CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

2002 Altima -- Rough Start, Nearly Stalls, Burns Oil

Some background information on the car to start off. I got this car from my dad in the fall of 2007 with around 70k miles on it, running great and all of that.



Today it has ~105k miles, and by in large it’s still great. However, back in early December, it decided to lose almost all its acceleration (especially on hills, of which there are quite a few here in NW Minnesota) and absolutely would not shift up out of 2nd gear (it’s an automatic, so I couldn’t even realistically try forcing it).



I took it into the shop, and after running just a handful of tests the mechanic determined it was a bad catalytic converter. 4 hours and $700 later, I had my car back and it ran basically like new. Fast forward 2 months and the check engine light comes on. I call the shop and they tell me it’s probably an O2 sensor that went off with the heat the bad catalytic converter was putting out. Take it in, get it replaced… again a few hours and $300 later, everything is working.



After all this is said and done and I’m getting rather sick of throwing money at this car, in the past couple weeks I have noticed the car is burning oil at a rather alarming rate. “Fine,” I think to myself, “Maybe I’m just doing something differently with how I’m driving it.”



Additionally, every once in a while on starting the car – especially after it has sat in the garage all night – on startup it would sort of wheeze and rumble and not really feel like it had any power. I would rev the engine, feel it hiccup a bit, then I could be on my way.



However, this morning on my way to work, I started up the car only to feel as though it had almost no power in the start, but I was in a hurry so I couldn’t take the luxury of the couple minutes it normally takes to make the engine like me. I backed out of my driveway, feeling the car shaking and generally not feeling too confident about it, and lo and behold as soon as I had shifted into drive from reverse, the check engine light started flashing and I felt like I was just seconds away from a full-on stall. I pulled over, turned off the car and waited a couple minutes. After the wait, I started the car up and got to work without any problems.



So my questions are twofold at this point, I suppose: What’s going on here, and is it possibly related to the problem I had this last fall? Any advice is appreciated. I need reliable transport in my line of work (I’m a pastor), so tomorrow I’ll be heading to town to take a look at new cars just in case things don’t work out with this one.



Cheers!

Addendum – I should say I’m 95% sure the engine is burning oil. As I park inside, it has been fairly easy to check and I haven’t noticed any significant amount of oil leakage on the floor to account for my need to drop a quart of oil in about ever 2-3 weeks.

In my opinion, if the engine is not leaking and there is an oil consumption problem the first step should be a compression test and/or a leakdown test to check piston rings, etc.
There is no test for valve seals.

The thought comes to mind (if the converter was not clogged) that the pump could be behind every bit of these problems as a fuel pump can work fine for a day, week, or months before deciding to screw up. They can really be a hit and miss thing at times.
Did the shop state the converter was clogged or just “bad”? A bad converter won’t cause much of a performance loss; a clogged one can.

I’d run a compression test and see what’s going on with the engine internals. A ring problem means money and it might be time to say goodbye to this car if you don’t want to shoulder that expense. (And if there’s any question about compression readings post back. It’s irritating to me that many, including mechanics, think that some of the lousiest readngs are actually good readings. Rule of thumb is compression ratio X 20 and subtract a bit for altitude.)

The cat was actually clogged, and after it was fixed the car ran great for ~4 months until the O2 sensor finally kicked the bucket. Prior to getting it fixed, I was lucky to get 35mph our of the car and it took at least 5 minutes of desperately trying to accelerate to get it there.

I’ll get a compression test done at my shop (which happens to be in town where the new cars are) and get a full rundown of the results to post here.

Appreciate the advice. I wish I weren’t so in the dark about cars, but at least I have this resource! :slight_smile:

I’ve got an appointment for it this morning at my shop. Anything else I should have them look at, or is the compression test the silver bullet here?

Take a look at the complaints on this site–they will look familiar and not pleasant. Sorry.

The news is not too good, I am afraid.
The 2002 Altima was a brand new design, inside and out. Nissan came up with a brand new QR25DE engine, starting with the 2002 Model Year, a 2.5 liter. IIRC, at the very least, the first year of production had MANY engine related issues, especially excessive oil burning. You might want to look around the net and dig that stuff up a bit. Just google it.
I am sure there are several TSB (Technical Service Buletin) out there about the oil burning thing.
Most likely your cat problems are a direct result of the excessive oil burning. Cats do not like beeing fed excessive burned/partially burned raw hidrocarbons (which engine oil is).

Good luck.

One other thing:

Check your Owners Manual for the warranty on your Federal Emissions System (of which the cat belongs). Many are warrantied for at least 8-10 years/ 100-150k miles. You might be in luck and be able to recoup your costs for the cat.

Also check to see if there isn’t a recall/customer campaign for your excessive engine oil consumption. You could get your engine fixed for free by Nissan. I think there is a campaign for this, but I could be be wrong.

The new is bad, bad and worse. Yes, the problem with the cat did create the oil burning problem and the problem with the cat was a factory defect for which there was a TSB. It seems that when the cat disintegrates, small pieces can get sucked into the the engine through the exhaust manifold where they then score the cylinder walls causing excessive oil consumption. I had the cat failure which, with about 5 or 6 other things were all repaired under warranty at about 76,000 miles. I learned a short time later that the engine was loosing oil when the oil light flashed on and I found that I was about 3 quarts low. The engine continued to burn oil at a rate of about a quart every 800 miles all last winter. The good news is that it seems to have slowed considerably and is now down to about a quart every 1500-2000 miles which I can live with. According to Nissan, the only repair is an engine replacement. Oh yes, and the oil light doesn’t come on until you are 3-4 quarts low and, oh yes the oil filler hole is too small to allow you to put oil in the thing without dumping half of it over the engine. Swell design

In this case the Cat problem caused the oil burning…see below and yes there is a TSB on the cat problem and thousands of consumer complaints on the oil consumption problem which Nissan does not seem to want to acknowledge…Hmmmm, I wonder why