The 4 Most Common Nissan 3.3L V6 Engine Problems

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The Nissan 3.3 V6 engine made its debut in 1996, and since then, it has been one of the old school engines with more reliability. Although engines are prone to breaking down regardless of the frequency of maintenance, it is best to watch out for symptoms that may lead to a sudden deterioration.

The downside of this rugged engine is that it is not overly powered using modern standards. As a result of this, it can be vulnerable to the usual fault suspects and shut down by these faults if not promptly and adequately handled.

The most common Nissan 3.3 engine issues include:

  1. Water Pump
  2. Oil Leaks
  3. Fuel Sending Unit
  4. Timing Belt

The above common problems associated with Nissan 3.3 V6 do not mean it isn’t a good engine. After all, every engine develops faults as the engine ages. I’ll discuss below the symptoms solution and to the above problems.

What Are The Most Common Nissan VG33E Engine Issues?

1. Water Pump

A damaged water pump is not a mostly occurring problem in the Nissan V6 engine, and the need for replacement often shows up after about the 100,000-mile mark. It is a usual thing to change the water pump alongside the timing belt, having covered 100,000 miles.

There are likely failures in the water pump between timing belt changes, and this is very unusual. It is easier to figure out if you have a bad water pump. Your engine runs at a high temperature, or if you notice any coolant leak, your water pump is the culprit behind that.

It is, however, best to change both the water pump and the timing belt should you have a course to change or fix either of the two, especially if you have covered more than a hundred thousand miles.

The intensive part of the labor lies with the timing belt. Repairing or fixing the water pump is more effortless and quick—both the water pump and the thermostat part of the timing belt kits. Fixing can sometimes cost about $300 or less.

What Causes Water Pump Failure

It’s unfair to link a water failure to a design flaw in Nissan VG33E 3.3 V6 engine. Most likely, the issue is a typical mechanical fault in your engine.

Reasons for a water pump failure in any car can be due to the following:

  • Cooling System Corrosion: A water pump can break down if the internal part of the cooling system corrodes. The corrosion causes the pump not to function as it should, causing a serious lack of water supply to the different components in the engine.
  • Bad Seal: Between the engine block and water pump housing is a seal. This seal essentially prevents coolant from leaking away. Besides, the seal helps to keep excess air from entering the cooling system.
    However, once the seal goes bad, either due to age or improper installation, excess air gets into the cooling, leading to corrosion and the water pump loses its efficiency.
  • Vibration In Drive Pulley: Another issue responsible for water pump failure is the wobbling drive lever. A loose drive pulley will cause some vibration in the engine, resulting in the bearings wearing fast.
    If the drive pulley also vibrates, it can impair the water pump’s impeller, causing some imbalance in the system.
  • Worn Or Loose Tensioner Belt: Like many engines, the Nissan is designed with a belt that drives the water pump pulley.
    Once the belt slips, cracks, wears, or becomes loose, it renders the water pump absolutely inefficient. It is advised that you tighten the belt and rest the tensioner as soon as you notice.

What To Watch Out For

  • Overheating: An oozing heat from your engine can be traced mainly to a faulty or aged water pump. When water isn’t supplied to the required place in the engine, this may lead to other faults.
  • Coolant Leaks: It is sometimes easy to notice coolant loss in your engine. Droplets are sometimes detected under the car engine and may not. A coolant leak may indicate you have got to replace or fix your water pump.
  • Whining Noise: If the water pump is dying, you may also notice a high-pitched sound in the form of a whining noise from the engine. A loose drive pulley will do some sort of harmonic buzzing. Although the noise can be a result of worn bearings, a failed water pump is the main suspect.

What To Do

Even with the best maintenance and OEM water pumps, the water pump may still damage before it reaches its natural mileage. However, there are things you can do to prevent it from wearing earlier than normal. You have to flush and drain the coolant in the cooling system as periodically as recommended.

If this preventive measure is skipped, the water pump may be in for a serious catastrophe. Once it breaks, a water pump problem can mean a lot of damage if a solution isn’t provided on time. However, the two specific symptoms to watch out for are overheating and coolant leaks.

It is sometimes best to fix these problems to prevent the engine from shutting down. Once you have covered about 100,000 miles, replacing the water pump will be the best decision. I advise you to be wary of any of these signs. A defective water pump can result in more expensive damage.

2. Oil Leaks

Another common Nissan 3.3 V6 engine issue is oil leaks. However, this issue can mostly be a result of an ageing engine and not faulty design.

Different gaskets and seals are located around the engine, bearing a high degree of heat for years. Gaskets are produced with rubber-like materials, and as a result, they are vulnerable to various abuse from the engine.

Oozing heat can cause the rubber-like body to melt or crack and, with time, be unable to contain oil again by leaking it whenever there is a top-up. Oil leaks in the Nissan 3.3 V6 engines are traceable to the valve cover gasket (VCG).

The space between the head and valve cover is sealed by the gaskets and is exposed to a high degree of heat on the VCG. As this engine gets older, the oil leak is mostly associated with it.

Although other sources such as pan gaskets, rear main seal, and main seal can cause oil leaks, it is, however, common to the VCG as the engine gets older.

I, however, inspect my engine each time before driving out to find if there is any leak to prevent a sudden breakdown of my engine.

What Causes Oil Leaks

The causes of an oil leak cannot be tied to one source. A wide range of things and reasons can be responsible for the fluid in the engine to leak.

Some of these include:

  • Degraded Oil Filter: An oil leak can be traced to a worn oil filter. An oil filter in a car helps to prevent damage to your car engine by filtering impurities present in the oil.
    However, if the oil filter becomes degraded or broken, due to pressure from the engine, overuse, or mileage, the oil will start to leak away.
  • Excess Oil: Oil overflow is not good, but not a dangerous thing to worry about, either. If you have poured more than enough oil into the engine, an overflow will occur.
  • Failing Gaskets: I’m sure you’ll agree that defective gaskets can absolutely and solely cause oil to leak from the engine. The gaskets help to move fluids to all parts of the car. Over time, the gaskets can wear and degrade due to use, age, or mileage.

What To Watch Out For

Now that you understand what causes leaks; let’s look at some of the signs to watch out for:

  • Burning Oil Smell: The gaskets and seals are not far from the always-heated part of the engine. Whenever there is a fault, it results in oil leakage, and a drop on any heated area of the engine melts it, resulting in a burning smell. Burning oil smells easier to detect, among other symptoms.
  • Visible Leak: A cracked gasket will result in an oil leak as it gets older. It often results from excessive heat from the engine.
  • Light Smoke: The engine bay may pop light smoke due to an old gasket. It has the same process as a burning smell. However, both burning smell and light smoke can be noticed at the same time.

What To Do

Purchasing VCG is cost-effective due to its simplicity. Nissan 3.3 VS runs on two VGC, which costs between $10 to $20 each. Replacing the passenger’s side of the gasket is not difficult but coming to the driver’s side and replacing it will require the removal of certain parts before accessing it.

If you have a faulty VCG, I recommend you replace both VCG, regardless of the condition of the other one. It is best to do if your engine has covered certain miles.

3. Fuel Sending Unit

A faulty fuel sending unit (FSU) results from a design error within this engine. The FSU is connected to the fuel pump, and with it, fuel reading is transported to the gas gauge. Nissan understands that the FSU is a common issue, which is why the company extends its warranty.

The FSU is located inside the gas tank. The FSU is composed of a variable resistor, a metal rod, and a float and the three parts work closely together to ensure the unit sends an accurate reading to the fuel gauge.

A variable resistor is an electrical unit of the FSU which helps to regulate the amount of voltage that gets into the system while resisting electric flow. The metal rod connects the float to the resistor-bound contact. The float is a foam- or composite-made component that is located on the fuel tank.

Don’t forget, there are several terms that can interchangeably be used in place of the fuel sending unit, including fuel gauge sender unit, fuel tank sending unit, fuel pump sending unit, sending unit, fuel level sensor and more.

However, the issue is easier to fix in specific models such as the grand scheme VG33E. Although fixing it costs less, it may cause other problems to spring up.

When there is inaccurate reading in the gas gauge, it indicates the FSU is faulty. The fuel pump, in some cases, may also be the culprit behind it, but it usually begins with the FSU.

What Causes Faulty FSU

Locating the source of the fault of a failing fuel sending unit is a no-brainer to say. The main reason a fuel sending unit can become faulty is usually electrical. If your car experiences an instrument cluster failure, the FSU is likely to stop working.

A circuit problem is another suspect. This problem occurs when there is a lack of source voltage for the sensor. It is also possible that the FSU ground has been interrupted Loose connection can also cause the FSU to malfunction.

You should also check if the fuel pump module is corroded as a result of constant exposure to the elements.

What To Watch Out For

Take a look at the signs to watch out for before concluding that your FSU is bad.

  • Unstable Fuel Gauge: The gas gauge begins to bounce around a little. Although this does not happen in most cases, it is, however, an indication there is a fault in FSU.
  • Inaccurate Fuel Reading: To detect this problem is not difficult. FSU sends a level of fuel reading for display. Inaccuracies in reading are just to let you know that a replacement is required.

What To Do

Fixing the fuel level sensor is pretty easy and you won’t have to break the bank to settle labor or parts costs. Typically, replacing the Nissan 3.3 V6 engine’s FSU is cost-friendly.

You can buy the part in the price range of $40 and $50. You should request the services of a mechanic if you cannot perform a DIY procedure.

4. Timing Belt

Confident DIY’ers will quickly see this Nissan 3.3 V6 engine problem as an easy task to fix. An attempt to fix this problem as a newbie DIY’er may lead to further damage. Timing belts come as kits and consists of certain components such as seals, thermostats, belts and more.

Replacing timing belts offers the best chance to replace the components as mentioned above. Timing belts go for about $150 to 250. If you are opting for the services of a mechanic for timing belt replacement or repair, you can budget a further $100-$120 for labor costs.

What To Watch Out For

  • Oil Leak: The timing belt cover can be the culprit behind the leak in your engine. Although timing covers are secured with bolts and nuts, they can, however, be lost with time.
  • Exhaustive Issue: Just as light smoke comes out from the engine, you may observe excess smoke oozing out from your exhaust.

What To Do

As we can all see, the timing carries out an important job in the engine despite being a simple piece of technology. If you notice that the timing belt has broken while driving, it’s time to pull up. You’ve got to fix it before you can continue the journey.

Don’t forget, the timing is the link between the gear to the terminal of both the camshaft and the crankshaft.

Once the timing belt fails, there’s a likelihood that some parts such as the camshaft, pistons, and valves may have suffered damage. The right thing to do is to call your technician to repair the damaged parts.

Depending on the severity of the damage, you can spend as much as between $1000-$2500 to fix the issues that accompany timing belt failure.


1. Can The Water Pump Cause My Nissan 3.3 V6 Engine To Overheat?

Yes. If you have a faulty water pump, supplying water will be difficult, thus, result in overheating. Remember, the water pump performs a cooling job in the cooling system. However, once water does not get to the cooling system, you risk an extreme rise in temperature which causes the engine to overheat.

2. What Are The Specs Of Nissan 3.3 V6 Engines?

Features: Specs:
Displacement 3275cc (3.3L)
Layout V6
Valvetrain SOHC
Aspiration Naturally Aspirated
Torque 202 lb-ft
Horsepower 179-180hp

3. Is The Nissan 3.3 V6 A Good Engine?

Yes. It is a good engine. However, proper and regular maintenance is needed to enjoy it to the fullest.

Final Thoughts

After-market parts may be readily available to replace your common Nissan 3.3 V6 engine problems, but they’re unsafe for your engine.

Avoid replacing your engine with aftermarket parts such as water pump, FSU, and timing belt, except you are buying from a trusted source you are familiar with; otherwise, your engine may be edging closer to shutting down.

Always focus on every sign and symptom to get the required attention. By sticking with the preventive measures I’ve explained above, you can save yourself from the outrageous cost of maintaining your engine.