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Discussion Starter #1
2002 VG33E, 2WD, Automatic, 210K miles

Car began to loose gas mileage performance about a month ago and was as low at 80% of normal. It stalled once about a month ago while driving and then restarted without any issue.

2 days ago, while driving, the car suddenly started running VERY poorly and could barely be started when it stalled. Upon getting it to my garage to look at it (just a few miles), it stalled and has not started since then. It does not even sputter and I first guessed a fuel issue, though that has not (apparently) ended up being the case.

This is what I have checked:
Fuel: 1/4 tank, drained 1/2 gallon and let it settle and found no contaminants
Fuel pressure: 40 psi and good delivery verified by disconnecting fuel injector rail and inserting pressure gauge since there is no direct tap point on the fuel rail.
Ignition: pulled plug wires on two cylinders and verified spark with sparkplug
Distributor cap: good condition
Distributor Rotor: good condition and turns with engine as expected
Fuel Injectors: verified 12V source and operation of current sink on grounding lead. I can also hear clicking with stethoscope as expected
MAF: clean and registers with scan tool
Throttle sensor: registers with scan tool correctly
Scan Tool: Knock Sensor (this has been there for a long time and I was going to add a remote knock sensor to resolve)
Compression: tested the 4 easy cylinders and get a band of 180-190 psi. did not test other two yet.
Crankshaft position sensor: Replaced as part of the troubleshooting, but no change
Starter: turns over just fine and battery is strong
Sound: Turns over like it is out of fuel, no knocking or other adverse sounds
Oil: recently changed, no water
Antifreeze: clean, no oil

I believe timing belt is only 30K miles old, but trying to verify that.
Starting Fluid or Propane in air intake will cause the engine to spring to life, so it really acts like a fuel problem.
Directly firing a single fuel injector while turning the engine over will cause the engine to sputter like it is trying to catch on that cylinder, but my timing it poor and 1/6 cylinders will never be any more than a sputter. I did this to see if I could make fuel delivery work (verify at least one injector was not plugged), as well as get a sense for if the engine would fire at all

I have a lot of questions and don't know if any of these are on the right path:
Is there a way to check for camshaft and crankshaft synchronization w/o taking the front of the engine apart to verify the timing belt has not jumped?
What fires the fuel injectors? Is is possible that they are not getting enough current to open properly? Where is the ECM that controls this function located?
Could this be an issue with the camshaft position sensor in the Distributor?

History: This car had some jerk with a knife cut-up various parts of the wiring harness last year. All issues were remedied (personally) and it has been performing well until this issue. I went over the car again expecting to find other issues, but nothing is obvious. That is also why I looked for contaminants in the fuel.

After spending the better part of the day with it, I am totally baffled ... this car should start, but it just refuses to do so.

At this point, I am guessing:
1. Timing Belt slipped
2. Distributor issues
3. Functional issue with driver for Fuel Injectors (ECM???)
4. Some floating ground causing gremlins

Any ideas for what to try next? If I cannot get this running, it will be off to the Xterra Graveyard (a depressing thought) :-(

Wm Gman
 

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I have a very similar situation going on right now with my 2003 X. Reading on other forums I am leaning towards the distributor. I will follow this thread and update with anything I discover.
 

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you guys check your fuel sending unit? 1st gens had a recall on these and would cause this exact problem check the sending unit connections for corrosion and see if yours is in the recall and if it is have it done since its free and will likely fix your issues.
 

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I have a very similar situation going on right now with my 2003 X. Reading on other forums I am leaning towards the distributor. I will follow this thread and update with anything I discover.
to check the distributor take cap and rotor off (might mark where rotor was in case) and then you should see a small palstic door with 2 screws holding it down, pop that open and take a peak at the bearing, is there tons of powdery dust, bearing shards etc? thats what usually kills these distributors is bearing eating itself. but check your sending unit and fuel filter to, yes 1st gens still have a chnageable fuel filter its near the tank should be driver side on frame cross rail forward of tank held down by a u shaped calmp with 2 bolts, follow lines from tank right to it, gets over looked alot
 

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Discussion Starter #5
UPDATE:

Tested fuel in small pressure washer engine and it started and ran fine - I did this on day one, but forgot to mention above
Inserted fuel pressure gauge into the circuit instead of just testing the pressure from the pump and only got 25 psi
Injected pressure into the system and verified fuel pressure regulator was working properly with and without vacuum
Replaced fuel pump
STILL NO START, BUT car now sputters/backfires and TRIES to start - this is an improvement
Owner indicated that no record of timing belt change in last 100+ K miles was found (jumped time?)
Removed components and accessed timing belt but found in near perfect condition and timed perfectly - put it back together
Repaired a wire that may have been faulty on the Crank Position Sensor - no change

3 days into this and I am at my wits-end and beginning to think I know nothing about cars after a lifetime of working on them.

I did not find any ground problems and my testing left me to believe the ECM and Distributor were good. I spoke with the owner and indicated that I am just guessing now ... "do you want to replace the distributor even though I don't know it will fix the issue? By all indications, this car should just start." I asked again for the rundown on exactly what happened. That is when I found out that the car was a hard start in the morning and had a little bit of fuel added and then started running bad within 1/10 mile!!! Remember it had under 1/4 tank when it arrived, so the hard start could have been low fuel. At any rate, I now had a smoking gun and it led me back where I started.

Opened the fuel system, injected my own good gas and had it running in about 15 minutes (after belching and sputtering for a bit). It was fuel all along (though the fuel pump was underperforming). Tested for E85 and looked for other contaminants again.

Owner got back to me indicating that the fuel added was DIESEL ... I am beside myself. Please provide all information to the person working on your car as anything can be critical.

This is a first for me where JUST ENOUGH diesel was added to make the car NOT run, BUT the mixture would run a small engine fine, AND it was virtually undetectable on the first pass. My first line of attack was fuel, but my testing indicated that was not the problem as I missed the small quantity of diesel. 4 days ...

FINAL:
Drained 5 gallons of diesel-tainted gasoline and replaced with 8 gallons of PREMIUM.
Completed knock-sensor relocation
Instructed owner to run a couple tanks of PREMIUM gas through and let me know if there are other issues or codes that persist.

LESSONS for me:
It is possible to have "just enough" diesel added to the gasoline to make it virtually undetectable and still run in a regular carbureted engine, so don't rule out what your experience is telling you is true. Spend the extra time and inject your own gasoline to complete the test.

Requests for others:
PLEASE pass along all details (no matter how mundane) when requesting help
PLEASE don't just add a little fuel to your gas tank, just fill it up
PLEASE know what fuel your vehicle takes and don't pump anything else into it

THANK YOU kms1990 for your input. This one really had me puzzled.
 

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UPDATE:

Tested fuel in small pressure washer engine and it started and ran fine - I did this on day one, but forgot to mention above
Inserted fuel pressure gauge into the circuit instead of just testing the pressure from the pump and only got 25 psi
Injected pressure into the system and verified fuel pressure regulator was working properly with and without vacuum
Replaced fuel pump
STILL NO START, BUT car now sputters/backfires and TRIES to start - this is an improvement
Owner indicated that no record of timing belt change in last 100+ K miles was found (jumped time?)
Removed components and accessed timing belt but found in near perfect condition and timed perfectly - put it back together
Repaired a wire that may have been faulty on the Crank Position Sensor - no change

3 days into this and I am at my wits-end and beginning to think I know nothing about cars after a lifetime of working on them.

I did not find any ground problems and my testing left me to believe the ECM and Distributor were good. I spoke with the owner and indicated that I am just guessing now ... "do you want to replace the distributor even though I don't know it will fix the issue? By all indications, this car should just start." I asked again for the rundown on exactly what happened. That is when I found out that the car was a hard start in the morning and had a little bit of fuel added and then started running bad within 1/10 mile!!! Remember it had under 1/4 tank when it arrived, so the hard start could have been low fuel. At any rate, I now had a smoking gun and it led me back where I started.

Opened the fuel system, injected my own good gas and had it running in about 15 minutes (after belching and sputtering for a bit). It was fuel all along (though the fuel pump was underperforming). Tested for E85 and looked for other contaminants again.

Owner got back to me indicating that the fuel added was DIESEL ... I am beside myself. Please provide all information to the person working on your car as anything can be critical.

This is a first for me where JUST ENOUGH diesel was added to make the car NOT run, BUT the mixture would run a small engine fine, AND it was virtually undetectable on the first pass. My first line of attack was fuel, but my testing indicated that was not the problem as I missed the small quantity of diesel. 4 days ...

FINAL:
Drained 5 gallons of diesel-tainted gasoline and replaced with 8 gallons of PREMIUM.
Completed knock-sensor relocation
Instructed owner to run a couple tanks of PREMIUM gas through and let me know if there are other issues or codes that persist.

LESSONS for me:
It is possible to have "just enough" diesel added to the gasoline to make it virtually undetectable and still run in a regular carbureted engine, so don't rule out what your experience is telling you is true. Spend the extra time and inject your own gasoline to complete the test.

Requests for others:
PLEASE pass along all details (no matter how mundane) when requesting help
PLEASE don't just add a little fuel to your gas tank, just fill it up
PLEASE know what fuel your vehicle takes and don't pump anything else into it

THANK YOU kms1990 for your input. This one really had me puzzled.
UPDATE:

Tested fuel in small pressure washer engine and it started and ran fine - I did this on day one, but forgot to mention above
Inserted fuel pressure gauge into the circuit instead of just testing the pressure from the pump and only got 25 psi
Injected pressure into the system and verified fuel pressure regulator was working properly with and without vacuum
Replaced fuel pump
STILL NO START, BUT car now sputters/backfires and TRIES to start - this is an improvement
Owner indicated that no record of timing belt change in last 100+ K miles was found (jumped time?)
Removed components and accessed timing belt but found in near perfect condition and timed perfectly - put it back together
Repaired a wire that may have been faulty on the Crank Position Sensor - no change

3 days into this and I am at my wits-end and beginning to think I know nothing about cars after a lifetime of working on them.

I did not find any ground problems and my testing left me to believe the ECM and Distributor were good. I spoke with the owner and indicated that I am just guessing now ... "do you want to replace the distributor even though I don't know it will fix the issue? By all indications, this car should just start." I asked again for the rundown on exactly what happened. That is when I found out that the car was a hard start in the morning and had a little bit of fuel added and then started running bad within 1/10 mile!!! Remember it had under 1/4 tank when it arrived, so the hard start could have been low fuel. At any rate, I now had a smoking gun and it led me back where I started.

Opened the fuel system, injected my own good gas and had it running in about 15 minutes (after belching and sputtering for a bit). It was fuel all along (though the fuel pump was underperforming). Tested for E85 and looked for other contaminants again.

Owner got back to me indicating that the fuel added was DIESEL ... I am beside myself. Please provide all information to the person working on your car as anything can be critical.

This is a first for me where JUST ENOUGH diesel was added to make the car NOT run, BUT the mixture would run a small engine fine, AND it was virtually undetectable on the first pass. My first line of attack was fuel, but my testing indicated that was not the problem as I missed the small quantity of diesel. 4 days ...

FINAL:
Drained 5 gallons of diesel-tainted gasoline and replaced with 8 gallons of PREMIUM.
Completed knock-sensor relocation
Instructed owner to run a couple tanks of PREMIUM gas through and let me know if there are other issues or codes that persist.

LESSONS for me:
It is possible to have "just enough" diesel added to the gasoline to make it virtually undetectable and still run in a regular carbureted engine, so don't rule out what your experience is telling you is true. Spend the extra time and inject your own gasoline to complete the test.

Requests for others:
PLEASE pass along all details (no matter how mundane) when requesting help
PLEASE don't just add a little fuel to your gas tank, just fill it up
PLEASE know what fuel your vehicle takes and don't pump anything else into it

THANK YOU kms1990 for your input. This one really had me puzzled.
yeah, thats same in the IT world, were I work, car enthusiast weekend mechanic but IT pro and users never give us the full details either
 

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That's because people never want to admit the stupid crap that they've done. In the end it costs them a lot more. If they'd told you up front the cost would have been for a fuel system flush/injector cleaning and a new fuel filter. Instead they get to eat the bill for a new fuel pump/other parts and a ton of shop time.
 

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That's because people never want to admit the stupid crap that they've done. In the end it costs them a lot more. If they'd told you up front the cost would have been for a fuel system flush/injector cleaning and a new fuel filter. Instead they get to eat the bill for a new fuel pump/other parts and a ton of shop time.
which i've never fully understood.
 

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The crazy thing is that doctors have to deal with the same thing, which really boggles the mind.
exactly "how'd that giant ball end up in your rear end?" "idk doc just happened"
 
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