Ignoring my Pathfinder’s ‘Service Engine Soon’ Light

Three years ago I swapped my trusty 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan for a 2006 Nissan Pathfinder. I thought the Pathfinder would be better suited for driving our gravel roads and rough driveway. While I have appreciated the all-wheel-drive function on several occasions, I haven’t exactly been happy with my Pathfinder.

I’ve written about my struggle to find the perfect vehicle for country life once before. What I didn’t detail then was the service issues I’ve had with my Pathfinder – all supposedly caused by the six miles of gravel I drive on each time I travel to and from my home. It seems the gravel kicks up dust that gets sucked up into the vehicle’s engine and exhaust systems.

As a result, my “Service Engine Soon” light has been on almost perpetually for two years. The light first came on just two months after we purchased the vehicle, but thankfully the Pathfinder was still under factory warranty.

Initially, the light really bugged me; I promptly took the vehicle in for diagnosis and repair. Eventually my warranty expired, and I submitted a formal complaint to Nissan. Nissan tried two more times to fix my issue even without a warranty, but the light still came back on soon after every service. The last time I tried to have the dust issue fixed about a year ago, the service light came back on before I even made it home from the shop!

For those of you who are mechanically inclined, most of the issues I’ve had that required service involved the PCV valve and the oxygen sensors. And both issues are a direct result of the dust wreaking havoc with the emissions standards established to maintain clean air.

So now I just live with the “Service Engine Soon” light on all the time. The mechanics tell me the light will blink if there is anything seriously wrong with the vehicle. That’s sort of reassuring.

While I have my oil changed regularly, I have my tires rotated, and I’ve replaced my front brake pads, I continue to ignore my engine light. Speaking as the daughter of a diesel mechanic, this seems wrong. But constantly having the light checked and attempting to have the issue repaired was obviously a waste of time and money.

If only vehicle engineers would realize that some people still live in the country and that vehicles – especially SUVs and pickups – should be built to withstand this type of driving. Perhaps I should submit a formal complaint to them, as well … There’s probably too many of them to do that; so I guess this blog post will have to do.

Gravel Gets in the Way of Youth Bike Riding

Horse Lover didn’t learn to ride her bike until she was 8. That’s not incredibly old, but Sports Girl had learned to ride without training wheels when she just shy of five. Of course the two are just very different girls.

Horse Lover wasn’t even excited to ride with training wheels when she was a preschooler and we lived in town, and she was even less interested in riding when we moved to the country and gravel or grass were her only options for riding surfaces.

Two years ago in May, Handsome Hubby informed Horse Lover that she was going to learn to ride a bike without training wheels. The news was nothing short of devastating for her.

The process involved dressing Horse Lover in long pants and shirts even if the weather was hot, loading the bike in the back of the pickup, grabbing the helmet and heading into town. We unloaded in an empty school parking lot in a quiet residential area; Horse Lover got onto the bike and either Handsome Hubby or myself would run, holding the bike, while Horse Lover pedaled.

It took several trips to town, a few teary fits, and at least one major setback involving a collision with a tree before Horse Lover mastered the skill. But by the end of the summer she was riding her bike confidently – even on the gravel around the ranch.

Now it’s time for Horse Lover to move to a larger bike that uses squeeze brakes on the handlebars rather than those applied from pedaling backwards, and she’s scared again. We are planning to get her a bigger bike for her 10th birthday coming up on Friday. We’ve actually already told her that she’s getting a bike for her birthday whether she wants one or not, because we don’t want her to be disappointed. It must be a bummer to get something for your birthday that you don’t really want, but a bike is just too expensive to buy for no reason at all as we’d still have to get her a birthday gift.

The good news is that last night while we were all out bike riding, Horse Lover discovered that the county road beyond our driveway offered a much smoother ride. And now with Sports Girl’s training needs and Busy Toddler enjoying her ride in the bike trailer, Horse Lover is actually looking forward to some family bike rides. I hope she maintains that enthusiasm with her new larger bike.

Nissan Pathfinder Falls Short, But What’s the Alternative?

I drive a Nissan Pathfinder, which is considered a mid-sized sport utility vehicle or SUV.

But I don’t drive an SUV just because it’s cool and I’m a soccer mom (although it is, and I am). I drive an SUV because I drive six miles on gravel roundtrip each time I leave my home, and we thought it would work best for our country lifestyle

The Pathfinder features four-wheel drive power and control. It also has plenty of clearance between the ground and the bottom of the vehicle. Lastly, it is constructed on a frame much like a pickup truck, so it should be better equipped to withstand the gravel roads than a car or minivan, for example.

We haven’t been completely satisfied with our Pathfinder, however. We’ve had some mechanical problems with the Pathfinder, which I’m sure I’ll address at another time. But our biggest complaint has been size; the Pathfinder isn’t nearly as spacious as we would like. Yet we’re hesitant to commit to something larger like a GMC Yukon or a Chevrolet Suburban. These vehicles come with a much higher sticker price in the first place, and then they consume even more fuel. What if the price of gas went back up to the $4 or even $3 per gallon range? I wouldn’t want to be filling one of those tanks, always wondering if there’s a whole in the bottom.

We looked briefly at buying one of the new crossover models on the market. But let’s be honest. Isn’t “crossover” just a new way to say “station wagon”?

I actually loved the Dodge Grand Caravan that I drove for almost eight years before we got the Pathfinder. But you almost can’t even get an all-wheel drive van anymore as manufacturers are focusing more on seats that fold up and disappear and other convenience configurations. And even if you could, there are still the clearance and unibody (lack of a true frame) construction issues.

So what’s a family of five who lives in the country to do? We’re hoping to drive this vehicle for at least another year and then decide. Perhaps a new and exciting vehicle model will come along. Or perhaps the nation’s energy crisis will be solved. We can always hope, right?

Feet of Snow + 40˚ Temps = Muddy Country Roads

The vehicle was so muddy that I didn't even have to blur out my license plate on this photo before posting it!

The vehicle was so muddy that I didn't even have to blur out my license plate on this photo before posting it!

The feet of snow we have piled around has started to melt with our 40-degree temperatures and sunny skies the last few days. The result? So far, just lots of mud!

And much of the mud was becoming attached to my vehicle – literally! I struggled all this week to overcome my urge to wash my Nissan Pathfinder. It would be like shoveling when it’s still snowing, I rationalized to myself.

But today I finally broke down and drove the car through the wash. My reasons were many including safety, image and practicality. Regarding safety, I couldn’t see a thing out my back window. And my image was on the line as I was planning to make some business stops. And finally, I thought it might make some practical sense to remove the mud before it got so thick that I could no longer get the vehicle through the garage door!

Look at all of the mud accumulated on my tire, wheel well and running board.

Look at all of the mud accumulated on my tire, wheel well and running board.

The mud hasn’t completely dried up, so I am driving slowly on the mucky three miles of gravel leading to our even-muddier quarter-mile driveway. But at least I can see out the back window – for another day or two, anyway!