarted and the car started but ran rough, chugged, puffed black smoke, etc, as before(again, felt like a miss more than anything). I revved it up and once it got passed the chugging and got revving, I let it go back to idle, put it in gear, and drove on my way. After I got home I sat in the driveway and just let it idle. It was fine, and then out of nowhere it died again.Total drive was probably 5 miles (it was all at temperature because I drove it after setting the timing)Not sure where to go now. The car *SEEMS* better, but it's still experiencing the main symptom, just (at least on this drive) less often. I'm still thinking it's a spark issue, so I'm considering replacing all plugs and wires (Has a new cap and rotor that came with the new distributor) and maybe the coil, but I feel like I'm just shoveling parts at it and hoping I get a hit.OH one more point. I now have an SES light. I hooked my scanner up to it but apparently my scanner (SCT mustang reprogrammer) will not read from non-ford cars. Kinda weird as I thought OBDC-II was standard, but this is also the first time I tried this tool on a non-ford car. I will get the code scanned tomorrow.If you'll agree to keep helping me, I'll go ahead and give you a good rating, as you've spent so much time on this, but I do want to solve this problem, and at this point feel I'm down 115 dollars for the distributor and haven't made too much progress.
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
ok scan the car and let me know what codes you get
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Welp. The code was P0328, Knock sensor, which I think I probably triggered the first time I drove the car around the neighborhood...I had the timing totally wrong. I cleared the codes and have driven the car around a ton. No more SES light. But. car still cuts off. Randomly. Just cause it wants to (BUT ONLY ever at idle).I'm not sure what to do anymore. I don't even know where to start looking. Apparently throwing a distributor at it was pointless.
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
if the ses light was on there have to be more then just a knock sensor code as this code will not set the light on
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Well I've driven the car 100 miles. Problem continues. No SES light. Do you have any other thoughts, or are we at the dead end?
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
did you put a timing light on the car to check the timing ??
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Yeah, after the first drive I set it to 11 BDC. Spec seemed to be from 8 to 12.
Expert:  Clifton B. replied 2 years ago.
at this time i will have to opt out and see if someone else have a better answer for you i have nothing more without seeing the car