1997 Nissan Pickup problem

11 Common 1997 Nissan Pickup Problems, Causes, and How To Fix Them!

If you are looking for a durable and dependable truck, the 1997 Nissan pickup is an excellent choice. The best part? It’s available in various trims, including standard, XE regular cab, SE King cab, and XE King cab. However, like with any vehicle, the pickup has its fair share of problems. 

So then, what are the common 1997 Nissan pickup problems? Some common issues with the 1997 Nissan pickup include stalling, rough idle, surging, difficulty starting, hard shifting, and timing chain failure. The pickup is also prone to ECM problems, electrical issues, oil filter blowing off, and the distributor burning up. 

But how do you fix these problems? In this guide, we will explore the common hurdles with the 1997 Nissan pickup and how to navigate each one of them. 

Common 1997 Nissan Pickup Problems and Possible Solutions Table

Below is a list of the known problems with the 1997 Nissan pickup and their possible solutions.

Common ProblemsSolutions
StallingSeal or replace any leaking vacuum line
Replace the cooling temperature sensor if faulty
Replace the EGR valve and MAF sensor
Adjust the ignition timing if it’s set incorrectly
Starting ProblemsReplace the distributor housing if damaged
Test the ground wire and alternator and replace them if faulty
Clean the battery cables
Rough IdleReplace any leaking vacuum hoses
Clean the MAF sensor or replace it
Clean the EGR valve or replace it
Transmission IssuesDrain the dirty oil and refill
Replace the clutch pedal
Tighten the shifter cable or replace it
Electrical IssuesClean the ground cable and tighten any loose connections
Replace the damaged ground wire
Surging or Acceleration IssuesReplace the plug wires and spark plugs
Repair the damaged vacuum hoses
Replace any faulty sensors
Clean the distributor cap terminals or replace the cap
ECM ProblemsReplace any burnt or damaged fuses, relays, and ECM terminals
Install a new fusible link
Replace the ECM
Timing Chain FailureReplace any broken timing chain guides
Change the oil and install a new genuine Nissan oil filter
Replace the tensioner and timing chain
Clutch Hydraulic ProblemsBleed the master cylinder manually
Distributor Burning UpInstall new factory Nissan distributor
Oil Filter Blowing OffReplace the filter housing
Install a new genuine Nissan oil filter and add new oil

What Are The Known 1997 Nissan Pickup Problems?

Also known as the Hardbody or Nissan D21, the 1997 Nissan pickup is a compact, durable, and reliable car. But like with any vehicle, it is susceptible to various problems. These include:

  1. Stalling

The 1997 Nissan pickup tends to stall once it gets warmed up but works fine when cold. Typically, the pickup may stall when you slow down, come to a stop light, or at low RPMs. The stalling is usually intermittent.

Unfortunately, the stalling problem does not disappear even after installing new spark plugs, fuel pump, distributor, fuel sensor, and filter.

Generally, the stalling can be caused by several things, such as a vacuum leak, incorrectly set ignition timing, and faulty coolant temperature. It may also occur due to a bad MAF sensor or EGR valve.

How To Fix

Just like there are several causes of this problem, the solutions of the 1997 Nissan pickup stalling are also many and include the following:

Solution 1: Seal or Replace the Vacuum Lines

Check the vacuum lines for leaks by spraying a light stream of water on each with the engine on. Seal the leaking points or replace the leaking hose. Here is how to do it:

Step 1: Clean the area around the leak with soapy water and dry it.

Step 2: If the leak is on the center of the hose and small, wrap hose repair tape around it to seal

Step 3: If the leak is severe, cut out the damaged section and measure its length.  

Step 4: Get a replacement hose of the same material and diameter. Then, cut it to match the length of the damaged section.

Step 5: Use connectors or hose clamps to attach the replacement hose to the other two pieces. 

Solution 2: Replace the Sensor

Use a multimeter to check the voltage of the cooling temperature sensor while the engine is warm. If you get a voltage of 1.25V, replace the sensor. Here is how to do the replacement:

Step 1: Jack your Nissan pickup up and drain the coolant.

Step 2: Locate the sensor on the intake manifold and remove the electrical wire connector attached to it.

Step 3: Remove the old coolant temperature sensor and install the new one.

Step 4: Reconnect the electrical connector and refill the cooling system.

Solution 3: Change the EGR Valve

Check if the EGR valve opens when you apply vacuum to it using a hand vacuum pump and closes when the vacuum is released. If it does not open, replace it by: 

Step 1: Locate the EGR valve under the intake manifold or close above the downpipe.

Step 2: Let the engine cool down and disconnect the negative battery cable.

Step 3: Remove the vacuum hose connected to the EGR valve.

Step 4: Disconnect ant electrical connectors from the EGR valve.

Step 5: Unfasted the mounting bolts holding the valve to remove the EGR valve.

Step 6: Clean the mounting surface and install the new EGR valve.

Step 7: Reassemble the components you disconnected. 

Solution 4: Install New MAF Sensor

Disconnect the electrical harness on the mass air flow sensor while the engine is running. If your car continues to run, the MAF sensor is faulty and needs a replacement. Here is how its done:

Step 1: Locate the MAF sensor in the air intake of your 1997 Nissan pickup. It is between the engine throttle body and the air cleaner box.

Step 2: Unplug the electrical connector from the MAF sensor by pressing the tab on the connector.

Step 3: Unfasten any mounting screws or clamps holding the sensor to disconnect it from the intake pipe and air filter.

Step 4: Install the new mass air flow sensor and reconnect the electrical connector.

Solution 5: Adjust the Ignition Timing

Confirm that the ignition timing is set correctly to 10 degrees BTDC and adjust it. Here  are steps on how to do it:

Step 1: Loosen but don’t remove the adjusting bolt or nut on the distributor.

Step 2: Rotate the distributor clockwise to increase the ignition timing or counterclockwise to reduce the timing.

Step 3: Tighten the adjusting bolt on the distributor once you have set the correct timing.

  1. Starting Problems

Another common issue with the Nissan D21 is that it may turn over but fail to start. Sometimes, it may start up and run for a few minutes before quitting. And once it stops, it refuses to start again immediately.

At times, the truck may not turn over or start. Or, it may start fine, but once you turn the engine off, it won’t restart. Now, apart from a worn-out distributor cap seal, a bad ground wire can also cause starting issues. Other causes are a faulty alternator, corroded battery cables, and terminals.

How To Fix

Starting problems in the 1997 Nissan pickup are easy to fix. Check out the possible solutions.

Solution 1: Replace the Distributor

Check the distributor cap for cracks or damage, and replace the entire distributor housing. Here is how to do it:

Step 1: Disconnect the negative battery cable and remove the engine cover to access the distributor.

Step 2: Unfasten the screws and clips on the distributor cap to remove it.

Step 3: Remove the rotor from the distributor housing.

Step 4: Disconnect all wires connected to the distributor.

Step 5: Unfasten the bolts attaching the distributor housing to the engine and remove the component.

Step 6: Install the new distributor housing on the engine and reconnect all other parts. 

Solution 2: Use a multimeter to test the ground wire. If you get a reading other than zero ohms, the ground cable is faulty and needs to be replaced.

Solution 3: Check the voltage of the alternator. If you don’t get readings between 13 and 14.5 volts, the alternator is lousy and must be replaced.

Solution 4: Confirm that the battery cables don’t have a loose connection. Also, check the terminals for any corrosion, and clean them with baking soda.

  1. Rough Idle

Sometimes, the 1997 Nissan pickup may run rough at startup but okay at idle. And unless you rev up the engine, the car dies. Other owners have reported that the pickup idles rough on cold and rainy days. And when this happens, the ECU may throw a misfire code in the front cylinder.

This issue does not disappear despite replacing the fuel pump, spark plugs, fuel filter, and spark plug wires. So, the causes may be a faulty mass airflow sensor or an EGR valve leaking exhaust into the intake manifold. The rough idle could also be due to a vacuum leak.

How To Fix

Below, you can find the various options available for fixing starting problems in your 1997 Nissan D21.

Solution 1: Inspect the vacuum hoses for cracks or turn on the engine and listen for a hissing sound to spot a vacuum leak. Then, replace the damaged hose.

Solution 2: Disconnect the MAF sensor from the car while the engine is running. If the engine continues to run, clean the sensor or replace it if it is damaged.

Solution 3: Apply vacuum to the EGR valve. If it sticks open even after releasing the vacuum, clean the valve to remove dirt accumulation or replace it.

  1. Transmission Issues

The transmission issues in your 1997 Nissan pickup may show up as shifting delays and hard shifting. These issues are typical with the 2WD manual transmission. When the engine is off, it is easy to shift gears, but shifting may become difficult when turning on the engine.

Apart from low and dirty transmission oil, other causes of transmission issues include a defective clutch and bad shifter cable.

How To Fix

If your 1997 Hardbody has transmission problems, you can try the following to fix the issue.

Solution 1: Inspect the level and condition of the transmission fluid and change it if dirty. If the transmission oil is clean but low, top it up.

Solution 2: Press on the clutch pedal. If you hear squeaking noise or the pedal feels stiff, spongy, or sticking, you should replace it.

Solution 3: Check if the shifter cable or linkage is broken, loose or disconnected from the transmission. Then, tighten the loose cable, or replace it if it’s damaged.

  1. Electrical Issues

With your 1997 Nissan pickup, you may experience intermittent electrical issues, such as the car shutting off at idle. Others include the interior lights dimming down when the heater fan is on and trouble getting the car to start. Typically, these electrical problems are due to a ground issue.

1997 Nissan pickup electrical issues

How To Fix

If the cause of the electrical issues in your 1997 Nissan D21 is a bad ground wire, here is how to fix them.

Solution 1: Check the voltage of the ground wire. If it is greater than 0.05 volts when under load, you must replace it.

Solution 2: Inspect the ground wire for corrosion or loose connection. Then, clean the corrosion build-up and tighten the connections.

  1. Surging or Acceleration Issues

When taking off, the 1997 Nissan pickup may refuse to accelerate smoothly. It also surges during steady acceleration, and the check engine light comes on.

Sometimes, it may throw the P0304 code, which denotes a cylinder 4 misfire, yet it does not miss. And right around the time this happens, the horsepower also starts dropping a bit.

Now, faulty plug wires, worn spark plugs, vacuum or intake leaks, and a damaged distributor cap are the common causes of the surging issues.

How To Fix

You can successfully diagnose and repair surging and acceleration issues by following these steps.

Solution 1: Inspect the plug wires and spark plugs for any damage or wear. Then, replace them.

Solution 2: Check for intake or vacuum leaks and replace any damaged vacuum lines.

Solution 3: Unplug various sensors, including the mass airflow, oxygen sensor, and throttle position sensor. If the engine does not stop running, replace the specific sensors.

Solution 4: Remove the distributor cap and inspect the inside for corroded terminals, small holes, cracks, and signs of wear. Clean the corroded terminals or replace the cap if it is damaged. 

  1. ECM Problems

With ECM problems, your Nissan Hardbody truck’s engine may die. This may be accompanied by electrical smoke in the cabin. In addition, you may notice that the ECM has a burned trace, and the fusible wire at the battery is burnt. 

Rarely, your truck may start bucking and sputtering severely and barely run due to ECM problems. Generally, the cause of ECM issues in the 1997 Nissan pickup is a bad ground wire or burnt fusible link.

How To Fix

To fix the ECM problems in your Nissan truck, try the following:

Solution 1: Use an ohm meter and check all the wiring for open and short, including the relays and fuses.

Solution 2: Check for continuity to ground on ECM terminals with an ohmmeter. If resistance is not zero ohms, replace the burnt terminals.

Solution 3: Use a voltmeter to test the battery voltage between the chassis ground and ECM terminals. If there is no voltage, replace the burnt fusible link.

Solution 4: If the ECM problems don’t vanish, you must replace the entire unit. 

  1. Timing Chain Failure

Another common problem with the 1997 Nissan truck is the timing chain rattle noise, especially during cold start-up. The rattle sound may feel like a chain dragging over a piece of metal.

Unfortunately, the rattle sound usually gets louder when you rev the engine and can get highly noticeable at idle. According to some owners of this Nissan pickup, the rattles are constant any time the engine drops below 1,500 RPM.

Typically, timing chain failures occur when the plastic guide separates from the metal backing. In addition, a loose or broken timing chain may cause problems.

How To Fix

Although timing chain failures are very typical in the 1997 Hardbody truck, they are easy to fix. Here is how to go about it.

Solution 1: Take off the valve cover and look down at the timing chain guides using a flashlight. If any guide is broken, replace it.

Solution 2: If there is no broken guide, install a new factory Nissan oil filter and change the oil.

Solution 3: However, if your truck has high mileage, the best solution would be to replace the tensioner and timing chain. 

  1. Clutch Hydraulic Problems

With the 1997 Nissan Pickup 2WD, the clutch hydraulic may have issues with building pressure. This problem occurs after draining the old hydraulic fluid and refilling it with a new one.

The worst is that the problem does not disappear even after bleeding the master cylinder at the slave drive. Simply, the pedal pressure does not build up.

How To Fix

The best solution here is to bleed the master cylinder manually, which may take about 2 hours to complete. Simply;

Step 1: Unscrew the brake fluid reservoir cap.

Step 2: Locate the bleeder valves behind each tire’s brake system.

Step 3: Get a clear plastic tube and connect one of the ends to one of the bleeder valves. The other end of the tube should go into a container.

Step 4: Ask someone to slowly depress the brake pedal several times and then hold it down firmly.

Step 5: Open the bleeder valve for a second and close it again. Repeat the process until there are no more air bubbles in the fluid exiting the plastic tube.

Step 6: Move to the other breeder valve and repeat the same. Then, tighten the bleeder valves and the reservoir cap. 

  1. Distributor Burning Up

The distributor of the 1997 Nissan D21 is highly prone to burning up every so often. This occurs because it is constantly exposed to high voltage. So, over time, the distributor terminals become covered in carbon deposits and burn up, leading to intermittent sparks.


Generally, the distributor of your 1997 Hardbody truck keeps burning up because of using aftermarket parts. So, the solution is to install a genuine Nissan distributor.

  1. Oil Filter Blowing Off

The 1997 Nissan Pickup 4WD is also notorious for blowing off the oil filter. And after screwing it back on, refilling the oil, and starting the truck, the filter may blow off again.

Typically, this problem occurs when oil pressure exceeds a specified value due to a stuck-closed pressure relief valve.


Although this problem is not typical, here is how to fix it:

Step 1: Get a mechanical oil pressure gauge and check if the oil pressure at the filter is high. The ideal oil pressure should be between 25 and 65 PSI.

Step 2: If it is not normal, the filter could be clogged. So, replace the oil and oil filter with a genuine Nissan unit.

Step 3: Before installing the new oil filter, replace the filter housing because the threads may already be damaged. 

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Before we conclude our discussion about the common issues with the 1997 Nissan pickup, let’s check these commonly asked questions.

Q: How long can a 1997 Nissan pickup last?

With proper maintenance, the 1997 Nissan pickup can last a long time. But typically, the truck lasts between 100,000 and 200,000 miles.

Q: Can you prevent 1997 Nissan pickup problems?

Not really. You cannot entirely prevent problems with your 1997 Nissan pickup. However, there are some steps you can take to minimize their occurrence. These include regular maintenance, making timely repairs, using quality parts, and practicing safe driving habits.

Q: Are 1997 Nissan Hardbody trucks reliable?

Yes. Despite the various problems, the 1997 Nissan pickups boast reliable engines, including the 2.4L 4-cylinder. This feature, combined with their rugged construction and strong chassis makes them reliable trucks.

Q: Why does the check engine light on the 1997 Hardbody truck keep illuminating?

Generally, the check engine light may illuminate because of faulty sensors in your 1997 Nissan pickup, such as the mass airflow. Other causes of the check engine light, include a faulty EGR valve, damaged wiring, or electrical issues. 


Although the 1997 Nissan pickup is a reliable truck, it is susceptible to various problems. However, depending on how well you maintain your truck, you can avert most of these issues. The problems range from stalling to starting problems, rough idle, transmission issues, electrical, and surging.

Besides that, this Nissan Hardbody may experience ECM problems, timing chain failure, oil filter blowing off, and distributor burning up. Nothing to worry about, though. After all, there are several solutions to each of these problems. All the better, you can fix most of these issues yourself to save on labor costs.

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