START HERE: Troubleshooting The TP Sensor
The key to diagnosing the your 3.3L equipped Nissan Pathfinder (Frontier, Xterra or QX4)'s throttle position sensor (TPS) is to remember that:
- The TP sensor's voltage signal increases when the throttle plate opens
- The TP sensor's voltage decreases when the throttle plate closes.
So, the absolute best way to find out if the TPS has failed on your Nissan is by manually testing the TP sensor with a multimeter (while it's still on the throttle body and connected to its electrical connector).
Here's a summary of the 3 tests in this tutorial:
- Check the TP sensor's voltage signal with a multimeter.
- You'll be connecting your multimeter to the TP sensor connector's middle wire and then manually opening and closing the throttle to see if the TP sensor produces a varying DC voltage signal.
- TPS TEST 1: Testing The TPS Voltage Signal.
- Verify that the TP sensor is getting power (if TEST 1 is failed).
- This is a simple multimeter test too.
- TPS TEST 2: Verifying The TPS Has Power.
- Verify that the TP sensor is getting Ground (if TEST 1 is failed).
- This is a simple multimeter test too.
- TPS TEST 3: Verifying The TPS Has Ground.
TPS TEST 1: Testing The TPS Voltage Signal
The very first thing that we're going to do is connect a multimeter to the wire that connects to the TPS pin labeled with the number 2 (this is the middle wire of the brown connector).
Once the multimeter is connected, we'll manually rotate the throttle plate to see if the throttle position sensor is creating a throttle angle signal.
While we're verifying the throttle angle voltage, we're gonna' gently tap the TP sensor with a screwdriver's handle to see if it affects the voltage output.
I'll explain everything in a step-by-step manner in the following instructions.
NOTE: To ensure the accuracy of your test, it's best to test the throttle position sensor (TPS) with the engine warmed up.
OK, let's start:
Place your multimeter in Volts DC mode and with the red multimeter test lead, probe the wire that connects to the TP sensor pin labeled with the number 2 in the image (in the image viewer above). This is the circuit that supplies the TP Signal to the PCM.
If you don't have a multimeter or need to upgrade yours, check out my recommendation: Buying A Digital Multimeter For Automotive Diagnostic Testing (found at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
NOTE: The throttle position sensor has to remain connected to its connector for this test to work (this is where a wire piercing probe comes in handy to get to the signal inside the wire. To see what one looks like, click here: Wire Piercing Probe Tool.)
Ground the black multimeter test lead on the battery negative terminal. Have your helper turn the Key On, but don't start the engine (this will power up the TP sensor).
Your multimeter should report 0.4 to 0.9 Volts DC. If your multimeter doesn't, don't worry about it just yet, continue with the other steps.
Now, slowly open the throttle (by hand and from the engine compartment) while you observe the change in voltage numbers on your multimeter.
For this test result to be accurate, you need to open the throttle by hand and not from inside the vehicle.
As the throttle opens, the voltage numbers will increase. This increase in voltage should be smooth and without any gaps or skips. Once the throttle is wide open, your multimeter should read somewhere between 3.5 to 4.9 Volts DC.
Now, slowly close the throttle. As the throttle is closing, you should see the voltage decrease smoothly and without any gaps or skips, to the exact same voltage you noticed in step 4.
OK, now you'll need someone to help you lightly tap on the throttle position sensor with the handle of a screw-driver (or something similar, and I want to emphasize the words ‘lightly tap') as you slowly open and close the throttle and observe the multimeter.
If the TPS is bad, the tapping will cause the voltage numbers to skip or go blank. If the TPS is OK, the tapping will have no effect on the voltage numbers.
Repeat step 7 several times to make sure of your multimeter test results.
Let's take a look at your test results:
CASE 1: The multimeter registered a smooth increase or decrease in voltage with no gaps. This test result tells you that the TP sensor on your 3.3L Nissan Pathfinder (Xterra, Frontier, QX4) is working correctly and that it's not malfunctioning at this time.
This test result also let's you know that the problem causing the P)120 trouble code is intermittent and not present at this point in time.
CASE 2: The multimeter DID NOT register a smooth increase or decrease in voltage, and you saw the voltage reading skip or go dead when tapping the TPS, then this means that the throttle position sensor (TPS) is bad. Replace the throttle position sensor.
NOTE: After replacing the TPS, you'll need to adjust it. For the TPS adjustment instructions, go to: How To Adjust The Throttle Position Sensor Assembly.
CASE 3: The multimeter DID NOT register any voltage. This test result doesn't condemn the TPS as bad just yet. Why? Because,
, the TPS may be missing either power or Ground. So the next step is to check that the TPS is getting power, go to: TPS TEST 2: Verifying The TPS Has Power.