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I have a manual 1997 Nissan Pathfinder which has ran great for a long, long time. The only issues I have had are with the clutch, starter and valve cover gasket. The last problem was a few months ago and that was an oil leak caused by a a bad gasket. Fixed it without incident.

A few days ago, I was driving down the road going about 25 mph. Then my car slowed down. I watched as my RPM went to 0 and she was dead! At first I thought I let the clutch slip, so while rolling, I put her in first and popped the clutch (a trick that usually works) and I got nothing.

I stopped and tried to start her once, she was cranking but wouldn't roll over. I then noticed I was low on gas, pretty close to E. I grabbed enough gas to bring me to a quarter tank, still wasn't getting anything. Not sure if it matters, but I have moved to an area that allows me to do most commutes via bike so I only drive about once a week.

Anyway, when she died, it felt kind of like what I remembered when my old car's alternator went out so I grabbed my multimeter and checked the battery, over 12 volts so I think I am safe in assuming my battery/alternator are okay. Next I pulled the hose off of the exiting end of my fuel pump and turned the key... fuel shot out. Now I know this doesn't mean that my fuel pressure is correct, but I take this as a pretty good indication that my pump/filter are working.

On to spark... it's cold and raining like crazy here so I didn't stay out for long, but I did shove a screw driver into the boot and held it close to ground. I got no spark. It was definitely a quick and not very thorough test so I will check again tomorrow. If I don't get spark out of any of the wires, I swill probably move on to checking the ignition coil. It just seems very strange that it would die in the middle of driving and not throw a code.

Any advice? I am fortunate in that I have another vehicle, but I like this one much much more and she has normally been more reliable. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Edit

Unfortunately, it is not my fuel pump. I checked spark again with a proper tester and got nothing from all 6. I pulled the distributor cap off and had my girlfriend try to start her.... The rotor didn't move one bit. My heart sank. I immediately checked to make sure my crankshaft was spinning... No problem there. To confirm my fear of a snapped timing belt, I yanked off one of the valve covers and had her start again, rockers didn't move one bit.

Now I know the problem, unless someone else has compelling evidence as to why I shouldn't continue down this path. The timing belt is tucked pretty deep and will require quite a bit of work just to confirm it is the problem, although given the symptoms, it makes sense.

The sad thing is my motor is an interference motor so after I spend all that time and money, I still might have bent a valve (in which case, hit me up for Pathfinder parts!!!). I'll get her opened up this weekend to get a better idea, but I am pretty sure I have solved this one.

Edit #2

It was definitely my timing belt, I don't think it has ever been changed. It looked like one tooth wore down and finally gave way. I am actually shocked that it didn't jump prior to breaking. It took me a good 12 hours to complete on the side of the road in a storm. I busted out my deep sea fishing gear and went to town on it.

To those who have an interference motor like me, don't just give up in fear of a bent valve. It's 30 bucks and a weekend's worth of work (assuming you have the proper tools). She started up just fine once I got her put back together and that was after multiple cranks before I knew it was the belt (big no no when the belt is off), so you may get lucky too.

I got up to about 30 mph on my home, I'll test it more when I wake up. For now, I would say the problem is solved, at least my original issue anyway... Now whether or not she'll hold up remains to be seen.

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    My first thought was the fuel pump, especially if you had let it get low. Fuel in the tank helps cool in-tank fuel pumps. When you let it get too low, it can be the death of them. You need to check the fuel pressure, not just to see if it's pumping, but to ensure you have the proper fuel pressure (most vehicles that age it should be around 43psi, I think). Do the checks again on the ignition. If no spark again, it could be a coil, ignition module, or timing sensor. That's just a gut check, so don't go using this to start throwing parts at it, lol! – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Oct 23 '14 at 8:56
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    I'm a college student so when I start throwing money down, I need to make sure it is for the right thing! I will check spark and fuel pressure tomorrow. Thank you for the comment. I am right there with you. After seeing my battery was okay, I immediately thought (and hoped) it was my fuel pump. I will report my findings. – James Harris Oct 23 '14 at 8:59
  • Unfortunately, it is not my fuel pump. I checked spark again with a proper tester and got nothing from all 6. I pulled the distributor cap off and had my girlfriend try to start her.... The rotor didn't move one bit. My heart sank. I immediately checked to make sure my crankshaft was spinning... No problem there. To confirm my fear of a snapped timing belt, I yanked off one of the valve covers and had her start again, rockers didn't move one bit. – James Harris Oct 24 '14 at 10:40
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    Looks like you have your answer. Good troubleshooting technique there, though. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Oct 24 '14 at 11:25
  • Thank you Paul. I didn't have anybody around to teach me how to work on cars, so everything I learned, I learned from people like you! The issue resolution is above. – James Harris Oct 26 '14 at 13:11
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It was definitely my timing belt, I don't think it has ever been changed. It looked like one tooth wore down and finally gave way. I am actually shocked that it didn't jump prior to breaking. It took me a good 12 hours to complete on the side of the road in a storm. I busted out my deep sea fishing gear and went to town on it.

To those who have an interference motor like me, don't just give up in fear of a bent valve. It's 30 bucks and a weekend's worth of work (assuming you have the proper tools). She started up just fine once I got her put back together and that was after multiple cranks before I knew it was the belt (big no no when the belt is off), so you may get lucky too.

I got up to about 30 mph on my home, I'll test it more when I wake up. For now, I would say the problem is solved, at least my original issue anyway... Now whether or not she'll hold up remains to be seen.

  • +1 On giving a new timing belt a try. I have an eclipse that recently did the same thing, and the literature said it was toast. With a new belt, it fired right up. – Sidney Oct 28 '14 at 18:01

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