2016 Nissan Titan XD: King Banana Hits the Dirt
by Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor
I guess I was due for another adventure.
Our 2016 Nissan Titan XD wasn't supposed to be the star of this desert adventure. From the outset, its role was as a support truck. And as such, the bed was packed with camping gear, tools and supplies, while the cab carried the electronics, cameras and everything that doesn't play nice with sun and dirt.
I shot the last few photos of our Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma as they headed down the dusty road before walking back to the Titan. I wasn't in a particular hurry as I figured the Ridgeline would hold up the proceedings a bit and I, in the rugged Pro-4X packaged Titan, would reel in the pair soon enough.
Things didn't turn out the way I expected.
All of the cargo in the bed was under a big net, a wise choice as this Death Valley washboard road was tossing the truck around pretty badly. Mind you, I was only going about 20 miles an hour, but I still eyed the bed periodically to make sure nothing made a break for it. So it was with some surprise when, at the moment I glanced into the rearview mirror, the tailgate trim popped off and fluttered into the desert.
A few profanities later, I had the trim piece in hand and was smacking it back in place with my hand. It's always the cheap stuff that breaks, right? While I was out, I caught a whiff of something that smelled a lot like burning, but a cursory inspection didn't reveal anything leaking so I figured a bit of scrub brush was lodged up near the exhaust. Back to it, then.
About a half-mile later, the trim piece was gone again. I also didn't see the tailgate. Many more profanities later, I was inspecting the downed tailgate for some sign of failure, but found none. The tailgate shut, reopened and shut again without issue so I slammed it shut once more, locked it and headed out, again, to catch the Ridgeline and the Taco. And there was still that smell. ...
By now I was going under 15 miles an hour as the Titan felt like it was going to shake itself apart. The passenger seat, always prone to shaking a bit on rough highways, was now undergoing some demonic possession and I had legitimate concerns I might lose a headlight, a taillight or both. Or more. Off-road package, you say?
My pace was slow enough to worry Dan Edmunds, road trip companion and our resident truck and suspension guru, and he had decided to head back down the road and start looking for me. But he didn't have to go more than a minute or so before I came vibrating into view. He turned around and we both met up with the Ridgeline where we all had a bit of a post-mortem, 30 minutes into the daylong trip.
The busted tailgate trim piece and dropped tailgate were just sprinkles and nuts on this failure sundae (I hate nuts on my sundae) as a closer inspection revealed that both rear shocks, the special Bilsteins that come with the Pro-4X package, were done. They looked to have been held over a fire, their blue dust boots melted like decorative ashtrays and the bodies visibly charred. The right rear overheated so badly that it lost its internal seals and had sprayed burned shock oil everywhere. Remember the smell? It was shock oil. Take note, shock oil smells like burned peanuts.
Skipping ahead, the Tacoma, the Titan and the Ridgeline (in that order) were back on the highway and nearly to camp when the Taco bounced through a depression on the highway. The loaded Titan quickly followed suit and that's when the left rear shock gave up the ghost and absolutely coated the trailing Ridgeline in shock sauce. For the remainder of the trip the ride was ... compromised.
In the interim, we found that the left side bed box was jammed shut and that a rock guard forward of the left rear wheel had been cracked. Those items were summarily added to the list of casualties to be addressed by the dealer once we returned to civilization.
My first stop was for service was at Gardena Nissan. The service adviser listened to my notes and casually inspected the truck before writing up a ticket, securing a shuttle ride for me and saying he'd follow up in a couple of days.
We had plenty to talk about when he followed up. First up was the matter of the rear shocks. The service writer claimed that Nissan wanted photos of the shocks, and possibly the shocks themselves, to determine the cause of the failure. That was expected. Secondly, the tailgate failure, according to the service writer, was due to a misalignment of the tailgate with respect to the right side of the bed. The latch was clearly bent, and there was a visible crack on the inside of the bed where the latch hits the striker. I was surprised when he informed me that, though Nissan does warranty misalignments, our truck was over the mileage on that particular warranty and if I wanted it fixed I'd have to make an insurance claim and take it to a body shop.
Then he really threw me by telling me that the dealer would not warranty the tailgate trim piece. The reasoning was that the trim piece's clips looked to have been damaged, the insinuation being that I had damaged the piece before it came adrift. He couldn't quote me a price on a replacement piece.
Finally, there was the issue of the left side bed box. The service adviser sheepishly informed me that the box would not be covered under warranty. I was told that Nissan considered the bed box to be an accessory, therefore not covered under warranty. This seemed odd since it's part of the Pro-4X Luxury package. Then he told me that the company that built (note the past tense) the boxes had gone out of business and taken the patents and the plans for the boxes with it, so there were no more boxes. None. The adviser did seem genuinely embarrassed about this and stated that he didn't know what the dealer was going to do since most of the Titans it moves have the boxes. I would later learn that this was all untrue.
A few days later, Dan got behind the wheel to assess the state of our Titan. He didn't need to go more than a half a mile before he realized the front shocks were blown, too. It's nearly impossible to see most of the front shock bodies unless you take the wheels off and stick your head in the fender well, you know, like a tech at a dealer might do when a truck comes in with melted rear shocks.
Dan was aghast and drove the Titan straight to Stadium Nissan in Orange, where he went through the same explanatory process I did at Gardena Nissan only to have it all work out quite a bit differently. The front shocks were replaced and sent to Nissan for examination. The tailgate trim piece was replaced without issue. And the bed box? Upon inspection by the tech, a new latch (it's visually heavier-duty than the stock latch, so we think Nissan's had this happen a few times) was ordered, the rivets on the side of the box were drilled out, the latch was replaced, unlocked and the rivets all replaced. At no time during the second service trip did the service adviser mention anything about the boxes going out of production or not being covered under warranty.
We decided to leave the issue of the cracked bed/fender for another date. It's disappointing, but since the latch still closes, the tailgate still locks and no one on staff could tell if the crack even goes through the paint to the metal, we decided to table it.
More than anything, this incident has made me question the effectiveness and value of a factory off-road package. The road we drove on was not highly technical in any way, so the Titan's ground clearance, four-wheel drive or knobby tires certainly weren't taxed. The shocks took the brunt of the washboard surface, and in the end they simply couldn't keep up. Granted, this was a worst-case scenario for a shock absorber, but if you paid nearly $60K for a truck with an off-road package, you would be disappointed. The shocks failed, pieces on the truck failed and part of the dealer support network failed. If this were my truck, I'd be pissed.
Kurt Niebuhr, photo editor @ 21,757 miles