Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Frontier, 1998 2004 used car reviews nissan
1998 Nissan Frontier King Cab. Click image to enlarge

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2001 Nissan Frontier SC Crew Cab, by Greg Wilson
2001 Nissan Frontier SC Crew Cab, by Grant Yoxon
2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, by Greg Wilson
1999 Nissan Frontier V6, by Greg Wilson

Manufacturer’s web site

Nissan Canada

By Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery:
Nissan Frontier, 1998-2004

The 1998 Nissan Frontier was the replacement for the venerable Hardbody pickup truck. In that sense, the Frontier had large shoes to fill, as the Hardbody had a reputation for being a durable little truck. In another sense, though, the Frontier was a lot more truck than the Hardbody was, offering far more refinement and comfort.

Initial Frontiers were available with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine making 143 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque; transmission choices were a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Two-wheel drive was standard, and four-wheel drive optional. Body-wise, the Frontier could be had in regular and King Cab (extended cab) versions.

For the 2000 model year, the regular cab was dropped, making the King Cab the base configuration. Those looking for more interior space could opt for a new Crew Cab version; those who wanted more power could choose a newly-available 3.3-litre V6 good for 170 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. This motor was standard in the Crew Cab body.

In 2001, The Frontier – or Fronty, as it’s commonly referred to in on-line communities – got more aggressive styling, and Crew Cab buyers could now get a supercharged V6 rated at 210 horsepower and 231 lb-ft of torque.

Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Frontier, 1998 2004 used car reviews nissan
2002 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SC Long Bed. Click image to enlarge

Fuel consumption in those early four-cylinder Frontiers was rated at 10.8 L/100 km (city) and 8.5 L/100 km (highway) with a manual transmission. Choosing the automatic transmission bumped consumption to 12.1/9.2, and the numbers for a 4×4 Frontier with manual transmission were 13.4/10.4.

Fuel consumption ratings for V6 models ranged from 14.4 to 15.6 L/100 km (city) and between 11.3 and 12 L/100 km (highway), depending on drivetrain choice. The supercharged V6 carried a slightly higher city consumption rating than the naturally-aspirated motor.

Verdict
Highs: Strong reliability
Lows: Not the bargain you might expect

The Frontier seems to have carried on the Hardbody’s tradition of strong reliability; Consumer Reports gives the first-generation Fronty a “better-than-average” used vehicle rating.

That said, there are a few issues to look out for.

Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Frontier, 1998 2004 used car reviews nissan
Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Frontier, 1998 2004 used car reviews nissan
2001 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SC (top); 2002 Nissan Frontier SE. Click image to enlarge

Bad engine knock sensors appear to be common; click here for a replacement how-to.

Consumer Reports notes minor issues with the four-cylinder engine, but I couldn’t find any specifics on-line. I did come across a couple different mentions of coolant leaks but there’s nothing to suggest this is an endemic problem with these trucks.

This thread might help those trying to track down annoying squeaks and rattles in their Frontier.

The Frontier didn’t perform spectacularly in crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 1998 model a marginal rating in frontal offset crashes; the 1998 Frontier earned three stars for driver protection and four for front passenger protection in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) frontal crash test. A 1999 model tested by the NHTSA earned four stars for front seat occupant protection in side impacts.

A 2001 Frontier Crew Cab fared far better; it earned four and five stars for driver and front passenger protection, respectively, in front impacts, and five stars front and rear for side impact protection, and this in a truck without any side airbags. Side impact airbags weren’t offered at all in first-generation Frontiers.

Price-wise, the Frontier isn’t the kind of bargain you might expect it to be, at least not when compared to Toyota’s similary-sized Tacoma.

Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Frontier, 1998 2004 used car reviews nissan
2001 Nissan Frontier XE. Click image to enlarge

Canadian Red Book values for the Frontier range from $2,775 for a 1998 base model, to $16,275 for a 2004 Frontier Crew Cab with the supercharged V6 engine. Surprisingly, the Tacoma is only worth a few hundred dollars more in most cases, according to Canadian Red Book.

For a simple workhorse truck – think hauling trash to the dump or hardware store runs – I like the look of a 2000 or 2001 King Cab 4×2 with the four-cylinder engine. Naturally, this isn’t a rig for towing (either of the V6 engines would be your choice for that) but with used values falling into the $3,000-$5,000 range, this would be an attractive vehicle for someone not concerned with power or butchy looks. The four-cylinder’s lower fuel consumption is attractive too, in a truck not destined for really heavy use.

The Frontier doesn’t offer much of a price advantage over the Tacoma, nor does it match the Toyota’s almost-perfect reliability. For image-conscious buyers, 4×4 Frontiers are among the coolest-looking little trucks from the past decade, though. If you’re simply in the market for a basic truck for odd jobs, I’d shop the Frontier against the Tacoma and choose the one whose price and specs best matches your needs.

Online resources

If you’re going on-line for Frontier information, start with ClubFrontier.org; it appears to be quite busy, and offers a section just for first-generation discussions. Honourable mentions go to TUNFS (aka, The Ultimate Nissan Frontier Site), which also provides a spot to talk about first-gen trucks; and NissanFrontier.org, which lumps first- and second-gen trucks into one section. There’s still a good amount of information on the older trucks, though.

Related stories on Autos
First Drives
  • 2005 Nissan Frontier, by Grant Yoxon
    Test Drives
  • 2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road, by Russell Purcell
  • 2002 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SC 4X4, by Greg Wilson
  • 2001 Nissan Frontier SC Crew Cab, by Greg Wilson
  • 2001 Nissan Frontier SC Crew Cab, by Grant Yoxon
  • 2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, by Greg Wilson
  • 1999 Nissan Frontier V6, by Greg Wilson

    Manufacturer’s Website
  • Nissan Canada

    Recalls

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998060; Units affected: 85

    1998: the rearmost position pin which secures the detent plate to the compression rod of the automatic transmission control device assembly may work out of its hole in the compression rod. This would allow the detent plate to rotate with respect to the compression rod. If this were to occur, the transmission selector lever could be inadvertently moved from the park position. Correction: vehicles will be inspected and automatic transmission control device assembly will be replaced if required.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998059; Units affected: 1,059
    1998: In certain types of frontal crashes, the front seat belt may slip between the seat bottom finisher and the seat back plastic recliner handle where it might be cut by the sharp edge of the metal portion of the recliner lever. If the seat belt is completely severed, it could increase the risk of injury to an occupant in a crash. Correction: the plastic recliner handle at the end of the seat back reclining lever for each front seat will be replaced with one of a different shape which prevents the seat belt from slipping between the handle and the seat.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004151; Units affected: 21,145
    1999-2003: On certain vehicles, the fuel pump terminal on the fuel sending unit can develop a crack. When exposed to heavy concentrations of road salt in the winter, if road salt enters the crack, the terminal strip will corrode and eventually could break due to corrosion. This will cause the fuel pump to stop operating and will result in not being able to start the engine or cause the engine to stop running without warning. Correction: Dealer will replace the fuel sender unit.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000217; Units affected: 1,840

    2000: On certain vehicles, the shift cable locking plate may break, allowing the driver to shift into the Park position but making it very difficult to shift from the Park position. The gear shift lever and the PRNDL indicator may move, but the transmission will not shift from the Park position. If the driver were over time to manipulate the gear shift lever out of Park, the gear indicated on the PRNDL display may differ from the gear actually engaged. Correction: Automatic transmission shift cable lock plate will be replaced.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999238; Units affected: ; 2,094
    2000: On certain vehicles, the plastic socket for the stop/tail light bulb in the rear combination lamps may not have been moulded properly resulting in loss of dimensional stability over time. This could cause a change in the dimensions of the socket lock tabs and could result in the bulb falling out of the socket when the rear hatch or tailgate is closed. Correction: Bulb sockets will be replaced.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002206; Units affected: 10,844
    2001-2003: On certain four-wheel drive vehicles, water may enter the rear axle housing due to inadequate sealing of the ABS sensor in the axle housing. This may result in corrosion and eventually failure of the wheel bearing. If this occurs, the wheel assembly could separate from the vehicle. Correction: Dealer will inspect the rear axle for water intrusion and replace any affected components. The ABS sensor will be resealed to prevent water intrusion.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002205; Units affected: 739

    2001: On certain vehicles, the fuel tank inlet shutter valve may not meet the sealing performance specification. Under certain conditions, fuel may spill from the filler inlet as the tank is being filled. Correction: Dealer will replace the fuel tank inlet shutter valve.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000213; Units affected: 363
    2001: Certain vehicles do not comply with Regulation 6 – Statement of Compliance. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) on the compliance label are expressed in pounds rather than kilograms as required by the regulation. Correction: Revised labels and installation instructions will be provided to owners of affected vehicles.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004280; Units affected: 738
    2002-2004: Certain Hidden Hitch brand accessory trailer hitches P/N 64-3528 installed by Nissan dealers on 2002 to 2004 Frontier vehicles. With continued use, load forces may cause a side bracket of the trailer hitch to fatigue and eventually break, possibly allowing the towed unit to separate from the towing vehicle. Correction: Dealers will replace all suspect Hidden Hitch brand hitches originally installed by Nissan dealers in Canada.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002204; Units affected: 770

    2002: On certain supercharged vehicles, the amount of intake air flow through the air flow meter may exceed the maximum preset diagnosis limit value which would cause the engine control system to go into the failsafe mode. Under this condition, the malfunction indicator lamp will illuminate and engine speed will not exceed 2400 rpm’s regardless of throttle position. Correction: Dealer will reprogram the electronic control module (ECM).

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002226; Units affected: 208
    2003: On certain XE models, the size of the spare tire wheel rim is incorrect. The wheel rim does not fit properly on the front hubs and will contact the brake caliper. Continued usage of the spare tire wheel on a front hub can also result in loosening of the lug nuts and an increase in brake fluid temperature. This may eventually cause the wheel to separate from the vehicle and/or deterioration in braking performance. Correction: Dealers will replace the wheel rim and re-install the spare tire.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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