Towing problem with 2003 Nissan Xterra

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arenzr

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I have a 2003 Nissan Xterra XE that is capable of towing 5000 lbs; my Keystone Zeppelin Z181 fully loaded is 3500 lbs. When I am towing the camper, the engine sounds like it is straining to drive and the RPMs goes crazy. Does anyone have any suggestions to why my Xterra would be struggling to tow a camper that is 1500 lbs. under the capacity for this vehicle?
 

Marc L

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Do you have an auto or manual?

With the auto, you would have to tow with the OD off, so with th 4.63 rear end we got, the RPM will be high.  Just try taking the OD off without the trailer and you will notice the RPM is high, has to do with gearing and not the fact you are pulling a trailer.

The 1st gen are also underpowered, which also makes it hard.

I am towing a little heavier than you and have noticed the same when I brought it home from the dealer. 
 

arenzr

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I have an automatic - is there anything else that I should do other than drive with the OD off like maybe get a tune-up, will that affect the performance of towing the camper?
 

Marc L

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Well, tune-up may help you a little bit towing, but doubt it.  However, if you are in need of a tune-up, have it done anyway, if anything it will help your overall gas mileage.

Check on http://www.xterraownersclub.com in the Performance section.  Nobody succeeded in getting a reasonable performance increase with an Xterra.  What you got it what you got.  The only alternative is a 2nd Gen X or another vehicle all together.  The newer ones have a lot more power.  There's a guy on XOC that is hauling a 4500lbs trailer (loaded) and he says he is doing fine.
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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The tow rating on those is pretty optimistic. It moves the load, but nobody promised you would like the performance.  Basically the problem is a small displacement engine that needs to rev high to produce anywhere near its max horsepower.

You also did not mention what else is in the SUV, e.g. passengers and gear. Anything in addition to the driver (even the trailer hitch itself) has to be subtracted from the towing capacity.

Sounds to me as though the torque converter slips a lot under load. Maybe that's an excessive slippage and a defect that could be fixed, but more likeey it is just the design of the transmission.
 

Marc L

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I can't speak for Arenzr, but I don't believe my TC is slipping much as I get about the same RPM with the OD off when towing or not towing.

Like you said RV Roamer, it moves the load, but not with performance.
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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Arenzr said the "RPMs go crazy", which may be just hyperbole or may indicate a problem. Just wanted to mention the possibility of a TC problem.  And some of them slip a lot under load by design, but your experience indicates that is not the case.
 

Marc L

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I agree with you that a TC problem can't be discounted, I just wanted to mention that if mine does not slip noticeably more that it's not likely a design problem.  It's really hard to judge a problem like this without hearing it though.

Arenzr, can you explain what you mean by RPMs go crazy? 
Do you see it go up and down frequently, in other words, is the transmission shifting frequently?
What kind of terrain are you driving on, flats or hills?
What kind of speed are you trying to maintain?  I hover between 55 and 60MPH and let it slow down to 45 on steep hills.  I also accelerate at the engine's pace, I am not trying to break speed records.
Do you leave the OD on?  If so, the transmission will surely hunt for gears, it will go from 4th to 3rd gear often and in 4th gear you will also notice the torque converter lock and unlock frequently. 

If you are driving 60 MPH, your RPMs should fluctuate somewhat like this:
4th gear TC locked:  2300 RPM
4th gear TC unlocked:  2700 RPM
3rd gear:  3300 RPM

4th unlocked and 3rd gear may give you slightly higher RPM since there will be more slip under heavy load, than without load.  In my case, there isn't much difference in the RPM I get with or without the trailer, but every transmission is different.

If you don't have one already, you should get an auxiliary transmission cooler as well.  100$ for a cooler VS a few thousand dollars for a new one, it's good insurance that pays for itself.
 

BernieD

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I too drive an XTerra, 2001 but basically the same as yours. For the first couple of years I sometimes towed a 4,700# trailer, tho relatively short distances and over flat terrain. However, even when just driving the car, when I go up fairly steep grades like we find out here in the west, the transmission would quickly drop down one or two gears sending the tach over 3,500 or even 4000rpms. Just a function of the tranny doing it's shifting for you.
 

Marc L

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I am lucky not to have the steep grades you have in the west.  I think in the Atlantic provinces, there is only 1 hill where that tranny would be forced to drop 2 gears and speed to drop below 50 MPH without the trailer.  Most hills around here go up fine just with the TC unlocking and worst case scenario dropping into 3rd (without the trailer).

Nissan certainly did not make the first gen Xterra a racing machine.  While the Xterra is not the best tow vehicle, for the terrain around here and the short distance I do, I can tolerate it.  Depending on the terrain that Arenzr is travelling on and what his expectations are, the Xterra may not be suitable. 

A larger V6 or a small V8 would certainly be better.
 

Karl

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Keep in mind that a well designed transmission/torque converter/engine management SYSTEM tries to maintain the vehicle in an optimal horsepower/torque range depending on the load. If your engine is badly out of tune and not putting out the power it should, you can expect much more hunting for the proper gear. Using the cruise control will also do that as it tries to maintain your set speed. In hilly country, try driving with your foot and not cruise control, let it slow down a little when pulling grades, and you'll be much happier.
 

Marc L

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I don't know if the original poster is still around.  Have not seen posts from him in a while.  I know the post is not new, but I now have more experience towing with the Xterra than my test drive last fall with the dealer.

I can explain the noise and RPM.  I went for my 2nd trip this weekend with my new trailer.  The dry weight of my unit is 3600lbs including options (just added the weight from the brochure, not necessarily accurate).  We were used to tent camping so we never brought a lot of stuff, it had to fit in the Xterra.  So we still don't bring a lot as we are just weekenders.  I am roughly estimating here that we are not much over 4000lbs, closer to 4500lbs if we bring fresh water.  We usually bring 5 gallon from home for drinking and use the water at the campground for the rest.

So anyway, back to topic.  On flats, I would drive 100 Km/h (62 MPH) with the OD off and RPM around 3000 with the Torque Converter (TC) locked, I originally thought the TC did not lock in D (OD off).  Going up some hills (not Western mountains), I would loose speed going up, I actually gradually let it slow down as to not push it over what it's capable to do.  Once the speed dropped below 80Km/h, the TC would unlock and the RPM would jump to 3500.  At which point I let it slow down to 70MPH and then manually down shifted to 2nd.  I don't like driving with the TC unlocked as it generates more heat then when locked, so I intentionally let it slow down to slow enough to be in 2nd.  Once in 2nd going uphill is a joke at 70Km/h.

So the crazy RPM and sound was probably at the point where the original poster's TC got unlocked.  The transmission is noisier with the TC unlocked and as soon as it is unlocked the RPM goes up so the engine is also noisier.

As far as power, there is enough power to make it up any hill, but the bigger/longer the hill, the slower the speed will be at the top. 

My only advice to Arenzr is that when the TC gets unlocked, don't push it to keep up your speed.  Let it slow down if it wants to.
 

edjunior

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It sounds kinda like my old Montero Sport.  Yeah, it's rated to pull 5000 pounds, but realistically, it won't even come close.  I towed my 26' trailer, dry weight 4250 lbs once with this truck.  Then went out and got an F-250.  It's only a 5.4L, a bit underpowered for an F-250, but it is a much more capable truck.  Really pulls this trailer nicely.  I would definitely recommend moving up to a more capable tow vehicle.
 

sierramann

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Marc, that 3.3 litre engine is certainly not a powerhouse. I can imagine towing a 3500 lb trailer plus everything else you're carrying is quite a chore for that truck.
I noticed that you live in saint john. I live in Hampton. I tow a fifth wheel. Have you ever had the pleasure yet of going into Fundy national Park?? You want to talk hills!! The first trip down to the headquarters campground will be an eye opener. You'll certainly find out how well the trailer's brakes are working. Fun coming back out, too.
 

Marc L

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Hi Sierramann.  I just went to Grand Lake this weekend.  The drive through the Narrows was fun, that drive was certainly slower than the last time I went through the same road with a Civic.  There has been a few hills where I had to slow down to 40Km/h going up either because of the incline or the bumps.  This is another well maintained New Brunswick road.  However, even if I had to slow down uphill, I was also always able to slow down going down.  The brakes on the trailer are awesome, I did not really feel a difference in braking distance with our without the trailer.  Mind you I did not have to do an emergency stop yet, just quick stops.

I know which hill you mean at Fundy, but I have not been there yet with the trailer.  I have been down hills just as steep, but they were dirt roads.  As precaution I had put it in 4-Low and downshifted in 1st gear at the top of the hill.  The engine held it most of the way and only needed to use the brakes a few times.  I would not use 4wd on that hill though because the drivetrain would bind on a paved road going down those turns.  But I would certainly start really slow and use a low gear.

It is certainly a chore for the Xterra, but like I said earlier, I don't push it.  I just slow down going uphill and will arrive when I arrive.  If we can find a nice spot on the peninsula we may switch to seasonal.

Edit to add:  I just checked your profile, I guess you would know about the lack of power of the Nissan.

 

buckle823

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That vehicle is way undersized to tow anyhting more than a small pop-up. Looks like you need a new truck.
 

BernieD

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buckle823 said:
That vehicle is way undersized to tow anyhting more than a small pop-up. Looks like you need a new truck.

I can't agree. We have a 2001 Xterra, same basic specs as the 2003. Our automatic has a 5k# towing capacity. I used to pull a trailer with a car and 8 tires weighing about 4,600#s and had no problems . Still diving the car and it runs fine.
 

edjunior

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One difference in pulling a trailer with a car and a camper trailer is the face of the trailer.  You get a lot more wind resistance with the big camper. 
 

BernieD

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edjunior said:
One difference in pulling a trailer with a car and a camper trailer is the face of the trailer.  You get a lot more wind resistance with the big camper. 

Ed

Maybe so, maybe not. The trailer had a screen across the front and a superstructure with 8 tires sitting on it. Not very aerodynamic. And the weight is still there.
 

Carl L

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arenzr said:
I have a 2003 Nissan Xterra XE that is capable of towing 5000 lbs; my Keystone Zeppelin Z181 fully loaded is 3500 lbs. When I am towing the camper, the engine sounds like it is straining to drive and the RPMs goes crazy. Does anyone have any suggestions to why my Xterra would be struggling to tow a camper that is 1500 lbs. under the capacity for this vehicle?

Exactly which engine do you have in that Xterra?  The I-4?  The 3.3L V6 with automatic transmission?  The 3.3 L V6 with manual transmission?
 

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