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Nissan Altima Engine Failures



  • I own a 2002 Altima 2.5L 106,000 miles. I just got back from a "free" car clinic at my dealership (bought the car 4 years ago with 62,000 miles). I brought it there because I was experiencing the infamous rough start. I was told that the head gasket needs to be replaced ($1,600) because coolant is seeping in and causing the misfires. They said the two different metals on the engine cool at different rates and allow the seepage. (Disclaimer: I am not very mechanically inclined, and am approximating what they said). When I asked what could have been done to prevent the problem, they made it sound as it was just something that happens over time.

    I found this, and other forums, when I came home. I have an appt with my local mechanic tommorrow. My question: Because I have yet to experience any of the oil problems usually associated with the "coolant/head gasket/precat" issue, is it possible that I got lucky and my engine hasn't been damaged by the precat debris? Does this put me in any more favorable a position(long term) than those who are losing 1 qt of oil every 1000 miles?

    My wife and I are moving from NJ to NC next week! I really don't have the $ or time to deal with this. Is there any way to reasonably estimate how long I can live with the problem as is? As I stated, currently the only symptom is a rough idle for about 10 seconds when I start it cold (usually only the morning).

    Will gladly answer any cooking or food related questions in return ;)
  • All the answers to your questions are in this forum! The problem is that most people just blow in here and read the current conversation, and comment on what they just read and what their problem is. This forum is only up to 470 posts at this time. That may sound like a lot, but it is not. This problem goes way back for a long time. If you REALLY want to know about this problem and know what to DO about it, I would suggest to go back to the first message in this forum and read all of the messages, and you will know the whole story. My first post was #75 on October 18, 2007, and I have learned a LOT very quicky since then. In message # 75 & 77 I figured out & explained the problem with the Precat converter and the second cat converter under the center of the car, and what to do about them. The car has two cats, the Precat (first cat) and the Second cat under the center of the car. The bottom line is that if you have over 80,000 miles on your 2002 Atltima 2,5 engine, I would suggest that you HOLLOW OUT the precat (this will keep the precat from destroying your engine). There is no need to buy special header pipes to eliminate the precat converter, they are a waste of money. If the second cat gets clogged (does not allow or restricts exhaust gas flow out the tailpipes) I would suggest to hollow it out also. If your State has exhaust emmissions testing, you will have to replace the second cat with a new one, only if the second cat clogs up. My daughters 2002 Altima 2.5S has both cats hollowed out now and it runs great. We narrowly missed having the engine destroyed by the cats, I fixed it just in the nick of time, BEFORE the oil comsumption got too bad.
    We also had the problem of the engine miss on the cold start, had the leaking head gasket problem. I wrote all about this in messages from #98 on 12/06/2007 to message #125 on 12/24/2007. I had to tear the engine apart, remove the head, get the head rebuilt at the machine shop, put in new head gasket and put it all back together. It is still running fine now. I was told by the machine shop that it is not uncommon for the engine head to warp on these engines, causing the engine head gasket to blow. The engine head was warped out ot specs, so thay had to mill it flat. They checked all the valves and said it was ok now, with no cracks or leaks.

    So I would suggest you read up on all of this and get your engine head gasket replaced. At the same time have your intake manifold power valve screws glued permanently in place and get the precat hollowed out. Having the precat hollowed out will require the you put on the O2 Cheater on the second O2 sensor (the one at the botteom of the precat). This O2 Cheater will keep the check engine light from coming on. Go to message #232, dated 03/13/2008, to find the O2 Cheater. It only costs $5. There is a link in the message that will take you to all the information and pictures about it.
    Everything you need to know about these problems is here in this forum, all you have to do is look.
    Note: To others on this forum. I am not on here for the purpose of complaining about Nissan, I am simply stating the facts on what I have experienced and giving my opinions on them. What has happened to me concerning the 2002 Nissan Altima 2.5S has been very upsetting, and has cost me much time, effort and money, and I would not wish this on anyone. But I have read of many on here and on other websites that have the same frustrating problems. So I think it fitting to give others fair warning of possible empending problems. They may not get the same problems, but the possiblity is definitely there. I am not a chronic complainer, I have many good things to say about vehicles that are really worthy of praise. I just call them as I see them. That is this mechanics opinion.
    Good luck,
    E.D. in Sunny Florida
  • I am thinking about buying a 2009 altima but am concerned about the engine issues that have been posted on this forum. Has Nissan addressed these problems so that the 09 model is problem free?
  • ED,
    I appreciate all you have written, and read all of your, and the other, posts. That is why I did not ask what could be done to fix it. I asked 3 questions which I hoped would give me an idea of how far gone my car was, since I had no burnibg oil.

    In any case, my mechanic did some work, and we'll see how it goes
  • " I asked 3 questions which I hoped would give me an idea of how far gone my car was, since I had no burnibg oil. "

    Here are your answers in a nutshell:

    1. Q. "Because I have yet to experience any of the oil problems usually associated with the "coolant/head gasket/precat" issue, is it possible that I got lucky and my engine hasn't been damaged by the precat debris?"
    A. Yes. You do NOT have the problem yet. but I would suggest that you monitor your oil level very closely. Once the damage starts, it can advance quickly.

    2. Q. "Does this put me in any more favorable a position (long term) than those who are losing 1 qt of oil every 1000 miles?"
    A. Yes more favorable, but watch out for the problem by checking the engine oil level frequently..

    3. Q. "I really don't have the $ or time to deal with this. Is there any way to reasonably estimate how long I can live with the problem as is?"
    A. It depends on which problem that you are talking about.
    The leaking head gasket problem should be addressed as soon as possible, because you already have that problem, and it will only get worse. It can cause the engine to overheat, and eventually ruin your engine. The head gasket can not heal itself. The engine head will have to be sent to a machine shop to have the head surface milled flat. You can temporarily help to repair (1 to 3 months) the leaking head gasket problem by putting a half a jar of BARS LEAKS PELLETIZED HEAVY DUTY RADIATOR STOP LEAK (available at any local automotive parts house) into the radiator. This will seal the head gasket leak for a while. 1/2 bottle should be more than enough to temporarily fix the problem. Do not put more than 1/2 bottle into the radiator, as you do not want to clog the cooling system. Keep the extra half bottle of Bar's Leak in the trunk, in case you need to add a little more, Add no more than a tablespoon at any one time. I think the cost of replacing the head gasket is about $1600 to $2000, depending on where you go. I did the job myself and the machine shop work and parts cost me $533 and I used 48 hours labor (working slowly and carefully), Maybe you could try that and save $1000 to $1500, if so inclined
    If you are talking about the oil burning/precat issue problem, don't worry about it yet, as it has not happened to you, just keep a very close eye on the oil level, and write down any oil you have to add. A good engine should be able to go at least 2500 miles or longer before needing a quart of 10W-30 oil. I recommend that you use only FULL synthetic motor oil in the engine, such as Mobil One or Valvoline Super Syn & use a quality oil filter by Mobil One or Purolator Pure One.
    Only use the cheap oil if the engine starts sucking down (burning) a quart of engine oil every week, because if the engine starts using that much oil, the engine is toast anyway.
    Good Luck,
    E.D. in Sunny Florida
  • Quick update from NC. My mechanic in NJ drilled 5 holes in the precat. He did not replace the head gasket but tried some sealant. My drive to NC was fine-uneventful. The next day I went out for dinner, and when I left the restaurant, my car would not start. Was very rough but would not turn over. I checked the oil, and it seemed low (very dark out here). Walked to a gas station, put 3 qts of oil in, and after cranking it for 10 seconds, it turned over and drove fine. Also interesting is that my SES light was still on when I picked it up at the mechanic, now it is off for the 1st time in months. Checked the oil this morning (drive home last night was 20 min) and the oil level may actually be high. Nevertheless, I'll be buying a couple of quarts for the trunk and checking it frequently. Thanks for the advice ED, I'll be updating as time goes on for others who are sufferung from this.
  • Had the same problem today. First time I drove it since I posted last. Car started fine this morning, drove about 30 min. When I went to start the car 3 hours later, I had to crank it several times for about 15 seconds each before it turned over. So it seems to start fine when cold, but gives me a tough time, very rough start feeling, when it's warm or hot. I am not mechanically inclined, and I have already reached the limits of what logic dictates. Car does runs fine, once it's running. I have been checking the oil and the level is the same and has maintained the milkiness- no black.

    I will be calling my NJ mechanic on Monday to see if he has any insight, but I don't think I can afford to take it to a mechanic down here just yet( last time had to get 2 new tires and a water pump and thermostat in addition to the sealant and precat drilling- total about $800). I will continue to update.
  • Start but no turnover again this morning. Took off radiator cap while engine was ice cold and coolant spit out at me. Parked the car on incline, started car and watched bubbles, guess there was air in there. Now starts fine, hot or cold.

    I am hoping for the best.
  • Hi tripj, You have to fix your head gasket asap or you need a new engine. Your oil will be contaminated with coolant and ruin your bearings,cylinder wall, piston rings, etc.

    I fixed my head gasket in ALL Tune and Lube for $1200 total ($890 tear down+ $310 machine shop work ). The engine works fine for more than 18k miles/15 months even with 0.5 quarts/1k miles oil consumption. Remember to check "Struts, passenger and rear side engine mounts, and outer tie rod, timing chain tensioner (1 second rattle in cold start)" before you decide to fix or sell it.
  • I already told tripj what he had to do, especially about replacing the head gasket in messages # 471 & 474. The engine head gasket needs to be fixed right away, but it will get fixed when he feels the urgency to do it, or is able to come up with the money to do it. Yes, the engine will eventually destroy itself if not repaired. If that same situation happened to me right now, I would have to just nurse it along, using some sealer as I suggested for temporary repair, because I have been unemployed for 4 months, broke, with no work in sight. And I have lots of valuable skills, but they are not worth much in this dead economy/depression. So maybe he can somehow scape together what he needs to fix it, or maybe not.
  • Well it was a good couple of days when that was working. Sitting here confused because I am back to square one. The coolant reservoir is empty, could I have lost too much coolant? The radiator is almost full. Will try putting some water in the coolant reservoir, I suppose, tho I don't see how that could keep it from starting when it's 55degrees out.

    I have just relocated and am looking for a job myself, no money. This is not good.
  • Tripj, here is what you need to do. You need to fix the most important and pressing issues first. The head gasket leak is major in my book. If not fixed, it will destroy your engine. If you don't have the money right now, you must take measures to prevent further damage right away. If you have not put the sealer in the radiator as I suggested in messege #474, then do that now. Look for and note any external coolant leaks, if any. You are loosing coolant, and if is not leaking out where you can see it, it is leaking inside the engine head gasket. Keep the coolant reservoir filled up to the proper level. Water may be ok in the summer, but it may freeze in the winter. How cold does it get where you are? Make an estimate of how much fluid you have to add to the coolant reservoir each week. That will give us an idea of how bad the head gasket problem is. Once you use the radiator sealer, you should have to add less than 16 ounces to the coolant reservoir per week. Check the coolant level and the engine oil level every day to see what each usage is.
    Once that is under control, look to see what the starting problem is. Fixing the coolant leak may help fix the starting problem. The causes for the hard starting or no start could be many different reasons.
    Good luck, E.D.
  • tripjtripj Posts: 9
    I appreciate your concern. As I mentioned in #475, before I left New Jersey for N. Carolina, my mechanic drilled the precat and put sealer in. In a nutshell, this is what has happened since:
    -Drove 500 miles to n Carolina, started car next day no problem, 2 hours later very hard start.
    -Next day: Start car no problem, start car 2 hours later, very hard start(giving gas to boost rpms to start)
    -Next day very hard start, Bleed radiator lines, car starts fine.
    -For 2 days car starts fine. Turned off and on maybe 15-20 times running errands.
    -Next day car won't start.

    Checked spark plugs yesterday. 1 & 4 wet and smell like gas (from trying to start it and giving the car gas, I guess) but they spark and so does 3. No spark on 2. 2&3 dry with no smell.

    I am changing the spark plugs today, tho I very much doubt that will help. That is the limit of what I can do with my automotive knowledge and available tools(not sure what I have less of). If it won't turn over, I'll have to have it towed to a shop and hope for the best. I have 3 more payments on it, so can't even have it hauled away cuz I have no title.

    I am at my wit's end.
  • tripjtripj Posts: 9
    Put in new plugs, lo and behold, it starts right up. Big scary cloud of white exhaust. SES light is still on. I'll take it for a diagnostic ($100) and see what's what.
  • Glad to hear the new plugs helped the engine start. This means your engine must likely be in bad shape, because there is a reason that they fouled. Were they the original plugs? My daughters 2002 Altima 2.5 had the original plugs until 100,000 miles, and they did not look bad then. What did the plugs look like, fouled with oil or fouled with gas, or both? What color was the insulator tip? You may need to check general engine health, like check engine cylinder compressions would be helpful - they should be at least 140 lbs, up to 180 lbs - 200 lbs if the head has been milled. Vacuum gauge readings may be helpful.
    Wow, $100 for a diagnostic, hate to see you spend that much, but may be worth it if they give you valuable information.
    This all goes back to the Head Gasket problem and if you have the pre-cat problem or not. Even with the sealer in the radiator, the Head Gasket will still leak small amounts of coolant into the cylinders from time to time, that is why you need to daily be checking all the fluid levels. Please update on how much coolant that you have to add per day or week, and how much engine oil you have to add per day, week, or month, this will be indications of what is happening with the head gasket leak and if there are any problems with the cylinders. That would be helpful diagnostic information.
    To save your engine for as long as you can, make sure that the engine never runs hot or overheats & check and keep all fluid levels filled up.
    Good Luck, E.D.
  • rondholrondhol Posts: 32
    Your engine will not start when the cylinder is wet. If the leak is bad enough you will get Hydrolock and BOOM. Temporary fix with head gasket sealer in 100% water solution. :sick:
    I think you will need new engine because you let the head gasket leak for such long period of time.
  • tripjtripj Posts: 9
    so after I got it to start, I took it to the mechanic. He couldn't replicate the problem (it kept starting) but from the diagnostic he developed a couple of theories. Mainly, one of the sensors that tells the car how much gas will be needed to start the car(due to outside temperature) was messed up. He replaced that sensor and re-learned the idle, which was high. He also told me he saw no sign of head gasket damage-no leaks, no coolant in exhaust. I've had the car back for over a week and have had no problems whatsoever. I'm still nervous, but keeping the proverbial fingers crossed.
  • Let's get the whole story straight please... You just posted that your mechanic said "he saw no sign of head gasket damage-no leaks, no coolant in exhaust", But remember back in your first messege #470 on sept 17, you said "At a "free" car clinic at my dealership, I was told that the head gasket needs to be replaced ($1,600) because coolant is seeping in and causing the misfires". I assumed that they gave you a positive diagnosis of the head gasket failure. That situation DOES NOT CHANGE. Just because your mechanic does not see signs of the head gasket leakage, does not mean it is not there. Remember, by putting the sealer in the cooling system, it MASKS or HIDES the symptoms of the failing head gasket, but PLEASE remember it is ONLY A TEMPORARY REPAIR. How long it will last is anybody guess, 2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months?? But the day IS coming when it will get worse and the symptoms will come back and not go away and the engine will fail. You are kind of fortunate in a way, because this gives you some time to think about this and try to plan what to do, not like it was a sudden failure that cost you $6000 for an engine RIGHT NOW. DO NOT be lulled into a sense of false security just because the car is working ok for now. You should be feverishly working on a plan for what to do. I know what my plan would be if it were my car, I would get rid of that car as fast as I could before something else goes wrong with it. Putting money in that car is only throwing good money after bad. Get what money you can for it and then research your next car on the internet, and be sure to buy one that is PROVEN RELIABLE.
    Other immediate issues...the hard starting - The Altimas are known to sometimes have problems with the sensors and the MASS Airflow Sensor. Make sure that the Crankshaft Position Sensor and the Camshaft Position Sensor have the recalls done on them up to date and that they are working correctly. Check the MAF sensor to be sure it is clean and working properly. All of these things have been discussed in these forums, go back and read the past messeges, use the "search" feature to find what you want to read about using keywords such as sensor, etc.
    And finally, yes, I know about "keeping the proverbial fingers crossed" as I do the same every day, because my daughter is still driving her 2002 Nissan Altima 2.5S, and it scares me to death, especially now that I have been out of work for almost five months and have NO money to fix it. I say RATS of this darn Depression! I keep asking her the same questions almost every day, Did you check the oil today? Did you have to add any oil today? How much? Did you check the coolant today? Did you have to add any coolant today? How much? Yes, I certainly keep my fingers crossed, all the time!
    Again, Good Luck,
    E.D. in Sunny Florida
  • rondholrondhol Posts: 32
    E.D, I am sorry to hear that. I also always check the oil, coolant, and any pinging/detonation noise. Tripj, the Head gasket need to be replaced ASAP or just sell it ASAP.

    Don't waste your money and time to fix that Altima. I already threw more than $2000 to fix it in less than 1 year since 66k miles. (diagnostics, head gasket, CPS, struts, catalytic converter, engine mounts ). Exclude the $1000 maintenance like new brake rotors+pads at 80k miles, transmission+brake+ radiator fluid flush, inner+outer tie rod +alignment, new alternator (bad bearing) . I hate it's loud tapping noise during winter and lean pinging sound under light throttle + oil consumption.

    I keep driving it with DIY maintenance for 2-3 more years.
    I am looking for a mechanics that can re-program the ECU to fix the lean detonation issue. I hate to go to STEALERSHIP (dealership) with $95 per diagnostic.
  • jrc5jrc5 Posts: 1
    Well sounds like I have joined the band wagon. I know I need to replace my engine as I have the oil consumption problem and have replaced the cat. Now the head gasket is blown. Is there a replacement motor that want have the same problem?Any help will be appreciated.
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