Vibrating Brake Pedals Xterra


So I created this picture of a warped rotor. On the left, that’s what most people imagine a warped rotor to look like. On the right it is what a warped rotor actually looks like, like any other normal rotor. One way to know if a rotor is warped is to use caliper gauge to measure the thickness.

So for years my brake pedals were vibrating. For a better term, it would actually pulsate. My dad would always mention how it bothered him that my car’s brake pedals pulsated when he pressed on the brakes. I said that’s normal since its a SUV. The front brake rotors and brake pads were new at that time, rear rotors were Raybestos that were a few years old with Wagner brake pads so I assumed those couldn’t be the culprit because they were name brand products with a reputation for quality. So my father changed the brake booster thinking it was the culprit but the pedals still were pulsating when braking.  Did it bother me? Not really, I assumed since it was a SUV and had all terrain tires that a rough ride was expected. Until one day I was driving a 2016 Camry and when I pressed on the brakes I realized how smooth it felt when it stopped. That’s when I realized that there was an issue with my brakes.

Upon researching people were blaming unbalanced tire for the brake vibration and someone else saying that brake rotors rarely ever warp but its just an uneven deposit of material. I did find a comment that mentioned that the only reason the brakes pulsate is because the brake pads will move in and out due to the warp in the rotor causing the fluid to pulsate back and forth. This sounded really reasonable but at the same time I doubted my brake rotors were warped because online people mentioned warping only happens when:

  • Uneven torque on wheel lug nuts, but I always used a torque wrench to tighten my lug nuts  to make sure the torque is consistent
  • Cheap rotors made with poor quality material, but these rear rotors were made by Raybestos which is known for their quality.
  • Uneven deposit of material so you have to even the material out by driving from 0 to 60 and then braking really fast, repeat 8 to 10 times. I tried it and my brake pedals was still vibrating/pulsating.
  • The rotors were not warped but unbalanced tires is causing the vibration. With all terrain tires my entire car does vibrate a little. When braking my car doesn’t vibrate at low speeds but my brake pedals pulsate still.

So I decided to service my brakes and see if I notice any faults. I sanded down the pads to make it level, sanded down the glaze on the rotors, re-greased the calibers and bleed the brakes. That’s when I discovered a surprise. A warped rotor! So I was sanding one of the rear rotors and I noticed one side was sanding higher than another side.

This is the rear warped rotor on my Xterra

This is to highlight the high and low side.

This was the high side. The inside was flat with the rest of the rotor.

Here was the low side. There was a noticeable drop off. My nail actually dipped down running across it.

I didn’t have a specialized tool but it was noticeable when I ran my fingers across the low and high side. I decided switch it out with my OEM Nissan rotors that came with the Xterra and to my surprise the vibration actually stopped. No more pulsating in the brakes. Not as smooth as the Camry but a huge improvement!

So if your brakes do pulsate you might actually have a warped rotor that needs to be replaced.

Buying a used 2nd Generation (2005-2015) Nissan Xterra

After owning my Xterra for 9 glorious years I would like to share my experience.

Why would you want a used Xterra?

The Xterra is reliable. After 9 years, 100,000 miles there was no major issues with my Xterra and it has never left me on the side of the road.  The engines and transmission did have some minor issues but once solved they can last a long time (will talk more about this later). Some owners of the Xterra has driven them to 320,000 miles. The Xterra only comes with one engine and that’s a V6 4.0 Liter providing 261 horsepower. Plenty of aftermarket vendors so parts are cheap. Also when fixing/replacing car parts, it was relatively easy and straightforward. I know some companies like to surprise owners by putting a starter under the intake manifold, but don’t worry the Xterra has nothing surprising like that. There is plenty of cargo space. If the trunk is not big enough, you can even put down the back row seats and it’ll lay flat with the trunk.  I’ve stored ladders, jack hammers, air compressors, tool boxes, and nail guns all in one trip without any issues. Lastly, buying a used Xterra can be found for really cheap on craigslist.

Why don’t you want a used Xterra?

With a big V6 4.0 liter and weighing 4,000 pounds it is not merciful on the MPG. The advertised MPG is 16 city and 22 highway but with upgraded off road tires I get around 14 mpg city and maybe 18 highway. The Xterra is far from luxury so don’t expect creature comforts. The steering wheel handling is not the smoothest nor lightest, I found it a little heavy and stiff compared to other SUV and trucks. The interior cabin is not the most quietest. Lots of noise does leak through from the outside due to no noise dampening material and since the interior is mostly plastic, it does create some rattle noises. I would like to point out two major things you should look out for:

  1. The engine and transmission before 2009  are reliable but it did come with a few issues. The engines before 2009 came with faulty timing chain plastic tensioner guides that wore out too quickly and would rub against metal. Luckily I had this replaced before the powertrain warranty expired. How can you tell if the timing chain tensioner is having issues? It’ll make a high pitch sound, almost similar to a car with turbo. When I first experienced this, I thought it was actually pretty cool at how it sounded, but I knew it would eventually get louder when more plastic from the tensioner wore away.
  2. The non-synthetic transmission fluid that came with the Nissan Xterra  can be corrosive to the radiator. It’ll eat through the bottom pipe of the radiator and it’ll mix with the radiator fluid. So now your transmission fluid with lubricating properties is not so much lubricating. This mixture will flows through your transmission and create problems unless its flushed as soon as possible. They call this “strawberry milkshake of death,” because it looks like a pinkish foamy milkshake. Luckily, I heard about this issue through forums so I performed a transmission fluid bypass and installed an additional transmission cooler to provide additional cooling.

When you shop for a used Xterra make sure the engine whine and transmission fluid contamination is on the top of your check list.

What’s the first thing you want to do once you buy an Xterra?

Performing a transmission bypass would be my first priority since it’s like a ticking time bomb and then replacing all the fluids just in case the previous owner neglected to do so.

What have I replaced on my Xterra during my ownership?

After 9 years I’ll list parts that have been replaced

  • Installed new Raybestos brake and rotors due to squeaking
  • Replaced rear hatch strut due to it not being able to hold up the hood.
  • Had the timing chain and tensioners replaced under warranty at 48,000 miles
  • Replaced serpentine belt during routine maintenance
  • Fixed crack in windshield reservoir with epoxy
  • Replaced all 4 tire pressure monitoring sensors.
  • Suspensions were replaced during routine maintenance
  • Replaced sway bar bushing due to a popping noise when turning
  • Replaced clock spring when airbags light came on
  • Replaced rubber hood bumpers when the hood started to chirp/squeak