2002 Nissan Altima Engine Problem

I have a 2002 Nissan Altima 2.5 S which I bought new. It has always has all recommended maintenance performed and all maintenance has been performed by the Nissan dealership. The other day the check service engine soon light came on soon after I started the car. A couple of times in the last few days I had noticed that when I first started the car in the mornings it ran i little rough (not much) for about 5 seconds immediately after starting but that was barely noticable and almost immediately stopped after which the engine ran perfectly. I decided to drop it by the dealership and have it serviced. The last maintenance (oil change) had been done about 3000 miles ago, so it was time for scheduled maintenance, so I was also having the oil changed and the tires rotated. After about an hour the service guy came out and told me that the code on the service engine soon was a “cylinder 2 misfire.” He said my antifreeze was a little low and they were doing a compression test as it could be a head gasket problem. He said the slight roughness for a few seconds when the car was started in the mornings was probably because antifreeze had leaked into the cylinder and once it burned off (a couple of seconds) the roughness went away. Because it was going to take them a while to do the test I told them to just call me when the car was ready and I left and went on to work. Serveral hours later the service guy called and said it was a head gasket problem, but he really thought I needed a new engine ($5300). He said my oil was 1/2 quart low and although the cat. converter didn’t show as bad, he was afraid that if I just had the head gasket replaced ($1800), the engine would still probably need to be replaced and the head gasket replacement would be for nothing. This car only has 66,300 miles on it, has always has all recommended maintenance performed by the dealership, and has never been driven “rough” as I am a very conservative driver. I have read about other problems with this engine and the cat. converter (or pre converter) failing and resulting in engine damage requiring engine replacement. This has really bummed me out. I bought this car because I was told, and had read, much about Nissan’s reputation for solid cars that ran a long time. Now, here I am with a car with only 66,300 miles (it should just be getting broken in good) and I’m being told that I should replace the engine. If a well-maintained, conservatively driven car has engine failure at 66,300 miles, that sure seems like a manufacturing defect to me. I have read that the cat. converter is warrantied for 80K miles and if this is true, and it had anything to do with the engine problem, it seems to me that this engine should be replaced by Nissan, especially now that I have read that this is a somewhat common problem with the 2002 Altima engines.

I picked the car up and told them I would have to decide what I wanted to do. He said when the light came back on to bring it back so they could see if it gave the same code. He also told me to check the oil about every 3 days and if it went down, don’t fill it but bring it to them and let them see how much oil was being used (oil comsumption test). It’s been two days and no service engine soon light and the car runs fine; there is not even any roughness when I initially start the car in the mornings as I had noticed a couple of times previously.

Does all of this sound right? I’m not sure what to do and the thought of having to spend over $5K on repairs has me sick.

If the car is starting up and running rough for a few seconds, a leaky head gasket does sound correct. I had the exact same thing happen to me with a Honda Accord.

As far as the engine, it is highly unlikely that you’ll need a new engine unless your oil has become contaminated with coolant and ran for an extended period. Contaminated oil would look foamy and or milky.

As for the cat, it might be ok, but it is possible for it to be damaged by burning coolant. Oxygen sensors can also be damaged by burning coolant. But I don’t think you went through enough coolant to cause any problems, so your cat and O2 sensors are probably fine.

From your description, I’d say you need a new head gasket, that’s it. No new engine, and probably no new cat.

Oh and the cat can’t damage the engine, it is the other way around. The engine can destroy a cat.

Go to a different shop and get second opinion.

Sounds fishy to me. A cylinder 2 misfire does not automatically indicate a bad head gasket. If the head gasket was leaking bad enough to let coolant puddle in the cylinder, there should be billows of white smoke coming from the exhaust.

My suggestion … get the engine up to operating temperature (that will pressurize the cooling system). While the car is idling, look into the top of the coolant reservoir … if you see a stream of bubbles coming up through the coolant, you have a head gasket leak. If no bubbles, take the car into another mechanic for a second opinion.

Something expensive should get another opinion. Too many diagnosis are made using only the symptoms. The tests need to be done to discover the real reason. Ask around for a good independent shop which actually performs diagnostic tests for problems.

As I said in my previous post, I had the exact same issue with an Accord. I never had any white smoke/steam coming out of my tail pipe, zero. After I pulled the head off, cylinder #3 had about a teaspoon full of coolant sitting on top of the piston. Not enough to cause white smoke, but just enough to cause a misfire at startup. That teaspoon took several hours to buildup, so while running there were no symptoms of a head gasket leak.

Almost all leaking head gaskets will result in a loss of coolant and engine overheating. If no other signs of a leak are present (other than the misfire warning) … get a second opinion.

same issues with my 02 altima… put way too much $ and time into and the issue is still not fixed… I’ve been researching this issue and apparently its a lot of people with same issues, I found a site that is trying to start a lawsuit…