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.

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?